As summer approaches and our time in lockdown starts to be measured in months, people are understandably yearning to get away.
But should you travel? And is it safe? After all, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends nixing all nonessential travel, reiterating on its site that all 50 states have cases of COVID-19, and traveling increases your chance of getting and spreading the virus.
So for the stir-crazy, barring using private jets and renting a whole hotel to yourself, what can you do to stay guarded and not contribute to the spread of the virus?
We’ve answered some of the most pressing questions below. But before you do anything, remember to comply with the shelter-in-place rules of your state.
Is it safe to fly?
Let’s get this out of the way: Until a vaccine is developed, it will never be 100% safe to fly. But there are some things to do to protect yourself. If a flight is unavoidable, Dr. Sanjay Gupta recommends packing hand sanitizer and using it as often as possible throughout the journey.
Most major domestic airlines require the use of masks during check-in, boarding, in-flight and deplaning — and can deny you access to a flight without one — but he recommends wearing your mask the entire time you’re at the airport, as well as touching as few surfaces as possible.
“You wear the mask, again, to protect other people,” he said in a video for CNN. “The front-line workers are there all day. Another reason to try and be as safe as possible.”
In the airport, avoid crowded areas, and when on the plane, choose a window seat to avoid exposure to passengers traveling in the aisles. And turn on the air vents (called gaspers) as high as possible. “That’s going to cause turbulent air in front of you and break up any clouds of virus,” says Gupta. In the future, you may see new amenity kits on flights including a mask, gloves, hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes.
But for now, besides the mask requirements, US airlines including Alaska Airlines and Delta have blocked the sale of middle seats. Southwest, which doesn’t give seat assignments, has restricted the amount of bookings so that no middle seats will be taken. Through July 6, JetBlue will be restricting the sale of seats. JetBlue has also announced that beginning in June, they will be checking the temperature of pilots and in-flight crew members.
When can I travel internationally again?
The CDC has not relaxed its travel criteria and still recommends you avoid all nonessential international travel. Individual countries are taking their own approaches to lifting bans and reopening, so if you’re able to get a flight (where you will be required to wear a mask the whole time), be sure to research the quarantine rules and check the travel advisories of your destination.
Canada had originally planned to reopen their land borders on May 21, but recently extended the closure, remaining blocked to nonessential travel until at least June 21. This does not affect sea and air travel.
Most of Canada’s wilderness lodges are already open, Marc Télio of Entrée Destinations tells Town & Country. “The first people coming in are on private jets and yachts.”
The land border with Mexico is closed to nonessential travel until June 22, but again, Mexico’s airports never shut down. Popular tourist destinations such as Cancun and Los Cabos are aiming to open up in the beginning of June.
Europe’s borders remain closed until June 15 and internal EU border controls will first need to be lifted before allowing others in.
But within countries, some things are opening up, like museums in Germany, Italy and Belgium. And countries have already begun laying out individual reopening measures. Greece hopes to welcome tourists back by July, and France recently introduced a bill that whenever visitors are allowed in, far down the line, they’ll need to self-quarantine for 14 days.
That’s the case in Puerto Rico, where tourists are already welcome — with a health screening and temperature check upon arrival. Visitors are then required to self-quarantine for 14 days (the same goes for Hawaii). An island-wide curfew also remains in effect until May 25.
Elsewhere in the tropics, Aruba is tentatively opening its borders between June 15 and July 1, while the Bahamas is targeting July 1.
St. Lucia has already laid out a phased reopening approach, allowing tourists from only the United States beginning on June 4. Visitors must present certified proof of a negative coronavirus test taken within 48 hours of boarding their flights when arriving on the island. Travelers will also be subject to screening and temperature checks by port health authorities.
Should you buy a cheap flight now?
Sure, the lure of cheap flight deals is undeniable right now, but should you pounce on them? The answer isn’t strictly yes or no.
Condé Nast Traveler spoke with three experts on the topic who say: First, be realistic about the dates. Jesse Neugarten of Dollar Flight Club recommends waiting until June or after, while Scott Keyes of Scott’s Cheap Flights goes one month further.
“The only flight deals we’re sending [to Scott’s Cheap Flights subscribers] are . . . July, August, and further out,” he tells CNT. “But it’s not only fares in the next month or two [that are cheap], but also those well into the fall and winter.”
Next, make sure you know the cancellation policy in the event you have to cancel.
And third, keep an eye out — the deals will be there into 2021 and perhaps beyond — and the longer you comb, the more likely you are to find an incredibly low mistake fare, which according to Scott’s Cheap Flights, are up 40 percent (likely because airlines aren’t paying attention).
Are trains OK?
Some Amtrak routes have been suspended or reduced, but for the ones that are operating based on demand, the number of tickets sold have been cut in half to allow for physical distancing. Private rooms are also offered when available.
Northeast Corridor routes will resume on a reduced schedule beginning June 1, working in conjunction with state partners to ensure that they’re staying within local restrictions.
While on the train, all customers and employees are required to wear face masks — a regulation that is strictly enforced — the masks can be removed when they are seated alone or in private rooms. Food from cafes are takeout only.
And if you make a reservation, then change you mind, Amtrak is waiving all change and cancellation fees for reservations made by Aug. 31, 2020.
What about a road trip — should I do that instead?
Taking to the wide open road seems like a perfect solution for wanderlust, but before you go long distances, take into account the risk. Some cities still have active shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders and some just aren’t ready to welcome travelers.
Even though remote communities may seem open, should you or a companion get sick, hospital capacity and function will be limited.
And as a traveler using grocery stores and highly trafficked public bathrooms along the way, you could end up unwittingly spreading the coronavirus through communities.
Should you feel the urge for a road trip, consider instead investing in a bike and exploring new neighborhoods, taking a shorter trip close to home or a day trip for hiking and other outdoor activities.
Is it safe to rent a car?
The majority of urban-dwellers don’t own a vehicle, which means that if they want to drive anywhere, they’ll have to rent one. Car rental companies are still operating, with enhanced cleaning measures like sanitizing key areas taking place in between every rental. See, for instance, Enterprise’s Complete Clean Pledge.
For extra precaution, wipe down high-touch areas such as the steering wheel, knobs, armrests, dashboard and gear shifts yourself. The car-rental processes have also been updated to limit person-to-person contact, with locations centralized. That is important because the novel coronavirus is most likely to be transmitted between people, so it’s also important to know with whom you’ll be in the car.
“Remember that most of the transmission of the coronavirus is respiratory — it’s not through inanimate objects,” Dr. Thomas Russo, chief of the division of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo, tells Business Insider. “When you’re in a rental car, the greatest risk is if you happen to be in the car with someone else and they could be infected.”
He also notes that the virus has shown itself to settle out of the air within one to three hours under experimental conditions, which means it shouldn’t be a concern by the time you get the car.
Can I stay in a hotel?
The short answer: It’s not recommended.
With hotels — known as gathering places — there are plenty of concerns: the amount of people you come into contact with, how many times housekeeping will come into your room and their cleaning regimen are examples.
Many hotels are transparent with this information and the things they are doing to mitigate risk. Earlier this month, the American Hotel & Lodging Association released industry-wide Safe Stay protocols. Large chains are also implementing cleaning standards, such as Marriott’s hospital-grade disinfectant to sanitize hotel surfaces, a mobile app for check-in and ultraviolet-light technology to sanitize room keys, among other procedures.
If a hotel’s cleaning regimen is not apparent, make sure you ask. And either way, come armed with your own cleaning products and wipe down high-traffic areas: television remotes, door handles, toilet handles, in addition to horizontal surfaces.
Outside of your room is also a minefield. Room service tends to be safer than a hotel restaurant, and whatever you do, avoid any buffets. The same goes for gyms. There are unavoidable surfaces you have to touch, like elevator buttons, so consider taking the stairs instead and wash your hands immediately after getting back to your room.
And always wear a mask when in public. In the future, we may see more key-less entry, one-on-one personal training sessions and temperature screening through thermal scanners, as will be implemented in the Venetian in Las Vegas once it reopens on June 1.
But for now, the bottom line is if you absolutely have to book a hotel, make sure you’re aware of all the risks — and know their cancellation policy.
What about an Airbnb?
While Airbnb rentals understandably plummeted in the beginning of the pandemic, they’re beginning to bounce back, in some cases, despite orders to quarantine. (Many listings now tout themselves as ideal places to shelter in place.)
For some, it’s a safer option than staying in a hotel, with limited interaction with people and staff. On a video on the company website, CEO Brian Chesky notes that bookings are trending more local, with almost a third of guests booking within 50 miles of their home.
According to Condé Nast Traveler, out of concern for the pandemic this summer, people are opting to book more isolated and outdoorsy locations, like cabins in the woods, as well as large spaces for a family to spread out.
They’re also opting for longer durations, thanks to the new flexibility of working from home. On its website, the company has also posted information about a new “Enhanced Cleaning Initiative,” step-by-step cleaning guidelines for hosts informed by CDC recommendations and the former US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, which rolled out this month. The program is opt-in for hosts, and hosts will not be penalized if they don’t participate, but guests will be able to see on their listing if they’re following the new protocols.
As part of the protocol, hosts will need to include a minimum 24-hour buffer after a guest checks out, which the platform automatically adds. And for added protection it doesn’t hurt to do a once-over yourself, cleaning dishes and utensils and disinfecting flat surfaces as well as remote controls, phones, toilet handles and all faucets.