Judging by the length of my ever-growing list of canceled 2020 trips, you’d think travel during the pandemic was utterly impossible. And for the most part, that’s still true. However, the travel industry is slooooowwwwwly (omg so slowly) opening back up again.
I personally have taken a couple of short trips recently and I love seeing that more and more people are starting to do so also, safely that is. Maybe you’re not ready yet, and that’s okay. But if you are, know that you can travel during the pandemic—it’ll just take a bit more preparation than you’re used to.
Travel during the pandemic
I started writing this post about a month ago while I was preparing to take my first big trip since this whole thing started. I was simultaneously more excited and terrified than I’ve ever been to leave my house. (Everybody wave to my therapist on her new yacht I just paid for! 👋🏻)
I was thrilled to have the prospect of travel back in my life, but absolutely panicked I was making a horrible decision I’d regret more than a DIY at-home haircut.
That trip was to the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. And while, spoiler alert, that too was canceled at the last minute (more on that throughout this post), I learned a lot about traveling during the pandemic while planning that one and after taking another. A lot. Let’s discuss. *Pops wine cork*
Yes, you can travel during the pandemic
Despite the global pandemic we’re engrossed in at the moment, it is still possible to travel. Maybe not to certain countries or continents, but you do still have options.
Now, I’ll present you with some material to supplement your weekly therapy sessions. Read on for why you should travel right now to begin with, how to know if you’re even able to travel, and how to do so safely and responsibly.
Why travel right now?
I keep reading the same thing over and over: just because you can travel right now doesn’t mean you should. And, sure, that makes some sense, but it’s not all that simple. (Is anything anymore?)
When Disney World reopened amid Florida’s biggest coronavirus surge, people kept saying “But no one needs to go to Disney World right now!” And I’ll admit their decision to reopened seemed irresponsible, insane, and straight-up bibbidi bobbidi bananas at the time. No one needs to go to Disney World right now.
Many say travel isn’t essential and we are selfish to even consider it at a time like this. But I disagree. Sure, travel may not fall under the same categories as food, water, and shelter, healthcare, employment, etc., but without the things that bring us joy, what is life? Especially at a time when THERE IS NO JOY.
Couldn’t you just as easily say “No one needs to go to Disney World ever” or “No one needs to go to Oktoberfest” or “No one needs to visit the Louvre”?
So why would you even want to travel right now? Well…
For your mental health
Above all else, focus on your mental health. Never before have more people suffered so much in this respect, myself included.
For me, travel is as essential as food, water, and chapstick. I’ve built my career around it and it’s what brings me the most happiness and fulfillment (cats and husband aside). It’s not just how I spend my free time—it’s literally a 24/7 passion I’ve dedicated my life to. It is my time, all of it. How can someone say that’s not essential to me?
Everything that gives life to our short existence on Earth is something someone could consider essential. If travel is not essential, then what about sports, entertainment, pets, art? Sure we can all survive as a species without this stuff, but then why bother surviving at all?
Essential is relative
Would you tell a professional athlete sports are not essential? Or tell a veterinarian that pets are pointless? Or a musician that no one needs to hear music at a time like this! Would you still tell the 70,000 Disney World employees theme parks are not essential? Yes, 70,000.
I keep hearing jokes about what’s next for 2020. Will it be killer caterpillars, the zombie apocalypse, or will the earth just open up and swallow us all? But… is a world without travel, sports, entertainment, art, music, and snuggling with your pets not the zombie apocalypse?
When the travel industry came to a screeching, throw your arm across the passenger seat halt, I was worried… mostly for my career. But not being able to leave my own house or neighborhood for months with no end in sight took a serious toll and not only on my bank account.
When my late-August trip to St. John got canceled at the last minute (a sudden surge in cases led them to immediately shutter their borders and go back into a full lockdown), it was then I realized that trip was about so much more than sunshine and vitamin sea. It was about hope. For the travel industry, for my sanity, for humanity.
When I was forced to cancel it (that would be the sixth one so far), it felt like there was no hope left. Like we’d never get out of this Hell-loop.
However, my last-minute replacement trip to Disney World during the pandemic, though by some accounts controversial, was like hitting the reset button on my mental health. I felt renewed and hopeful and like I had life in me again. Travel has never felt more essential.
We weren’t born to just pay bills and die, y’all.
For the travel industry
The travel industry is suffering right now. Like, bad. Suffering in a way I’m afraid it might not recover from. Airlines are bowing out, businesses are closing their doors, everyone’s losing their freaking jobs. Travel as we’ve always known it has been changed forever.
Travel and tourism accounts for 1 out of every 10 jobs worldwide. That’s 10% of the entire world’s workforce. (Non-essential, my ass.) There are entire geographical sectors that rely on tourism above all else. (I see you Caribbean!) And what are we doing in 2020? Wishin’ and hopin’ and thinkin’ and prayin’ and plannin’ and dreamin’. (That’s actually a pretty terrible song; don’t listen to that one.)
All of us could all wait “until Covid is over” (don’t even get me started on that statement), or we can do what we can, as long as we do it safely. We can take trips and stay at hotels and visit museums and eat at restaurants. We can book flights and buy guidebooks and take tours! And we can do this even during a pandemic because we now know how to do it safely and responsibly.
The tourism industry isn’t going to magically bounce back “when this is over.” It’s going to need resuscitating and it’s going to be on us to breathe life back into it. The sooner that can be done, the less permanent damage there will be to our beautiful industry.
For an ideal travel experience
Have you ever wanted an entire airplane (and airport) to yourself? Ever wanted to visit Disney World without crowds or long lines for rides? Ever wanted to pay just $19 for a flight that’s not on Spirit Airlines? Those are all things I’ve done in the past week!
Now is the time when all of that is possible.
Before my trip to Disney World, I was super nervous about getting on a plane. Mostly because I didn’t know what to expect. However, I was beyond pleasantly surprised.
Both of my flights averaged just 20 people. The planes were clean, the airline mandated masks for the entire flight, everyone was distanced (and the flight attendants even help spread people out further). They passed out hand sanitizer and cleansing wipes, individual drink and snacks packages, and boarded the planes back to front. It was glorious. Honestly, the way I wish all flights were.
Airports and restaurants, theme parks, stores, and everywhere in between offered largely diminished crowds and deep discounts. I’ve recently purchased airfare and hotel stays for like Y2K prices. If there’s ever been a more important (and enjoyable) time to support the travel industry, it’s now.
Should you travel during the pandemic?
Deciding to travel in 2020 was not a decision I came to easily. I took a lot into consideration and really wrestled with it. (I’m talking full-blown panic attacks here.) While “travel during the pandemic” sounds like a huge mistake on the surface, I educated myself on my options and my personal, particular situation, and decided to go through with it.
Deciding to travel during the pandemic is very much a decision that can only be made on an individual basis. There’s no sweeping declaration here. While it may be okay for some to get out there, others should definitely not.
Here are some things to consider when deciding if traveling right now is a good idea:
Where you live
Some states are faring better than others while others are doing far worse. Where you live may determine where (and if) you can travel. Are there any lockdowns in place? Should you not even so much as leave your house right now?
What are your state’s requirements upon returning?
Even though the CDC no longer recommends the 14-day post travel quarantine, many states still have strict re-entry rules.
For instance, here in Massachusetts, all visitors and permanent residents returning from states outside New England (CT, VT, NH, RI, ME, NY) must quarantine for 14 days. I’m talking full lockdown status—no groceries, no work, no errands, nothing. They even serve up a $500/day fine for breaking it.
In lieu of the quarantine, you can also present a negative Covid test (but must quarantine while you wait for the results).
If you’re planning to travel, are you able to fulfill your state’s re-entry requirements? Is there a way for you to get groceries delivered? For you to work at home? Don’t think that since your trip is over so is your obligation to safety.
To find this information, I simply search for something along the lines of “[state] + cross state travel” or “[state] travel restrictions.”
Where you are going
What are the travel rules in the place you’re planning to visit? There are many states other than Massachusetts that mandate all visitors quarantine for 14-days upon arrival. And unless you’re planning a wicked long vacation, that doesn’t seem practical.
When I was planning my trip to the Virgin Islands, their restrictions were: you could visit without quarantining if you come from a state with less than a 10% positive test rate. At the time that included my state of Massachusetts which had a positive test rate of just 1.9%.
For reference, South Dakota currently has a positive test rate of 18.1%. So, if you live in South Dakota, you’re not getting close to the Caribbean. In fact, you probably shouldn’t leave your house.
To find your state’s positive test rate, head to John Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center.
Outside the U.S.
Are you even legally allowed to travel to the place you’re planning? Very few places are open to American visitors right now and I can’t stress enough the importance of respecting these rules. No skirting loopholes on my watch!
There are still a few countries open to us but most come with strict quarantine or testing measures. Be sure you know what you’re getting yourself into and be prepared to play by the rules.
What are the testing requirements?
Not only might you need to get a negative Covid test after you return home, you may even need to get one before going on your trip.
To visit Aruba, for example, you’ll need to either get tested before you arrive, tested after arriving (then quarantine while waiting for the results), or both, depending on which state you travel from.
If this is the case where you’re planning to go, ask yourself the following:
- Is it easy to get a Covid test where you live?
- Are you able to get your results within the timeframe mandated by your destination?
Here in Massachusetts it’s crazy fast, easy, and free and you get your results as soon as the next day. However, I’ve heard in many other states it’s neither fast nor cheap nor possible if you don’t have symptoms and a doctor’s recommendation.
What is the situation like where you’re going?
Is the place you’re planning to visit in a state of crisis at the moment? (Stay home.) Are their numbers spiking? (Stay home.) Is there a good chance they’ll be on full lockdown with all businesses and restaurants closed anyway?
If the answers are yes, please just stay home. That scenario is neither safe nor worthwhile.
What are their local regulations? As in, do they have mask mandates in place? Are they taking social distancing measures seriously? Do their restaurants offer outdoor dining?
If the answers are no, you should probably stay home. Travel may be what you need, but you don’t need to take unnecessary risks to your physical health and the health of others. I.e., don’t travel if you could possibly assist in making matters worse.
Who is traveling with you?
If you’re traveling with family and/or friends, do they share your beliefs and habits related to our current situation? Do they follow all the same protocols—masks, distancing, clean hands? Or have they been reckless by not wearing masks or been around people who are?
Also, most importantly, is anyone in your travel party or anyone you live with at higher risk? If so, travel may not be right for you, right now. Working on your mental health shouldn’t jeopardize someone else’s physical health.
How to travel during the pandemic
If you do decide to travel during the pandemic, know there are now many, many new things to consider. (As if there wasn’t enough on your travel to-do list already, we went and added “don’t spread the plague.”)
Here are some tips and things to consider before planning a trip during the pandemic:
Consider travel insurance
Travel insurance policies may vary, obviously, but many will cover you in case of illness, medical emergency, plane delays, lost or stolen luggage, and so much more.
Now, many even cover medical costs due to contracting Covid and/or if you have to cancel your trip because you or your travel partner got Covid.
However, your trip may not be covered in case of cancelation due to a coronavirus-related travel ban. Hi, I’m Ashley. This is me, learning from experience.
Regardless of this fact, I will always recommend getting travel insurance and I will still continue to get it for all my trips. I personally always go with World Nomads. And if you’d like to learn more about why, read this post on why you should always consider travel insurance.
The silver lining here is that many travel industry companies (airlines, hotels, rental car companies, etc.) are making special exceptions to their cancellation policies during these “challenging and unprecedented times.” Let’s just say I’ve got travel credits out the wazoo at this point.
Follow all official recommendations
And by this I mean, follow all official CDC and WHO recommendations. Not those of the guy in line at CVS, not those of your chiropractor, and definitely not those of anyone giving you advice without a mask on.
If the CDC says “Wear a mask at all times” but the screaming lady at the grocery store says that’s baloney, find yourself a new grocery store.
Consider the source when taking travel advice
Though this argument could be made forever and always about all topics, always consider the source of travel advice. In this case, find tourism experts at your proposed destination for current recommendations and never rely on advice from anyone who hasn’t even traveled. Don’t let someone who hasn’t left their house since March tell you what air travel is like right now.
When planning my trip to St. John, I sought the expertise of @sunandstilletos—a Caribbean travel blogger and sustainability advocate—and her thoughts mirrored my own: visit, but do so safely and responsibly.
If she had said, “Don’t come here!” I absolutely would’ve reconsidered my trip. She’s physically there, she’s familiar with the situation there, and she’s educated enough in travel and tourism to know what effects my visit would have on both myself and the destination.
Don’t listen to just any crackpot on the internet who says “Stay home! You’re a selfish bitch if you even think about traveling!” This situation is unique to every person and every destination. He or she may live in a high-risk state and have a completely different outlook on travel during the pandemic. Plus, trolls gonna troll. Do as the situation applies to you.
Be respectful of where you’re going
When traveling during the pandemic, do in your destination as you would do at your home town—follow the rules, wear masks, stay away from people, be clean.
For instance, much of the Caribbean is open to U.S. travelers right now. These tourism-dependent nations are also small, remote islands and the situation could get out of control dangerously fast. Don’t treat your destination as your Covid-free playground, which it most certainly is not.
These places are letting you into their country/state during the world’s biggest time of crisis. They’re welcoming you in when literally almost no one else will. Be appreciative, considerate, and careful. Don’t be a jerk.
Be careful when flaunting your trip
No one should take travel during the pandemic lightly. There are about a hundred things to consider before even deciding if travel is right for you and for the human race. Flaunting pictures of your trip might give people the idea that everything is “back to normal” which is wildly untrue.
When you do travel, be careful to let everyone know how to do so safely and responsibly. If you post pictures of your mask-less self at the beach, be sure to mention how you are socially distanced from everyone else. If you post pictures of yourself in a public setting, make sure you say how everyone is wearing masks and dining outside.
And while we’re at it, don’t be afraid to post pictures of yourself in masks. It’s 2020; this is where we’re at now. If you wouldn’t preach anti-mask rhetoric, then you shouldn’t be afraid to pose in a mask. Own your social responsibility! Share all the boring safety details of your trip ad nauseam.
Load up on information
When traveling during the pandemic, be sure to have all the important information with you at all times. Due to the ever-changing state of the world right now, your plans could also change minute-to-minute.
Authorities could institute travel bans while you’re in another country. Airlines could cancel flights; hotels could lock their doors. Our situation is constantly evolving. Make sure you’re prepared for every possibility. Information you should keep with you includes:
- Travel insurance policy information and phone numbers
- Your standard health insurance information
- Other emergency numbers: know what “9-1-1” is where you are going and the number for the country’s/state’s tourism helpline
- Your Covid test results
- What to do if you get sick while on your trip—as in, who you need to contact in the area if you come down with coronavirus symptoms. See my post on getting sick while traveling for all the things you need to know for this!
- Know the hospital situation in your destination. Is there even a hospital? (There literally might not be, as in the case of St. John or Caye Caulker, Belize which famously has no hospitals but two cemeteries.)
Think ahead for transportation
While I’m all about utilizing public transportation or just grabbing a taxi at the airport, times are different now. When traveling during the pandemic, I personally would recommend renting a car of your own.
Not having to share airport shuttles, buses, or rideshares with strangers is invaluable when it comes to peace of mind. For my recent trip to Disney World, I booked a private airport shuttle to and from my hotel. The more you can minimize contact with strangers, the safer.
Opt for private rentals
I’m very a much a hotel > Airbnb traveler, but nowadays booking private rentals may just be the smarter alternative.
While the hotels I’ve stayed at recently have been great (clean, masked up, tons of new protocols in place), you can’t argue that a private house, cabin, condo, or otherwise is the safer option. Social distancing is a built-in characteristic! Check out Airbnbs for rent here.
Pandemic travel tips for air travel
I’ll admit that my biggest fear about travel during the pandemic was the airplane. Being locked inside a small tube with strangers from who-knows-where petrified me. But…
It’s been proven that airplanes are actually much safer than meets the eye. The CDC itself says, “Most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes.”
The main issue many face with air travel are the facts that social distancing could be impossible on a full flight and viruses could be present on dirty surfaces. However, both of these are now things of the past.
In fact, though the virus spreads by people traveling from one place to another, airplanes themselves have not been cited as catalysts. Plus, my recent experience showed me social distancing is not a problem.
In fact, air travel right now is actually the safest it’s probably ever been. Here’s why:
- The air on airplanes is filtered with HEPA filters which capture 99.9% of airborne particles, including viruses. In fact, the brains behind the Manhattan Project actually used HEPA filters to protect workers from radioactive material.
- Airplane air is also recirculated every 2-5 minutes and in a downward trajectory
- Airplanes are cleaner and more sanitary than ever right now thanks to new cleaning measures like high-grade disinfectant electrostatic spraying.
- Things that spread viral particles like talking, shouting, and singing are generally rare on airplanes
- Many airlines are still blocking middle seats, allowing for emptier planes and more distance between passengers.
- Airlines are mandating masks for the entire duration of flights.
Now that we’ve got the science out of the way, here are some of my own tips for air travel during the pandemic:
Vet your airlines
On my recent trip to Orlando, we booked with Delta because:
- they’ve been famously strict with their mask mandates,
- they still block middle seats,
- they’ve been open about their cleaning procedures (of which there are many),
- and they aren’t afraid to straight up ban people who don’t comply.
Many airlines have already stopped blocking middle seats and others won’t be for much longer. And some airlines should just be avoided at all costs (literally) during a pandemic or not. I can’t imagine the Hellscape of a regular Spirit Airlines flight… during a pandemic. Not even in a full-scale Hazmat suit could you get me on one of those stupid yellow planes. But I digress.
It won’t be hard to find the airlines’ Covid safety policies. I’ve been able to find them on the homepage of all their websites—usually as a small pop-up near the top of the page.
Also, don’t forget to check out an airline’s cancellation or change policy. Some, like Delta, United, and American have committed to eliminating change fees f o r e v e r! (And it’s about damn time.) You never know what could happen to your trip before you actually take it and, these days, a backup plan (or two) is a must for planning travel. This is me, speaking from experience. Again.
Book an early morning flight
If you’re concerned about flying on a plane on which other people have recently flown (which you really shouldn’t, re: the science I wowed you with above), consider booking the earliest flight of the day.
This way, you’ll be the first person on that clean plane and in that clean seat on that day.
Choose your seats strategically
Do you always use the bathroom? Consider sitting at the back of the plane (or the front, baller) to avoid having to walk past a lot of people on the way there.
Do you never get up? Get yourself a window seat in the middle of the plane where you’ll come into contact with almost no one. (It me!)
Flying with friends and/or family? Book rows next to or in front of/behind each other to minimize contact with outsiders. Yes, this is the kind of post-apocalyptic speak we’re using now.
Stick to carry on luggage
Look, the fewer hands on your luggage, the better. Sticking with just a carry-on means only you and the TSA agent at security will handle your bag. And you can easily sanitize it after they do.
There won’t be anyone handling it behind the scenes. You won’t have to wait in a potentially crowded baggage claim area and then have someone accidentally grab it.
But the best part: you won’t have to spend any longer than necessary inside the airport waiting for your bag. You can just deplane and GO.
Bring your own snacks and water
Since the pandemic, many airlines have stopped serving meals and beverages in the traditional way we’re used to. On my recent Delta flight we were given an individually packaged bag with a bottle of water and some snacks.
If you have other preferences, be sure to bring your own drinks and snacks with you. (I was too scared to take my mask off to eat/drink anyway.) Also, from my own experience and those of other travelers I’ve talked to, open airport restaurants and shops are at a minimum right now so getting the things you want may be harder than before.
Full disclosure: While I travel with my refillable water bottle religiously, I’ll admit I was too scared to refill it at any of the airport water fountains or bottle stations and therefore accepted that plastic airplane water bottle with enthusiasm. I did learn a thing or two in elementary school. Just something to think about.
Turn on your air vent
As someone who is chronically chilly, I usually keep my air vent off. But not anymore. Adequate airflow is key to preventing the spread of viruses on airplanes. Obviously they’re already working on this for us behind the scenes, but an extra little push won’t hurt.
I keep mine on and blasting down in front of my face like an invisible air shield. If you’ve ever entered a butterfly house, you know exactly what I’m talking about. No butterflies shall escape, mwahaha!
Check in online
In an effort to avoid, well, all contact with human bodies in and around the airport, you’ll want to check in for your flight online. You can do the whole process on your computer or phone and get your digital boarding pass immediately. No humans necessary. *beep boop beep*
And if you’re not checking a bag, you won’t have to be within breathing range of one until you go through security.
Have airplane-dedicated clothing
If you don’t do this already, have a separate airplane outfit that you can put away for the rest of your trip and not have to touch again (unless where you’re going has laundry facilities of course). I actually recommend this pandemic or no pandemic.
And if you travel with a travel pillow that has a removable cover, don’t forget to wash that too.
Pack all the necessary supplies
Yes, bitches be packing a full pandemic travel arsenal these days. (It’s me. I’m bitches.) For all the details on what to bring with you on a trip during the pandemic, keep on reading.
I say go for it
Some people will still say “I don’t want to travel if I have to do all this stuff!” Well, then don’t. (You know who they are.) You don’t have to travel right now. I’m definitely not pressuring you or anyone else to get on a plane. In fact, you’d be doing the world a favor by staying home.
But for some of us, that’s out of the question. For some of us, we’ll do whatever it takes to get back on the road and in the air again. Everything great in life requires a bit of sacrifice, no? (Though can you really even call wiping down your surfaces ‘sacrifice’?)
Maybe packing all that extra stuff, going through all the extra motions, and stressing about your own health and the health of your family and friends is just too much to ask right now. And that makes perfect sense.
But the way I see it, this is where we’re at now. The pandemic isn’t going to just end. There’s not going to be a “when Covid is over” and certainly not any time soon. If there’s a way to safely and responsibly travel, I’m going to do it.
Besides, this is all stuff you should be doing at home and in the city you live in anyway. This shouldn’t be any different than your everyday routine at this point. But with pants.
Do you have plans to travel soon?
Let me know below!
But first, pin me ⇣⇣⇣