Julie Travel Advice 15 Comments

Is it possible to travel and stay healthy during these times of COVID-19?

In June, we planned a six-week road trip through the United States, visiting the national parks in Colorado and Washington.

With reports of escalating numbers of cases throughout much of the USA, I wondered, could the four of us travel for 6 weeks without catching coronavirus? Are we crazy for planning to travel during these very uncertain times? Is it worth the risk, not just to ourselves, but to others we could spread it to, if we caught the virus?

Once on the road, it was easier than we thought to keep ourselves healthy. Along the way, many of our readers asked us about our experience and what we were doing to stay safe. And a few of you asked us to write this article.

So, here it is… our experience and what we did to stay healthy while traveling.

Since I first published this article in August, we have taken several more trips in the United States. This article has been updated with new information from these trips. 

What We Did

We spent six weeks visiting the national parks in Colorado and Washington.

From our home in Maryland, we flew from Baltimore to Denver and then spent 3 weeks road tripping through Colorado.

At the end of the first 3 weeks, Tyler flew home early to be with his Cross Country team. He is now 17, a senior in high school, and at this point in his life, more interested in being with his friends than traveling with his family (even though we are totally awesome😊). Tim, Kara, and I flew to Washington.

In Washington, we did another three-week road trip and then flew home to Baltimore.

Our trip started the last week of June and we arrived home on August 8.

In September, Tim, Kara and I flew Delta airlines to Salt Lake City and then spent one week in Jackson, Wyoming, visiting Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.

In October, Tim and I flew Delta airlines to Rapid City and spent one week in South Dakota, visiting the national and state parks here.

In November, Tim and I flew to Salt Lake City and spent 10 days exploring the national parks in Utah. 

13 Tips to Stay Healthy When Traveling

The safest option is not to travel. But if you want to travel, there are things you can do to minimize your risk of catching the virus and spreading it to others.

1. Get Vaccinated

Now that there is a vaccine, the number one thing you can do to stay healthy, and to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, is to get vaccinated.

2. Staying Healthy on an Airplane

This was our riskiest behavior, so we will start with this.

We took three flights during our 6-week trip. It’s a long drive from Maryland to Washington, and even Colorado, so we felt it was worth the risk to fly rather than drive.

We flew with Southwest Airlines for all three flights in the summer. During our trip, they were operating at 66% capacity, keeping middle seats open.

We flew Delta for our September, October, and November trips. They have a policy to keep middle seats open. However, seats only appeared to be 50% filled on most of these flights. 

In the airport and on the airplanes, masks are mandatory.

Southwest and Delta are very specific about what types of masks were acceptable. If your mask did not meet their specifications, they would provide an “appropriate” mask for you. What did not qualify as masks were bandanas and masks with vents. If you did not wear it over both your mouth AND nose you were reprimanded.

As soon as we found our seats, we wiped everything down with Clorox wipes. Delta handed out wipes to every passenger as they boarded the plane.

As a family, we were permitted to take all three seats in a row, but we took advantage of the social distancing rules and spread out. There are a few minor advantages to traveling during times of COVID-19.

I read that the safest seat is next to the window. Aisle seats put you in more contact with others on the plane, not only the person across the aisle but those walking up and down the aisle.

On board the plane, flight attendants gave out a cup of water and a super small snack, and drink service was eliminated. This is to limit the amount of time passengers would take off their masks to eat and drink.

UPDATE FOR 2021: Many airlines, states, and countries are requiring a negative COVID-19 test before boarding an airplane. Before you travel, get updated information on the airline’s website and the destination(s) you will be traveling to.

3. Go Crazy with the Hand Sanitizer

We went through A LOT of hand sanitizer on our trip. There are many instances when you just can’t wash your hands so hand sanitizer is a necessity.

Any time in public, after we came into contact with something (grocery cart, elevator button, gas nozzle, etc) we used hand sanitizer.

Many places (stores, restaurants, airports) have hand sanitizer available for use. There were a bunch of restaurants and stores that made it mandatory to use their hand sanitizer before entering.

When getting back to our hotel or apartment, we washed our hands.

Keeping your hands clean, and avoiding touching your face, helps to minimize the risk that you catch COVID-19.

4. Wear a Mask

Wearing a mask is one of the best things you can do to avoid getting COVID-19.

Colorado and Washington are two states where masks are mandatory. In South Dakota, masks are not mandatory and in many places (restaurants, stores, and hotels) many people did not wear masks. In South Dakota, we avoided being indoors as much as possible, with the exception to our hotel. Instead of dining indoors, we got carry out and brought it back to our hotel room.  

We wear masks whenever out in public, even outside, if we are walking in busy public places.

On hiking trails in Colorado, in early July, about a third of people were wearing masks on hiking trails. By the time we got to Washington, the majority of people wore masks on hiking trails. 

We found it really hard to hike and wear a mask. Not only does it make you feel hotter but it is a bit harder to breath. So, we bought buffs, which are tubes of fabric that can function as a mask. We wore these around our necks and pulled them up when we passed other hikers. This worked a lot better than a mask. But you have to make sure your hands are clean because each time you raise and lower it you touch your face.

Julie Wearing a Buff

5. Disinfect Your Hotel Room and Rental Car

As soon as we checked into a hotel room, we disinfected it using Clorox wipes. Door handles, light switches, the remote control, thermostat, nightstand, bathroom countertop…anything that we would potentially touch got a wipe down.

We did the same thing when picking up our rental car.

6. Decline the Hotel’s Housecleaning Service

Decline the hotel’s daily housecleaning service. It seems risky to have someone enter your disinfected hotel room to make your bed and change your towels. That’s just another chance that someone can bring the virus into your room.

Some hotels have suspended housecleaning services. But for those who still offer it, hang the privacy sign on your door or let the hotel staff know that you wish to decline housekeeping for the day.

7. Consider Where You are Traveling

Avoid locations where case numbers are high. Obviously, if you travel somewhere that is seeing a big increase in cases, there is a higher chance that you will catch it too. And if you do catch it, and need medical care, you will place a bigger strain on that area’s medical system.

When planning our summer trip (which we did almost last minute…more on that soon), Colorado was a state that had a low number of cases. Washington was seeing a spike, but when looking at their numbers, their hot spots were not in the places we considered visiting. Even so, we kept an eye on Washington, while traveling through Colorado, and we were prepared to cancel this part of our trip if their numbers worsened. Fortunately, they didn’t.

Each state has different travel restrictions in place, including quarantine requirements and stay-at-home orders, so check with the local health department for where you are going. For example, some states require a two-week quarantine period for out-of-state travelers.

Chasm Lake

Chasm Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.

8. Hiking is a Great Way to Social Distance

Not only do you have to consider where you are traveling but you also have to consider what you will do, once there.

We turned our entire trip into a hiking trip and visit to the national parks. We were outside, in the fresh air, with lots of space between us and other people.

Social Distancing while Hiking

On hiking trails, we would scoot off to the edge of the trail, pull up our buffs, and let others pass.

We avoided cities, indoor exhibits, crowded stores…anything that would put us in close contact with other people. I would have loved to see Seattle but that will have to wait for another year.

Some national parks are operating at a lower capacity than normal. Rocky Mountain National Park is one of these parks. We spent one amazing week here and it was a great experience to visit this park with lower than normal crowds. If you plan to go, they have a reservation process in effect, so check the National Park Service website for more details.

If you are planning a visit to a national park, check their website for current conditions. Some have a reservation process, not all visitor centers are open, tours are not being offered, and shuttle services can be altered or suspended.

9. Avoid Indoor Spaces and Group Gatherings

Avoid indoor spaces whenever possible. This means limiting your time in indoor spaces (other than your hotel room) to essential activities. We also avoided public transportation and national park shuttles, to avoid contact with other people.

Avoid group gatherings, whether indoors or outdoors. Concerts, large parties, sporting events, and a visit to the movie theater will have to wait until things get back to normal.

Social Distancing Sign

10. Preparing Meals

If you stay in an apartment, you can cook your own meals. This limits your indoor exposure to a visit to the grocery store.

When we stayed in hotels, which we did for a big chunk of our trip, we relied on carry-out and outdoor dining for our meals. There were a few rare instances where we dined inside and we only did this if the space met our conditions (large, ventilated room with very few people). Even so, this made us uneasy and we preferred to get carry-out and eat it in our hotel room.

Outdoor Dining

How’s this for outdoor dining? On Crystal Mountain with views of Mt. Rainier.

Many restaurants offer contactless pick-up. Place your order online and pay by credit card. Once you arrive at the restaurant, send them a text, and they deliver the food to your car or leave it on a table for you to pick up.

Hotels that offer breakfast have either cancelled this service or offer to-go bags. Buffets and sit-down meals in the hotels are a thing of the past, at least for the time being. Hotel lobbies and breakfast rooms feel eerily quiet and empty, as everyone now stays tucked away in their hotel room.

Sanitized Table Sign

11. Book Everything Refundable

This isn’t so much a tip on how to stay safe but it is a tip on how to save your money, should your travel plans change.

We booked every hotel and apartment on a refundable basis, so we could cancel our plans at the last minute. If one of us caught COVID-19, or travel rules changed, we wanted to be able to get our money back, should our plans change.

By the way, fewer people are traveling right now, so it is a lot easier to book your trip at the last minute.

12. Once Home, Limit Social Exposure

Upon returning home, we quarantined ourselves at home. Just in case we picked up the virus while traveling, we are limiting our exposure to friends, family, and the general public.

13. Important Links

For more information on how to travel safely, get tips on how to travel safely by the CDC or read this article on Self.com.

In Conclusion

The safest option is not to travel. But if you want to travel, there are things you can do to minimize your risk of catching the virus.

Our trips this year are not much different than how we currently live life at home. At home, we visit the grocery store and a few essential stores, get carry out, visit the local park for recreation, and avoid group gatherings and indoor spaces. Flying was our riskiest activity but we chose airlines that don’t pack the plane full of people, enforced the use of masks, and suspended drink service to minimize the amount of time people would be “mask free.”

If you are itching to travel, a road trip is a great way to go. Exploring outdoor spaces is the perfect way to travel and social distance at the same time.

Do you have questions about how to travel safely? Let us know in the comment section below. If you have any useful tips to add, we would love to hear those too!

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Comments 15

  1. Thanks for your blog! Do you have any suggestions for domestic health insurance for a 6-9 month US trip? A lot of state health insurance policies have weak coverage when out of state and won’t be usable. Just curious if you had any suggestions for US domestic health insurance when traveling out of state for an extended time.

    Kind regards

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      No, I don’t have health insurance recommendations. We have never purchased any extra insurance for domestic travel. So far, we have been very lucky with all of the travel that we have done and not needed medical care. Cheers, Julie

  2. I discovered your blog when I was researching for an upcoming trip this June to Egypt. My husband and I were supposed to go last year, but we all know how that went. I have read through endless numbers of travel articles, blogs, packing tips, airline restriction documents, and such, and I have found yours to be one of the most thorough sources of usable, updated, and practical information. My husband is a photographer, so your photo skills did not go unnoticed either! I am not a novice traveler, to the extent that I earn the SW Air Companion Pass each year for my husband, and when I fly I never check a bag. That will not change for our trip, as we will both only do carry on and a personal item for our two week trip.

    Anyway, I am an archaeologist in Arizona with a company for whom I am responsible for projects throughout the western U.S. (including Alaska and Texas) and travel about every week or so. The business deals with telecommunications, so my job is actually considered part of the country’s critical infrastructure, so my travelling never slowed down. The only difference was when the company enacted a flying ban from March until the end of August, so I was driving instead. A couple weeklong trips were over 3500 miles each with a lot of meals out of gas stations due to closed eateries. Even with all the opportunities I had for exposure, including taking care of my husband when he got COVID in December, I have never tested positive for COVID, nor positive for the antibodies. I wear a mask and wash my hands with regular soap, using hand wipes when soap/water are not an option. (It is simply a personal preference, but I just really dislike hand sanitizer, so I don’t use it). Tuesday I get my second shot for the vaccine and will be working in Washington and Idaho this coming weekend.

    So wash your hands, use hand wipes (or the sanitizer stuff), wear a mask inside businesses (even if not required), and travel whenever and wherever you get the chance!

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      Hello Sylvia. Thanks for writing in! We flew a lot last year and never tested positive either. Today, we flew from Maryland to Phoenix and right now I am sitting at our hotel in Sedona. Tim and I double masked on the airplane today, because of the variants and rising cases in the US, and we will be following all of our usual precautions. That’s great that you get your second shot in a few days. I am hoping to get mine next week when we return to Maryland. Happy travels and I hope you have a great trip to Egypt! Cheers, Julie

  3. Hello! Thank you for this really useful article! But I want to add one more tip. Tip: many airlines are requiring a PCR test and rejecting the antigen test. If you get your negative test result by email it might not be specified in the body of the message what test was performed. However, most laboratories will either attach a certificate or provide you access to an account on their websites where the kind of test is clearly specified. I’ve heard of many people that went to the airport and got their legitimate test rejected by the airlines because the type of test wasn’t clearly specified in the email.

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  4. Wow so informative post being healthy while traveling in this situation is must. You have listed nice tips for the travelers. Thanks lots for sharing so informative article.

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  5. Really informative read! Traveling is still a risk and appropriate precautions need to be taken. I completely agree with outdoors being a safer bet! Sunlight, humidity and wind are believed to cut short the life of the virus.

  6. Hi Julie,

    During this difficult crisis, travelers’ve many health concerns
    These tips will surely helpful to stay healthy while traveling
    I really appreciate it
    Looking forward to reading your other articles
    Keep sharing such good stuffs.

  7. Do you have a link for the buffs you purchased? We are planning a long weekend trip to Colorado, and those seem like an easier option than taking a mask on and off while hiking.

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      We bought our buffs at a national park gift shop. I think that REI sells them (I have seen them for sale in the past, before COVID) and Amazon would be another place to look. Cheers, Julie

  8. I live in Utah, and after about 6 months of no travel anywhere, my family and I were itching to get away to somewhere different! I had seen many friends on FB taking trips to Yellowstone, so while that seemed appealing, I wondered if it would be too crowded. We finally settled on Glacier National Park in Montana, with our decision being clinched when we found an opening for a very nice condo that we could trade into with our timeshare. Once we got on the road, I realized that traveling by car felt very insulated and low-risk. We brought lots of snacks to minimize our time spent in gas stations for the necessary potty breaks. (Usually the kids scour the aisles looking for treats, but we reminded them that we had plenty of goodies already in the car.) Before we left, I ordered child-size disposable masks on Amazon so we could quickly mask everyone up before heading into the gas station, and then we could just throw the masks away afterwards, rather than trying to keep track of them in the car (let alone keep them clean!). We also researched which grocery stores were nearby, and found a Smith’s about a mile away from the condo. We were able to place a grocery order that we could just pick up on the way to the condo. We ended up eating almost all our meals at our condo. While there, we were able to enjoy the swimming pool with very few other guests, and also to enjoy our own personal hot tub on the deck (which was cleaned daily). All the places we went in the Park were very uncrowded, and the kids had a great time playing in the lake. We also had an amazing drive through the park, that again, felt very safe, since we were in our own vehicle. We had family members that had limited mobility, so this wasn’t exactly a hiking adventure, but it was fun, beautiful, and relaxing–and relatively safe. Oh yeah, we also used a ton of hand sanitizer, especially before we ate when we were out picnicking, or in the event that the public bathrooms were out of soap–a good idea even when not in the middle of a pandemic.

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      Hello Yvette. Thank you for sharing your experience!! I’m glad that you and your family were able to get out and travel during these crazy times. Cheers, Julie

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