Be smart and do what feels right for your unique situation. Sharing my recent travel experience and how I prepped to reduce anxiety.
THINGS TO CONSIDER
1. Are you traveling to a high risk area? Have the people you are seeing been following recommended best practices? (i.e. social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands)
It's no fun to travel somewhere and stay indoors. However, if you're traveling to a high risk location, it might not make sense to keep putting yourself through repeated risk of crowd exposure. In my case, my family is in Houston, which is impacted severely. Additionally, my parents, while healthy, are at a higher risk for getting the virus given their age. Taking these factors into consideration, I still decided to travel as the Governor of Texas finally took measures to mandate people must wear masks. My family has also been taking sheltering in place seriously. For me, going home would just be time spent at home alone with them (after a few days of isolation).
2. Take a COVID-19 PCR test ahead of time
I recommend doing this 7-10 days before your trip. I took mine in SF and picked a drive through clinic. The test was covered by my insurance. A bit of good news -- the test is incredibly fast and the nose swabs are much smaller now than when tests first came out. Just a bit of discomfort, but it was over before you know it. I was told that test results might be delayed as demand has increased. However, I was incredibly surprised to receive my test results in 2 days. To be on safe side, I would give yourself a 5-7 days buffer.
Assuming you are in the clear, you will want to make sure you continue to minimize your exposure. Also, I do want to point out that there are many studies that indicate that the tests have a 30% likelihood of inaccuracy. Again, I still feel its a valuable signal when you're trying to make a go/no go decision.
3. Identify the areas I felt the most vulnerable and control what you can. For me, this was the airport and plane.
If you can, pick a carrier that is NOT filling the aircraft to capacity and keeping the middle seat vacant. Not all airlines are still doing this, but Delta, Jet Blue and Southwest Airlines seem to be. In fact, Delta is guaranteeing it will continue to do so till September 30, 2020. I flew United and only found out later that they would book to capacity if they could. Due to the apprehension of not knowing how full the plane would be, I kept moving my seat assignment in an attempt to get a fairly isolated seat. Personally, I do not see myself traveling again for a good while (pretty please, vaccine!). However, if I were to do it again, I would pick a carrier that is trying to distance passengers with the available levers they have.
Next, now is the time to pay extra for a non stop flight, if that is an option. Again, reducing crowds and exposure is smart. Obviously, depending on your destination this may not be possible.
In your booking process, select a day and time of week where you think not as many people are traveling. Everyone could be doing the same thing, but doing this strategizing made me feel like I was controlling the few things I could. If you're curious, I wound up picking a red eye flight on a Saturday out of SFO airport and am happy to report my gamble paid off as the airport was nearly dead. Flying into Houston, there were people, but at 6am, I was *the* only person in the arrivals passenger pick up area. If you've ever been to IAH airport, you know that this is definitely not the norm, even early morning.
In order to avoid long lines and close proximity to people in security, now might be the time to sign up for CLEAR. I found this deal on the Points Guy blog -- Get Clear for a discounted rate of $149 for 12 months using code TPG149 or get a two-month free trial of Clear using code TPG2M. I tried the 2 month free trial and it helped me get through security faster. Side note, you need TSA pre (which many credit cards pay for) and it was as close to contact free, as possible. If you use the fingerprint vs retina scan, just keep wipes, gloves, and sanitizer ready to use.
Head to your gate area and find a place to park yourself that is less crowded. I arrived very early for my red eye flight and standing was not an option. I found a bench and pulled out a plastic bag so I could sit on it - minimizing exposure is the name of the game 🙃. I also highly recommend going to the restroom before your flight, so you don't need to use it on flight.
4. Pack appropriately
Planes are supposedly being cleaned extensively between flights, but knowing I was taking a flight to see my folks, who are at higher risk of contracting the virus, meant I had to take even more precaution.
I wore or brought the following with me:
Comfortable mask (find one you can manage to keep on!)
Joggers or leggings
Scarf to cover seat
Plastic bag to lay your carryon or shoulder bag on
Closed toe shoes
Empty ziplocs (trash cans may not be available)
Change of clothes upon landing
My own food/drink (did not consume anything without washing my hands and avoided in the flight bc I wanted to keep my mask on).
I know I look ridiculous, but I felt safe. The face shield was the one thing I'm glad I had, as you can't control whether other people are wearing their masks properly.
You will see everything, like this guy who was fully suited in a PPE.
5. Measures once you arrive at your destination
I had my family pick me up. I made sure to change my clothes in the bathroom beforehand and put the "exposed" clothing into a trash bag. I did not hug my family, loaded my suitcase and kept my mask on in the car. For the remainder of my time at home, I am self-quarantining keeping distance and wearing a mask in the common areas of our home until I am able to take another COVID-19 test. I ordered a test ahead of time from Pixel Labs and plan to take it around Day 6. Read this Harvard Medical article for recommended time to test.
These were a lot of steps and planning to make this trip happen. I had postponed the trip once already, but there is a point where not seeing your family also feels unhealthy. However, I want to also acknowledge that it's clearly a lot easier to travel solo. If I was traveling with kids, there would be a lot more things I'd have to take into account. Personally, I'm not sure I could travel with kids, unless it were a road trip. Hopefully, a general walkthrough of my thinking helps you take inventory of what you need to do, so you can plan accordingly.
Here are some pics of the SFO airport security lines, my gate etc. I didn't take pictures inside the aircraft or at IAH because I didn't want to loiter and had to stay focused. The good news is that majority of passengers were wearing masks and following protocol.