Is it safe to travel during the coronavirus pandemic? Where can you go? Are national parks open? Which transport option is safe and which one is less safe? What are the facts? We’re trying to answer most of your questions. We are no health experts, but the facts and data for this article, are being pulled from official and reliable resources like the WHO, CDC, and other trustworthy sources with expert knowledge. That means you don’t have to search for all these specific tips and facts by yourself.
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Before we start, always keep the following things in mind:
- We would never encourage you to put yourself or others at risk while traveling or to start traveling when it’s not safe! The new Coronavirus can be dangerous, especially for certain groups of people, and we do not intend to downplay potential risks at all.
- All our tips in this article only apply when there is no official travel warning or restriction in your country or the region you’d like to visit. Circumstances can change at any time. Please check the official websites within your country frequently.
- This crisis will pass! Start planning your next journey now. Dream! Check the places you want to visit. The act of planning makes you as happy as being in your dream destination. We don’t know when, but travelling will be safer again in the future without the current risks and restrictions.
Disclaimer: We disclaim any responsibility for any harm resulting from the use of tips in this article. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
U.S. Travelers National Parks Update | March 16
Before you start reading our guide below, we’d like give you an important update on U.S. national parks. At the moment almost all parks are still open: NPS Public Health Update. However, some parks announced that they shut-down walk ins at their visitor centers. Since we provide tons of tips for visiting national parks, we encourage you to read our comprehensive guides: US National Parks - The Best Visiting Tips (bookmark the link!) Every article includes tips on how to avoid the crowds! Due to current circumstances, these are a must-read! Visiting the parks and avoiding the crowds at the same time is one of the most important tips we can give you right now. Also, if possible drive with your own car if the park can be reached that way in a reasonable amount of time. When you’re there, avoid using the shuttle services, especially at busy times. In most parks you can do plenty of things without any crowds, in pure nature! Helpful safety tips for traveling in the U.S.can be found on the CDC page: Coronavirus and Travel in the United States
1. Assess Your Travel Risk
There are no statistics yet (03/2020) about infection rates while traveling. However, there is reliable data which can be transferred and used to assess your risk before going on a vacation. Let’s check the general data about how contagious this new virus is:
The coronavirus spreads a little more rapidly than the flu (influenza). But definitely not as much as Measles for example, which is extremely contagious. It can be compared to the stomach flu: One infected person infects 2-3 others on average.
The secondary attack rate is very interesting and good to know if you’re planning to travel. It shows how many others on average get infected by someone with coronavirus who are in close contact with this infected person. That means living in a the same household, staying in in the same hotel room for days, etc. You might think, this rate should be quite high, but it’s actually not as you can see. In the U.S. 1% or less got infected on average by another close contact with the virus at the time of the study. In China the rate was higher: Between 3-10%. But still, that doesn’t mean there is a 100% chance that you get the virus when your travel partner for example gets infected. However, precautions are strongly recommended (more below). Please Do NOT take this lightly. Just don’t panic! Finally, we’d like to show you how severe the disease can be:
Source: WHO - COVID-19 Final Report
Most infected individuals experience mild symptoms (80%). Additionally, asymptomatic Coronavirus infections have also been reported. On the other hand, the highest risk for severe cases and critical ones include individuals aged over 60 years and those with pre-existing conditions like heart diseases, diabetes or lung diseases. That means it’s strongly recommended that everyone within that demographic group should NOT travel at all during the Coronavirus outbreak.
With the above data, you can assess your personal risk for your next vacation. As we said, please do not take this lightly, but also: Don’t panic! You should always keep in mind, that even if you don’t get sick or experience mild symptoms only: You can still spread the virus and can infect someone who is older or has existing health conditions.
2. Plan Your Trip Safely
We have some really useful planning and safety tips for you, as everything became a little more difficult. Personally, we decided to travel to South Africa in March and did not regret it. One important aspect when planning your trip: As of March 2020 some countries started to close national borders for a while and within some countries or areas travel is restricted.
Check the Country
Some countries are safer than others (mid-March 2020) to travel to. The best and most reliable source for a country check by the CDC is the official website: COVID-19 Risk Assessment by Country. We would never travel to destinations within the first two categories: ‘Widespread sustained ongoing spread’. Currently (mid-March 2020) this applies to the following countries and areas:
- South Korea
Starting in mid-March many countries don’t even allow incoming travel for a while. Again, if you’re older than 60 years or have pre-existing health conditions, we strongly suggest to cancel any travel plans for this year, regardless of the country.
Our preferred travel countries at the moment are the U.S. (including all national parks), Canada, South Africa, Australia and New-Zealand. However, circumstance can change and travel to or within certain areas can be restricted. Always obey the official announcements and guidelines.
What about domestic travel? Especially when you’re living in the U.S., we highly suggest domestic traveling instead of going abroad.
Choose the Safest Transport Options
We’re helping you to choose the safest mode of transport in terms of minimizing the infection risk. Either for getting to your desired destination or which transportation to use for getting from place to place at your travel destination.
How long can the virus survive on surfaces? One important thing to know in this context is how long the new coronavirus can survive on surfaces. Recent studies show, that it can survive a maximum of 2-3 days, depending on the surface (Source: Surface stability of HCoV-19). That means, after 3 days the virus is not existent any more on any surface. Even less (24 hours) on certain material like cardboard. Thus, cleaning the touch points with disenfectin wipes in a rental car or RV is a good idea when someone else was using it within the last 3 days.
Own Car | *Very Safe*
Choosing your own car is the safest option of all, in case nobody else used it recently. Pack your things, check your destination in terms of restrictions and safety, take precautions, and you’re good to go.
Rental Car | *Safe*
A rental car is another safe option. Rental car companies state, that they’re ‘vigilantly’ implementing enhanced protocols to ensure the customers safety’. Budget, Avis and others made public, that they are using enhanced cleaning techniques after each rental, in particular for customer touch points like seats, steering wheels, door handles and other surfaces: Budget - Coronavirus. To be on the even safer side, we suggest that you clean the touch points before using the car with disinfecting wipes. We highly commend Discover Cars. They have such a great service and offer all major brands (Alamo, Hertz, Thrifty, Budget, etc.) at the lowest rates.
RV | *Safe*
Renting an RV is as safe as renting a car. However, you’d have to clean some more touch points of course to be on the even safer side. It’s a little more work, but we recommend it, despite the fact, that the virus doesn’t survive on surfaces longer than 3 days (see above). If you’re in the U.S. we highly recommend RVshare. It’s an excellent choice, even if you’ve never rented or drove an RV before. They have great tips and guides like ‘Which RV type is right for me?’
Plane | *Quite Safe*
According to the CDC the risk of a coronavirus infection on an airplane is low: CDC Traveler FAQ. The reason for that assessment is the air filtering on planes: It is almost as clean as in a hospital operating room, because it is changed many times through high-efficiency particulate air filters (HEPA filters) that remove 99.97 % of airborne viruses and bacteria. Additionally most flights have so many empty seats these days, which makes it even safer to be on a plane in terms of infection risk. Some airlines operate even with near-empty flights: ‘Coronavirus: Virgin Atlantic admits flying near-empty planes’. However, even on a full plane the infection risk is low according to the CDC guidelines. Also, airlines are taking extra measures to screen passengers as well as additional measures for disinfection. Additionally, you can minimize the risk by choosing a window seat: NPR - Avoiding Pathogens on a Plane and cleaning surface with disinfecting wipes at your seat.
What about the airports and terminals? As of mid-March airports around the world are open and they are already working on a broad range of measures to keep passengers safe during the coronavirus outbreak. Especially enhanced monitoring and cleaning procedures have been implemented. Example: Coronavirus advice for travellers - Stansted Airport London. A plus for your safety is, that airports are less busy at the moment. However, if you’re in a queue, try to keep the safety distance if possible (see below). We know that’s not applicable all the time but you should always keep the safety distance in mind.
Boat or Cruise Ship | *Less Safe*
The U.S. government and the CDC advise not to go on a cruise and to defer all cruise ship travel. Additionally cruise companies have cancelled cruises: Independent UK - All the cruises cancelled amid global pandemic. COVID-19 spreads too easily between people in close quarters on a ship. On the cruise ship Diamond Princess over 700 persons of the 2700 were infected with COVID-19.
Public Transport | *Less Safe*
While there is no evidence that the risk for virus transmission on a bus, subway or train is higher than in other crowded spaces, we would avoid these modes of transport while traveling at the moment. Unlike in planes with their high-efficiency air filters, screening procedures in airports, more empty seats etc. the measures to ensure safety in terms of a potential virus transmission in a bus or subway are probably not as drastic.
Choose Outdoor Travel
Outdoor travel is currently the safest form of travel if you avoid crowded spots. Not a hiker? That’s totally fine, being outdoors doesn’t mean you have to hike all day. At most places like national parks and other stunning outdoor areas, there are short walks for everyone, viewpoints which aren’t crowded during certain times, and more. It’s wonderful being outside during these times! We do focus on outdoor travel on WHEN to be WHERE. Almost all our travel articles and guides are meant for those who want to stay outside for a while. Check our Great Travel Places or the featured places on our front page: www.whentobewhere.com. Studies clearly show, that being in nature not only boosts your mental health, but also your immune system: Research has found evidence that spending time in nature provides protection
Make Hotel Reservations
Cheaper rates! This is the is one small upside for travelers during this health crisis: Accommodation deals! Check booking.com with their low price guarantee and search for the best deals. Sometimes you get awesome rates which you won’t get during other times.
Our booking advice: On booking.com you can check before booking a room, if your reservation can be cancelled later for free! That gives you the huge advantage of booking at cheaper rates now, and the flexibility of cancelling without being charged in case the circumstances change.
In terms of ‘virus’ safety during the current situation, almost all major hotels assured that they extended their cleaning cycles, modified the cleaning protocols, implemented usage of hospital-grade disinfectant, and more. You can read more here: Hotels ramp up cleaning measures amid coronavirus pandemic What can you do additionally? This is everywhere you should be sanitizing in your hotel
3. Take Precautions When Travelling
Avoid such crowds! We give you tips on how to do that in almost everyone of our articles.
Stay safe at any time! The best way to do this, is by combining our tips from above. Example: You choose a destination within your country which can reached by driving on your own. Additional you choose destinations where you’ll be outdoors most of the time (without the crowds, see below). You’ll have a wonderful time.
Which general precautions when traveling should you take? Find the 4 crucial ones below:
- Keep Your Distance and Avoid Crowds: The safety zone between 2 individuals is 6 feet (2 meters). In Germany the officials say 1-2 meters: Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 - RKI Additionally, please forgo any handshakes. In particular, you should avoid crowded times and areas. By the way, that’s our travel expertise: The best time to visit a place and how to avoid the crowds. Almost every one of our travel articles and guides has a section on ‘how to avoid the crowds’. Check our latest featured articles or search here: www.whentobewhere.com
- Wash Your Hands: Wash your hands often while traveling!! This is even more important than disinfecting your hands. The process of hand washing, when done correctly, is even more effective than using hand sanitizers: The Hand Sanitizer Vs. Handwashing Debate. Please watch this video about the correct WHO hand washing technique: John Hopkins - Hand-washing Steps Using the WHO Technique Removing viruses and bacteria from your hand is so important, because the average person touches their face 23 times per hour: Face touching: a frequent habit that has implications for hand hygiene. 44% of these touches involves contact with a mucous membrane (eye, nose, mouth), which would directly transports the virus into your body. That’s why hand washing is so extremely important. One more tip: Put a wristband on, which reminds you not to touch your face: Wristbands This is not a 100% method, but it helps a lot.
- Clean Surfaces: While traveling you get in touch with surfaces other have touched before. The good news: The new coronavirus does not survive longer than 2-3 days on any surface (read more about this in the transport section above). However, it’s still very important to clean touch points with disinfecting wipes. We know, it’s difficult to buy those at the moment. Check the stores and online shops regularly.
Safe travels! And please, stay at home when it’s too risky! Safe travels will be possible soon enough!