Thinking You Want To Travel Again? What To Expect With COVID Travel

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Thinking You Want To Travel Again? What To Expect With COVID Travel

Thinking You Want To Travel Again? What To Expect With COVID Travel

For those considering a return to travel, here’s what to expect in the COVID travel era. To be blunt: a lot has changed. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 more than a year ago, many people have not traveled anywhere. As more people start traveling again, airlines are calling back flight attendants and pilots to prepare for a big increase in travel by summer. No one can decide for you when you will start traveling again.

The point of this article is NOT to tell people what they should/shouldn’t do. However, if you’re thinking about getting back on a plane (or even just a road trip to somewhere new), we believe you should have the necessary information to make an informed decision that’s best for you. If you’re considering a trip, here’s what to expect with COVID travel.

Destination Restrictions

By now, we all know that there are places you can and can’t go. Given that restrictions at certain destinations change often, how can you stay on top of this? Here are resources I recommend:

  • IATA / Timatic Map – tells you who can enter a country, testing/quarantine requirements, special visa rules, etc. for international travel
  • State restrictions by CNN – updated frequently, it covers rules about what’s open/closed, masks, quarantine, testing, etc.
  • Delta Discover Map – even if you aren’t flying Delta, you can filter destinations by type (beach, city, etc.) and restrictions (e.g. restaurants are open)

Remember that the CDC has also changed its guidelines, saying that vaccinated people do not need to quarantine. That being said, your destination can still require it.

Thinking You Want To Travel Again? What To Expect With COVID Travel

At The Airport & On The Plane

Starting May 1, 2021, Delta will start selling middle seats. They’re the last airline in the U.S. still blocking middle seats. Depending on where you’re going, which airline you’re flying, and the popularity of that route, your plane could be empty or packed like sardines.

Masks are mandatory in airports and planes, as well as ride share vehicles, taxis, buses, etc. Depending on your destination, check the CNN link above to see if you are required to wear masks in the mall, public parks, etc.

Snacks & meals on flights have changed radically. This can vary greatly, depending on the airline & distance flown. Expect ‘no contact’ options, like a pre-prepared baggie, to be your snack–if you get one. Check with your airline to see what they’re offering in your cabin on your specific flight.

What’s Happening At Hotels

Most hotels have some sort of new cleaning policy & mask policy. Generally, you can expect something like this when visiting a hotel now:

  • Your temperature may be taken to enter the property for the first time / to check in
  • Masks are probably required in public areas, such as the elevator & lobby
  • Many locations require you to fill out forms, stating that you have not recently tested positive for COVID, that you agree to follow their safety protocols, and even accepting possible fines for not cooperating

That being said, not every hotel is a cookie cutter of the next. Mark shared a not-so-good experience here. My review of a Park Hyatt property stated that my wife and I were the only guests with masks during our 5 days there. Just because a company headquarters sets policies doesn’t mean the local hotel / its employees enforce it. What you see on a company website and what happens when you get there might be different. Look for recent reviews of the property to see what people are saying.

Coming Home

If you went outside the U.S., then you will need a COVID-19 test to return. Click here for Ian’s experience of getting tested for a flight back to the U.S. Many hotels are offering testing to guests, in order to entice customers. But what if you test positive?

Part of your “coming home” plan needs to consider a delay. What if 1 person in your family of 4 tests positive and can’t fly? Will the rest of you fly home, leaving that person behind? Or will you all stay and wait? What’s your work situation, and how will that affect your plan for coming home?

If you can’t get home on your original flight, will you have to pay change fees? Enter government quarantine at your location? Can you cover the bill for extra hotel nights? This is not fear-mongering, but you need to really consider what might happen and have a plan for it. We talked about that in this podcast (jump to 12:25) with emergency planning for possible flight cancelations or someone testing positive for COVID.

And while you aren’t required to quarantine/self-isolate after returning home if you’re vaccinated, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. Consider whether you will isolate after returning home, whether that means more days off work, if you should take a COVID test before going back into your normal life, etc.

Thinking You Want To Travel Again? What To Expect With COVID Travel

Staying Safe During The Trip

Most people are heavily focused on the ‘stay safe in the plane’ aspect of travel right now. In fact, I rarely hear anyone discuss anything else in terms of travel safety. However, that’s really not sufficient.

According to Rui Pombal, medical director of the Aviation Medicine Centre and Travel Clinic at TAP Air Portugal Group Health Services:

“When we think of flying, we also need to think in terms of the whole trip as an end to end process. It is in fact a journey that starts the moment you walk out the door to get into a vehicle—car, train or bus—that will take you to the airport, through airport procedures, flying itself, all the way to the activities you are going to engage in once you get to your destination. You cannot dissociate the risk from all those steps.”

According to the American Medical Association, if you keep your mask on and stay in your seat, the flight is likely the least risky part of your trip. It’s all of the other stuff, like being in a restaurant eating with your mask off while surrounded by strangers at the next table, that you need to also factor into your safety plan.

Consider the things you plan to do on your trip, and determine how you will stay safe during those. It’s more than just ‘wear masks’, too. Will you go out to restaurants? Maybe outdoor dining only? Food delivery to the room only? Apply those same questions to all other aspects of the trip. Also, your safety plan only covers the things you can control.

Knowing What You Can & Can’t Control

Which brings me to one of the most important parts of what to expect during COVID travel: some people won’t do the right thing. You can only control what happens in your travel group, which you should discuss in advance. If you show up for a flight & someone isn’t wearing a mask, you can notify a flight attendant. There is a person whose job is to resolve that situation. What about out in public?

What will you do if you wind up in an airport shuttle to the rental car lot, and some people aren’t wearing masks? And what if you ask them to put one on, but they don’t? This is something you need to consider prior to travel, because a situation like this is bound to happen. You can’t control what other people do, so consider this element. More than anything else right now, the biggest thing you need to consider (in my opinion) is how you will respond to others not following rules, CDC guidance, common sense, etc.

You want to know what to expect during COVID travel? Expect that some people won’t do what you think they should, and you can’t force them to fall in line.  Will that ruin your trip? If so, it’s probably not the right time for you to return to traveling, because I promise you this will happen somewhere during your journey.

Thinking You Want To Travel Again? What To Expect With COVID Travel

What To Expect With COVID Travel – Final Thoughts

Not everyone is ready to start traveling again. While more people are getting vaccinated and feeling comfortable traveling, that’s also correlating with an increase in COVID cases. Whether it’s because they’re vaccinated or maybe just feeling like they “need to get out”, more people are traveling.

The point is not whether or not you agree with this. People are starting to travel, and many of them have not gone anywhere for over a year. Things are different now. Hopefully, this helps you know what to expect with COVID travel, so you can make an informed decision about when/if you will go somewhere.

Ryan Smith
Travel hacker in 2-player mode, intent on visiting every country in the world, and can say "hello" or "how much does this cost?" in a bunch of different languages.

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  1. This is a reasonable post presenting data as you have it without the “i know better about dealing with viruses than those who spent decades learning and working with viruses daily” attitude. I didn’t see any part of the article suggesting we should stay locked in our glass houses, only some simple acts to reduce (not eliminate) risk yet we still see the extreme responses. Why and on what factual base that can withstand logical (forget scientific) scrutiny?

    I’ve operated my miter saw a bunch of times without anything ever flying off poking me in the eye or losing a limb; those who wear eye protection or let the saw stop before raising because WGA and most carpentry schools say it’s dangerous not to are sheeple. I have 2 aunts that smoked daily for over 20 years up to a dozen sticks a day each and neither have lung or any other type of cancer; those who stopped smoking because CDC, ACS, etc… said smoking can cause cancer, etc… are sheeple. I’ve seen pedestrians cross busy streets with their face buried in their phones many times without seeing a single one crushed under a bus; those who look before crossing because mom, dad, teacher, DMV/DOL says it’s dangerous not to even when using marked crosswalks are sheeple.
    You’re welcome to do what you believe is right so long as it doesn’t affect others. You’re even welcome to try convincing everybody your way is better. That’s actually good as it stimulates healthy debates. Slamming or shaming others, ignoring large amounts of data supporting an difference scenario from what you believe in is not ok.

    Facts abound Wayne, George, Elena, Bobby, et al. If you choose to ignore, that’s ok. Just don’t force it on others or put others at risk. Do you know for certain you have not carried the virus to others and gotten people ill or dead and never even knew about it? Ever heard of Typhoid Mary? Try searching for covid-19 super spreader or just any virus super spreader and see if Google can find even a handful of facts or if Google is making billions every year serving up fiction.

    • Where is all of this “data” that you allegedly present? Maybe I missed it. Probably because you confuse “data” with OPINIONS. I do not care how long a person has allegedly studied “viruses” if their statements are colored by political viewpoints then the statements they make are political and NOT facts (they have NO FACTS to back up even ONE WORD of what they say). For every political opinion you post about I can present other DOCTORS that have studied as long as any of your “Doctors” and they state exactly the opposite. And yes, “Google” is horribly wrong on MOST issues and intentionally bury anything that opposes their liberal OPINIONS. While people like you and other liberals present outright LIES I am going to do as the LAW allows me to do. ANYTIME I do not have to wear a mask I will NOT wear one. Social distancing was started in 1880 by ONE Doctor that was treating typhoid patients, and, when asked how far people should stay away from people that had typhoid he said “I think 6 feet should do it”. Really ONE DOCTORS statement without even one shred of FACTS? Other than his opinion, he had nothing to back anything he SURMISED up. That is one of the reasons that the standard by the liberal Doctors have been lowered to 3 feet. I am not trying to force anything I believe on others. However, I am not going to buy into your false rhetoric and liberal thoughts. I will NOT wear a mask, social distance or do any of the other nonsense you promote unless demanded to by the authorities. I once skied with a person I met in the “singles” line that stated he had been skiing for “15 years”. What he should have said was I have skied 15 times total in his entire life. When he asked me how to disembark the ski lift I knew I had a person that stated he had 15 years of experience but had only been out a handful of times in his life. Your statement about a political opinion is just that an OPINION and NOT a scientific FACT. Do what you want to do and that is what I will do. Btw, liberals need to stop posting false pictures of large gatherings and claiming they are recent pictures. We caught people like you claiming they have recent pictures of a “super spreader” event when the picture was actually taken BEFORE anyone had even HEARD of this virus. Liberals are amazing in their chutzpah. I guess the liberal mantra is “if you can’t prove it LIE about it.” Quit forcing your “OPINIONS” on others. If you state that I am you are a LIAR.

  2. Is there actually anyone reading this that hasn’t been traveling the entire time during this? With incredible fares and many places open in 2020 we flew over 70,000 miles. Starting with an incredible trip to Las Vegas in late March 2020 to see (hopefully) the once in a lifetime opportunity to walk the near empty strip. We ate at many interesting restaurants in Florida, South Dakota, Nevada, Montana and more. While supporting struggling businesses.

    I truly hope many others utilized this opportunity to continue to live their lives.

    • Richard – there are actually a fair number of our readers who have stated they haven’t traveled due to various reasons. Hopefully, this can be informative for people about what to expect when they travel again.

  3. Thanks for an interesting article, Ryan S. I am a doctor, but will avoid commenting in that regard. My comments are made “purely as a traveler”.
    I am American Airlines Executive Platinum (6 million miles), Marriott Platinum Elite (over 1500 lifetime nights), and have status also with Delta (2 million miles), Hilton, EVA Air, Hyatt, etc. So I WAS a frequent, frequent traveler. I counted once and have flown into/out of 146 airports around the world. With my previous passport, I had had extra pages added twice. And I own a business here in the U.S. and have an office in a foreign (Asian) country, s was flying across the Pacific about every 6-8 weeks in the pre-pandemic days.
    So I am a very experienced traveler. And, again, consider myself to be well-informed on the science of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID-19 (as well as other communicable diseases in other countries).
    But even with all of the above said, I find that “getting back into the mindset” of travel is somewhat challenging. The airports are rapidly becoming more and more crowded (have flown on two trips in the last six days). And people are acting as if there was never any virus (I see people clumped together with no social distancing, lots of maskless people, etc.). Yesterday on the plane the guy sitting beside me in first class would would, wipe his nose on his hands, touch multiple things around him, touch his eyes and nose, and then shovel something out of the snack bag into his mouth, etc.). He seems rather ripe for the award of “the next COVID-19 patient”.
    The “hoo-hah” about how rental cars are clean, and hotels are clean, and restaurants are safe is, well, just a load of “hoo-hah”.
    So, I will continue to travel. But even though I am vaccinated (Moderna), it is taking a little adjustment to get back into it. And some of the knuckleheads who I see out there aren’t helping any of us “ease back in”.
    Like so many things in life, I find that I need to put out extra efforts to protect myself. Because many (not all) in the public are behaving like a group of pigs who haven’t been fed for a week and who are suddenly released into a corn silo. They can’t resist devouring the travel experience in giant gulps, with little regard to anything (or anyone) around them.
    Bottom line: travel again, but protect yourself. The virus ain’t over yet. And enjoy the experience as best you can.

    • Ed – a good perspective, thanks for sharing it. People are traveling, and the mental shift from how it used to be to how things are now can be difficult.

    • “The virus ain’t over yet” you state. With your experience you should KNOW that the virus will NEVER be over. How long do you think we should be fearful of contacting this “Virus”?

  4. Done almost 200,000 miles since Jan 2020.
    30 countries visited (1st, 2nd and 3rd world)

    Hotels every night. Eating in restaurants, etc.
    Uber all the time, public busses.

    No vaccine, limited mask wearing and ZERO issues.

    For those of you living in fear still, it’s 2021, get on with your lives.
    There are a lot bigger things to worry about than a virus with a 99.95% survival rate for people under 70. (Source: CDC)

    Seriously. This is like not driving in a car because you’re scared of being hit by a drunk driver.
    Put your fear in check, and live your life.

    It’s beautiful out there in the world – no reason to keep hiding.
    Eventually, you have to live before you die.

    • George – thanks for commenting. A few things: 1-the CDC doesn’t release ‘survival rates’ and here’s an analysis of the non-science of claims about it
      2-I’m not sure what fear has to do with a discussion here or anywhere else regarding a virus. Science is science and has nothing to do with emotions. Your experiences are interesting data points, but extrapolating from that to form scientific data or declarations about what others should do is simply not logical. The point of this post was exactly the opposite of what your comment has aimed to do: shame people / tell others what to do and how to live their lives.

      • YOU are too unbeleivable to give anything you say even one word of creedence. Do you argue that the survival rate is NOT 98.5 to 99.5 depending on age. When I looked up the same question this was what I saw. I did pose the question “What doe the CDC state is the survival rate of covid and though this may not have been the CDC’s site (the information did show up first). Do you really want to argue that the percentages are wrong. It seems like minutae to me. WHAT does it matter who said it? George is telling no one how to live. He does state what liberals do and say is wrong. Live your life and let me live mine. How about that for telling others what to do?

    • George – thanks for your good points. I too have been to a number of different countries in the past 5 months and if you take common-sense precautions and don’t exaggerate the risks, travel is perfectly safe now, especially for those under 65. Someday our kids and grandkids are going to look back in horror at how we completely over-reacted to this thing. The damage done by the shutdowns on mental health, the economy, and those with other ailments besides flu is going to be felt for many, many years. That damage will easily surpass anything COVID ever did, if it hasn’t already.
      I look at it this way: those who want to stay inside their glass houses all masked up while throwing stones at the rest of us trying to live their lives are simply helping reduce the lines at airports and making it easier for us to get dinner reservations.

      • Bobby – thanks for commenting. Unfortunately, a lot of what you said is not based in facts. Traveling now is a personal decision, and I won’t tell you whether you should or shouldn’t. However, claiming it is perfectly safe for anyone of any age is simply not true. Facts matter, so I felt it’s important to reply to you stating this.

    • George, 100% with you. I have flown domestically almost every month since I came back on February 2020 from a month in Spain and Italy, and my husband has been traveling to Europe every month this 2021. We wear masks when entering the business (including airports) that require so, but not in the street or once we are seated at a restaurant (seems that there is no contagion up to 5 feet from the ground ::rolling eyes::). For the record my husband is a physician and he did his homework before choosing to keep living life. Neither of us had COVID-19 (or if either of us did we were asymptomatic). He was required to take the vaccine a couple months ago and he did, I chose not to. We won’t enter in the political arena about this pandemic been grossly hyped and/or the “regular” flu being curiously MIA.

    • Thank you, George for posting a sensible post. The corona virus will never go away–EVER. I am taking a road trip at the end of May and I am not worried at all. First of all, there is absolutely NO SCIENCE to support wearing a mask or especially social distancing. There is plenty of OPINIONS but NONE supported by any “science”. The OPINIONS are driven by the political agenda of the person giving their OPINION. It is high time that we begin living our lives again. Let the worriers stay home. Your post is sensible and well written regardless of the libs that have stated otherwise. “Science is science”. That is correct and there is NONE that support the political statements made by those that claim there is. I have asked many times to supply a link to any SCIENCE and all I have gotten back (if I even get a reply) is someones OPINION. NO SCIENTIFIC STUDIES that would support their OPINIONS.

      • Absolutely true. Stanford University recently published a paper about the myriad of health issues from wearing masks, but the media has kept quite silent about it. Wonder why…

        • Are you “spamming” your own site? Of course anyone will read any SCIENCE on this matter. I have read a few links and they, so far, have been OPINIONS without any support for their OPINIONS with ANY scientific FACT(S). If you say there are any FACTS to support your position supply them. I will gladly read them but I suspect that you will link only more OPINIONS.

  5. Excellent and detailed article. Well laid out and very helpful.

    It has also convinced me that I ain’t flying anywhere yet for a while longer! Road Tripping America looks to be the thing. Staying with vaccinated relatives and some camping and maybe some hotel stuff as well.

    For those that are willing to fly and deal with all the extra exposure, etc, well, do the best you can to stay safe and healthy!


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