July, we’re not sorry to see you go. All month long our editorial team has been reacting in real time to the reopening of America, the rising COVID-19 case levels across the South and West, and the subsequent rolling back of reopenings on a state-by-state level. Like much of life since March, the continued whiplash of uncertainty and despair will define the summer of 2020 in the United States of America.
Many of us are beginning to accept that the virus will be here awhile, and we may need to get used to living with it. But if you’re like us, living also means traveling. So what then does travel start to mean in the age of COVID-19?
In the spring, we set aside our core values in the name of flattening the curve and recommended that everyone cease nonessential travel and stay home. The role we play as a travel media company is to best inform our readers on how, when, and where to travel. Now we’re faced with existential angst about “why” we should travel. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says one thing; the World Health Organization says another. We acknowledge and understand that for some travelers, it’s safest to stay home and dream about travel until a vaccine has been widely disseminated. We know that for many who have a high-risk profile for COVID-19, or have lost loved ones to this vicious disease, travel might seem an inappropriate indulgence for our times.
Travel is a privilege, full stop. But here’s the reality today: Air travel is up significantly from its lowest point: 718,310 passengers passed through TSA checkpoints on July 30 compared to 87,534 on April 14, according to the agency. People are starting to travel again—on weekend getaways to reunite with loved ones; socially distanced road trips to see more of America; camping trips to commune with nature; or a week at a resort for a mental health boost. We believe that if you travel, you must do it responsibly. Do it responsibly for yourself and your loved ones, for those who work in hospitality who you will encounter along the way, and for the health and safety of the local communities you’re visiting.
So what does traveling responsibly mean?
- Do your research ahead of time. Is COVID-19 spreading in your community? Is it spreading in the community/communities you’ll be visiting? If the answer is yes, now might not be the best time to go. If the answer to those questions is no, if ever there was a time to overplan, this is it. Plan your route and book lodging and restaurant reservations in advance as best you can. This summer isn’t the one for a spontaneous trip.
- Protect the public. When you go, practice social-distancing measures and wear masks around strangers, indoors in public places, and outdoors in crowds or where social distancing isn’t possible.
- Get tested. Depending on the type of overnight trip you’re taking and if you’ll come into close contact with other people outside your bubble, consider getting a COVID-19 test before you go and when you return home.
- Prepare for the unexpected—and pack for it, too. Bring extra masks, hand sanitizer, and wipes. It’s better to be overprepared than underprepared.
- Support local businesses every step of the way. (Note: Many prefer payment with credit or debit cards right now, to avoid handling cash.)
- Be patient and tip well. Have respect and empathy for hospitality professionals trying to offer you a memorable experience in these difficult times. You owe it to them to do your best to keep them safe. For example, if a restaurant server is taking care of you while you are eating and unmasked, make sure you don’t talk directly at the server. (It’s awkward, we know, but err on the side of caution as much as possible.)
- Follow the rules of the communities you visit. Check for any local or regional updates while you’re on the road and once you return home: Tourism boards and municipalities are constantly updating their information online.
As the New York Times reported this week, “During the second quarter, the service sector was particularly hard hit, with spending dropping 13.3 percent as people avoided restaurants and recreational activities.” Restaurants are hurting. Hotels are hurting. According to the U.S. Travel Association, the travel industry, which helped employ one in 10 Americans last year, has been hit hardest by the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic—having lost half its jobs already and on track for a drop of more than a half-trillion dollars in traveler spending by year’s end.
At AFAR we understand that travelers are in such different places in terms of their ability, desire, and willingness to travel right now. For those who are getting out there, please do it responsibly and with the utmost care—not only for yourselves but also for others. And for those who are staying home, experience the world vicariously by tuning in to AFAR’s newly launched podcast series, Travel Tales, which transports listeners to Venice, Tokyo, Zimbabwe, and beyond.