If you have to travel for the holidays—especially now that infection rates are spiking in America—there’s one smart way to reduce some of the anxiety: Be well-prepared before you go.
It’s not just that you won’t have the arsenal of cleaning products, masks, and other gear you keep at home—it’s also that the protocols differ depending on your mode of transportation, how long you plant to be away, and what destinations are on your itinerary.
Does your airline block seats? Do you know the details of your hotel’s precautionary measures? Do you know where to get a rapid test in another (and possibly unfamiliar) city? These are just some of the many questions to ask before you take off.
Check Your Home State’s (and Your Destination’s) Travel Restrictions: It’s good practice to be on top of all the safety protocols before you travel—such as state and city mandates. That way you’re going in with your eyes open and prepared for even the worst scenario. For instance, I’m traveling from New York City to Las Vegas for our annual family Thanksgiving get-together. And while Sin City doesn’t currently have restrictions for incoming guests, New York State requires you to take a Covid-19 test 72 hours before you board your re-entry flight. You will also need to bring a filled-out New York State Traveler Health form, which will be collected in the airport upon your return. (So make sure you print it out before you leave.) Beyond that, once you land you will be required to quarantine for three days. And on the fourth day, a PCR test is required. (You can only break your quarantine after you receive a negative diagnosis.) Non-compliance of this directive could lead to a hefty fine of $10,000. And no one wants to get dinged with that. If you find yourself with more questions, here’s CDC’s official stance on holiday gatherings—plus their recommendations.
Check Your Hotel or Airbnb’s Covid-19 Sanitizing Protocols: I highly discourage staying with friends and relatives without taking a PCR test and quarantining beforehand—especially if you have family members in the high-risk category. After all, small intimate gatherings such as dinners, drinks, and get-togethers at a home are proving to be “spreader events,” much more so than say, a holiday meal at an outdoor restaurant. To minimize the possibility of infection and prolonged exposure, consider a hotel or an Airbnb with high sanitation standards: Make sure they require masks in public spaces, have hand-sanitizing stations, perform temperature checks, take social distancing seriously, and practice contract tracing. Plus points if you’re staying at a hotel with its own on-call doctor or nurse, in case of emergencies. Beyond that, if you’re only staying a few days try to decline daily housekeeping—to reduce interactions.
Get a Flu Shot: Getting a flu shot is more important than ever this year. It may not protect you from the novel coronavirus, but it will save precious healthcare resources and direct them to patients with Covid-19.
Research Nearby Covid-19 Testing Sites in Your Destination: Even if you live in a state that doesn’t require you to get tested prior to re-entry, it’s always best to be on the safe side. Think of it as a courtesy to fellow travelers. Remember: not all Covid-19 cases are symptomatic and you may not be aware that you’re spreading it. (And who wants to be that person?) So, do your part and take a PCR or rapid test. And while you’re at it, make a note of where the nearest hospital or urgent care facility is. It also goes without saying that you should look into your insurance plan and see what coverage they’re able to offer you while you’re out of state.
Map Out Your Travel Schedule and Plan Your Itinerary: I get it, sometimes spontaneity can be more fun when you’re traveling. But that’s way too risky with too many unknown factors, depending on where you are. If you happen to be flying to a city, there are several things to consider. First things first: Choose what restaurants, shops, and establishments you deem safe to visit—and make reservations ahead of time. Outdoor, rooftop, and patio dining are, of course, ideal. But if those aren’t in the cards, look at the policies of each restaurant you want to visit—if you think their protocols are sub-par and don’t allow for indoor social distancing, then walk away. In this alarming stage of the pandemic, no establishment should be operating at full capacity.
Download Helpful Coronavirus-Related Apps: Many states, cities, and tech companies raced to develop apps that aim to help monitor and mitigate Covid-19 transmission. While I don’t think you need to download them all, some are certainly worth a shot. Apple’s Covid-19 application—created in collaboration with the CDC, FEMA, and The White House—provides helpful tips regarding best practices and resources. Citizen’s sister app, SafePass, has a Safer Thanksgiving feature that allows you to create a holiday-specific pod, which reminds members to test negative, be symptom free, and turn on anonymous Bluetooth contact tracing. And if you’re in New York, the state has Covid Alert NY, which specializes in “exposure notification,” where you’re alerted whenever you come within spitting distance of someone who was diagnosed positive. Other cities and states have their own location-specific apps too—so do your research and see if your destination has one.
Don’t Leave Without Pandemic Essentials: Covid-19 has taken all of us for a dizzying spin this year. And the must-have travel essentials look completely different from what they did, even as recently as a year ago. (This time last year I was sunning myself in Miami with no care in the world.) But no thanks to the pandemic, 2020 is different and travel-related anxiety is a very real struggle. So make sure you stock up on practical products that’ll make your trip infinitely easier and hiccup-free—things like hand sanitizers, extra masks and filters, wipes, and beyond.
ON THE PLANE
Check the Seats on Your Flight: As of this writing, not all airlines are blocking off middle seats. (United and American Airlines certainly aren’t.) So check if there are better seats you can transfer to approximately 24 to 36 hours before your time of departure. If possible, sit with a fellow member of your household—and wear a mask and face shield throughout the entire flight. And if you’re amenable to it you could even wear Stoggles, which feature anti-fog and UV-blocking lenses. Also: Don’t forget to bring sanitizing wipes to clean high-touch surface areas such as your armrest, your tray table, the seatbelt buckle, and the in-flight entertainment screen. If you haven’t yet booked your flight, here’s a master list of airlines that are limiting capacity.
Limit Your Food and Drink Intake: If your flight is relatively short, say less than six hours, try to eat before you board. Taking off your mask and shield is a risk—so try to hang in there and eat when you’ve landed.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU ARRIVE AT YOUR DESTINATION
Establish House Rules: My partner and I will be traveling together and staying in a hotel where we’re comfortable in terms of its safety measures. And here are a few of the things we plan to do: No family member will be allowed in our hotel room—nor are we planning to visit their hotel rooms or homes. At this point, even family members should keep their distance from each other indoors. Instead, spend time together outdoors—whether it’s taking an exploratory stroll or eating in a restaurant terrace. Now is not the time to let your guard down, especially with the rising infection rates in all fifty states.
Sanitize Everything: If you’re staying in a hotel room or an Airbnb, sanitize the entire space before you unpack and shower off the travel grime. I recommend bringing Clorox wipes, a spray mister containing 70% alcohol, and UV light sanitizer wands. And if you’ve got a sizable bathroom—or multiple ones—bring a bottle of Clorox Clean-Up in your checked luggage because there’s no guarantee that it’ll be in stock wherever you fly. (It really is this year’s hottest commodity—along with Clorox Wipes.) Remember, limiting housekeeping is safer, so you’ll have to periodically spray and wipe down that bathtub yourself. Just think about it this way: It’s better to spend a few minutes cleaning than end up sick.
Get Used to Eating In Your Hotel Room: Gone are the days of hotel breakfast buffets. And many hotels have limited dining options and room service, if any. Many hotel bars are also closed. So get used to the fact that not all your meals will be in a restaurant. Pro tip: Bring a bottle of your favorite spirit or wine so you can enjoy them in your room—but don’t forget the corkscrew and some travel glasses (many hotels have removed their coffee machines and glasses as a precautionary measure). And if there’s a particular restaurant you’ve been eyeing—but they happen to only offer indoor dining, consider getting takeout and eating the meal in your room. But note that you can only do this with members of your household. As someone fresh off a plane, train, or other modes of mass transportation you do not want to let extended family in and you certainly should not visit them in their homes or hotel rooms—because you won’t know immediately if you caught something while en-route.