Holiday travel tips in the age of COVID

For most of us, this will be the closest thing to a normal holiday season since 2019 – and that includes gathering with people from multiple households. Besides knocking a layer of dust off our suitcases, it also means adding some COVID cautions while brushing up on tried-and-true travel routines.
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Personal safety whether you’re visiting or hosting

We’re all searching for that Goldilocks balance – taking enough steps to reduce COVID transmission risk while not going so far that we might as well have stayed home. “Just right” will depend on your personal risk tolerance, but these might be some good places to start:

  • Know the risks. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, most of us added a new word to our vocabularies: Omicron. While scientists are still sorting out whether the new variant requires any changes to proven precautions like vaccination, masking and social distancing, there are still commonsense steps you can take to protect the people you love while maintaining the traditions that make the holidays fun.

    If you’re gathering with immunocompromised or unvaccinated family members, including kids under 5, crack open windows to improve air circulation and use portable air cleaners with HEPA filters in dining and living rooms where people congregate. Another option: Take a COVID test before the gathering. While rapid COVID tests aren’t foolproof, they can reduce the chance you’ll inadvertently put a vulnerable person at risk.

  • Host with grace. Make sure guests understand that there’s no judgment, no pressure, if they decide to cancel at the last minute. Whether they wake up that morning with a scratchy throat or they’ve had a change of heart about mingling after recent news reports, no one should feel they “have to” attend.
  • Attend with grace. Chances are, someone at the holiday table will have different opinions than you about the state of the pandemic and the correct response. We love the phrase, “You might be right.” It can diffuse and shut down an unwanted debate by simply recognizing that none of us has a pandemic playbook. 
  • Respond situationally. If all members of your private gathering are fully vaccinated, not immunocompromised and showing no symptoms, CDC guidelines still suggest your celebration can (mostly) look like 2019. In enclosed public spaces, though, follow local requirements for masking, proof of vaccination, testing and quarantine as well as requirements for public transportation. If Omicron-related travel restrictions have altered your plans, check with your travel provider regarding cancellation and refund policies.

Get there safely (and in a good mood)

  • Minimize stops along the way. Pack snacks and water so you won’t be tempted to dart into convenience stores during your road trip, especially if you’re traveling through areas with higher COVID transmission rates. Take advantage of drive-through meals when possible rather than indoor sit-down restaurants where you’ll need to remove your mask to eat. If you’re on a relatively short flight, eat before you board so you can skip the complimentary drinks and snacks and leave your mask on throughout the flight.
  • Carry your COVID kit. Consider upgrading to KN95 or N95 masks that offer greater protection than standard cloth or paper masks. Carry your vaccination card, keep a picture of it on your phone and consider creating your vaccination certificate QR code. In addition to hand sanitizer, pack disinfecting wipes for surfaces like drop-down tables on airplanes and instrument panels and door handles in rental cars. Do what makes you feel better about traveling, even if that includes bringing disposable seat covers for the plane.
  • Allow extra time at the airport. Arrive two hours early for domestic flights, three hours for international. There may be additional COVID precautions like temperature screening. You also may see some adjustments to help speed the process and minimize contact, like putting your boarding pass on the reader yourself rather than handing it to the TSA officer. Put items like your keys and spare change into your carry-on rather than tossing them in the bin for inspection. For food items (hello, gingerbread and fruitcake!), which often trigger manual carry-on inspections, put them in a clear plastic bag and set it in the bin. Consider applying for the TSA PreCheck Program or Clear to speed your trip through the airport.
  • Choose direct flights whenever possible, since connections increase your exposure to other travelers in the terminal and the likelihood of missed connections and lost luggage. Opt for early or late departures, which avoid peak crowds, and consider flying Dec. 24 or 25 (Dec. 21 and 22 will be the busiest days). If the idea of jockeying for parking zaps your holiday spirit, try an airport shuttle, cab or rideshare service, instead.
  • Ship gifts directly to your destination. If you must take them with you, pad them well in your suitcase and don’t wrap them until you reach your destination. Security may unwrap them to check what’s inside.
  • Pay with a travel rewards credit card. Lost luggage and rental-car fender benders are (thankfully!) uncommon. But if you find yourself in either predicament, you’ll be glad you booked your flight and paid for your rental car with a credit card that includes automatic perks and insurance coverage for travelers. (Check your card agreement to see what it offers.)
  • PEMCO’s in your corner, too. Your PEMCO policies include help for travelers. Your home or renter policy can replace lost or stolen luggage, less your policy deductible. Your auto policy covers rental cars, with certain limitations.

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Source: PEMCO Insurance

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