When it comes to travel, COVID-19 is a loose cannon. Just when we thought the worst was behind us – blam! – we get hit with another variant. And now everyone is wondering how to have a COVID-19-free vacation this fall – if that’s even possible.
Many of them are doing what Jenny Yang did when she traveled with her family during the peak of the delta surge in California. Instead of flying somewhere far away, her family drove from Los Angeles to Big Bear Lake, California, in the rugged San Bernardino mountains. They rented a home instead of booking a hotel.
“Once we were in the cabin, I wiped down every frequently touched surface such as doorknobs, dining table tops, handles, and mirrors, and opened all the windows before I let the kids inside,” says Yang, a sales manager for a travel accessories retailer in Los Angeles.
Too much? Maybe, maybe not.
As people look to their fall trips, they’re also keeping an eye on rising COVID-19 case numbers. And they’re wondering: How do they keep the coronavirus from joining them on their trip?
As we get closer to the Thanksgiving holiday, one of the busiest travel periods of the year, the questions are likely to become more frantic. But there are answers.
“You have to be prepared,” says Kim Greulich, founder of KG Travel Club, a luxury travel agency. “Be vaccinated, have the proper insurance, know the required testing protocols – and know what happens if you test positive while traveling.”
Do you feel lucky?
Before you go, you have to repeat that Clint Eastwood line: Do I feel lucky?
Well, do you?
“Assess your own risk tolerance level,” advises Jacqueline Hampton, founder of the travel planning site Portico. If you’re anxious about getting sick, plan a trip to a region with higher vaccination rates or consider a road trip and renting homes.
A high vaccination rate suggests increased respect for preventive measures, she says.
“For instance, I was just in Italy, where vaccination rates are high,” Hampton adds. “In northern Italy, where I was, they were even higher than the national average. I found that everyone followed the rule of wearing masks indoors and was quite respectful in not overcrowding stores and maintaining personal distance.”
OK, obviously, staying home is the safest bet. But that wouldn’t be any fun.
Yes, you have to get vaccinated
Speaking of which, if you want to travel internationally – and stay as COVID-19-free as possible – you’ll need a vaccination.
“That’s the step you’ll have to take if you want to travel to Europe, in any case,” says Charles Neville, marketing director at JayWay Travel.
He notes that many European countries have effectively enacted a vaccination mandate for visitors from outside the EU: Proof of vaccination is required to do most things a tourist does on vacation. There’s almost no way around it.
► Which EU countries are open to US tourists? A breakdown of EU travel restrictions by country
► Flying to US from another country? What to know about new entry rules
Plan – and then plan some more
“Plan as carefully as you would normally,” advises Mitch Krayton, a travel advisor from Denver. “Then add another area of research called personal safety.”
What does he mean by “personal safety”? Well, you now have to plan for prevention and treatment for this virus. Check with the U.S. Embassy, the Centers for Disease Control and the embassy of the country you’re visiting. Also, call your insurance to find out what is covered or excluded. And then plan what to do about those exclusions, including the cost of quarantining.
Oh, and one more thing.
“Be flexible,” says Marino Cardelli, a tour operator from Italy. I reached him just as he was dealing with a crisis. One member of a small group of Americans had tested positive for COVID-19 in Italy. The company had to cancel the rest of their tour and go into quarantine.
“Fortunately, they found nice hosts at their Airbnb who canceled the next bookings for them to quarantine,” he says. “I’m telling you this story so that you understand that traveling is still a big risk. Things don’t always go as planned.”
That’s true. And this fall, perhaps more than any other time this year, travel will be unpredictable. It won’t stop me from getting out there – and it shouldn’t stop you, either.
Tips for staying away from COVID-19 this fall
Get out of town. Look at hotspot trends, but remember that COVID-19 has a vote, since new mutations are possible. “Hedge your bets by picking getaway spots where COVID trends matter less, like remote camping, horseback riding, ranch vacations and hiking,” advises Kent Webber, senior manager of intelligence services at Global Rescue. “Go where you can be outside and away from crowds.”
Know where to find entry and exit requirements. Check out a tool like Borderless from insurance company SafetyWing, which helps keep travelers updated with any restrictions and entry requirements worldwide. A team of researchers revises the database every other day. Also, check the CDC Covid Data Tracker to identify which places are safer and which ones are full of COVID patients.
Don’t leave anything to chance. Be ready for COVID-19 guidelines to change while you’re on your trip. “Pack extra masks – or a whole pack,” says Jen Moyse, a senior product director at TripIt. “And make sure your whole party has proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test with them in case a border, location, or venue you hope to visit requires one.”