How to Travel Safely this Holiday Season

Whether you're going by plane, train or automobile, follow these tips to keep you and your loved ones safe.

By Caitlin Kilgore
plane cabin

While staying home is the best — and most certain — way to keep you and your family safe this holiday season, traveling isn’t impossible — although it comes with a risk. As Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told The New York Times"There is no right or wrong answer. It’s about the relative risk you’re willing to take."

In 2020, safety should, of course, be a priority in decision-making, but "sometimes our public health recommendations don’t reflect the complex reality of people’s lives,” as Julia Marcus, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School, puts it in the same article.

To mitigate risks, Marcus recommends a "combination of testing before travel, mitigating risk during travel and then trying to keep some distance, wearing masks at least a few days after arriving."

So, if you must travel, here are some tips on how to do so safely and minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission to your family and the families of everyone else you come in contact with while traveling.

If  You're Planning to Travel:

  • Keep travel as simple as possible. If you can, travel by car door to door.
  • Avoid traveling on the busiest days of the year.
  • Minimize contact as much as possible before, during and after traveling.
  • Plan your travel to avoid public restrooms if possible.
  • Commit to health safety measures: social distancing, mask wearing and hand washing. 
  • Plan on quarantining before traveling. That means not going anywhere. The safest time frame is two weeks. If that’s unrealistic, commit to minimizing contact and excursions for at least 10 days leading up to travel and get tested before you go. 
  • If you can manage it, consider staying with your family for an extended period of time.
  • Plan on quarantining after you arrive. If you're only staying for about a week, aim to get tested on day four of your stay, which offers the biggest bang for your buck, according to Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert.

If You're Driving:

  • Minimize stops along the drive to avoid potential exposure.
  • Wipe down gas pumps and wear masks if using public restrooms.
  • Travel on off-hours to avoid crowds at rest stops.
  • Pack your own food, drinks and snacks.
  • Keep hand sanitizer at the ready.

If You're Using a Taxi or Ride Share:

  • Roll the windows down and keep your mask on.
  • Handle your own bags or suitcases during pick-up and drop-off.
  • Sit in the back seat.
  • Be aware of high-touch surfaces (handles, seat belt buckles, etc.) and use hand sanitizer after coming into contact with them.

If You're Taking a Train:

  • Travel during off-hours to avoid crowds.
  • Handle your own luggage.
  • Try to maintain social distancing if possible — consider skipping a row of seats between you and other passengers.
  • Keep your mask on.
  • Avoid high-touch surfaces (hand rails, ticket machines, restroom surfaces).
  • Maintain good hand hygiene — use hand sanitizer while traveling and wash your hands upon arrival.

If You're Flying:

  • Some good news here: According to data from Harvard, thanks to the air filtration systems, disinfecting procedures and airline mask policies, the risk of contracting COVID-19 while on an airplane is significantly less than while shopping at a grocery store. Other research calculated the risk to be as low one case in 27 million travelers — in other words, lower than a chance of getting struck by lightning.  
  • Before traveling, check your airline’s COVID safety protocol and plan accordingly (such as enforcing face-mask use or keeping the middle seat open).
  • Avoid layovers and traveling at peak times, if possible.
  • Crowds, long lines and lack of air ventilation make airports potentially riskier than planes, so wear your mask and maintain social distancing.
  • Pack snacks to avoid food courts where people will be eating without masks.
  • Pass on in-flight snacks and drinks, especially when others are removing their masks to eat/drink.
  • On the plane, wear your mask on and keep sanitizer on hand (literally).
  • Choose a window seat if possible. While "modest," it's certainly a benefit to be further away from people walking down the aisle. 
  • Wear a face shield or eye glasses to minimize respiratory droplets from landing in your eyes.
  • Stay hydrated — at a cellular level, water helps produce mucus and defend against infection.
  • Wipe down suitcase handles at baggage claim.

At Your Destination:

After arriving, assume you’ve had exposure to a positive case while traveling and quarantine. A hotel or Airbnb are the safest options, but if you have to quarantine in a private home:

  • Stay in one room if possible and don't share a bathroom.
  • Wear a mask in shared spaces.
  • Wipe down high-touch surfaces.
  • Keep windows open to increase air circulation.
  • Get tested 5-7 days after travel (even if you don’t appear to have symptoms, many coronavirus cases are asymptomatic).
  • Avoid unnecessary excursions.
  • Avoid hand shakes, hugs or any physical contact until you can guarantee you’re not COVID positive.

Want to know the ins and outs of quarantine rules? Here's how to effectively quarantine. 

At Holiday Meals:

  • Dining outdoors is safer than indoors; however, if your only option is eating inside the house, keep the windows open and air circulating. 
  • Keep gatherings small enough to maintain social distancing.
  • Spread tables and chairs farther apart.
  • Keep a hand sanitizer on the table or nearby.
  • Assign one person to serve the food.
  • Use paper plates for an easy clean-up and to avoid potential contamination.
  • Wash your own dishes and utensils.

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