Most of us have been navigating through difficult months. I’ve been restless and heart broken as the positive travel trends of the past decade have evaporated during the pandemic. It knocked me for a loop but slowly I’m re-configuring life as the whole world has been on pause. Hope is emerging with vaccine roll-outs but we still need to be vigilant. After recently testing the new realities on road trips and international flights, I found that it’s still possible and positive to be a responsible tourist.
This post is part of my Plan Now/Travel Later series. The goal is to help you travel safely – but only when regional guidelines allow it. At this moment my home state is in lock down and I support that – only going out as needed for essentials and always following safety guidelines. Hopefully, the restrictions will be lifted soon. So, plan away and know this post contains Affiliate links to help you. They are offered at no cost and help keep this blog going. Thanks.
My optimism about travel is based on months of research but more importantly, I’ve put my life on the line to experience what’s possible over the past few months. It’s taken me on road trips up and down the Pacific Coast and even an international trip to Cancun and the Riviera Maya (read about one of the cenote adventures in this earlier post.) What I’ve observed has been heartening at times and heart-breaking at others.
Stay vigilant and remember that Covid doesn’t take a vacation just because we do.
The Most Important, Not-So-Tough Choice
Taking care of ourselves also takes care of others when we follow the recommended pandemic precautions. I check the US, CDC guidelines and follow scientific progress as the contours of the pandemic have evolved. Here’s what’s worked for me and fellow travelers so far:
- Wear a mask and know which masks work best. A single layer cloth mask is better than nothing but not as effective as wearing a N-95 or K-95 face mask. They are now available online. Layers are better than single cloth and need to be washed daily.
- Wear the mask correctly. Cover your nose completely and make sure your chin is covered securely and comfortably. If the mask makes your glasses fog up then it’s not sealing or effective at keeping you and those around you safe.
- Be careful about handling used masks. The best practice is to put your mask in a folder, baggie or designated holder whenever you take it off. Remove the ear loops first and avoid touching the front of the mask. Wash your hands or use sanitizer after handling your mask.
Take Away: I keep my N-95 mask on the dashboard of my car. Sunlight and heat help to clean it. Otherwise it goes to a designated spot indoors and is rotated daily with another mask.
Road Tripping As A Responsible Tourist
As the new reality sank in that the situation was going on indefinitely, I started taking road trips around my state and the Southwest. Not everyone has a car but rentals are easy enough when you do some comparison shopping. It was time to retire my 12-year-old Toyota but I couldn’t swing a fully electric car, plus the difficulty of locating charging stations across the country was worrisome. I opted for a self-generating hybrid SUV with a significant carbon and mileage savings.
As with any trip, prepping is key. I pack masks and antiseptic wipes for both car and purse along with hand sanitizer.
Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world. – Desmond Tutu
Rest Stops and Gas Stations
We’ve learned a lot since the first months of the pandemic. Now that it’s confirmed that Covid is transmitted as an aerosol it’s important to wear a properly fitted mask when using a public bathroom. Afterwards, wash your hands thoroughly and use sanitizer as soon as you get back in the car. This practice worked for me whether we pulled over at a pristine interstate rest stop or a slightly grimy gas station bathroom.
Takeaway: Whatever you touch when filling your tank is touched by hundreds of people as well. Remember to sanitize your hands, credit or debit cards, phone and key fob to keep the virus at bay.
Where to Stay
My car makes it easy to camp but my travel buddy isn’t inclined. We looked into independent units and small hotels. Motels with cabins made social distancing easy but we also stayed in a couple of hotels and each time requested rooms with windows that open.
Here’s how the first trip went:
The first road trip was from Southern California to visit friends and family in the Bay Area and Fort Bragg. It was still hot and we dodged the devastating fires. There was no problem booking hotels from the road, but I’m not sure that’s still the case as more people are taking to the road. We stayed one night in one of the more modest rooms at the famous Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo. I wanted to see it from the inside and wasn’t disappointed. The interiors are over-the-top and unique, even in our ‘Vintage Car’ room. At that time I traveled with paper towels and disinfectant. Once we opened the door, I wore my mask and wiped down all the high touch surfaces, opened the windows for air flow and then took a short walk to let things clear out.
No Time to Fudge Safety
There was a huge crowd at the outdoor dining room and that concerned me. Even with tables spaced at least six feet apart, I wasn’t comfortable being around so many people sitting shoulder-to-shoulder and unmasked at their tables. We took our meal back to a lovely bench overlook. The next morning I was up early to swim and had the outdoor pool to myself for the better part of an hour. We ate breakfast poolside from the famous hotel bakery as two small groups of young adults arrived, splashing, laughing, and taking selfies in the picturesque space.
As the trip unwound we booked at cottages and cabins in Sonoma and near Mendocino where there’s so much to do and enjoy safely. These gave us more options to make our own meals and we were separated more completely from other guests.
Lodging Choices and Questions:
Ask questions when you book. I wouldn’t hesitate to visit hotels again but have had to get more aggressive than usual with questions at booking.
- Ask about Covid procedures at the hotel. Get specific.
- Book a room with good ventilation.
- Bring disinfecting wipes for the high-touch spots and trust house-keeping to do the right thing (wear masks and gloves while in the rooms.)
- If uncomfortable, or staff isn’t compliant, go somewhere else.
- Leave good tips for staff. At this point they’re lucky to have jobs but have probably had hours reduced, schedules jumbled, and are putting themselves, as well as their families, on the line to be of service.
Be a Responsible Tourist Internationally
America is not alone with Covid Fatigue and difficult restrictions but remain consistent about safety for yourself as well as the places we want to visit. My case study was a dive trip to the Mexican Riviera from San Diego. Here’s how it went:
Entering an airport after spending months at home is a bit disconcerting. Luckily my experience in Mexico and the United States terminals was positive with everyone wearing masks and practicing social distancing (for the most part.)
The airlines are working to make flights safe during these trying times. Not all airlines are equal in their strategies and those strategies can change from flight to flight. For example, American Airlines advertised that they were keeping the middle seats opened and soon after started cancelling flights and packing all seats on those remaining.
My international flight was packed but the staff all wore masks, there was no food served, we were handed water and a snack when we boarded. As we boarded we were handed a goodie bags with small bottle of complementary hand sanitizer. I ate and drank in the terminal before boarding and avoided using the airplane bathrooms as much as possible. I also wore my mask non-stop and a face shield as well.
Takeaway: Contact your airline well before leaving home. Ask about the middle seats and what precautions they’re making. If things are different than you were led to believe, speak up and put your concerns in writing – on social media as well as email.
Empathy is not connecting to an experience, empathy is connecting to the emotions that underpin the experience. ~ Brene Brown
My first overnight was on Isla Mujeres across from Cancun. Our hotel staff were diligent about precautions with shoe sanitizing pads at entrances, offering sanitizer at the lobby entrance, restaurants and bars. The staff always wore masks but sadly most of the guests (and I heard only American English being spoken) did not wear masks indoors or out. I took my meals on the patio and avoided eating indoors even with tables well spaced out.
Takeaway: Covid doesn’t take a vacation. Don’t be a spreader or bring sickness home.
Responsible Tourists Support Locals
Business people from the dive shops, boats and drivers told me that Isla Mujeres had no Covid infections until they opened up for tourism after months closed. I couldn’t understand how the party boat crowds could cram guests on board, where they ate and drank side by side and not wear masks. The danger they put themselves in is one concern but more so, the danger they put their servers, cleaning staff, drivers, etc. in was heart-breaking. We’re not the only ones on the planet with failing businesses, going stir-crazy staying indoors, juggling work and child rearing. If we’re privileged enough to be able to travel and want more countries to open up to tourists, we need to care of others as we would ourselves. It’s not a political decision to wear a mask or wash your hands, it’s science and self-preservation!
Either we rise to this historic challenge or we will fail ourselves, our loved ones as well as the world. I love and miss travel. Yes, travel but do it as a responsible tourist.