A framework for travel during covid

A framework for travel during covid

When the novel coronavirus first struck the United States, many communities acted swiftly. Lockdowns and restrictions on interstate travel meant cancelling all travel plans as we all buckled down and resolved to wait it out.

Several months later, a “third wave” of covid spread has hit America. Faced with the prospect of a socially distant winter, many of us understand that we have to plan for a lifestyle that may last for months to come. Although recent vaccination trials have been promising, there is no going back to our old habits in the immediate future.

Given this knowledge, it’s reasonable to ask whether travel is safe during this stage of the pandemic. While the answer is complicated, there are steps you can take to alleviate risk to yourself and to others.

Travel during covid involves a range of concerns.

While as a society we know far more about the virus that causes covid-19 than ever before, our individual behavior is — as always — subject to our own decision-making frameworks. We’d like to address the personal concerns of those who are wondering what the risk might be to themselves and to the communities they interact with.

Forest bathing atop a mountain might be the ultimate meditative retreat (Photo by Kaitlin Muro)

Travel has unquestionable benefits.

We wouldn’t be discussing travel as an option if there weren’t obvious benefits to travelling. While acknowledging the risks in the current environment, the upsides of travel haven’t changed. Travel (for pleasure) is good for our mental health. It gets us out of our routine — a routine that might be producing anxiety and even depression during the time of covid. It gives us new challenges and provides us with a sense of joy and fulfillment. And it connects us with our surroundings in unique, inimitable ways.

Travel during the pandemic produces three types of risk.

Although travel’s benefits are clear, its risks are stark during the pandemic. These risks fall into three main categories: risks to yourself, risk to people you contact, and risks to a community.

The first category is straightforward. Leaving your house and encountering other people in other places increases your risk of contracting covid-19. Managing this risk is a strictly personal decision: you are responsible for your own health, and decisions around your health are yours.

The second category is where things become more complex. Suddenly, it’s not just about you anymore. When you travel, you may unwittingly spread covid to others, perhaps while showing no symptoms yourself. As you pass through various places, you might be a vector for the coronavirus.

The third category is more subtle and doesn’t often enter into potential travellers’ thought processes. Nonetheless, it’s important.

Not all communities are well equipped to deal with patients who are exhibiting covid symptoms. Small, isolated towns may not have ICUs with ventilators, and even taking up a hospital bed may tax resources. Other places where covid spread is more acute may not have the capacity to handle additional patients. Even if you sprain an ankle and need to see a doctor, you may be taxing these communities’ resources.

With this in mind, when planning travel you might consider assessing the potential impact on a community. Taking up medical resources in a place you’re visiting can have wider consequences. One good indicator of broad community risk lies in the messaging from a destination itself: is travel welcomed, or are locals warning away travelers? Are there government orders limiting travel?

We’ve seen travelers adjust their behavior in response to new information.

We know far more about how covid spreads than we did in the spring of 2020. Earlier this year, the fear of contracting the virus via touching contaminated surfaces led many people to avoid public places altogether.

Now that we know that the principal method of transmission for covid-19 is person to person, we’ve observed travelers choosing different types of trip to reduce risk. There’s been a significant reduction in interacting with other people in close quarters, indoors, without proper ventilation. Behavior has shifted towards wearing masks, staying distant from those not in one’s immediate household, and remaining outdoors.

The freshest air is socially distant air (Photo by Jared Murray)

To make a good decision for yourself, consider a checklist.

Understanding all these factors means that it’s possible to create a list that might help you make a good decision for yourself and your travel companions. Here’s what a list might look like — with you being the judge of whether the answers fall within your tolerance ranges:

  • To what extent can I minimize or eliminate close contact with other people?
  • To what extent can I stay outdoors for most or all of this trip?
  • Am I close enough to my “home community” to avail myself of its medical resources, should I need them?
  • Is the destination community welcoming travel, or seeking to discourage it?
  • Are there any official rules or advisories in place with regards to travel?

We believe that asking these questions is a great start to viewing the question of travel during the pandemic ethically and responsibly.

With this in mind, we believe that it’s possible for those who wish to enjoy the benefits of travel to do so responsibly and in a safer way, while minimizing risk to themselves and others. Our Una Travel Planner app is designed to recommend outdoor activities such as hiking and camping, as well as safer options such as takeout food, and we encourage you to travel locally (by road, if possible) and safely. If this sounds interesting, sign up for our waitlist or just follow us on Instagram or Pinterest for tips and travel recommendations.

Whatever your choice, we wish you a happy and healthy winter.