With the global panic over the spread of the COVID-19, the travel bans, and quarantines, it’s easy to worry that you’ll never be able to travel again. There fear over traveling at this moment is certainly valid, but there are also steps you can take to protect yourself. Of course the biggest one is simply to put off travel until after the pandemic subsides.
Everything that's being done to help slow down contagion and avoid overwhelming our health care system with huge spikes in the number of people needing care at once is valid.
COVID-19 appears to have a higher mortality rate than the flu, but at this point you are still more likely to die from one of the nation’s three leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, and preventable injuries. The latter category — which includes car accidents, poisoning/overdose, and falls — accounted for 167,127 American deaths in 2018, according to the National Safety Council.
Most of those who become infected with the virus will not experience life-threatening illnesses, but that adds to the stealthiness of the disease. Many people are walking around right now while they are in the infectious stage but before they have any symptoms.
Regardless of risk, you obviously cannot travel to events that have been canceled, areas under quarantine (or “shelter in place” orders), or where travel has been banned. But if you are going — whether immediately or later this year, there are steps you can take to reduce your risks and your stress:
1. If you are over 60 or have an underlying health condition, consider not going. COVID-19 can impact you at any age (although children seem to be at lowest risk), but those over 60 and with compromised immune systems are at greater risk and may want to postpone their travel for now. And do note, that “underlying health conditions” can include diabetes and high blood pressure, both of which can increase the risks associated with COVID-19.
2. Don’t go on a cruise this spring. The State Department has cautioned against travel on cruise ships, which seem particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 spread — and passengers may find themselves subjected to quarantines and other travel restrictions. With more and more cruise lines shutting down, for now you may also not the choice to cruise at this moment.
3. Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s site before you go anywhere. The CDC posts travel notices based on assessments of potential health risks. For example, the CDC has a list of destinations it has designated “level 3” to which it recommends travelers “avoid all nonessential travel…because of the risk of getting COVID-19.”
4. Consider local travel or a staycation. There are currently no bans on travel within the U.S. and this might be the perfect time to visit sites off the beaten path (like The Ogunquit Inn, a charming, gay-owned Victorian B&B in Maine), take a road trip, or explore your city or hometown (even in Pocatello, Idaho, you’ll find gems like Main Steam Coffee and Desserts, a gay-owned coffee shop with a tiny LGBTQ youth center in back).
5. Visit destinations others are avoiding. We don’t mean fly into the China epicenter. But some of the world’s greatest monuments are practically deserted at this moment. While some are closed to visitors, others are open-air public spaces that are still accessible. The COVID-19 impact means that in many places there are now fewer people (thus reducing contagion risk), which also offers a rare opportunity to experience these locations without the crowds.
6. Find alternative venues or explore VR travel. If you can’t visit the destination you’d like in person perhaps you can find a place with a similar vibe? Or check out virtual or augmented reality options, like Google Earth VR or Boulevard.
7. Order from a new or favorite restaurant. While many fine dining establishments have been forced to close, others are still doing take-out or delivery.
8. Don’t wear a mask — but maybe try a neck gaiter. Most health officials are recommending that the public not wear masks unless they are already sick— they may not be effective for prevention and using them reduces the supply available to health care providers. That said, covering your nose and mouth still makes sense, if you don’t think of it as a filter, but rather blocking your hand from touching your face. We all subconsciously touch our faces dozens, if not hundreds, of times a day and all that contact with our grubby hands can introduce germs directly into our respiratory and digestive systems.
9. Check your airline’s response. Some airlines have responded quickly with increased cleaning and disinfecting, others are waving cancelation and rescheduling fees, but some have been slow to do either. Know what the company you are traveling with is doing to help keep you safe and protected.
10. Consider where you fly from. Busy international airports may have more crowds, but small regional ones may not have the resources needed to do implement top decontamination recommendations.
11. Choose your seat wisely. Despite what you may have heard, air travel isn’t particularly risky when it comes to catching a virus. According to the CDC, “Because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes, most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on airplanes.” However, your aisle mate could still cough on you, so it makes sense to chose seats with limited exposure. That means avoiding the middle seat and prioritizing window seats so you only have someone on one side of you.
12. Wipe down your arm rest, tray table, and seatbelt with disinfectant wipes (or papertowel with alcohol) on planes. Use a papertowl to touch other surfaces touched regularly by other people (door knobs, faucets, car doors, and gas pump nozzles).
13. Wear gloves and cover your face when you’re in airports and other crowded locations or when you have to touch surfaces that a lot of other people touch. Keep your nose and mouth covered during those times to reduce the chance you’ll touch your face with contaminated gloves. When pulling off the gloves avoid touching the outside and wash your hands after you dispose of them.
14. Wash your hands regularly. Even when wearing gloves. (Wash the gloves as you continue to touch things in public — and then wash your hands after you remove them). It doesn’t matter if the water is cold or hot, but it does matter that you use soap and you spend 20 seconds washing them. (Sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.)
15. Book now to play later. You can get terrific deals if you book now for travel later this year. Signal your faith in the future, plan a post-COVID-19 celebration, and support the LGBTQ folks in the travel industry!
16. Take a good book. Despite all your planning, you may still end up stranded or quarantined for some time. So, if you have something that could help wile away the time, definitely pack it.