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Holiday Travel in 2020: Safer Places to Go, Places to Stay, Road Trips | Frommer's Julia Zavalishina/Shutterstock

Holiday Travel in 2020: Safer Places to Go, Places to Stay, Road Trips

It sometimes feels like Covid-19 stripped us of the most precious parts of our humanity. Thanks to the virus, theater, dance, and music performances are too dangerous to attend, as are dinner parties in homes. Even the act of a grandparent cradling a new grandchild carries risks right now.

For this reason, scientists and government officials have been begging the public not to visit extended families for Thanksgiving and Christmas. One of my earlier posts in this three-part series weighed in on whether it's wise to travel at all for the holidays this year.

For people determined to get away in November and December, take my advice on creative and proactive planning. It might make safe holiday travel possible.

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Pick the Right Places to Go and Stay

Grandma’s house could be in a red zone.

So 2020 could be the year the family chooses to gather in a neutral space, such as rented vacation homes or apartments in an area with low coronavirus numbers and temperate weather. That last part is key, because it means you could have the big meals in the open air. Outdoor gatherings, especially if they involve food (and masks being removed from faces), are far safer than indoor ones.

If that’s not doable and a family member’s home is the chosen gathering place, consider booking a hotel room or a vacation rental instead of sleeping on the couch or in a spare bedroom. Limiting time indoors with extended family could help you stay safer.

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You’ll want to know just how risky the area you’re visiting is likely to be. An interactive map by the Harvard Global Health Institute should help. It tracks the level of coronavirus by congressional district across the United States. If a place is labeled red—and sadly, huge swaths of the United States are red right now—it means that the scientists suggest strict stay-at-home orders for that location.

Not all local politicians are taking the scientists' advice, so also check United Airlines' interactive map, which shows which states require either testing or quarantine (or a combination) for visitors. Right now, states with such requirements are Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, Washington, and Wisconsin. United’s global map shows the same type of information, except by country.

The Automobile Association of America (AAA) maintains a wonky, but somewhat helpful, map of U.S. states detailing coronavirus suppression regulations including mask requirements, maximum head counts for gatherings, restaurant operation rules, and more.

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A Test Shows You Care

Most types of medical insurance usually cover Covid-19 testing, so why not make testing a pre-condition for sitting at the Thanksgiving or Christmas table? Molecular tests, also known as PCR tests, are considered the most accurate, though you’ll usually have to wait a day or two for results.

Work the timing of a test into your schedule. You may need to test and then quarantine before seeing your family and friends. But if everyone does so, you have a better chance of creating a safe bubble.  

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Consider Different Ways to Be Together

This year, a safer vacation might not be centered around a family home.

Tour companies are now putting together private tours for groups. They're the same as the normal tours sold to the general public, except that you’ll be traveling in a bubble with only your group. Click here for our article on five ways to travel in your own group bubble—they'd all work well for family gatherings.

Rentals of houseboats, yachts, and river barges are another inventive and safe option, as is renting the tricked-out buses rock stars use for tours (complete with a chauffeur). Click here for my article about that.

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Holiday Road Trip Tips

I gave extensive advice on how to navigate flights and airports safely in part two of this holiday travel series. But car travel has its own risks, all involving your interactions outside the car.

Minimize those, if you can, by carrying your own meals on long drives, rather than stopping at roadside restaurants. Also be careful when filling your car with fuel. Be sure to bring wipes so you can clean anything you might handle in those high-touch facilities, like the pump and the knob to the gas station bathroom. There has been scientific anxiety about the "mist" that rises whenever a toilet is flushed, and we know virus can dwell in human fluids, so do keep your mask on in all public restrooms and wash your hands thoroughly.

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And as always before a long car trip, make sure that you’ve done a thorough check of your vehicle before you depart. Carry supplies (like blankets, a spare tire, extra water, and a first aid kit) and bring cords and external batteries so you can make sure your phone stays juiced for the journey. Click here for some more of our recommendations for taking a road trip during the pandemic.

We wish you and yours happy and healthy holidays. Here's to 2021!

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