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After months of lockdown, Zoom Passovers and Easter dinners, and not seeing loved ones, the desire is strong to have a big Thanksgiving get together, family Christmas, or other holiday gathering. But is holiday travel safe in this time of the coronavirus? Read on for the ways our TravelingMom writers have protected themselves and their family members during their pandemic meetups and the official recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a safer family holiday in 2020.
Like many of us, TravelingMom Founder Kim Orlando hadn’t seen her dad since last year. But his health meant that he is at higher risk for the virus, so a visit needed to be handled with care. Her trip involved a carefully planned series of coronavirus tests and strategic scheduling around who else she would see on her visit home to Kentucky.
TravelingMom writer Terri Marshall-Holder, a New Yorker who got Covid-19 early in the pandemic, wanted to see her elderly parents and her grandkids. She was tested and has the coronavirus antibodies, but no one is sure how long her immunity might last. And her daughter in Florida has health challenges. So that visit had to be carefully planned, including the order in which she would see her two kids and the grandkids.
As my husband and I plan for our trip to Detroit to spend Thanksgiving with our young adult kids, whom we haven’t seen in months, we all are getting Covid tests and the kids are planning a two-week quarantine away from their friends before we arrive.
How Will Holiday Travel Look Different in 2020?
So. Many. Ways. Smaller gatherings. Zoom dinners. Fewer hugs.
That’s what the survey firm Morning Consult reports. Nearly three-quarters of the people surveyed say their holiday gatherings will be smaller this year. Half say they plan a virtual celebration. Nearly half have canceled some holiday get-togethers altogether.
While the CDC isn’t exactly encouraging family parties, there are ways to lessen the potential that a long-awaited and much anticipated family gathering will turn into a super spreader event.
If you have been paying attention these last few months, you already know many of these CDC recommendations:
Wear a Mask: Keep it on whenever you are not eating or drinking.
Social Distancing: Stay at least 6 feet apart throughout, but always when you are eating and drinking without a mask.
Wash Your Hands. A Lot: Wash your hands when you arrive. Wash them before you eat. Then Wash them after you eat. Wash them as soon as you get home. And as many more times as you can during the visit. Or at least keep handy a bottle of hand sanitizer to use throughout the visit.
If You’re Sick, Stay Home. Really, shouldn’t this always be the rule?
If You’re at High Risk for Covid, Be Extra Careful. It’s not what anyone wants to hear, but 2020 might the year to stick with a Zoom Thanksgiving dinner.
Covid-Related Holiday Season Safety Measures
This is where holiday travel plans require stepped-up measures, such as:
Know the quarantine rules where you live and where you’re going.
Do your loved ones live in a state that requires visitors from your state to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival?
What about your home state? Will you need to self-quarantine after you get home? Here’s a handy resource to keep up with the ever-changing rules.
Have a conversation about everyone’s comfort levels.
This might be the toughest. Kim had to have a long talk with her dad and his wife to find out how they felt about a visit. Back in June, they agreed that a visit was not a good idea. Their small Kentucky town had 3 cases and no one wanted to be suspected of bringing in the virus in the event of a spike.
Two months later, they agreed on a September visit, quarantining prior to the trip, driving vs. flying and Covid-19 testing upon arrival. She also agreed to see other family members after Kim’s visit with her dad, even though the others were at lower risk for the disease.
During the visit, they were able to social distance in the house. And no hugs, which was super awkward.
Terri’s daughter, meanwhile, asked that she visit there before going to visit her brother, who has not been as locked down. Terri didn’t hug her kids. But the grandkids? Hugs are required when it’s the grandkids!
Find ways to meet outdoors as much as possible.
Certainly, this is easier for a family Christmas in Los Angeles, with its year-round temperate climate, than it will be in the northern sections of the United States where snow can fall by Thanksgiving.
But, whenever possible, the CDC recommends opening the windows to increase air flow and bring in as much fresh air as possible.
Keep it small.
As much as we might need it, 2020 is not the year for a large indoor gathering with your whole extended family. Instead, aim for shorter visits with smaller groups, like Kim and Terri did on trips.
Meet them in the order that makes everyone most comfortable.
Bring your own food.
This doesn’t mean bringing something to contribute to the pot luck. It means each family group or quarantine bubble brings and eats their own food. If that seems counterproductive to a family Thanksgiving dinner, served plated meals.
If you choose to serve a pot luck, try doing what my friend did this summer when she hosted a group of us — the only time I was with people outside of my pandemic pod. She gave us each a Ziploc bag filled with hand sanitizer, gloves and a personal pair of tongs to serve ourselves a slice of pizza.
Holiday 2020 Travel Tips
Because of the pandemic, 2020 has been the year of the road trip. It’s how Kim got from Connecticut to Kentucky, how Terri got from New York to Tennessee and how I will get from Chicago to Detroit. Kim and Terri even packed their own food for the long drive so they wouldn’t have to rely on restaurants along the way that might or might not be adequately cleaned and disinfected.
When she heads back south for Thanksgiving, Terri plans to fly to Georgia, where her daughter has rented an Airbnb for the week.
She’s flying Delta Airlines, which is, so far, sticking with its pledge to leave open the middle seats. Terri is checking the seat map regularly. So far, no one is seated near her. If that changes as her travel dates approach, she’ll cash in some miles (“I haven’t used any this year,” she says) to upgrade to a safer seat. And, of course, she’ll wear her mask during the flight and bring her own food.
Kim will not see her dad this holiday season but is planning to return in the New Year. That gives her and her dad time to plan.
Alanna Koritzke, a travel blogger and chemistry graduate student living in Georgia, plans to fly home to Los Angeles to see her family for the holidays — her first visit home since January. Her air travel pandemic travel plans include packing a hard shell suitcase, rather than one with a cloth exterior, so she can wipe it clean once she arrives in Los Angeles. She’ll also be cleaning the germiest spots on the airplane, using hand sanitizer and wearing a mask.
A Final Note on Covid Testing
Plan ahead. Know where you can get tested, the procedure for getting a test and how far in advance you need to book it. Kim booked a test one week ahead of her arrival. There was a glitch; when she tried to check-in, her appointment had been canceled. Rebooking would take 3 days, time she did not have because she planned to see her dad that day.
Everything worked out, but it was a close call. Also, during her visit, she had a day of headaches and cough. Normally she would have thought the symptoms were from allergies, but staying with her dad meant taking no chances. She located a no-appointment testing location and confirmed it was allergies.
Wait times for her quick test results varied from 15-90 minutes. Plan for that gap in the day.