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.
12 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. 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.
2. 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.
3. Wear a Mask
More and more research has proven that masks help minimize the spread of coronavirus. And in many places, wearing a mask is mandatory.
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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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 in Rocky Mountain National Park.
7. 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.
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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
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.
10. 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.
11. 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.
12. Important Links
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!
You Might Also Like:
- National Parks: Guide to the US National Parks
- Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary: How to Spend 1 to 5 Days in RMNP
- California: 5 Reasons Why You Should Visit Death Valley National Park
- Texas: Best of Big Bend: 10 Great Things to do in Big Bend National Park
- Wyoming: 18 Amazing Things to do in Yellowstone National Park
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