I'm Vaccinated: Where Can I Travel Now and How?
Talk to almost anyone who's been vaccinated for COVID-19 recently and you hear about their travel plans, some more adventurous than others.
R.C. Staab, of New York City, is "going to Philly, Pittsburgh, and Oklahoma and Texas." Yves Gentil, a Denver public relations consultant has a three-day trip booked to Santa Fe in May for his birthday, saying: "I've always wanted to go, and I prefer to stay close to home for now." Sandy and Joe Colbert, of St. Petersburg, Fla., are thinking about where to drive around the country in their camper. "We don't expect to slow down our travel plans," said Sandy. "We are enjoying every moment we have together."
Seventy-eight percent of people in a January 2021 American Express Travel survey said they want to get away this year to relieve stress from the pandemic. And a T-Mobile survey found that 68% of grandparents plan to travel in 2021, often because they've missed seeing their grandkids during the pandemic. Jeanie Johnston, president of Jeanie's Journeys Tours & Travel Company, says, "The vaccinated senior is part of the 'silver wave' of people who are ready and willing to go anywhere."
But it isn't really safe to go anywhere just yet. Many foreign countries have serious pandemic problems and restrictions for travelers, though European Union countries will start allowing in vaccinated American tourists this summer. Right now, though, it's best to consider booking vacations domestically, if you'll travel at all.
Here are some ideas for traveling safely in the U.S. in 2021 and the best way to do it:
Ask questions. Before booking lodging or transportation, find out what the company's COVID-19 cleaning procedure is, whether there's a vaccination and face mask policy and what happens if you decide to cancel.
Book flights soon. Airline ticket prices have already shot up since March after months of steady declines. According to the travel booking app Hopper, in early February, the average price for July airfares was $278. Recently, it was $293. Travel experts expect fares to continue rising in coming months and that airlines will charge premiums for last-minute bookings.
Buy travel insurance. Since the COVID-19 situation is so fluid and standard travel insurance likely won't cover coronavirus-related trip changes, Johnston recommends buying what's known as Cancel for Any Reason travel insurance for this year and into 2022. Most policies offering this feature will generally reimburse you 75% of your travel costs, according to the InsureMyTrip website.
Consider mostly outdoor vacations. That's because you're safer from contracting the coronavirus outdoors than indoors.
RVC Outdoor Destinations offers 13 pet- and family-friendly outdoor vacation properties in naturally beautiful environments from Yosemite National Park in California to Lake Raystown Resort in central Pennsylvania. You can stay in an RV, if you have one, or in one of the property's cabins and cottages, yurts or tents. Each resort has a convenience store; fitness center; free cable and Wi-Fi; a pool; golf cart, bike, kayak, canoe and boat rentals and accessible options.
The camp sites are spaced farther apart than industry standards for a more private, socially distant natural camping experience. Guests are requested to wear masks in the main lodge buildings, even in states where the requirement has been lifted. Cancellation policies are flexible until the pandemic has passed.
Look for all-in-one resorts. For example, Marriott's five Gaylord Hotels around the country offer an abundance of space for natural social distancing. They, too, have flexible cancellation policies.
Most of these properties feature the signature experience of an immersive water park, which just might include a multi-level tree house water playground. For families, each resort has a Learn from Here program allowing children the opportunity to experience a "Wildlife Rescue" through augmented reality.
Gaylord has teamed with Vanderbilt University Medical Center to keep guests healthy during the pandemic. All vacationers and employees are required to wear a face mask in all public indoor spaces, including at events and attractions.
Go for the gardens. Although most of the Smithsonian Institution museums and its National Zoo in Washington, D.C., are closed at the moment (the Zoo and seven Smithsonian museums will reopen in May; two others this summer), 12 of the 13 Smithsonian gardens in the nation's capital are currently open. So, in between walking the Mall and exploring the monuments that are open, rest in a variety of natural settings. Options include the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture garden, Common Ground: Our American Garden at the south entrance to the National Museum of American History, National Museum of African American History and Culture landscape, Native Landscape at the National Museum of the American Indian, Pollinator Garden (originally the Butterfly Habitat Garden) at the National Museum of Natural History and the Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History.
Cruise close to home. It may be too early to book a cruise to the Caribbean or to, or within, Europe, but there are safe options within the U.S.
For instance, the 13 small ships of American Cruise Lines (built in the U.S. and staffed with all-American crews) travel water routes such as the Great Lakes; the Mississippi, Snake, and Columbia rivers and the Chesapeake Bay of Maryland and Virginia. They carry between 100 and 190 passengers. For health and safety precautions, American is sailing at reduced capacity and requires mask-wearing.
Take an organized, guided trip. Going with a small tour from a respected operator means you can rely on the company to ensure COVID-19 safety. Tauck Tours has been operating some U.S. tours since January and has expanded its itinerary list for the rest of the year with land journeys, family tours and small-ship cruises. Besides mandating face masks, Tauck requires guests sign a Travel Well Pledge that confirms they've been vaccinated or passed a PCR COVID-19 test (considered the gold standard) within five days of departure; are symptom-free and have not been in close contact with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19.
Finally, before you go, remember to pack your vaccination card (or duplicate), wear your mask, stand your distance and wash your hands. And once you're traveling, take plenty of pictures and maybe splurge on a fine meal or bottle of wine. After the year we've had, you deserve it.
Judy Colbert is an award-winning travel writer and photographer who specializes in vaccinated travel.