If you’ve been reading my blog for more than a year, you know I love to travel. When COVID-19 shut down all non-essential travel in 2020, we were forced to cancel our planned Hawaiian vacation and postpone any and all of our travel plans for the foreseeable future. We’ve done our best to be safe and follow health authority guidelines and we’ve been lucky not to get sick thus far. Earlier this year, we decided we were ready to go on our long-delayed trip to Maui, but we knew we couldn’t travel the same way we did in the before times. We were itching to get out of the house, but at the same time, we wanted to do what we could to minimize the risk to ourselves and the people around us. It was a tricky balancing act. Here’s how we did it:
Understand the Risks and Take Appropriate Precautions
One reason why I felt more comfortable traveling now than I would’ve a year ago is because of how far our understanding of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has evolved. We now know that the virus spreads primarily through airborne particles. We know that masks are an effective way to prevent the spread of those particles and protect those around you. We also know that most super-spreader events occur indoors in poorly ventilated conditions. With this information in mind, we were able to decide on some parameters for our trip to keep ourselves and others safe.
Choose the Right Location and Method of Transportation
We chose to pursue our cancelled visit to the island of Maui in no small part because we were unable to get refunds for most of our trip expenses, just vouchers for later use. Still, there were a few factors that made it easy to get there while prioritizing safety.
The first thing that makes Hawaii a great choice right now is that its case numbers are low compared to most states. Hawaii has been requiring out-of-state arrivals test negative for COVID-19 to bypass a mandatory quarantine, (and has since added an extra rapid test upon landing), so we felt reasonably assured that most of the people on our flight would not be carrying the virus.
The second mark in Hawaii’s favor is evidence showing that ventilation and air filtration on commercial airplanes is actually quite good, offering an extra layer of security should someone on our flight contract COVID in the narrow window between receiving their negative test result and boarding the aircraft.
Third, Hawaii’s tropical climate and wide array of outdoor activities and dining options allowed us to spend very little time indoors with other people. We purposefully chose takeout and outdoor dining options whenever we could, stayed in a small bed and breakfast instead of a busy resort (which was also way cheaper), rented a car to explore on our own rather than joining a group tour, found quiet beaches away from crowds, and wore our masks whenever we couldn’t physically distance (this was only ever really a problem in the airport, where we chose to double-mask).
Prioritize Getting Outside
Maui was made for adventure. Whether you’re driving the winding road to Hana, standing above the crater of Haleakala, or laying on the beach with a good book, it’s easy to find things to do outside on the island and easy to avoid crowded, indoor spaces. Sunny skies and warm weather make it an easy place to physically distance and enjoy a break from reality. Even if you’re not planning a trip to Hawaii, this is the kind of vacation I’d recommend during the pandemic. Instead of worrying about all the things you can’t do, now is an opportunity to embrace all the activities you can do safely right now. I’ve been so grateful for the ability to get out for my daily walks to keep my sanity this past year and our visit to Maui offered new and exciting ways to experience the beauty of nature.
Guidelines for Traveling Mindfully
Being able to travel is a privilege, now more than ever. We are still in the midst of a global pandemic which has upended the lives of nearly everyone, so expect that things will be different — and you will also have to act differently. If you’re in the position to be able to travel right now, keep these guiding principles in mind:
You Are Responsible for the Health of Everyone Around You
When traveling to an isolated area, remember that you can have an outsized impact on the community you’re entering. Places like Hawaii have limited medical facilities that can be easily overwhelmed. They may not have the resources to care for you if you become ill or if you infect others. We all have a responsibility to care for one another, so don’t go if you’re experiencing symptoms of COVID or have been exposed to someone who has tested positive. You may also want to reconsider your plans if there’s a sudden surge in positive cases in your community or the community you’re visiting. A stranger’s health may depend on your choices and that’s something you have to take seriously. If you’re not going to follow mask guidelines and basic hygiene practices, don’t travel right now.
Be Patient and Generous
The tourism, food service, and hospitality industries have all taken a beating this year and many low-wage workers have struggled to provide for their families and keep themselves safe. Travel is only just starting up again, so it’s important to be patient and understanding. Prices are high, supply chain disruptions have caused shortages, hours for many businesses are in flux, and staffing is limited even as demand is surging. If you aren’t going to be patient and respectful in your interactions with staff, supportive of local businesses, flexible when circumstances change, and as generous with your tips as you can be, don’t travel right now.
Put In the Extra Effort
Maui was breathtaking and I’m glad we went. It wasn’t exactly what I had expected and COVID-19 forced us to change plans several times, but we were able to unplug and treat ourselves to some much-needed relaxation while also helping the local economy. Only you can decide if traveling right now is worth the risk for you and there are many more factors to keep in mind than I’ve gone into here. Also, I’m not a medical professional, so take my advice with a grain of salt. But, if you’ve got the itch to see more of the world than the inside of your home and you’re willing to put in a little extra effort to do so mindfully and safely, I think you should definitely consider booking your trip.
Have tips for traveling in the age of COVID-19? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments!
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Jonny Eberle lives in Tacoma, WA with his wife, three typewriters, and a puppy. His fiction has been featured in Creative Colloquy, Grit City Magazine and All Worlds Wayfarer. Read more of his short fiction, follow him on Twitter, and subscribe to his monthly email newsletter.