How to Travel Safely During the Pandemic
Covid-19 has turned our lives upside down. From virtual school and work environments to wearing masks and limiting contact with those outside of your "bubble," we have had to learn to do everything differently. Travel is no exception. If you are anything like me, travel is not just a want, it's a need and a passion. My mental health is dependent on having trips planned where I can experience new places, either alone or with my family. When the virus began, I think that was one of the things that hit me the hardest, not being able to travel. For over six weeks, I didn't even leave my neighborhood. We had groceries delivered and stayed away from everyone, thinking ignorantly that the virus would be short lived and our lives would only be disrupted for just a little while. After six weeks of living like a recluse, I realized that we all needed a change of scenery. We planned our first trip in June of 2020, a house on a private island in South Carolina. Being there changed our entire outlook on travel during the pandemic. Since then, I have travelled a few more times and we have a few more trips on the books too! Between my own travels and the extensive training I have done, below are some tips to help you when you are ready to leave your bubble.
Bring plenty of masks for you and your family because you are going to need them. And, you don't want to spend your entire vacation cleaning them. Leave some in the car and take some in the hotel with you. Most hotels require that you wear them in all public spaces unless you are actively eating or drinking or swimming. If outdoors, you need to maintain at least 6 feet distance, if you are not wearing a mask. Wearing a mask is how we show others that we care about their health and safety. What a great lesson to teach our children.
Plan Your Bathroom Breaks
If you are traveling by car, it is not as easy these days to find a restroom. Many fast food restaurants still have their dining rooms closed and some gas stations will not allow patrons to use their bathrooms. Grocery stores and hotels seem to be your best bet.
Bring Lots of Hand Sanitizer & Lysol Wipes
I keep both in my car. When stopping for bathroom breaks, I bring wipes in the bathroom with me. Using hand sanitizer after everything has just become common place. I've used it so much in the past year that I had to have my rings re-dipped!
Check Your Hotel's Covid-19 Protocols BEFORE booking
So, this is where working with a knowledgeable travel professional can really come in handy! Travel professionals have direct access to worldwide hotel chains and stay up to date on hotel safety protocols. Well, at least the good ones do! Here are some questions to ask:
Is the hotel's housekeeping department cleaning or disinfecting? There is a difference. And, what cleaning products are they using? Are they CDC recommended?
Are rooms at the hotel being left vacant between check-ins? If so, for how long?
Does the hotel check temperatures of hotel guests and/or ask them to complete a medical form?
Are rooms sealed following disinfection so that nobody enters them before you?
Are the hotel's staff being monitored regularly? Temperature checks? Testing? Self checks?
Does the hotel enforce proper mask wearing? Will they actually tell a guest to put on their mask? To put their mask over their nose?
Are there limited touch points at the hotel? For instance, will they provide housekeeping services to your room or is it only upon request? Will room service enter your room? Are mini bars refreshed?
Are hotel outlets running at full capacity? Restaurants? Bars? And, are they enforcing social distancing at those outlets? If so, how?
Are all services available through the hotel? Spa? Children's clubs? Group activities?
Are restaurants using QR codes that lead to digital menus or are there menus on the tables? How are tables disinfected between guests? Salt and Pepper shakers? Are partitions being use?
Are there options for outdoor dining?
What is the hotel's policy should a guest become ill?
Does the hotel perform contact tracing of their staff?
Traveling By Airplane
Air travel has increased recently. Some airlines are doing a better job than others with safety protocols. My personal airline of choice is and has always been Delta Airlines. Delta continues to lead the charge in disinfection of their planes and enforcement of mask protocols. Their airplanes are heavily disinfected between flights (not just cleaned) and they continue to leave the middle seats unoccupied unless members of the same family book their seats together. What I am most impressed with is that Delta has been extremely generous with their cancellation policies. We had a trip to Italy booked for June. We cancelled it only because Italy will not be ready for us. They are in lock-down currently. Delta refunded all of my SkyMiles points and also the fees I paid to use the SkyMiles. If you pay for a ticket with a credit card, they are providing vouchers in the full amount so that you can use them to travel again without change fees. That, in my book, is customer service!
International travel definitely looks different these days. Each destination and each hotel within those destinations have their own rules, regulations and protocols in place. To make things even more complex, these all seem to change on a daily basis. Border closings are different than traveling by air. This is confusing to travelers. Out of an abundance of caution, the CDC considers travel to every international country a safety risk. Does this mean that you can't travel internationally right now? The answer is no. But, once again, I implore you to consult with a travel professional who is experienced and has trained to assist you in these crazy times. We also know the best suppliers to book through in order to protect your investment. Below are some things to consider when traveling internationally:
Does the resort you are booking offer the required Covid-19 testing or will you have to find a test on your own? Do they offer it complimentary or is there a fee? How do you arrange it?
Does the resort allow you to stay on property to quarantine should you test positive for Covid-19 while staying at their hotel? Is there insurance included for this or will you have to pay out of pocket? Are their forms to fill out in order to be eligible for this insurance?
Does the destination have forms you need to complete in order to arrive / return home?
What are the destination's entry requirements? Do you have to show proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test? Do they test you in the airport?
Does the airline you are booked through partner with an app where you can upload your negative Covid-19 proof or do you need hard copies of your documents?
Are excursions and activities operating in the destination you are visiting?
Corporate Incentive Trips and Meetings
"Zoom Fatigue" is a real thing. While we have seen an uptick in productivity with this forced upon us work-from-home environment, we have also seen more mental exhaustion, less team-based creativity and lower job satisfaction. It is very difficult to show appreciation for your staff digitally. It's also very difficult to show appreciation for your customers digitally. After personally and safely attending an in-person educational conference in Asheville, NC with many industry colleagues, I can personally attest to the fact that, with safety planning, we CAN again return to group travel. See below for just some changes we can implement and still meet safely:
Choose hotels with strong safety protocols in place
Offer a hybrid approach where those who are not ready to travel can join the group digitally from home
Use contact tracing technology to enforce social distancing and inform those who may have come in contact with someone who tests positive
Perform temperature checks and require medical forms each day
Take attendance to protect your attendees and to know if someone is ill
Offer on site testing
Thoughtfully plan events with distancing and food service safety in mind (the days of self service buffets are over for a while)
Team up with your hotel, a destination partner and local health officials so that you have a process in place should someone in your group become ill and need medical attention
What Does the Future Look Like?
With vaccines now more readily available, travel bookings have increased substantially over the past few weeks. Cruise lines have found a work-around by sailing to and from Caribbean countries that will allow them to do so starting this June. Many cruise lines have also committed to requiring proof of vaccination. It is unclear as to whether or not airlines will follow suit. While airline prices currently are at a low, it is expected that, with demand, they will steadily rise. There are no major deals out there for the cruise lines because so many people took future cruise credits and the cruise companies need very badly to make up for lost time. if you are looking for a deal right now in Florida, forget it! They have been very fortunate to gain a ton of business from those who changed their plans from international travel to avoid the Covid-19 testing rule. The Caribbean right now has some fantastic deals out there; but, that will quickly change once the demand grows. One of our favorite resorts in Mexico is already sold out for dates in July! The bottom line? Book your travel NOW for the future and lock in the inexpensive air and hotel costs. Travel is back. Are you ready?