When the novel coronavirus spread across the globe last February and March, countless spring break vacations were suddenly put on hold.
And though the virus that causes COVID-19 is still a serious threat, a lot has changed in the last year. For many people, fast and free COVID-19 tests are easily accessible, and multiple, promising vaccines are becoming more widely accessible in the U.S. and abroad.
That means many people are thinking about traveling for spring break this year. But if this is your first time hitting the road since the onset of the pandemic, the travel experience might look very unfamiliar.
Here’s how to stay safe and healthy during your spring break — whether you’re planning a close-to-home staycation or venturing farther afield.
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Pack extra masks
Just when it seemed we understood how COVID-19 behaved, new variants of the virus emerged.
Believed to be more infectious and potentially more deadly, the strains that first surfaced in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil have now been identified in the U.S.
That’s one of the reasons health experts are now suggesting people upgrade their masks and double-mask when possible.
I recently took a staycation at a hotel in New York City, and nearly every person I encountered was wearing two masks. Personally, I opted for a KN95 mask with a surgical mask layered on top.
No matter what, always pack extra masks in case you lose one or it gets dirty. You’ll also want to pack hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes and other amenities, such as a face shield or gloves, that can make your trip safer and give you added peace of mind.
Choose your destination wisely
Several of my colleagues have made the great outdoors their home during the pandemic. TPG’s director of marketing and communications, Becca Manheimer, has explored the wide-open spaces and parklands of New Mexico, Colorado and Utah for weeks at a time.
Her tips for a socially distant spring break? Double-masking, frequent COVID-19 testing and staying at hotels with trusted cleaning policies. “As we’ve been on our extended road trip,” she said, “we’ve been looking for socially distant outdoor activities such as hiking, skiing, hot springs and bike riding.”
No matter where you are, avoid locations that are experiencing overcrowding and always have a back-up plan in case your destination is too busy or people aren’t complying with best practices such as mask-wearing and physical distancing.
Follow health and safety guidelines
While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has encouraged people to avoid travel, numbers from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) prove people are still flying.
So, if you’re going to travel, get tested before and after traveling, as the CDC suggests, and wear a mask, practice social distancing, stay away from crowds and wash your hands often. Remember, these rules apply even if you’ve been vaccinated (the agency also says to wait two weeks after getting your second vaccine dose before traveling).
Keep in mind that some destinations have mandatory quarantines for arrivals. Even for travelers staying in the U.S., there are states and individual cities with strict quarantine and testing requirements. Hawaii, for example, requires all travelers to take a nucleic acid amplification test, such as a PCR test, from an approved testing partner within 72 hours of travel — and it’s the only way to bypass the state’s mandatory 10-day quarantine.
If you’re planning on getting out of the country for spring break, make sure you pack a negative COVID-19 before flying back to the U.S. The CDC also advises travelers to quarantine at home for seven days — even if they test negative after returning.
Keep your distance
If you’re planning to travel for spring break, you should be prepared for a crush of travelers.
If you’re skittish about being around tons of people (for good reason), you may want to book a flight with an airline or another travel provider with capacity restrictions, such as Delta Air Lines. Delta is now the only U.S. airline that will continue to block all middle seats through at least April 30, 2021.
Amtrak is also limiting bookings to facilitate social distancing and will let Acela business-class passengers pick their seats ahead of time. Several bus lines like Megabus and OurBus, which are popular along the East and West Coasts, are also blocking seats to reduce crowding.
Booking a vacation rental property could also be a great way to guarantee you have plenty of space on your spring break. In addition to having your own private home, you can also look for properties that have committed to building a buffer period between you and the previous guest. Airbnb hosts who choose this option, for example, automatically insert a vacant period between every reservation.
Related: Which US airlines are blocking middle seats, requiring masks?
Have a contingency plan
You might not want to think about it, but you should have a plan in place in the event that you contract COVID-19 while traveling.
Last month, the CDC began mandating that all international travelers present a negative COVID-19 test before they’re permitted to board their flight to the United States. That would seriously disrupt your plans if you test positive.
Some hotels now offer on-site COVID-19 tests, but several also offer to put you up for free if you test positive at the end of your trip. It wouldn’t hurt to check your hotel’s policy before you book your trip to see if it’ll cover a quarantine stay if you indeed test positive.
Otherwise, be sure to protect all of your travel plans by only booking flights, accommodations and activities that are easily cancelable and changeable. Whether you get sick ahead of time or during your trip, or you simply decide you’re not yet comfortable traveling, it’s never been more important to make flexible travel arrangements.
Finally, you can protect yourself for worst-case scenarios by purchasing a cancel-for-any-reason trip insurance policy.
Related: On-site COVID-19 tests may be the most valuable hotel perk of 2021 — these resorts have them
Consider a staycation
If all of these rules sound confusing and a hassle, don’t rule out staycations.
I haven’t left New York City in months, but I’ve now done two staycations in Manhattan. They were easy ways to get a much-needed break from my apartment that was low-contact and helped me earn Globalist status with the World of Hyatt program.
I used the three days to sleep in, order room service and be a tourist. I explored a few neighborhoods I’d never visited before in New York City, even though I’ve lived here for almost two years. A staycation could be a great (and affordable) way to unplug and unwind if you want to stay close to home.
Related: Why I did a staycation in Times Square during the pandemic
With some careful preparation — like making sure you’ve packed enough masks and are avoiding crowded destinations and high-touch surfaces — you can have a safe and healthy spring break, whether you’re checking in to a hotel around the corner, are planning a road trip or you’re leaving the country.
Just be mindful about keeping yourself and others safe every step of the way.
Featured photo by Lucky-photographer/Shutterstock
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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
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