By Paige Conner Totaro and Veronique Autphenne
Alexandria, VA – It’s been months, right? Flights canceled, trips postponed, dreams dashed. You can be thankful to have avoided the ravages of the coronavirus and also be climbing the walls of your home, as comforting as it’s been all this time. But, we get it. You want to travel. We do, too. Here are our answers to some of your pressing travel questions.
What does travel look like right now?
As travel planners, we are looking ahead to a time when we can fly freely to countries and islands we’ve never seen before, visit farmer’s markets, go to museums, dine in French bistros, or bathe in thermal spas. Our clients and friends are getting itchy feet too, and are starting to ask when they can stop dreaming and start traveling again. It will happen (!) but it won’t happen quickly. In fact, it may be a few years before travel gets back to travel as we know it.
Where can we go?
Research your destination. As far as we can tell, COVID-19 regulations are all over the map, with some areas much stricter than others in what you can and cannot do. Some states, such as Maine, require a two-week quarantine for out-of-state visitors. Alaska requires that visitors provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours to five days before arrival, or they can take a test when they arrive. California currently has different guidelines depending on locality.
Bottom line: Guidelines change fast, so make sure you keep track of the latest recommendations before you leave. Your best bet right now is probably a well-planned road trip within your state or to a neighboring state, with cleaning supplies and PPE for the inevitable stops along the way.
Can we fly?
Domestic flights are returning, but they will look different. Most airlines are requiring all passengers to wear masks and are encouraging physical distancing by blocking off middle seats from booking unless people are traveling together. Many airlines have already dropped routes to smaller cities and, given the massive reduction in revenue, it won’t be surprising to see some airlines shut down entirely.
Can we travel internationally?
Right now, international air travel is mostly for repatriating people to their home countries. In most international destinations, you’ll be required to quarantine for a couple of weeks before venturing out, so unless you have a month or two to spare, international trips are going to be off the table.
While many tourism-dependent European destinations such as Greece and Italy are open and encouraging tourists to try to get their economies back on track, they are not necessarily welcoming guests from all countries. Italy and many other European countries are not open to visitors from the U.S. And even if you are allowed, you may need to plan for a longer stay. The UK, for instance, has a 14-day quarantine in place.
Keep track of COVID-19 infection rates, just as you would keep track of Malaria or Zika infection rates, in your destination, by checking the CDC website. And check the U.S. State Department website for country-specific warnings if you go overseas.
Can we rent cars?
Yes. Most car companies have added enhanced cleaning measures in between rentals, but for your own peace of mind, bring your own wipes and clean the handles and steering wheel and knobs you might touch before you get in. Don’t forget to wipe down the key fob, too.
Can we go camping?
Yes. And this is one of the few areas of the travel industry that will be thriving this year. Whether backcountry camping or luxury RV-ing, people are getting ready to hit the road and head outdoors. RV sales are booming as people realize they want to get out and travel even if airlines and hotels are not available. Keep in mind, though, that shared campground bathrooms are, well, shared campground bathrooms. An RV might give you better options for controlling your environment.
Are hotels open?
Some hotels are open, but you’ll want to do some research to see what sort of safety standards they have put in place. Some hotels are keeping rooms vacant for a day in between guests. Many have added new cleaning standards. Nearly all are requiring masks of staff and guests.
Smaller hotels will be more attractive to some since they will have contact with fewer people but larger hotel chains may have better-articulated cleaning protocols. Make sure you research dining options as many hotel restaurants are not providing in-person dining. Some will refer you to local take-out options. You may have a temperature check when you check in. Also, don’t expect daily housekeeping as many hotels are only offering this service by request.
Bottom line: Do your research and stick to your comfort zone here. We recommend calling the hotel directly with your questions about safety, current regulations, and any other concerns you might have.
What about house rentals?
Vacation rentals and Airbnbs are having a bit of a boom now, as people consider that the population density of hotels might be more than they are comfortable with.
These are a great option because they allow the most control over your environment. Many rental companies have revised and upgraded their cleaning protocols to make it a safe option but a quick wipe of high-touch areas and bringing your own linens and pillows should take care of any lingering risk.
Bottom line: We think this is a great option. As with hotels, contact the owner or rental agency with any questions about their cleaning protocol.
So when CAN we start planning our next international trip?
This is a tough question to answer. Until there’s a widely distributed vaccine, countries will be responding to surges in infection rates as they happen, so there’s no way to predict a safe date for your next trip to Greece, or Morocco, or Costa Rica, or Thailand (although all of those countries have had relatively few cases compared to their neighboring countries).
If you’re pining for travel, rent an RV or a beach/lake/mountain house you can easily drive to for now, and start planning and saving for your next international trip in 2021. We will be here to answer your questions and help you plan your next adventures!
Paige Conner Totaro is a co-founder of Unquote Travel, a tour and travel company. She is looking forward to a yoga retreat in Greece in 2021. Veronique Autphenne owns Pax Travel Design, a travel planning company specializing indesigning one-of-a-kind vacations for families. Both Alexandria residents are co-authors of Brussels with Kids, available on Amazon.