The COVID-19 pandemic has catapulted some sectors of the world into modus operandi out of a futuristic dystopian film. Airports began to feel like ghost towns as phrases like “travel ban” became commonplace both domestically and internationally. The American passport, in the past amongst the strongest in the world, became a scarlet letter. However, after months of being cooped up under lockdown, American’s are taking it in stride and the travel industry is finding new ways to adjust.
“People are wanting to travel that have never wanted to travel before,” says travel expert Lindsay Meyers. Meyers cites RV camper rentals being up 300 percent in sales. “People are piling in their whole families. It’s a safe way to hit up national parks and camp somewhere different.” National Parks offer the perfect opportunity for a socially distanced vacation and even mental relief to a population fatigued by lockdown. COVID-19 has caused even veteran travelers like Meyers to rethink their travel prep. She recommends extensive research into your destinations. What does the CDC say about the locale? Reach out to tourism boards and ask: “Is it a place that requires masks in public? What are the infection rates?” And it isn’t all about big city locales anymore as travelers are trying to escape crowds. While big cities are opening pedestrian only streets in social distancing efforts, Meyers recommended smaller off-the-beaten-path cities in an effort to be a more conscious traveler. “You get the opportunity to give back to smaller local communities and feel good about your trip this summer!”
Dr. Kiona of the site and Instagram account How Not to Travel Like a Basic Bitch is a much acclaimed resource for the conscious traveler. After having a responsible socially distanced trip to North Carolina with a group of friends, Dr. Kiona launched We Out Here x HNTTLABB: Recreate Responsibly with trip hosts/curators Linea Johnson and Ron Griswell. With mental health in the POC community a priority for all three, they recognized the power of travel and how experiences can be used to combat the mental toll COVID-19 has taken on us all. This Black-owned social distancing traveling experience includes contact tracing, private accommodations, all meals and drinks and six awesome zero contact activities. Linea Johnson received certification from Johns Hopkins in COVID-19 education. They require guests to form a quarantine bubble prior, the activities are performed at a safe distance from vendors/operators with masks and they allow no more than groups of six. Not only is Recreate Responsibly giving back to local business and tourism in North Carolina, but as of writing this, via donations, the company has gifted a mental health experience to a local POC family devastated by the pandemic. Will this be the new norm of travel? More intimate, curated local experiences?
Understandably, even domestic travel must be done with care. Companies like Airbnb and VRBO are requiring their hosts to have more standardized cleaning measures. Hotels are offering contactless check-in and only allowing guests on on-site restaurants. Even some territories, like the U.S. Virgin Islands require visitors from states with a COVID-19 positive rate of 10 percent or higher to present a negative COVID-19 PCR nasal test result or a positive COVID-19 antibodies test taken within five days upon arrival in the territory. States like New York are requiring travelers from highly infected areas to quarantine for fourteen days.
If you do find yourself on an airplane — I did recently on a long haul flight back to my home in Italy — there are some precautions that you can take so that you’re not riddled with anxiety for the duration of your flight. Be proactive in checking up on airlines. Many including JetBlue and Delta have released statements detailing the safety precautions they will take, the most universally popular being that of blocking the middle seat. On my Alitalia flight, only families were sitting together with every “single” traveler being booked in the window seat with the one next to them free. Studies have shown that the window seat is the safest to fly in due to lack of interaction with aisle passerbys.
On the other hand, American Airlines released a statement stating effective July 1, 2020, they would resume booking flights to full capacity. Other safety precautions taken by airlines include contactless check-in — and you’ll see protection barriers up at check-in desks protecting the staff — and intense cleaning measures like Delta’s electrostatic spraying. Due to air-filtration systems air on a plane is filtered and refreshed every 2-5 minutes filtering out 99.99 percent of particles, according to Dr. Michael Saag, Professor of Medicine and Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Be sure to turn on your overhead vents upon boarding pushing the filtered air down and out.
During lockdown in the Spring, many companies in the travel and hospitality industry attempted to offset loss of revenue by offering vouchers to use in the future at a much lower rate. Maybe this is the time to get a great deal on the hotel that you’ve always wanted to stay at. But for now, remember, the United States of America is similar in size to Europe with varied topography, cities, and wonders. There is much to explore.
Originally published in Bleu Magazine Issue 68.