Photograph by Robin Utrecht, Hollandse Hoogte/Redux
Photograph by Robin Utrecht, Hollandse Hoogte/Redux
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Have to travel? Here's how you stay safe.

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By George Stone, TRAVEL Executive Editor

Is the airplane a soaring petri dish? Is visiting a national park possible while social distancing? And how germy is that dreamy hotel pool? These are among the questions we have been answering, even in these tough times.

As we recently reported, travel planning is good for your mental health—and we know it opens horizons in thinking and tolerance. Knowing more about real and perceived COVID-19 risks will help you feel better about getting out as roadblocks lift. With road trips, outdoor adventures, and necessary flights in mind we have been focusing on the best practices for travelers during a pandemic. (Pictured above: A traveler walking through Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport last month.)

Some of our discoveries for prospective travelers are surprising: According to experts, you’re more likely to pick up a bug standing in line at airport security or at the boarding gate than you are on a plane. Regarding beaches, there’s no evidence you can catch COVID-19 from the water. As for pools: They’re probably safe. Standard pool cleaning kills viruses; it’s the people you need to worry about.

But dangers lurk in unexpected places—including the great outdoors. Summer at America’s national parks kicked off with long lines and crowded trails. This left visitors, as well as residents of gateway communities and tribal lands that abut wilderness areas, wondering how to manage this surge of travelers. Another new challenge? Mastering mask etiquette. It’s easy to revert to pre-pandemic habits in new situations, when we’re stressed, and when we’re trying to relax and have fun. Being kind and understanding helps minimize stress.

Back to the pool, here are some pro-tips for sun worshippers: For deck-side escapism, please put down Valley of the Dolls and pick up one of these all-time favorite travel books of nine best-selling authors. Above all, remember to wear reef-safe sunscreen. Take it from me—I was a lifeguard and now I’m a holiday specialist.

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Today in a minute

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Retracing the century-old path of an explorer: Beginning a grueling four-week journey, archaeologist Laura Stelson wondered what she was getting herself into. Before her: Alaska’s wild, remote Katmai National Park & Preserve, home to North America’s biggest volcanic explosion in the last century. “We wound up finding these hot streams that were flowing through the snow and keeping things green,” she says. The group saw caribou and bears. “Everything around it was this kind of splotchiness of gray and white, with this weird little thread of life cutting through.” Here’s the story of her journey.

First astronauts, then tourists? Last weekend’s successful Space-X launch of humans is priming the pump for the days of space tourism, Tech Crunch reports. “It also means the beginning of a new era for the commercial space industry—one in which private companies and individual buying tickets for passenger trips to space is a consistent and active reality,” Darrell Etherington writes. Commercial human flights could begin as soon as next year.

Virtual Mexico City: Chef Graciela Montaño watched in horror as the tourists slipped away in March from her cooking school in Mexico’s capital. But her Aura Cocina Mexicana is more crowded than ever now, going online to show online “students” how to make tacos, sopes, and churros the right way. “I need to share my passion,” Montaño tells the Washington Post. And we’re getting hungry.

In time for Bastille Day: The Louvre says it is is reopening July 6, with new security measures, face masks required of visitors, and at least a fifth of the vast Paris museum shut off, the Associated Press reports. “Of course the Mona Lisa will be open,” Andre Sacristin, a labor representative for the museum, tells the AP.

Your Instagram photo of the day

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Golden Hour: The sun settles over the Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur, Rajasthan. Jodhpur also is known as the Blue City, for the number of homes painted blue in the old fortified part of the city in northwestern India. “The food, the chai, the light, and the architecture make Jodhpur one of my favorite cities to explore,” says photographer Sara Hylton.

Subscriber exclusive: How women in India are demanding—and getting—safer streets

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The big takeaway

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Itching to get to a national park? You don’t want to find yourself vulnerable to a possible COVID-19 cluster (above, a clump of tourists on Grand Canyon’s South Rim over the Memorial Day weekend). Nat Geo’s Rachel Brown has these three suggestions: 1) Stay close to home; 2) Plan before you go (because services and off-limits areas could change; and 3) Steer clear of crowds. Here’s an updated list of what’s open.

Overheard at Nat Geo

Down to the crossroads: Wright Thompson, a writer at our corporate cousin ESPN, took his wife and kid on a car trip from their home in William Faulkner’s Oxford, Mississippi, to Thompson’s Delta hometown. That’s Clarksdale, the land where Robert Johnson learned how to play blues guitar, near the crossroads where he allegedly made his deal with the devil. “It’s a town full of ghosts,” Thompson’s wife, Sonia, says. It’s also a town where, as Thompson writes, “on a clear night I can hear plantation blues, the protest soul of Stax Records, and the heavy sound of G-Funk LA all mix in the open air.” Above, the fields of cotton in the summer; the teardrop-shaped wedge known as the Delta, listing the world-changing artists who have emerged from it.

In a few words

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On Wednesday, Victoria Jaggard covers the latest in science. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Rachael Bale on animals, Whitney Johnsonon photography, and Debra Adams Simmons on history.

The last glimpse

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From her Brooklyn apartment: Photographer Bao Ngo is traveling the world to create art—well, “traveling” through Google Street View, that is. She is one of a number of photographers turning data into art. “It feels a lot like treasure hunting,” she says, in our weekly Radar column, of finding just the right images, which she then screenshots, crops, and sometimes color corrects to create her artworks. Above, an image enhanced from a street in Hoi An, Vietnam. Note: In Friday’s newsletter, we’ll tackle ways to create strong photography remotely from Zoom.

See: The best travel photographs of 2019

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, and Jen Tse selected the photographs. Have an idea or a link? We'd love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com . And thanks for reading!