Coronavirus travel tips: Holiday travel during the pandemic

As more and more of us start to return to travel, health and safety are top of mind. How do we travel responsibly in this new normal? Is it smart to consider traveling for the upcoming holidays? How do you know where you are even allowed to go to these days?

Whether you’re travel planning for the holidays, packing for a trip or already on the road, here are a few tips to level-up your travel and pandemic preparedness.

See related: The cost of safety: Budgeting for solo female travel

How to travel during a pandemic

  • Tips for travel planning
  • Tips for pandemic packing
  • Tips for staying safe once you go

Tips for travel planning

Holiday travel

Health and government officials are asking people to avoid nonessential travel during the holidays, but for many that’s not an option. If you find yourself traveling during the holidays, there are steps you can take to keep yourself safe:

  • Don’t travel if you are ill or if you’ve been around someone who has had COVID in the past two weeks
  • Don’t purchase flights with layovers – the CDC has determined they present a higher risk than nonstop flights
  • Keep gatherings small and practice social distancing
  • Wear a mask and keep it on at all times
  • Frequently wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds at a time or use hand sanitizer
  • Avoid touching your face
  • If you’re driving, try to limit stops along the way for gas, food or bathroom breaks

Know the entry and exit requirements of your destination

If you’re traveling outside the U.S., check the current COVID-19 requirements for the country you’re visiting.

Ask the following questions: Will the country allow passport holders from your country to enter? Will you need to show a COVID negative test before boarding or on arrival? Is there a mandatory quarantine? Don’t assume that you can get into a country just because an airline will sell you a ticket there.

Sadly, there’s not a magical website that’s updated daily with this information, so you’ll have to do some digging around. For international travel as an American, try the U.S. embassy website.

Do your destination research

Learn everything you can about how COVID-19 is being managed in your desired destination, so you know what to expect. When I was planning my trip to Cabo, I’d frequently visit the Cabo tourism board website to look for updates on safety measures.

I had also emailed the hotel concierge in advance to check on which amenities at the resort were open and closed, and if the restaurant, spa services or pool needed advance reservations.

American Express points you’ve been saving to book Delta. Remember that being comfortable with traveling these days is likely more important than making sure you’ve got the best bargain fare.

See related: Best travel credit cards

Build a backup plan into your booking

When planning a trip in 2020, make sure you’re booking a trip that you can modify or cancel at a moment’s notice for any reason – including if you just change your mind.

Ensure plane tickets, hotel and car reservations, and activity bookings are refundable (or at least changeable). And be sure to have an emergency budget (or emergency points) in case you have to pivot your plans mid-travel. It requires a bit more planning, but your future self will likely be grateful.

See related: Airline, hotel loyalty programs extending perks for members through coronavirus

Tips for pandemic packing

I’ve always been a fan of packing as light as possible when I travel. Packing for travel in a pandemic, however, will likely require you to revise your suitcase strategy. I call this my “Boy Scout packing strategy” because in these unprecedented times you definitely want to be prepared for anything.

Carry-on luggage

Long gone are the days of using the easy-to-access side pockets of my carry-on backpack to stash spare phone chargers and adapters. I now use one of these pockets to carry my own easy-to-access sanitation kit including wipes, a small hand sanitizer and some spare masks.

While you will likely wear only one mask at a time, I can tell you from my daylong flight to Mexico experience that you will be grateful to have a change of mask option.

I’ve repurposed the other pocket of my carry-on to hold my refillable water bottle and lots of snacks. Most airlines are not currently serving food onboard except for long-haul flights and very limited meal service in first class.

With many airport lounges and in-terminal restaurants still closed, the lines in the airport at the few open stores to purchase food and water are long. I was able to fill my water bottle at a touchless refill station in three of the four airports I transited through on my last travel. (Don’t refill your water at a traditional water fountain from which people drink.)

Travel clothes

If I’m not going directly home or to my hotel on arrival, I’ve also begun packing a change of outfit in my carry-on so I can get out of my germy and sweaty clothes on arrival.

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