Getting out of town in recent months has probably caused more stress than ever before, which is understandable. In addition to any fears about exposure to COVID-19, there are also mandated rules and restrictions that can complicate your plans. So even if gathering with family or loved ones in another area is within the realm of possibility this year, you've got a lot to consider. Thankfully, experts have a few holiday travel tips that could make you feel as prepared — and safe — as possible.
Many of you have been limiting your recent travels with COVID-19 safety precautions, which could mean opting for driving-distance-only locations or camping with only your housemates as a way to continue social distancing while getting out of the house. But if you have to hop on a plane for your family holiday festivities, that could present some new issues.
While there's certainly reason for concern when traveling during a pandemic, there are a few things you can do to make everything go a little more smoothly — from strategically booking your flight to what to keep in your carry-on — and who better than professional travel planners/advisors to help you prepare? Ahead find six suggested practices to keep in mind when planning any holiday trips this year.
Holiday Travel Tip: Pre-Check State Requirements
It may seem obvious, but it's worth a reminder: Check the requirements for traveling to your destination — as well as those for leaving/returning to your current state. "For example, New York currently has over 40 states on its mandated quarantine list meaning that if you go home to visit your family in one of those restricted states for the holidays, you will be required to quarantine upon returning home," explains Chelsea Martin, founder and luxury travel advisor for Passport to Friday. "The same goes for travelers looking to travel to states that have a mandated quarantine or require a negative COVID test. For example, Maine and Massachusetts currently require you to have a negative COVID test within 72 hours prior to arrival or quarantine for 14 days if you are traveling from a restricted state. Additionally, if you are traveling to Hawaii your negative COVID test must come from their list of trusted partners."
Holiday Travel Tip: Be Strategic About Airlines
Worried about social distancing? Some airlines have stricter practices than others when booking flights. "Every airline has taken great strides to protect their passengers," shares Esther Klijn of CIRE Travel. "That said, only Delta Airlines and Southwest Airlines are blocking the middle seat to have some level of social distancing." And Martin adds that if you can afford an upgrade, a seat in first class might offer even more space.
And because plans can change, you'll want to research the airline's policy regarding rescheduling, too. "Most airlines are waiving change fees and continuing to do so," Klijn says. "However, this is largely dependent on when your tickets were booked, as the policies depend on the date the ticket was issued."
Holiday Travel Tip: Avoid Layovers When Possible
More stops means being around more people — which can increase your risk of exposure. For this reason, Martin recommends opting for direct flights if at all possible.
Holiday Travel Tip: Arrive Early
Even in such a strange year for travel, prepare for usual holiday delays (plus potential new ones due to safety precautions) and long lines, says Martin. Your best bet is to arrive a few hours ahead of your departing time to allow for any unexpected issues.
Holiday Travel Tip: Stock Up On Safety Essentials
"Every flight I have been on since the pandemic started has handed out packaged sanitizer wipes when you board, but consider bringing more of your own to sanitize your seat, tray table, etc," says Martin. "Planes are incredibly sanitary right now, but any added steps you can take may bring you more peace of mind. It is also nice to have sanitizing wipes to wipe down your phone and other items you may set down in different places."
It may also help to know you can stash a big bottle of the stuff in your carry-on, too (not just a mini). "TSA has even stepped up to the plate as well and is permitting 12 whole ounces of hand sanitizer," Klijn says. "A bit luxurious compared to the usual 3 ounce limit." This way you don't have to worry about using it sparingly.
Holiday Travel Tip: Wear A Mask
Speaking of safety essentials, don't forget to wear a mask — and keep it on throughout the flight and your time inside the airport. "Wear your mask or don't travel," says Martin. "That is an official rule and not a suggestion."