I haven’t written anything here the whole of 2020, partly because this is at its heart a leisure travel-related website, which was hardly something you should have been doing last year and partly because I’ve been waiting to wake up and realise that 2020 has been just a very long, bad dream. It is early in 2021 now and I’ve finally tried to accept the fact that the world as we knew it changed a year ago and we’re still grappling with the pandemic’s shifting reality. The release of vaccines however has been a relief and I spare a thought of gratitude each day for the ones who worked so incredibly hard to ensure we have not one but multiple vaccines in less than a year, a feat that is truly remarkable!
Travelling for leisure is still not something I would recommend (unless you’ve been vaccinated already) during this period because it may not only expose you to the risk of catching the virus but also endanger the ones around you. However, as this period mired in uncertainty has been exceptionally difficult and deeply exhausting, some of us may still want to take a break or a vacation of sorts to keep our sanity.
For those seeking to take a vacation during this phase, especially if you haven’t been vaccinated yet and are travelling to a place where the majority of the population hasn’t been vaccinated, there are some pointers that will help you stay safe and also keep everyone who comes in contact with you safe. Some of these may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised to see how many people easily ignore them.
So, without further ado, here are my comprehensive (pre-vacation, during vacation and post-vacation) tips and tricks for holidaying sensibly during and after the pandemic-era:
1. Picking the type of vacation:
A vacation or a holiday doesn’t always need to mean travelling outside your country or your region. In times like these, it’d be prudent to explore alternative options to traditional vacations and I’ve listed some of these below.
a. Staycation - Staycation is a term used to denote two things – vacationing at home or vacationing within your own town but in a different setting like a hotel or a resort. Let’s face it, for many of us the dream of a good vacation largely involves plush hotel rooms with soft pillows, housekeeping, breakfast buffets and room service. There are very few things more relaxing than being in a place where you don’t have to do the dishes. For those who’re looking to take a short break from their daily routines, I’d recommend finding a nice hotel or resort within your town or district and book yourself a room for a few days. This change of scene would truly do wonders for reducing your stress levels and I can personally vouch for this. Of course, the stay-at-home versions are also great (minus the fact that you still need to do your chores). Just make sure that you plan this meticulously and create a wish-list of activities that you’d like to get done. Don’t forget your home spa/pedicure kit! Amid a pandemic, Staycations are the most ideal type of vacations for those who’d prefer not to take the risk of travel.
b. Camping - Another great way to vacation is to go on a camping trip. It is socially distanced from people and ideal for those who fancy some trekking and adventure in general. Private tents are completely safe and you’re likely to be able to spend a vacation without worrying about catching Covid19.
c. RVs/Caravan Trips - Renting an RV or a Caravan is a fantastic option for people looking to travel with children or in a group. There’s very limited risk of exposure to infection because the RV lets you travel and live in a secluded, private home on wheels. It is a great way to travel to national parks, lakes and other camping sites as well. If you’re based out of the US, AFAR has compiled this very useful article that I highly recommend if you’d like to explore the RV/Caravan vacation option.
d. Day Trips via Road - You can pack your loved ones in a private car and travel to a place of interest not too far away, spend an entire day there sightseeing, eat at a local restaurant or out of a picnic basket and reach home by nightfall to the comfort and safety of your own beds. Alright, this would probably seem like the least appealing option because this is what we’d like to do on weekends and not for what we’d prefer to use our precious vacations days. But that is why I would recommend taking a day trip once a month or so. This way you get to look forward to something new at periodic intervals and trust me, that automatically makes your mind feel happy and relaxed.
e. Traditional Vacations - Now, if you must take a vacation in the sense that we knew pre-pandemic, then I genuinely think the points listed below would help you plan a relatively safe one.
2. Picking a destination:
a. Countries/Regions - Try to avoid travelling outside your state/county or country, unless it is to a destination that has been declared more or less Covid-free. Here is Condé Nast Traveler’s list of places to visit in 2021 that you can use as a good reference.
b. Duration - If you are planning to travel outside your country, keep your vacation short (3 days on an average) and follow the news/Covid19 statistics of your destination country. Essentially, this would help you avoid getting stuck in a foreign land in case that country declares a sudden lockdown.
c. Medical Emergencies - Furthermore, while planning travel outside your country, invest in travel insurance which covers medical emergencies including Covid19 treatment and hospitalisation. Also keep contact details of your country’s Embassy handy, in case of an emergency.
d. Path Less-Traversed - Take this opportunity to explore the unknown i.e. destinations that are not conventionally popular ones crowded with tourists. This has obvious benefits – lesser the crowd, lesser the chance of infection. So, if you were planning a trip to cities such as Paris, Barcelona, Las Vegas etc., it would be wise to put that on hold for the moment and swap that with a small town or beach/mountain destination that is quaint and lovely but isn’t likely to be teeming with visitors.
3. Picking Accommodation:
a. Hotels - A pandemic is not the time to penny-pinch and if you need to spend for safety, then you might as well do so. I cannot stress enough the importance of finding hotels that have good reviews particularly in the area of safety and Covid19 protocols. It would be even better to look for a hotel that has been awarded some form of certification in this area (SGS certification, SafeHotels’ CovidClean certification etc.).
b. Rental Homes - Short-rental homes such as the ones Airbnb provides is likely to be comparatively safe to staying in a hotel for obvious reasons. While you may not encounter other people or crowds in general, it isn’t always necessary that the rental home itself would be sanitised. Therefore, it is essential to check reviews and disinfect areas inside the home that you think would have been frequently used by the previous occupants.
4. Be really careful at least for 10 days before your actual date of travel so that you don’t catch and pass any infection around. Remember Covid-free zones are declared as such because the visitors to those places also contribute towards keeping it that way. If you’re travelling with friends or family members whom you don’t live with, try discussing the possibility of creating a ‘travel pod’ or bubble with them a few days before travel.
5. Carry your own personal items such as towels, pillowcases and toiletries to the extent possible.
1. The Obvious - Do the obvious to stay safe and keep others safe – wear masks, disinfect objects and surfaces regularly, maintain a minimum of 6 ft distance from anyone who isn’t part of your travel pod/bubble etc. Airports can be a hotspot for infections if one isn’t particularly cautious – so remember to be extra careful if you’re flying.
2. Visiting Popular Spots - If you do plan on visiting some popular attractions, book online in advance (eliminates the need to wait in queues with others) and choose the first available slot in the morning. This way you can go in and come out before the peak hours begin.
3. Local Transportation - Avoid public transportation and instead opt for bicycles or rental cars that you can drive around yourself (remember to disinfect the insides of a rental car before you start using it). If you need to hire a cab, opt for a larger vehicle that allows you to physically distance yourself from the driver and it’d be better still if you can ask the hotel to recommend a cab/taxi service instead of flagging one off the road.
4. Payments - Try not to transact in cash, especially if the vendor/store/restaurant has the option of a contactless debit/credit card or some other digital payment instead. Sometimes smaller stores or vendors prefer cash transactions and, in such cases, try giving the exact amount due (keep it on the counter surface to avoid hand-contact) so that you don’t have to receive any change from them.
5. Food and Beverages – Carry a refillable water bottle for personal use and fill this up with drinking water from the hotel/rental home or any other place instead of visiting supermarkets solely to buy water bottles. If you’re staying in a rental home or an accommodation with a kitchenette, mealtimes become a lot less complicated. You can simply make your own food and pack it up to be had on the go. If you’re staying in a hotel without such facilities, chances are your options are going to be limited to eating at the hotel itself or visiting restaurants outside. Of course, as travellers we must do our bit to help local businesses and small business owners. So, while eating out may seem daunting, it doesn’t have to be a harrowing experience if you choose the restaurant carefully. The best way to do this is by researching and make a list prior to your trip. Read recent customer reviews of the restaurants in your destination and look for places that rank well in following Covid19 safety protocols. If you want to be extra careful, pick places with an outdoor seating plan – this reduces the risk of infection.
1. Quarantine - If your state/county or country requires you to quarantine after a trip outside its borders, then you must do so at all costs. But, even if the rules don’t require you to do so, it is always best to go into a self-quarantine for at least 7 days post arrival (the recommended period is generally 14 days and if you’re able to do this – kudos to you!). This is definitely doable with some advance planning for grocery supplies etc., especially if your workplace permits you to work remotely. If you have elderly family members or neighbours, infants or other friends/family with health issues, it is best to avoid coming in contact with them for 14 days post arrival.
2. Disinfect – If you have the luxury of an open space like a garden or a balcony, take out all the clothes as well as the other items you carried on your vacation and lay it outside along with your luggage to air dry for a couple of days before sorting through and bringing it back indoors. Then, launder all fabrics and spray a disinfectant over anything that can’t be washed with detergent. This is a step I recommend doing even if you haven’t been able to leave it out to air dry for a few days.
3. Symptoms and Testing – If you have travelled and are showing symptoms of Covid19 (the list of symptoms is endless) within the first few weeks of return, there is a high possibility that you may have caught the infection. As a favour to yourself and the rest of your travel group, you must get yourself tested and if you indeed test positive, inform the rest of your primary contacts immediately. This is part of being a responsible traveller and a sensible human being.
4. Reviews and Gratitude – Be sure to write reviews of the accommodation, restaurants, stores and other places that you visited, with particular focus on your experience of how well those places followed safety protocols. This would be hugely useful to the entire community of travellers. Also, if you had a good experience, take the time out to write a note thanking the hotel staff/hosts of your rental home or anyone else who helped make your experience better. If there was something that could be improved, mention that as well. This is a great practice to follow at any time, but during a pandemic, a note of appreciation and gratitude would truly make people feel infinitely better and provide a much-needed lift in spirits.
So there you have it – I hope this is useful and the most comprehensive guide you’ll need to plan a safe vacation.
Stay safe and healthy! Wish you all a year with better and happier memories!