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From social distancing at the airport to contactless hotel check-in, here’s how to stay safe wherever you go.

Right now, planning a trip is the furthest thing from most people’s minds. But if you do need to go somewhere, with some safe travel guidelines, you can protect yourself and everyone around you.

“Although we are in the midst of a global pandemic, if you do need to travel, it is possible to do so safely,” explains Dr. Mark Shelly, director of infection prevention and control for Geisinger. “The way to do that is by following the same everyday precautions you would at home — practicing social distancing, wearing a mask and washing your hands.”

Planes, trains and automobiles

The big part of many trips is getting there. Whether you plan to drive or fly, keep a few things in mind before you embark on your journey.

  1. Choose your day: Before buying your ticket, think about your travel dates. If they’re flexible, choose mid-week departures, which tend to be less busy. If using a travel company, be sure to check your options before you book as many are reducing schedules and limiting trips.
  2. Pack light: To reduce the number of people handling your luggage, consider taking only a carry-on bag. If you’re flying and decide to check your suitcase, give the handles a quick cleaning with an antibacterial wipe when you pick it up from baggage claim.
  3. Arrive early: COVID-19 has affected staff schedules everywhere. And fewer workers means longer lines — and longer wait times to get through those lines and security checks. To keep things as smooth as possible, head to the airport or train station earlier than you normally would.
  4. Keep your distance: It’s still important to practice social distancing. When walking through an airport, train station or bus terminal, stay at least 6 feet away from others. Wear a mask over your mouth and nose. And wash your hands or use hand sanitizer as often as possible.
  5. Safer air travel: When taking a flight, wipe down the armrest, seatbelt buckle and table tray with a disinfecting wipe. If possible, choose a window seat to avoid busier aisles or keep a seat between you and another passenger. “Although it’s not recommended to travel unless you absolutely have to, air travel is safe,” Dr. Shelly says. “Airlines are taking precautions, like reducing the number of passengers on flights and deep cleaning between trips.”
  6. Using mass transit: If opting for travel by train, some companies are reducing their capacity of passengers to allow for better social distancing. And, if you’re taking a bus, expect more space between riders and improved ventilation. “COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets in the air. Circulating fresh outside air can help reduce the spread, which is why many public transportation companies have upgraded their ventilation systems,” says Dr. Shelly.
  7. Car rentals: If you’re planning on renting a car, not much will change. You can still rent online or over the phone, although you may not be able to pay with cash these days. Some car rental agencies are offering contactless check-ins, curbside pickup or vehicle delivery. They've also implemented rigorous cleaning of high-touch areas, including:
  • Steering wheels
  • Door handles
  • Gearshifts
  • Instrument panels and controls
  • Windows and doors

Even so, it’s a good idea to keep a container of disinfecting wipes and some hand sanitizer in the car while you travel. Use wipes to disinfect gas pumps, bank cards or other items. To clean your hands, apply a quick squirt of hand sanitizer when you don’t have access to soap and water.

Choosing where to stay

If you plan on staying in a hotel, inn or motel, contact the front desk to learn what steps they’re taking to protect guests. Try to choose those practicing extra precautions such as:

  • Additional cleaning measures
  • Contactless check-in
  • Social distancing measures
  • Hand sanitizing stations

Once you settle into your room, here are a few extra steps you can take to reduce your risk of exposure:

  • Wipe down surfaces in your room with disinfecting wipes.
  • Open windows for extra ventilation.
  • Decline housekeeping services to limit the number of people in your room.

Many facilities are also limiting guest access to amenities like restaurants or spas, or reducing their pool or gym hours. To find out what restrictions may exist, contact the hotel.

“Remember to wear your mask and adhere to social distancing in common areas,” reminds Dr. Shelly. “Keep this in mind anytime you leave your room.”

Vacation rentals

For an even more socially distanced stay, consider a vacation rental. Many rental agencies are enforcing rigorous cleaning and safety measures at their properties. Some are requiring longer gaps between stays to allow for extra sanitizing.

Many vacation rental properties are offering contactless check-ins using electronic keypad locks instead of keys. This means you’ll let yourself in to the unit and may be able to communicate with the property owner or rental agency through text or email (rather than in person).

Rental properties that are “off the beaten path" and away from more populated areas offer more privacy — and possibly more protection. Before you reach your destination, be sure to review local guidelines on precautions like masking and restaurant dining.

Dining options when traveling

For greater flexibility at mealtime, you might consider lodging that includes a basic kitchenette or a full-service kitchen, like a vacation rental or extended-stay hotel.

Stock up on essentials by ordering grocery delivery or visit a local grocery store. If you’re driving to your destination and would rather stay out of the supermarket, you can pack a cooler with food from home.

Prefer to let someone else prepare dinner? Call the restaurant you plan to visit ahead of time to ask about safety measures. Many restaurants are offering options like:

  • Outdoor dining
  • Reduced capacity inside dining rooms
  • Physical distancing between tables
  • Strict sanitizing measures

If you aren’t comfortable dining in, opt for takeout or meal delivery.

Making travel safer

Before you leave for your trip, review the CDC’s COVID-19 travel recommendations for the state (or country) you’ll be visiting. If traveling from an area with a high number of new virus cases, you may be required to quarantine for 14 days when you arrive.

“Just like you would at home, avoid crowds and confinement in closed spaces wherever possible,” reminds Dr. Shelly. “Don’t forget your mask, keep your hands clean and, most importantly, have a safe trip.”

Next steps:

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COVID-19 updates: Visit Geisinger's Coronavirus Resource Center for the latest information and helpful resources.