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How To Travel Safely (and Responsibly) During COVID-19

Corona Travels

A lot of us out there are wondering the same thing: is it safe to travel right now? With cases on the rise, what is the risk to myself and others?

My answer is: yes, and the risk can be mitigated completely. Let’s start out with how we can care for each other. One way to start is by acknowledging that, even if the death rate is low, even if you ignore that ICUs are slowly filling up, it is a common courtesy to try to not get others sick with a highly communicable disease. Below, I’ll show you how we can accomplish this while traveling and saving lives around the world.

Mental Health and its Impacts

I’m a strong believer that your mental health is just as important, if not more important than your physical health.

More than that, it is well studied that your mental health directly impacts your physical health. It’s important to keep your spirits high, and enjoy life. That is possible, even during the pandemic. I’m not talking about risking yourself and others though, I’m talking about taking a vacation.

Here's a view you could have while working from the safety of "home".
Grand Gaube Resort, Mauritius. I’d rather be here than home… for my mental health…

Staying at Home Could Be Less Safe Than Traveling

In most cases, by being stuck at home, you are at a greater risk than you would be if traveling.

Hear me out. You’re exposing yourself whenever you’re in high-density, not-especially-well-ventilated grocery stores, every time you eat indoors at a restaurant, whenever you meet up with friends indoors, and especially anytime you are in a large group.

Grocery stores are notably less safe than airplanes. And not that fun either....
Gross…eries (image from Medium.com)

With the weather cooling down, it will soon be nearly impossible to continue living our lives in the safety of the outdoors.

Why Are the Outdoors Safer?

I’m not an epidemiologist, but I do have pretty good common sense. It is widely documented that COVID-19, like other coronaviruses (such as the common cold), transmits mostly by air and somewhat by remaining on surfaces.

In the outdoors, the circulation of air allows the virus to disperse in a way that the risk of transmittance is very low. UV light from the sun kills the virus on most surfaces.

The CDC, making it easy enough for even me to understand how to stay safe.
CDC.gov

Indoors, just like when you sneeze, coughing/talking/breathing releases droplets holding the virus that can remain suspended in the air for hours. The indoors, except for highly ventilated areas (such as airplanes and airports), are simply not safe places to be during a pandemic.

If you don’t believe the CDC (which is understandable), look at the case numbers. Cases are surging in the colder states, such as the Dakotas and Alaska. Just like during the flu season, being stuck indoors is the way the virus spreads most.

Aruba, Jamaica, oh I wanna take ya…

Grace Bay, Turks and Caicos. Insanely beautiful.
Image having this beach all to yourself…

You would be much safer going on a warm vacation, where you’re going to spend most of your time outdoors. This is particularly true if you’re traveling to a country with a lower number of cases per capita, which isn’t too hard to find.

What About Safety While Traveling?

We already know that flying is extremely safe, and there is nearly no chance of getting sick on an airplane these days. A 187-page study by Harvard scientists released Tuesday concluded that air travel “is as safe as or substantially safer than the routine activities people undertake during these times.’

Flying over Sitka, from the safety of a Delta flight.
Flying over Sitka, AK on a recent trip

If you want to be extra careful, book a flight on Delta – they are the only US carrier that will be blocking middle seats of the rest of the year. They also have the most stringent sanitation and disinfectant measures.

Airports are safer than they’ve ever been with all the measures implemented. Some have even won awards for their cleanliness.

If you are strict on not touching your face, washing your hands often for 20 seconds, strict mask usage, there is almost no risk whilst traveling.

This is what all airports should aspire to be.
Singapore’s Award Winning Changi Airport

Traveling Saves Lives

I also think that it’s our responsibility to keep tourism alive and well, for ourselves, but mostly for the developing countries that depend on it.

In my travels this year, I’ve witnessed first-hand how ferociously stricken the less-privileged have been by the pandemic. They’re not dying because of the virus; they’re dying because they can’t feed their families. They simply do not have access to the same opportunities or assistance that we are accustomed to. If you have time, please read the following UN report of child poverty.

With these two things in mind: traveling is safer than staying at home, and the world needs tourism to survive, we can move on to the next step.

How Can We Travel Responsibly and Safely?

There are two issues at hand here:

  • How do I stay safe?
  • How can I keep others safe?

Always remember that, as a tourist, you are a guest of that country. It’s equally your responsibility to respect the customs, traditions, and now more than ever, the local rules, especially regarding health.

All the places you could go... in normal times.
Long Bay Beach, Turks and Caicos. Oh, the places you can go.

Many countries now require that you obtain a PCR-test prior to travel. Even if they don’t require this, I think it’s a common courtesy, especially considering most tests are free in-state with (and sometimes without) health insurance. I’ve taken 6 tests (both nasal and throat swabs) in the last 6 months of traveling, and none were required by the countries I traveled to. I’ll talk about this later.

The Hawaii tourism board recently released data showing that with their travel program (requiring a PCR-test prior to travel), only 10 out of 11,000 (0.09%) visitors were discovered to be infected a week after arrival. This means it works. If you’re traveling to one of the many countries that requires a test before departure and a test after a short quarantine period, you can rest assured that those 0.09% would have been discovered.

I Can’t Mask My Excitement!

You’ll be truly impressed by how far tourism-dependent areas are going to ensure the cleanliness and sanitation of the travel experience. However, it’s a two-way street. Wearing masks when required is vital to ensuring a clean environment for everyone.

This is especially important when using public transportation. I highly recommend, in today’s environment, that you stick to renting a car or taking a taxi instead of relying on hotel shuttles/buses/trains where other occupants might not be as mindful as you are.

This'll do.
Modern problems require modern solutions. Many ubers and taxis isolate the passenger compartment using plastic or plexiglass.

If you have no choice but to take some form of public transportation, know that the risk is still very low, as long as everyone wears masks and maintains social distance. As you’ll see below, most tourist areas have very stringent requirements that work to keep everybody safe.

Do I Need an N95 Mask? Which Masks Are Safe?

Something I would consider heavily when deciding whether to obtain an N95 mask is the limited availability of the masks. They are critically needed for health care workers and medical responders.

That being said, if you are in a high-risk category (or you are in contact with someone who is), I would highly consider using N95 masks as another level of protection. This should apply not just to traveling, but to all exposure to the outside world.

N95 masks: hard to get, but effective.
Image: rawpixel

KN95 masks are another good option. KN95 masks are the Chinese version of N95 masks, and are supposed to (but don’t always) provide similar protection levels. However, they are readily available, and are what I use when I travel and work as an airline pilot.

Medical masks provide nearly complete protection for transmittal of the virus – meaning if everyone wore medical masks, the virus wouldn’t transmit. They also do a pretty good job at protecting you.

The cloth masks do prevent most transmission, but offer nearly zero protection. Bandanas are even worse – they basically don’t do anything.

Are Hotels Safe? How Can I Stay Safe in the Hotel Environment?

Many hotels are going above-and-beyond to ensure that you feel safe. Some of the prevention practices used include:

  • A completely contactless experience via online check-in and mobile room key
  • All staff wearing medical masks
  • Plexiglass barriers and physical distancing
  • Enhanced cleaning and disinfecting practices
Going above and beyond to ensure cleanliness.
Shangri La Hotels, Hong Kong

That being said, it’s up to you to research hotels ahead of time to make sure they uphold safety standards.

How Do I Stay Safe When Going Out?

Stay outside as much as possible, such as when eating at restaurants. Restaurants and bars (indoors) are the highest source of infection. Where else are you nearby other people who aren’t wearing masks in an unventilated environment? This is why you traveled to a warm place – to be outside!

Wear your mask and social distance. This is proven to work. If you meet up with anyone, remind them to keep a distance and once again, avoid being indoors with them.

CDC Guidance is available here.

What Countries Can I Travel to that Have the Lowest Number of Cases?

If you’re looking for an incredible escape to a nearly COVID-free zone, don’t worry – you have plenty of options.

Antigua and Barbuda

A very natural and raw island.
  • 0 new cases yesterday
    • CDC Level 3: Reconsider travel
  • PCR COVID Test Required? Yes.
    • Must have a negative PCR test result for a test taken within 7 days of flying.
  • Health Declaration Form? Yes.
    • Completed on arrival.
  • Travel Insurance: Not required.
  • Quarantine Required? Depends on health inspection upon arrival.
    • Can be done at a hotel, on a boat, in a private residence.
    • Can be waived with an approved PCR test.
  • Masks Required: In all public places.
  • Curfew: 11PM to 5AM

Aruba

The official tree of this "One Happy Island".
“One Happy Island”
  • 10 new cases yesterday
    • CDC Level 3: Reconsider travel
  • PCR COVID Test Required? Yes.
    • Visitors from most states will be required to take a PCR test within 72 hours of the departing flight to Aruba.
  • Health Declaration Form? Yes.
    • Must be approved at least 24 hours prior to entry in Aruba.
  • Travel Insurance: Required.  
  • Quarantine Required? Only if you or a companion has a positive PCR-test result.
  • Masks Required: On public transportation (including tour buses) and at indoor public spaces.
  • Curfew: Businesses (except for hotels) must close by 11PM
  • https://www.aruba.com/us/traveler-health-requirements

Barbados

What an incredible place to have to quarantine.
Drill Hall Beach (photo: Wikipedia)
  • 3 new cases yesterday
    • CDC Level 3: Reconsider travel
  • PCR COVID Test Required? Yes.
    • Visitors from High or Medium Risk Countries (including the USA) must have a negative PCR test result for a test taken within 5 days of arrival
  • Health Declaration Form? Yes.
  • Travel Insurance: Not required.
  • Quarantine Required? Yes, as follows:
    • You will be required to take a second PCR test on island 2-3 days after arrival
    • You must restrict your movement (i.e. not leave the hotel) until you receive your test results for the second test (which usually is within 24 hours).
  • Masks Required: In all public spaces
  • Curfew: None

Dominica

5 days is worth the wait to see this extravagant beauty.
Calibishie (photo: Wikipedia)
  • 2 new cases yesterday
    • CDC Level 2: Practice enhanced precautions
  • PCR COVID Test Required? Yes.
    • Visitors from High Risk Countries (such as the USA) must have a negative PCR test result within 24-72 hours of arrival.
  • Health Declaration Form? Yes.
  • Travel Insurance: Required.
    • Must cover coronavirus-related incidents.
    • Alternatively, you can agree to cover the costs if you get sick.
  • Quarantine Required? Yes.
    • A rapid test will be administered on arrival.
      • The PCR test costs $40 USD
    • 5-day quarantine required even after a negative test result.
    • If you choose a government facility, there are fees.
  • Masks: Required in all public spaces.
  • Curfew: 4PM-8AM
  • Extra Info: Some sites are closed down

Egypt

Not a soul around me in Egypt. Heartbreaking for the locals.
The Great Pyramids (July 2020). We were literally the only tourists.
  • 177 new cases yesterday
    • CDC Level 3: Reconsider travel
  • PCR COVID Test Required? Yes.
    • Must present a negative RT-PCR test certificate on arrival for a test that was taken within 72 hours of departure to Egypt.
  • Health Declaration Form? No.
  • Travel Insurance: Required
  • Quarantine Required? No.
  • Masks: Required in public spaces, but not really adhered to.
  • Curfew: None.
  • Extra Info: In my personal travels, I have found it extremely difficult to travel between Red Sea resorts and Nile Valley cities. You are not allowed to fly between the two. The tourist sites are almost all open.

French Polynesia

I think this counts as safe and responsible.
  • 0 new cases yesterday
    • CDC Level 3: Reconsider travel
  • PCR COVID Test Required? Yes.
    • Must have proof of a negative RT-PCR test carried out within three days prior to departure.
  • Health Declaration Form? Yes.
  • Travel Insurance: Not required.
  • Quarantine Required? Yes.
    • Must self-test 4 days after arrival in Tahiti.
    • You can stay in a resort or hotel and self-isolate there.
    • After negative result, you can move about freely.
  • Masks: Mandatory in all enclosed places and most open-air public places.
  • Curfew: 9PM to 4AM

Grenada

All that beach just for me? Don't mind if I do.
  • 0 new cases yesterday
    • CDC Level 1: COVID-19 risk is low
  • PCR COVID Test Required? Yes.
    • Negative PCR test results required within 7 days of arrival.
  • Health Declaration Form? Yes.
  • Travel Insurance: Required.
    • Must cover coronavirus-related incidents, or be prepared to cover the costs if you fall ill.
  • Quarantine Required? Yes.
    • Minimum of 5-day reservation at approved accommodation for observation.
    • Visitors on day 4 have the option to get PCR test to be allowed into the community, or remain at the hotel for the duration of their visit.  If you opt to go into the community you MUST receive confirmation of a negative PCR test and clearance from health officials.
  • Masks: Mandatory in all public places.
  • Curfew: None

Jamaica

I think I can relax here...
Bloody Bay, Negril (Photo: Wikipedia)
  • 44 new cases yesterday
    • CDC Level 3: Reconsider travel
  • PCR COVID Test Required? Yes.
    • Required to obtain and present a negative COVID-19 PCR or Antigen test result to check in for a flight, within 10 days of departure.
  • Health Declaration Form? Yes.
  • Travel Insurance: Required.
    • Jamaica Cares mandatory travel insurance required, about $40-50
  • Quarantine Required? Maybe.
    • If you plan to leave the tourist areas/“resilient corridor”, yes.
  • Masks: Required in all public places
  • Curfew: 9PM to 5AM

Rwanda

Ok, this one is kinda far... but kinda cool. 10/10 would go.
Gitarama, Rwanda (Photo: Wikipedia)
  • 5 new cases yesterday
    • CDC Level 3: Reconsider travel
  • PCR COVID Test Required? Yes.
    • Must present a negative PCR COVID-19 test certificate for a test taken no more than 120 hours before initial flight.
  • Health Declaration Form? Yes.
    • Before travel to Rwanda, you must fill out a Passenger Locator Form.  You must be able to provide passport information, travel details, negative PCR COVID-19 test results, and a booking confirmation at one of the designated hotels for a 24-hour quarantine upon arrival.
  • Travel Insurance: Not required.
  • Quarantine Required? Yes.
    • Upon arrival, you will be taken to the designated quarantine hotel of your choice. 
    • At the hotel, you will be tested again, at your expense, for COVID-19. 
    • You are required to quarantine in your hotel room until you receive a negative COVID-19 result, approximately 24 hours after arrival.
  • Masks: Required in public places.
  • Curfew: 10PM to 4AM

St Kitts

One way to self isolate.
Basseterre (Photo: Wikipedia)
  • 0 new cases yesterday
    • CDC Level 2: Exercise increased caution
  • PCR COVID Test Required? Yes.
    • Negative PCR test must be completed within 72-hours of travel from an accredited laboratory.
  • Health Declaration Form? Yes.
    • Complete the entry form on the national website prior to travel with your test results.
  • Travel Insurance: Not required.
  • Quarantine Required? Yes.
    • You must choose from six screened and certified resorts.
    • You must download the SKN COVID-19 contact tracing mobile app (to be used for the first 14 days of travel or less).
    • 1-7 days: Visitors are free to move about the hotel property, interact with other guests and partake in hotel activities.
    • 8-14 days: Visitors will undergo a PCR test (USD 100, visitors’ cost) on day 7. If the traveler tests negative on day 8, they are allowed, through the hotel’s tour desk, to book select excursions and access select destination sites (list to be announced later).
    • 14 days or longer: Visitors will need to undergo a PCR test (USD 100, visitors’ cost) on day 14, and if they test negative the traveler will be allowed to integrate into St. Kitts and Nevis.
  • Masks: Required whenever outside of your hotel room.
  • Curfew: None.

St Lucia

So much beauty contained in one island.
Port of Castries (Photo: Wikipedia)
  • 2 new cases yesterday
    • CDC Level 1: COVID-19 risk is low
  • PCR COVID Test Required? Yes.
  • Health Declaration Form? Yes.
  • Travel Insurance: Not required.
  • Quarantine Required? Yes.
    • Must have verified reservation at a COVID-19 certified property.
    • You will be transferred by certified taxi to an approved COVID-19 accommodation or to a government quarantine facility.
    • Required to remain on property for the duration of your stay except to transfer to another Covid-19 certified property to continue your stay, or to participate in certified activities, tours and excursions.
    • Guests who spend 14 days in a COVID-19 certified property may then leave the property and travel freely within Saint Lucia.
  • Masks: Required in public spaces, but not at restaurants when seated or at the pool.
  • Curfew: None.

St Vincent and the Grenadines

These are great island to visit by sailboat! Which is a great way to quarantine. :)
  • 0 new cases yesterday
    • CDC Level 1: COVID-19 risk is low
  • PCR COVID Test Required? Yes.
    • Requires a negative COVID-19 result within seven days of arrival.
  • Health Declaration Form? Yes.
    • Required to fill out this form prior to travel.
  • Travel Insurance: Not required.
  • Quarantine Required? Yes.
    • Travelers are tested immediately upon arrival.
    • Initial quarantine of five nights in an approved hotel before being tested again.
  • Masks: Required in public places.
  • Curfew: None.

Turks and Caicos

Top beaches on the planet.
  • 0 new cases yesterday
    • CDC Level 3: Reconsider travel
  • PCR COVID Test Required? Yes.
    • A negative COVID-19 PCR test result is required. The test must be taken within 5 days prior to travel.
  • Health Declaration Form? Yes.
  • Travel Insurance: Required.
    • Must cover COVID-19 medical costs and full hospitalization, doctors’ visits, prescriptions and air ambulance.
  • Masks: Required in public spaces.
  • Curfew: 10PM to 5AM, all business must close by 9PM

Cheap Flights

I personally use CheapOAir because of their “hacker fares”, where they mix and match airlines to get the best possible price. One great example of this:

Link below!
By mixing fares, the round trip price down to the Caribbean is only $308

Another thing to note is that most airlines offer travel flexibility with no change fees. You can book now to secure a lower rate, and then change your flight at no additional cost (except the fare difference).

Right now, CheapOAir offering a rare offer of $25 off for Black Friday using code EARLYBF25.

My Experiences Traveling This Year

Since the pandemic started this year, I’ve traveled to:

  • Pacific: Northern Marianas Islands, Guam, Palau, Hawaii
  • Asia: Vietnam, Japan
  • Europe: Austria, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands
  • Africa: Egypt
  • North America: Over 20 States in the US, Mexico

I’ve watched and seen as the countries taking the pandemic seriously (such as Japan and Vietnam) were able to curb its progression and keep things under control. I also watched as the US allowed the situation to degrade beyond control, then saw Europe follow in America’s footsteps with premature relaxation of prevention measures. Everything so far has been entirely predictable.

Travel can safe! Six COVID tests and one antibody and I still haven't been sick.
My Travels Since February

The travel restrictions/bans aren’t an effective measure to curb the progression of COVID. Despite Europe’s horrendously stringent travel restrictions of most of the world, some EU countries managed to have some of the highest case numbers on the world, all without our help. I say that as a proud Belgian-American.

Travel restrictions only work for small island-nations, where the virus isn’t already present. Most countries I listed above fall into this category. That is why they need to go to such lengths with testing and health declaration forms and masks and quarantining. It’s a great way they can remain open and stay safe – and it’s the only way.

Related: Here’s how you can visit the USA as a European.

Vacation in Safety

All the requirements above may seem like a hassle, but they’re a great way to keep countries safe, and an even greater way to keep you safe. I once again will postulate that, knowing that the numbers of cases are dramatically lower in the countries listed above, and knowing that these places will enable you to reduce your exposure indoors, you are safer traveling than staying at home.

Plus, with all the teleworking being done these days, wouldn’t you rather be staring out at palm trees from your work desk?

Keep Exploring the World

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