Safe travel tips during the holidays

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Susan Meyer

Senior Editorial Manager

  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Susan is a licensed insurance agent and has worked as a writer and editor for over 10 years across a number of industries. She has worked at The Zebr…

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Ross Martin

Manager, Content Quality

  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Ross joined The Zebra as a writer and researcher in 2019. As a licensed insurance agent, he specializes in writing insurance content to help shoppers…

Traditionally, the holidays are a time to visit friends and family. But 2020 is no ordinary year, and many people are wondering how to travel safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The safest solution is to not travel at all. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans to skip travel for Thanksgiving, and as cases continue to rise in many areas of the country, the rest of the holiday season could be impacted, too.

You’ll have to decide if you’ll partake in holiday celebrations this year. That means factoring in the number of people at a gathering, how long it will be, whether it’s indoors or outdoors and many other considerations. The CDC offers guidelines on various types of travel, and they’re worth reviewing before your trip to see if anything has changed. You should also get tested for COVID-19 and self-quarantine for 14 days before travel — and insist everyone else at the gathering does the same.

However, if you feel unwell or sick at all, stay at home. It’s not worth potentially exposing others to a deadly virus. There are still plenty of ways you can virtually celebrate with your loved ones.


Traveling by road

Road trips are safer than flying during COVID-19 because you’re limiting the exposure you have to other people. However, that doesn’t mean you’ll be risk-free — there are still precautions to take.

If the trip is only a couple of hours, you can likely make it to your destination without having to stop at all. That’s the ideal scenario, since you’re only interacting with the same people for the duration of the trip.

However, if your trip is longer, it’s likely you’ll have to stop for gas and stretch your legs. That means you’ll be touching gas pumps and machines, and possibly interacting with people inside a closed area.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends cleaning and disinfecting surfaces frequently, “especially those which are regularly touched.” While merely touching a gas pump is unlikely to cause harm, bringing your hands to your eyes, nose or mouth afterward can.

Keep disposable gloves, hand sanitizer, and sanitation wipes handy — such as in a compartment in your door or on the back seat — so you can easily grab them whenever you make a stop.

The WHO recommends avoiding the “3Cs” — areas that are closed, crowded and involve close contact. Gas stations and rest stops both fall in those categorizations, so if you can avoid actually stepping inside them, you’re more likely to stay safe. However, if you do have to use a bathroom inside, thoroughly wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before you head back to your car.

Pack some snacks with you so you don’t need to stop to grab food along the way. If you must stop, curbside pickup or drive-through presents less risk than dining in a restaurant, though it’s important to still wear a mask whenever interacting with employees. You can also plan to travel at off-peak times by leaving in the middle of the week instead of during the weekends.

Finally, remember that it’s flu season, too. Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, and it may be worth drinking water with additional electrolytes in it, such as Propel or Body Armor drinks. If those drinks are too flavorful, you can also use Nuun tablets to get electrolytes.

Road trip checklist:

  • Wear a mask anytime you’re outside of your car.
  • Limit the number of stops you make.
  • Keep sanitary wipes, hand sanitizer and disposable gloves easily accessible.
  • Pack snacks to avoid sitting down to eat.
  • Bring water with additional electrolytes or Nuun tablets to stay hydrated.


Traveling by plane

If your destination is farther away, you may have to travel by plane instead. The CDC offers a risk assessment of travel, from lowest risk to highest risk. Flying directly to your destination is under “Even More Risk,” while flights with layovers are the “Highest Risk.” Remember: the safest option is to stay at home, and it’s worth reconsidering your travel plans for this year.

The CDC also notes that COVID-19 is primarily spread through close, person-to-person contact. When you’re traveling by plane, the potential for that type of contact is high. At the airport, you’re interacting with TSA agents and other employees. You may be sitting or standing near others at your gate. And though planes have good air ventilation, you’re still sitting in close quarters with people who may or may not be practicing safe social distancing in their daily lives.

Flying during COVID-19 certainly doesn’t come without risks. However, you can follow a few tips for flying safely, or at least for being proactive in fighting those risks. Many are similar to safe road trip etiquette.

Always wear a mask that covers your mouth and nose in public settings like airports. Maintain at least a six-foot distance between you and other people, and opt for seats with an open space between them, if possible. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

Airlines are addressing travel during coronavirus differently, too. Before you book a flight or board the plane, check with your airline to see their latest updates. Many are restricting snack and drink service, and some are limiting the number of people that can board a given flight.

You’ll also need to consider how you’ll get to and from the airport. Taking a cab or a rideshare service offers additional risk. If you can get a trusted friend or another member of your household to drive you to and from the airport, you’ll have a better knowledge of where they’ve been. Even better, drive yourself to the airport so you’re in full control for that ride.

This situation will likely change throughout the holiday season, so be sure to keep an eye on any updates.

Plane travel checklist:

  • Wear a mask in public settings.
  • Try to avoid being within six feet of other people.
  • Keep sanitary wipes and hand sanitizer easily accessible.
  • Check with your airline to see their latest guidelines and practices.
  • Have someone you know drop you off and pick you up at your destination, rather than using a cab or rideshare service.


Safe guest etiquette

Even after you’ve arrived at your destination, it’s important to keep your guard up. It’s worth coordinating with the host and any other guests beforehand about everyone’s comfort level and how you’ll all do your part to avoid putting each other at risk. If you’re going to travel at all, it’s critical to quarantine as best as you can for 14 days beforehand. Communication is incredibly important for minimizing unsafe exposure, as it also lets you know where people have been in the previous two weeks leading up to the holiday gathering.

Everyone should be washing their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds regularly, and keep plenty of hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol handy. It’s okay to wear a mask around family or whenever you’re inside, especially when you’re not eating. If possible, host the meal outside, too, where there’s a lower risk of spreading air particles between each other.

Avoid gathering in clusters within the house, as well. Rather than lining up for the food, have people go one at a time. Likewise, limit lining up for the bathroom to just one person, so a group of people doesn’t form around the door.

Houseguest checklist:

  • Discuss rules, to-dos, responsibilities and quarantine history with all guests. Ensure you’re all on the same page as far as safety precautions and mindset.
  • Wear a mask in close quarters.
  • Regularly wash your hands for 20 seconds and keep sanitary wipes and hand sanitizer easily accessible.
  • Stay outdoors as much as possible.
  • Avoid clustering around the food, drinks or bathroom to keep a safe social distance.

If you decide to travel during COVID-19, do your part to keep yourself and others as safe as possible. And if you don’t feel well, stay at home. You can always take a road trip another time, and most airlines have made their rescheduling policies more flexible amid the pandemic. It’s worth the extra precaution to have a safe holiday season.