How Travel Has Changed During the PandemicBy Stewart J. Guss on August 21st, 2020
2020 is the year of canceled vacations. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all forms of travel and tourism across the world.
So what does travel look like for us today, in the midst of the coronavirus?
We’ll put it bluntly: no matter how badly you need one, there’s no such thing as a risk-free vacation right now. Common travel hubs like airports, rest stops, and bus and train stations are all places travelers can be exposed to the coronavirus. It’s tough to maintain social distance in these crowded spaces, and actually boarding a plane, bus, or train makes it even more impossible. In addition to being airborne spread, the virus can also live on surfaces like armrests and handrails.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend avoiding all nonessential travel, plain and simple. But if you must, expect the unexpected.
Below we address some of the changes and precautions surrounding different types of travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read on to learn how you can prepare for a variety of scenarios.
Different states in America have drastically different numbers of current positive cases, and quarantine restrictions will vary accordingly. For accurate and up-to-date info, state and local health department websites are your best bet. Check frequently for updates as your trip approaches. Keep in mind that restrictions can change rapidly depending on fluctuating circumstances in any given locale. You should also look up business hours of any destinations you want to visit, and check if parks and campgrounds will be closed or otherwise restricted.
Some states are closely monitoring entry from other states. For example, New York requires visitors to quarantine for 14 days if they are coming from one of 34 select states or Puerto Rico. Other state and local governments may require residents who have recently traveled to quarantine in their homes for 14 days upon their return.
Even if your state does not enforce these measures, stay alert, and look out for any developing symptoms in yourself or your travel companions. Check your temperature at the first sign of feeling ill.
International travel is especially tough right now.
Airlines have canceled many international flights, and many countries are implementing restrictions including closed borders, mandatory quarantines, or entirely prohibiting non-citizens from entry. New travel restrictions may be implemented on short notice.
Additionally, some countries are conducting exit interviews and temperature checks for all departing visitors before allowing them to board their flights.
Before you travel, check local public health websites or embassy websites, or look up your country of interest on this page for more details on the restrictions in place. You can also check out KAYAK’s travel restrictions page for more details.
Your destination’s policies may require you to be tested for COVID-19 before you are allowed to enter the country. Should you fall ill abroad or be exposed to a person with COVID-19 during your trip, you may be forced to quarantine, and your return home may be delayed. Be aware the healthcare industries of many countries are overwhelmed at this point in time and you may be unable to access the care you need.
Note: For extra security and alerts, you can enroll in the government’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). This free service allows American citizens traveling abroad to register their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate in case they need emergency assistance.
Cruises During Coronavirus
On July 16th, the CDC extended its No Sail Order for all cruise ships until at least September 30th, 2020. This order prohibits operation of all cruise ships with the capacity to carry at least 250 passengers in waters subject to U.S. jurisdiction.
Risk of infection and community spread on a cruise ship is very high, considering the close quarters. In order to control the spread of COVID-19, numerous countries had already implemented strict screening protocols that may have prevented ships from docking in their ports.
Flying During Coronavirus
Does flying increase your risk of contracting COVID-19? Yes. Traveling by plane means you’ll be spending a considerable amount of time in the security line or waiting at the terminal, and social distancing is virtually impossible aboard an airplane.
Still, many stir-crazy citizens are feeling tempted by the super cheap prices of flights. (Alaska Airlines even offered a buy-one-get-one-free deal recently!)
If you absolutely have to fly, prepare for the following changes at the airport and in the air:
- TSA officers will be wearing masks as well as gloves that are changed after each pat-down
- Plastic barriers have been erected around many checkpoint podiums and information desks
- Check-in kiosks are cleaned constantly, and social distancing markers have been added to airport floors
- You may be asked to temporarily lower your mask to confirm your identity at a checkpoint
- To minimize contact, travelers should place their boarding passes directly on the scanners instead of handing them to TSA officers
- Everyone is now allowed up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer in their carry-ons; this is an increase to the previous limit of 3.4 ounces
- The contents of your pockets – like your phone, keys, and wallet – should be placed in your carry-on bag instead of a bin so they don’t have to be handled by TSA
- Many airlines no longer offer in-flight drinks, snacks, or meals
- Inflight magazines have been removed
Travel by Bus or Train During Coronavirus
Taking public transportation, even for a short trip, increases your risk of contracting COVID-19. Social distancing is difficult, and there are also many high-touch surfaces like straps, handrails, door handles, and buttons. As a result, fewer and fewer people are taking public transportation these days. For example, New York’s subway ridership dropped approximately 92% at the peak of their coronavirus outbreak. This is a concerning statistic, as we see more car accidents happen when people drive their personal vehicles instead of opting for public transportation.
What else has changed for the industry? Many buses and trains are running on limited or otherwise modified schedules. Most require face coverings for the full duration of your trip. Many bus stations and train stations are conducting temperature checks and adhering to more stringent cleaning practices. Protective plexiglass shields are being placed around bus drivers’ seats, and some have also had hand sanitizer dispensers added.
Look up your local transit authority’s website for more details on safety measures they are implementing. On Houston’s METRO buses, for example, digital signs light up when a bus has reached 50% of its seating capacity, urging onlookers to wait for the next available bus. In Seattle’s King County, buses that used to fit upwards of 50 people are now limited to fewer than 18.
Aside from travelers, everyday local workers have suffered from these public transportation restrictions, sometimes doubling or tripling the length of their commute by being forced to wait for a bus with an available socially-distanced seat. Make sure you account for these possible delays when making your travel plan.
Train services like Amtrak are limiting their bookings and enforcing contact-free boarding, with electronic tickets stored on your mobile phone. Booking a private room on a train can cost you a pretty penny, but it will limit your chances of exposure. You can also avoid the dining car and pack your own snacks.
Car Travel and RV Travel During Coronavirus
Car travel and RV travel may seem personal and private enough, but concerns can still arise:
- Plan your route carefully to avoid any unnecessary stops. Fewer stops means fewer chances for exposure. Additionally, research if any state borders will be closed.
- Plan your meals thoroughly. Go on one big grocery run before your trip and pack a cooler or plenty of nonperishables to avoid those cravings for convenience store snacks or fast food on the road.
- Invest in a portable power bank to keep your phone charged in case of emergency.
- Make sure your auto insurance policy is paid and active.
- At gas stations, use disinfecting wipes on gas pumps and buttons before you touch them.
For more helpful hints, check out our page on the top 25 summer road trip tips.
Visiting Parks, Campgrounds, & Beaches During Coronavirus
Of all the vacation activities you and your family can enjoy right now, camping and hiking are the safest choices, as they make it easy to maintain social distance from others.
However, you should still be wary of shared facilities like restrooms, picnic areas, or water fountains.
If you plan to visit parks or recreational areas, be aware many campgrounds will be closed, while others may require reservations. Check the park’s website or call their visitor center ahead of time to confirm which areas are open. Bring plenty of hand sanitizer and everything else you need to keep up with proper hygiene!
Beaches may also be closed. Check with individual beaches for specific details, including whether the water is open for swimming or not.
Overnight Stays & Hotels During Coronavirus
Once you’ve reached your destination, are you staying with family or friends, renting an Airbnb, or checking in to a hotel?
If you’re in the latter group, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) has released a “Safe Stay” checklist with their recommended safety precautions.
Below are our best tips for a staying in a hotel during the coronavirus pandemic:
- Check the hotel’s COVID-19 prevention practices before you go
- Utilize digital reservations and check-in options, as well as digital room keys on your mobile phone
- If you need to use shuttles, cabs, or other rideshare services, make sure you handle your own bags
- Avoid letting the bottoms of your bags touch the floor, and wipe down suitcases with disinfectant wipes before you bring them into your room
- Once you arrive at your room or rental, disinfect high-touch surfaces like doorknobs, light switches, remotes, and faucet handles
- If you order room service, ask for contactless delivery and bring your own disposable dinnerware
- Store dirty clothes in ziploc bags in your luggage; do not sleep in the same clothes you traveled in
- Wear a mask in all common areas
- Avoid the elevators or only take them with members of your family
For extra precaution, you can ask to be put in a room that has been vacant for over 24 hours. Some hotels are even implementing a “booking buffer,” staggering guests 3 days apart so the virus has time to die on surfaces in the rooms.
Additionally, hotels across the world have stepped up their cleaning procedures and are keeping their lobbies clear. Most have also closed their gyms, business centers, and breakfast buffets, so come prepared.
Travel Insurance & COVID-19
Travel insurance exists to protect you from financial loss while traveling. This can mean anything from lost luggage to total cancellation. Some travel insurance providers also offer medical treatment plans, passport replacement assistance, and more.
One issue in the current climate is that travel insurance is only designed to protect against “unforeseeable events” — and your choice to travel during a pandemic may disqualify you. This is still up for debate.
On the other hand, your choice not to travel may also disqualify you! One travel insurance policy explicitly states “trip cancellation solely for concern or fear of travel associated with sickness, epidemic or pandemic, including COVID-19, is not covered.”
Some travel insurance companies are offering vouchers for trips that were canceled this year. Contact your travel insurance agent to learn more about your options and the specifics of your coverage. Coverage depends on when you purchased a policy, the plan you chose, and your home country and destination country.
If you have “cancel for any reason” coverage and you cancel a trip within the limits of your contract, you will be covered.
If a flight you booked is canceled, you should always ask for a refund from the airline before turning to your travel insurance.
If you did not already have travel insurance, obtaining a new policy for an upcoming trip may prove difficult.
Safety Tips for Traveling During the Pandemic
Some final parting tips for traveling while dodging the coronavirus:
- First things first: check the current infection rate of the destination you’re thinking of traveling to. Is it worth the risk?
- Wear a face mask whenever you are around other people — yes, that means the entire duration of your ride or your flight. Avoid touching your face. Wash your hands thoroughly and often.
- Make a pouch for yourself and each of your travel companions containing hand sanitizers, disposable gloves, disinfectant spray, wipes, thermometer, spare face masks, etc.
- Dining out and experiencing local cuisine is sometimes the highlight of a vacation. These days, however, the safest option is to bring your own food. If you don’t, stick to using delivery, takeout, and curbside pick-up options only.
- Do not engage in high risk activities like attending a party, parade, sporting event, or concert. (Although it should be noted that some music festivals and concerts are soldiering on and now implementing stricter social distancing measures and assigned seating. Some even encourage attendees to remain in their vehicles.)
To help travelers out, Google is adding handy features to their Google Travel service, like local coronavirus case counts, more detailed flight updates, and hotel vacancies.
Additionally, the CDC is updating their travel guidelines regularly. They warn of asymptomatic carriers who could unknowingly spread the virus, and they recommend a strict quarantine for 14 days after you return home to ensure no symptoms arise.
You can check out the CDC’s comprehensive travel resource page for more information.
In conclusion, many new obstacles and protocols stand in the path of travelers for the remainder of the year. But the sun still rises, and Disney World still reopens, and together we march on. It is every individual’s responsibility to do all they can to keep themselves — and those around them — safe and healthy.
Still, no matter how careful you are, accidents can — and will — happen.
When it comes to auto accidents, at home or abroad, we’ve got your back. Our experts are available 24/7 to provide free consultations to victims in need. If you’re coping with an injury from an accident, reach out now by calling 800-898-4877 and get the help you deserve.