As we all continue to adjust to the ever-changing new normal, we have to be flexible and ready to handle different contingencies, especially when traveling. The United States is a big country and it’s impossible to track all of the different closures and limitations outside your local area, let alone across state lines. (Sadly, international travel beyond the Caribbean and Mexico still isn’t an option for most of us currently.)
Planning a 2021 trip?
Even if you are a veteran traveler, here are some tips to help your trip go more smoothly during these tumultuous times:
Know before you go – check out these information sites!
If you’re thinking about traveling to a different state, check before you travel to make sure you won’t need to get tested and/or quarantine for up to 14 days before you can leave your hotel or friend/relative’s house or when you return home. As COVID infection levels rise and fall, states and localities are changing their requirements and restrictions frequently, sometimes even at different times of the day. Check in advance and again immediately before you leave for the most up to date information. If you have received the full vaccination series, make sure you travel with your evidence of vaccination. Also take a photo of it and mark it as a favorite in your phone so you can find it easily.
New York Times: The New York Times website is updated daily and provides quick view U. S. maps showing business closures, mask mandates, and any stay at home orders. Click on a state to get more specific information.
Delta Airlines: Delta has a frequently updated website with information about restrictions around the U.S. as well as Delta’s international destinations.
If you’re looking for information about restaurants, Open Table has a blog, however it is not updated regularly. It’s useful to see where you can dine inside, outside, or only get take out. If you want to know about a specific restaurant, it’s best to contact them directly. Sadly, a restaurant you may be looking forward to returning to may not be open, but it can be fun to try to find a new favorite.
Do you need a negative COVID test before you travel?
Hawaii said Aloha to tourists again in October, however unless you’re willing to quarantine for 14 days, their pre-arrival testing requirements are VERY strict. If the location you’re traveling to requires a negative test, look carefully for information about approved test center, timing of test (usually within x hours of arrival), and type of test (antibody test is usually not sufficient).
In Hawaii, passengers who had obtained negative results from an un-approved testing center and weren’t willing to quarantine were put on the next plane home. Check this website for the most up to date information about Hawaii (approved testing sites are increasing) and its travel registration requirement.
When you are selecting a test site at home pre-travel, make sure they offer the type of test you need and that you will receive your results before you’re supposed to board the plane or arrive at your destination if you’re driving.
Currently the CDC is still recommending testing even if you have been fully vaccinated. Just because you have been vaccinated does not mean you can skip any required testing. Check the specific rules at your destination.
No mask? No travel!
All airlines and many hotels have mask mandates. Delta has put over 400 people on its no fly list because they’ve refused to wear masks onboard aircraft. Even if you do not wear a mask at home, you should follow posted requirements when you travel or you may lose the privilege of travel!
The air on planes is filtered and recirculated frequently and poses much less of a risk than air in airport terminals or other shared indoor spaces. To minimize your contact with other travelers, I recommend choosing a window seat with an empty seat next to you. Delta is keeping middle seats vacant at least through April 30, 2021, however no other domestic airlines are doing that. We recommend that you choose a seat that has an empty seat next to it (even though you may have to pay more for that privilege). Keep checking as your flight date gets closer and change your seat if necessary HOWEVER a last-minute or standby passenger may be placed in the seat you thought would be empty. Most domestic airlines permit you to purchase the seat next to you to ensure it stays vacant. If that’s in your budget, it’s an excellent option.
The Points Guy has an article with charts on airline cleaning protocols which is updated periodically. Airline schedules are changing frequently and as your travel date gets closer, you may receive notice that your flight has been changed as airlines consolidate trips. When this occurs, an airline may reduce two trips to one or daily flights to every other day. In this situation, even airlines that have an ’empty middle seat’ policy may fill empty seats to accommodate bumped travelers who did not change their plans.
If you have any questions about empty middle seats or cleaning protocols, it is best to check your airline’s website or call them directly.
Make your plans as flexible as possible
Since restrictions and plans can change last minute, we recommend reserving cancellable hotel rooms, rental cars, and flights. You may pay slightly more than a prepaid reservation, but it’s worth it. You will pay considerably more for a refundable flight (and carefully read the airline policy) but these days many airlines are permitting you to change your flight without a penalty (you pay the airfare cost difference). Make sure you understand your options before you purchase (or within 24 hours of purchasing because you can cancel any U.S. flight within 24 hours of purchase for a full refund). If your plans change and you can’t use your ticket, most airlines will offer a credit for a future period; you don’t need to know your future travel dates now and you don’t need to use it for the same destination. If you are traveling with multiple people (e.g., a family of four), each of you will have their own credit even though one person paid for the entire party.
Although we recommend using a travel agent, such as Edge on Travel, who can advise you of your options, if you book online yourself, look at sites like Kayak. After you enter your basic travel information (date, destination, number in party), the next screen has options like “free cancellation” for hotels and “flexible changes” or “flexible cancellation” for flights (under “Flexible options”). Check the individual airline’s policy about changes/cancellations before you purchase the ticket, however.
Also consider using frequent flyer points to purchase airline tickets – many airlines have very flexible cancellation policies for these tickets (points are returned to your account).
If you choose to purchase travel insurance, make sure you purchase “Cancel for any Reason” coverage to ensure that you will be able to obtain a refund.
General travel advice during the pandemic
Travel with extra disinfecting wipes, seal-able plastic bags (like Ziploc), hand sanitizer, extra masks and gloves (if you choose) and keep them available. They aren’t helpful if they’re in your checked bag and you need them in the airport or on the plane. Whether you’re traveling by car or plane, don’t count on being able to buy them where you are traveling because there are still local shortages.
Make sure you travel with at least two weeks extra of any medication you might need in case you are quarantined.
If you’re traveling by car and being extra cautious, bring your own food, drinks, and snacks. Drive-through restaurants may not be open where you are traveling or may be outside your risk tolerance. Be prepared for a smaller than normal menu and reduced operating hours. Do not plan on stores or restaurants being open after 7 or 8 pm. Be prepared to eat in your car because even picnic areas may be off-limits. Just because stores and restaurants are open late where you are, don’t count on that being the case everywhere.
If you are planning to stay overnight in a hotel, call ahead the day before to make sure it is still open to guests. If you’re planning on eating a hotel breakfast, also check that they’re serving it. When you arrive, physically distance yourself in public areas and disinfect surfaces in your room out of an abundance of caution before you touch them or set anything down.
If you’re going on a road trip and you usually rely on smartphone apps for directions, don’t count on having cellular service or data throughout your trip. If you haven’t done a road trip in several years, you may not be aware of how limited cell service is along major highways and secondary routes. If you decide to travel with a physical map as backup, purchase a road atlas online or from a big box store before you start your trip.
Please pack your patience and respect local regulations, even if you don’t agree with them. Let’s work together to keep everyone as safe as possible.
If you need help custom-fitting or making a filter for a cloth mask, this article shows how to do both quickly and easily. The materials and instructions are quick and easy enough to do even if you’re on the road!
All of us at Edge on Travel wish you safe travels!