This is a developing story. For up-to-date information on traveling during the coronavirus outbreak, visit the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
As we know all too well at this point, travel came to a virtual standstill this spring due to the coronavirus pandemic. The vast majority of travelers canceled their plans as we sheltered in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
But what we’re wondering now is whether we should be looking to possibly travel this summer and beyond—or not. Public health experts and travel industry insiders offer their insights and predictions into what we can expect.
What will even be allowed and recommended for domestic travel?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that it typically does not issue restrictions for travel within the United States, and thus far there have been no federally mandated restrictions on domestic travel.
As states throughout the country began to lift their lockdown measures this month, there are still several things to note before packing your bags and planning a trip home to see family or rolling out on a summer road trip.
For one, reopening plans and timelines are different from state to state, county to county, and even city to city. You will need to make sure you fully understand what is open and allowed wherever it is you are going. Hotels and vacation rentals may not be operating yet, and campsites might still be closed, too. However, more businesses, including tourism and hospitality businesses, are likely to continue to open up as summer continues on and reopening plans progress into subsequent stages (and as long as coronavirus transmission levels don’t trend too far up, in which case some of those plans could get scaled back or halted). So, even if hotels or vacation rentals in the area you were planning to visit remain closed or limited in June, there’s a chance they could open up or have more availability in July or August. It will just be a wait-and-see and keep checking situation.
Additionally, several states have quarantine orders in place. In Hawaii, there is a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all arrivals, and Florida requires people arriving from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, or Louisiana to quarantine. Before you cross a state line by land or by air, you should make sure to find out whether there is a quarantine requirement or if a quarantine requirement you thought was in place has been lifted.
As stay-at-home orders are lifted, flexibility will be key
Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University and an infectious diseases expert, said that we can expect road trips and closer-to-home travel to start to return as states start scaling back their stay-at-home guidelines.
“Flexibility is going to be very important because every state won’t do it exactly the same way. So, you have to find out what’s happening in your own hometown and then if you’re going to cross a state line you had best acquaint yourself with what’s going on there,” said Schaffner. “Social distancing in a variety of forms is going to be with us for a long time.”
He gave as a hypothetical example that while the museums might be open in the place you are traveling to, they may be requiring that you wear a mask or that only a limited number of people enter at any one time—something for which visitors would need to be prepared.
The CDC recommends that prospective travelers keep an eye on the number of coronavirus cases in the destination they plan on visiting and not traveling there if COVID-19 is actively spreading. The agency also recommends avoiding crowded settings while traveling.
As businesses continue to reopen and restrictions on movement continue to ease, Saskia Popescu, senior infection prevention epidemiologist at George Mason University, said people should still be aware of social distancing measures and safety while on the road. “As we head into the summer, when people are looking to travel, it’s really just about are you going to a place that has a lot of community transmission? Probably not the best the idea. [For] the trip that you are planning, are you going to be able to just walk around and explore the city [on your own]?”
In line with the CDC’s recommendations, Popescu advised against planning any trips that would involve a larger group, for instance.
Another thing to consider—if you have close contact with someone with COVID-19 during your trip or if you travel to what is considered a coronavirus hot spot, you may be asked to stay home to self-monitor and to avoid contact with others for up to 14 days after travel, the CDC reminds travelers.
As overwhelming as all the rules and regulations for mitigating the spread of coronavirus may seem to travelers right now, Schaffner said they will likely become more normalized as we grow accustomed to them in time.
“Social distancing and travel can coexist and the relationship will evolve over time. In the beginning it may be much more awkward and discomforting and unusual,” said Schaffner. But he predicted that travel will become easier in the coming months as we all adapt to the new reality of living with coronavirus.
Will I be able to travel to Europe this summer?
If you’re wondering whether you’ll be able to proceed with your summer plans for a trip to Europe, or anywhere abroad for that matter, there are several issues to consider.
For one, travel restrictions were put in place in March for travel to Europe. The European Commission recently recommended that the restrictions on travel to Europe remain in place at least until June 15. Once they are lifted, there will likely be new or alternative restrictions in their place such as a mandatory quarantine upon arrival or other health and safety measures that may be required of travelers.
In fact, there are restrictions on travel to and from many countries throughout the world, and in many cases it isn’t yet clear exactly when they will be lifted—though slowly, individual countries are beginning to unveil their plans for how and when they plan to reopen to travel.
Will people travel even if they can?
Predictions for how and when travel will return—and what it will look like when it does—run the gamut. Some think we will see travelers start heading out this summer, others predict that it could take much longer before travelers feel confident to explore the world again. But what most sources appear to agree on is a gradual return to travel that will at first be focused on journeys much closer to home.
“We do believe that travel sentiment, activity, and spending will return more quickly than many others have predicted. If you look at historical demand shocks through the likes of SARS and 9/11 coupled with the Great Recession, recovery starts at the point that consumers feel confident that a crisis is under control,” said Katie Briscoe, president of MMGY Global, a travel research and marketing firm that has done extensive research on travel consumer sentiment.
Briscoe said that the company expects to see recovery in travel to begin in mid- to late summer 2020.
Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA), said that his organization, which represents more than 27,000 hotels in the United States, is estimating that demand for leisure travel will return by mid-summer, that business travel will start to return some time in the late third quarter or early fourth quarter of 2020, and that the conference, meeting, and convention business won’t be back until 2021.
“You’re going to see a resurgence of [road trips],” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, which represents the domestic travel and tourism industry. He added that he thinks RV travel is likely to be very popular.
Dow predicted that while some “pioneers” will begin hitting the road in mid- to late June, the organization estimates that August will be a tipping point for when people finally are ready to head out. “I’m guessing we’re going to see a stronger fall than we think right now,” said Dow.
He believes that domestic travel is likely to replace international trips for the next six months to one year.
According to Dow, “People are going to stay home, [and] by home I mean America. We saw that with SARS and we saw that with September 11th—domestic leisure travel went up.”
It’s hard to see past the current crisis, he said, because we’re in the throes of the absolute worst of it. Travelers are so “barraged” with terrible news “that they’re frozen,” said Dow. He believes that once the bad news begins to recede, travelers’ confidence will start to return.
Said Dow, “The darkest hour is always before dawn.”
This story was originally published on April 19, 2020, and has been updated to include current information.