Is Travel Safe Now During COVID-19

Is Travel Safe Now During COVID-19

February 03, 2021

The coronavirus continues to spread across the country, but as pandemic fatigue sets in, many are eagerly considering vacations and travel.  With COVID-19 spiking across the country, it's a challenging time to make vacation plans and many travelers are wondering if travel is safe at all right now.

The answer depends on many variables, namely, how you plan to do so, where you want to go, the rates of infection in your chosen destination, and your anticipated behavior once you arrive.

For example, driving your own car and renting a house where you're the only inhabitant is quite different from entering a crowded airport, boarding a plane, and checking-in to a large resort.

Ultimately, resuming travel comes down to the level of risk that makes you feel comfortable. And while the vaccination processed is underway, it's still vital to be careful and safe right now until herd immunity levels have been achieved, which won't be for quite some time.  Unfortunately, you will not be able to resume normal activities even after you receive the vaccine. 

After nearly a year of quarantine, Americans are ready to travel – an overnight trip, a weekend getaway, a summer sojourn. With states reopening, that’s now possible, with a caveat.  Before coronavirus, few people likely thought twice about staying in a hotel room, rental home or cabin in the woods. But now, we have to factor in the potential for coronavirus exposure. Even if you’re OK with the travel risks taking you to your destination – plane, train or automobile – what about the risks of the destination spot itself?

Traveling these days brings increased risk, yet ways exist to minimize that risk.

The issues

No matter what type of stay you’re planning, the primary concern is coming into close contact (less than six feet) with an infected person. That probability is higher when you travel. Keep in mind a person with COVID-19 can spread the virus before developing symptoms. From the start, you must assume that everyone around you may be infected -  including yourself.

Hotel vs. vacation rental

After breaking down the risks of both hotels and vacation rentals such as Airbnb or Vrbo, no matter the type of lodging you pick, the main factors to consider are the likelihood you'll encounter other people, the number and length of such encounters, and whether the location and region are experiencing high rates of infection.  When booking any type of lodging, consider how many people you'll be surrounded by when was the last time someone stayed in that accommodation. 

Experts say that home vacation rentals may actually be safer than hotels right now since you can minimize contact when you book a standalone property, and won't have to encounter crowded common spaces or interact with people at check-in desks. 

Before you book

There’s no way to make a stay 100% safe, but there are certainly ways to make a stay safer. Remember each lodging scenario is different; for example, unlike hotels or rental homes, campgrounds typically have only shared bathrooms. But wherever you may stay, start by checking out the establishment’s website, or call to ask what management is doing to reduce transmission risk:

  • Cleaning with approved products should be frequent. Ask if hand washing or hand sanitizing stations are available in common areas. Engineering controls, like increasing air exchange or HEPA filters in the ventilation system, should be in place. If that’s not the case, consider bringing a portable air purifier with a HEPA filter. On the low-tech side: Can windows be opened for better air flow? A fan can help bring in more outdoor air and increase the mixing rate if used near an open window.
  • No-contact options, like digital keys.
  • Policies on masks and health screenings for guests and staff.
  • Is the rental business limiting capacity to promote distance? That is, are they booking only every other room? And are they preventing one-night stays -avoid lodgings with same-day turnovers.

Strategies for a safer stay

Once you’ve determined the management is doing all it can, you need to do all you can to minimize exposure. Wear a face covering and practice social distancing in common areas. Minimize time in enclosed, less ventilated spaces, like elevators. Avoid contact with “high-touch” surfaces in shared spaces, like the elevator call button, door handles, and dining tables and chairs; they are less likely to have been disinfected between each individual’s touch. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after spending time in common areas. If gyms and pools are open, remember to social distance, wear your mask, and wipe down equipment before and after use.

Use plastic zip bags for personal items that others may handle. That includes your driver’s license, credit card and key. Bring extra bags to put these things in after you disinfect them. Handle your own luggage, or arrange for no-contact delivery.

If housekeeping is available, opt out. Request that decorative pillows and duvet covers be removed before your arrival.

Lowest-risk options for dining: bring your own food or do room service or no-contact delivery. Outdoor dining can be a reasonable option, but if you dine inside, make sure there’s reasonable ventilation and adequately spaced tables.

Bring enough masks or face coverings for each day, or bring detergent to wash between uses. You’ll also need hand sanitizer or hand wipes, a surface disinfectant, paper towels and disposable disinfectant wipes. Contact with contaminated surfaces is of less concern, but still something to consider. Try to minimize your contact with surfaces – tabletops, chairs, bathroom sinks, duvet covers – that haven’t been cleaned or disinfected.

Rental cars

You might be wondering if rental cars are safe to drive in a pandemic. Most of the transmission of the coronavirus is respiratory and not through inanimate objects.  The greatest risk is if you happen to be in the car with someone else and who could be infected.

Air Travel

Air travel requires spending time in security lines and airport terminals, which can bring you in close contact with other people and frequently touched surfaces. Most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air is circulated and filtered on airplanes. However, social distancing is difficult on crowded flights and sitting within 6 feet of others, sometimes for hours, may increase your risk of getting COVID-19.

Train travel

Trains offer another way to approach getting from point A to point B, for both regional and long-distance routes. For travelers who prefer to stick closer to the ground and avoid planes, or for those who would rather nap, read, and take in the sights over managing navigation and traffic, trains offer a solid alternate option.

And while you'll have more space to spread out than in an airplane, traveling by train still generally involves interfacing with many people.   
Like other facets of travel, the answer depends on your set of circumstances. However, the same rules apply to minimize risk:  social distancing, face coverings, and hand washing.  


The good news is that skiing and snowboarding can be a relatively low-risk option as long as you are vigilent and take proper precautions. If guests physically distance, wear face masks, and avoid enclosed gondolas/trams or going indoors, the risk is low.  Avoid the temptation of going indoors to warm up, drink and eat. 

Remember: Even following the suggestions provided, it still may not eliminate your chance of getting the virus. The bottom line is,  nonessential travel for everyone right now it not recommended. You may need a vacation, but COVID-19 never takes one.

Photo by Josiah Farrow from Pexels