Yes, we’re still in a pandemic, but as a travel journalist, life for me over these last 12 months or so never came to a halt. Over the past year, I’ve still had to travel (carefully, of course) — including a handful of times with my family.
Now, we have mastered travel protocol, from everyone’s assigned hand sanitizer to prepacked snacks. For those who have not traveled since the pandemic, anxieties are understandably high, but they need not be. Here’s my lay of the land for families looking to travel.
Call it a comeback
With vaccine distributions on the rise, airports are getting busier. Still, they are nowhere near as crowded as they were before the pandemic.
There are several signs that travel is having a comeback. First, we know that more Americans are intending to travel soon. In fact, those planning to travel or go on vacation in the short term have increased slightly week over week, from 36% to 39% during the first week of March alone. This spring, U.S. airports also saw the highest number of travelers since before the pandemic began.
Technology to the rescue
Technology has helped improve health and safety measures in airports and will continue to do so.
Innovations in technology are also giving travelers the resources they need to make informed decisions, minimize risk and maximize safety while traveling. The installation of High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters on flights, combined with most airports adapting to lessen contact touch points, have made a huge impact in terms of keeping passengers safe —so much so that we know most airlines are now confidently filling the middle seat again.
It is expected that more touchless options will emerge for identity verification. thermal imaging or infrared thermographic systems are set to emerge to enable virtual health screening at airports.
What you can do
You will want to take your own precautions. If you’re planning to travel by plane or car, plan ahead. Have a strategy. Think about exactly where you’re planning to go, how you’re planning to get there and what you will do once you arrive.
If you’re driving, pack snacks for the family, drinks and an emergency roadside kit to minimize stops and reduce contact with others.
If flying, minimize taking off your mask or your children’s masks, clean your and their hands frequently and pack your own food and snacks. No matter your mode of transport, don’t forget your driver’s license, registration and insurance cards. I’ve been known to create a “travel pack” for each member of my family to carry, with face coverings, hand disinfectant (there are cool fun ones for kids now), water and disinfectant wipes.
Check travel insurance updates
Travel insurance has had to adapt to address COVID-19 concerns. During the pandemic, many travel insurance companies added coverage for trip cancelation and medical expenses due to COVID-19.
Many hotels and airlines have updated their change and cancelation policies to be more flexible, and even if your booking was originally nonrefundable, you may be able to get a full refund. In terms of travel insurance, most travel insurance policies do not cover canceled plans due to fears over coronavirus, but they may cover you if you contract it. Again, check with your insurance provider before booking your trip.
Different states have different rules when it comes to travel protocols, and the enforcement of those policies, have varied widely across the country.
Some states allow visitors in without quarantining if they offer proof of a negative test for COVID-19 taken within three days of arrival. But because it takes longer than three days to get results at many testing sites around the country, officials may ask visitors to quarantine until they receive proof of a negative test.
A few states, such as South Carolina, are presenting their quarantine policies as recommendations with no penalties for noncompliance, but other states are far more serious; some, such as Alaska, were threatening fines of up to $25,000 for noncompliance.
Do your research and check before you go, so you don’t end up in hot water.
At the time of this writing in late April, COVID testing was required for international travel.If you travel internationally, in order to return you’re now required to have a negative COVID test within the last three days.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance for domestic and international travel recommends delaying your trip until fully vaccinated. If you are not fully vaccinated and you must travel, follow the CDC’s recommendations for unvaccinated people. In addition, the Federal Aviation Administration is strictly enforcing a zero-tolerance policy toward passengers who cause disturbances on flights, fail to obey flight crew in violation of the FAA’s regulations or engage in conduct that is illegal under federal law. This includes unruly behavior by refusing to wear a mask onboard the plane.
If you are booking way in advance to grab a current deal, keep in mind that some restrictions might change by the time you travel. However, if you are planning to travel internationally in the next few months, make sure you book tests both ends of your trip to avoid getting stuck.
With summer on the horizon hopefully more families will be able to travel and enjoy some down time. With planning and precautions, it’s completely possible.
Francesca Page is a travel and lifestyle journalist and founder of francescapage.com.