If You're Thinking Of Traveling This Summer, Here's What You Need To Know

by Christine Organ
Originally Published: 
Father building fire while family sets up camp
Thomas Barwick/Getty

We’re all more than a little stir crazy. We want some fresh air, maybe a hefty dose of nature, and generally any change of scenery. It’s summer, and we want to GTFO of here – if only for a day or two.

While the CDC still recommends people stay home as much as possible, especially in the case of leisure travel, it’s important to be practical too. Just like abstinence-only education doesn’t work, telling folks to stay home indefinitely probably won’t work either. At least not on a massive scale. So instead of responding with “HELL NO” to the question of summer travel, the response becomes: “How can we travel safely?”

It’s important to know that when we talk about safety and reducing risks, we don’t just mean safety for you and your family; we mean minimizing the risks for everyone. Every time you leave the “bubble” of your household – whether it’s to go to the grocery store or go to work or take a summer vacation – you are expanding your bubble and increasing the risks.

So one of the ways experts recommend risk assessment when it comes to summer travel (or any decision for that matter) is looking at how you are changing your bubble — both while en route to your destination and while at your destination.

1. Mode of transportation

“The risks of travel are usually more dependent on the personal choices of the traveler rather than the means of transport,” Dr. Daniel Griffin, an infectious disease specialist at Columbia University Medical Center, told CNN.

Because personal choices impacts safety of others so much – and we’ve all seen that many folks just don’t give a shit about the safety of others (Lake of the Ozarks partiers, I’m looking at you) – many travelers will make decisions based on how much they can control.

“When you drive, you have much greater control of your own environment and the people around you and so I would think it’s safer to drive in the present time,” Dr. William Schaffner, infectious diseases specialist at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told CNN. Even given the occasional restroom and drive-thru stops, “you can control your environment regarding the interaction with other people to a much greater extent than you can traveling on an airliner. And of course whatever time you spend on the plane, you’re in a very enclosed environment with other people, all of whom may not be wearing masks,” he said.

Thomas Barwick/Getty

Some experts suggest looking at the bubble question. “Who is going to be in that bubble? If you are on an airplane, there’s going to potentially a lot of people. Up to 18 people depending on where in the plane you are sitting,” Paloma Beamer, an associate professor of environmental health science at the University of Arizona College of Public Health and president of the International Society of Exposure Science, told USA Today.

You also need to consider the surfaces you’ll come in contact with while en route, since you’ll need to disinfect each surface you come in contact with. For instance, on an airplane, you will likely come into contact with several surfaces – from public bathrooms to tray tables and arm rests. Conversely, on a road trip, the only external surfaces you may come in contact with could be a public restroom or a drive-thru. And if you stick close to home, you won’t need to come in contact with anything.

2. Your destination

Those same questions about the expansion of your bubble and surface contact will come into play once you reach your destination. For instance, are you thinking of going to a hotel at a crowded beach? You might want to reconsider. Are you planning to rent a house and cook food your own food? Chances are, the risks are pretty low.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, “many health experts agree that as long as you take the necessary precautions, closer-to-home vacations in relatively uncrowded spots are fairly low risk.”

Again, the closer you can stay to home and the fewer interactions (with people and surfaces), the better. Renting a car, staying in a hotel, and going to popular destinations all increase the risks. But a vacation rental in an out-of-the-way destination limits the amount of interactions and keeps your “bubble” pretty small.

Some states do have travel restrictions so it’s important to check that before you make an plans. For instance, some states require a 14-day self-quarantine for out-of-state visitors, and other states have a self-quarantine mandate for travelers from specifics states like New York or New Jersey.

3. How To Protect Yourself And Others If You Travel

It’s important to understand that every interaction you have while traveling – every gas station, grocery run, hotel room, etc. – increases the risk of infection for you, your family, and other people in that area. So don’t be a jerk.

1. Wear a mask anytime you’re in public and can’t socially distance. Seriously don’t be an asshole; just wear your mask.

2. Be outdoors as much as possible. Most experts agree that being outdoors is much safer than indoors when it comes to coronavirus transmission. So slather on your sunscreen and stay outside. Bonus: you’ll probably get a hefty dose of Vitamin D and spend some time with Mother Nature in the process.

3. Practice social distancing. If you go to a state park, give other hikers plenty of room. If you want to stroll through town and stop at a local ice cream shop, go during an off-time and be patient. If you want to get together with friends or maybe your kids are clamoring to see their cousins, make it an outdoor playdate with masks and plenty of room at the picnic table to spread out.

Thomas Barwick/Getty

4. Wash your hands often. I mean this should go without saying, yet here we are.

5. Pack hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes. Use them. A lot.

Believe it or not, with a little preparation and responsible planning, it is possible to have a safe and enjoyable summer vacation. We just have to get back to basics, so to speak, and keep things simple. Much like we’ve followed the “stay home” rule for the past few months (well, most of us did anyway), summer might consist of “stay as close to home as possible” rule.

With this in mind, our family recently rented an Airbnb (which has instituted additional safety precautions for its rentals). We packed food, made one grocery run while we were gone, and ordered carryout the rest of the time. We went to empty state parks, wore our masks as much as possible, and generally just stayed close to our (rental) home – like as have been doing for the past 3+ months. And It. Was. Heavenly.

Bottom line: If you really want to travel, do your research. Be responsible. Don’t let your guard down – the coronavirus hasn’t gone anywhere. Get creative. Your summer vacay might not look like what you had planned, but it can still be just what your family needs.

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