Photograph by Imgorthand, Getty Images
Photograph by Imgorthand, Getty Images
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Can you keep your family safe during holiday travels?

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By George Stone, TRAVEL Executive Editor

Many Americans are missing family and friends this holiday season, but a raging pandemic makes travel risky. The best advice for minimizing COVID-19 exposure is to stay in your pod. But not everyone is bubble-bound. “The science tells us gathering for the holidays isn’t a great idea,” says contributing writer Heather Greenwood Davis. “Still there are people who will feel obliged to make that trip home over the holidays and while experts are clear that you can’t eradicate the risk of travel at this time, there are some things you can do to minimize it.”

In our article on how families—everyone from little kids on up to grandparents—can navigate their pandemic holidays, Greenwood Davis goes beyond the usual advice to research the viral caseloads both where you live and at your destination; get a test (or three) as close to travel as possible; wear a medically approved mask that fits; and wash your hands a lot.

Her family-first advice reminds travelers to train kids in mask-wearing and social distancing; to book accommodations now (a hotel might be safer than a relative’s home); and to make contingency preparations for kids—to manage their boredom, hunger, fear, and fatigue in a COVID-safe way. “Tradition really isn’t a good enough reason to risk your health or that of the people you care about. Already exhausted parents often see their will tested by family travel in the best of times,” she writes.

National Geographic science editor Nsikan Akpan, who has covered the pandemic since January, offers his own advice—backed by epidemiologists and virologists—for safer travel and spending time indoors with at-risk relatives. Thanksgiving comes too soon for Akpan’s safest protocol to protect yourself, your family, and strangers. That would be to get three negative test results over a two-week period, indicating when, where, and how to sequence your tests. “If you want to gather around a Christmas tree with your elderly parents, you’ll also need to build in a quarantine period,” he adds.

As we have reported, airplane ventilation systems filter out 99 percent of respiratory droplets or smaller particles called aerosols that help spread SARS-CoV-2. A smart tip is to check if your airline keeps its ventilation on at the gate. The bigger danger is the airport: “Surfaces like ID scanners or bins in the security line pose a much lower threat than germy fellow passengers, but the danger quickly compounds when many people are touching the same surfaces,” Akpan notes.

Wherever you spend your holidays this year, we wish you health and happiness above all.

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Today in a minute

'Sound walks’: Can’t discover a city with guided groups anymore? Some cities have “sound walks”—recorded strolls that point out what used to be at a certain place in a community, the Guardian reports. Other tours can be done from an armchair, “a vacation for the senses,” such as a meditative swim from cave to city in Crete.

Trouble in paradise: It seemed so simple. If everyone were working remotely, couldn’t you ditch your place and find an amazing alternative (with WiFi) somewhere in the world? Well, digital nomads didn’t count on tax trouble, breakups, and COVID-19 guilt, the New York Times reports. Austin Mao, who shifted from Las Vegas to Costa Rica for a while, found old friends, under quarantine, hating him for his beachfront jungle villa, where monkeys would knock coconuts from the trees. “It felt like I was cheating,” Mao told the Times.

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Away from the crowd: Solitude, hikers say, draws them to the Adirondacks. Even though trails in many North American parks have rarely been more crowded, the 138-mile Northville-Placid Trail, in northern New York, can stand up to a bit more traffic. This trail is low-lying and winds from river to pond to lake (pictured above, hikers crossing South Lake). “Most days on our nearly two-week thru-hike, my boyfriend and I could walk hours at a time without seeing anyone else,” Jessica McKenzie writes for Nat Geo.

Your Instagram of the day

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'Ships of the desert’: That’s how camels were (metaphorically) known in India’s Rajasthan, back when most of the trading was done in goods carried by camels. These days, in eastern India, camels are mostly used for tourism. “The kids start getting into the business at a very young age by taking tourists for rides around the dunes and even conducting village tours,” says photographer Deepti Asthana.

Subscriber exclusive: The dark truth behind wildlife tourism

The big takeaway

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World wonders: The United Nations marked the 75th anniversary of its founding this year with a reaffirmed commitment to work together to tackle issues such as poverty, climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Travelers can play a role by supporting UNESCO’s mission to preserve our cultural inheritance through World Heritage sites. Since 1972 the organization has recognized 1,121 cultural and natural heritage sites around the world. From geological wonders to marvels of engineering, check out these 10 family-friendly global treasures that have been recognized for their universal value to humanity. Go deeper into European culture and history and get inspired for your next trip through UNESCO’s World Heritage Journeys. (Above, the spectacular coastal playground of World Heritage-listed Giant’s Causeway, in Northern Ireland.)

Overheard at Nat Geo

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Anatomy of a dino breakthrough: With its massive alligator-like body and a huge “sail” of skin running the length of its spine, Spinosaurus has long been a superstar among dinosaur fans. Because only a few fossilized bones were unearthed a century ago, scientists had never been able to say exactly what the “spine lizard”—a 50-foot-long, seven-ton predator from Late Cretaceous-period (95 to 100 million years ago)—looked like. But new fossil discoveries by National Geographic Emerging Explorer Nizar Ibrahim will forever change the way we think about Spinosaurus—and all other dinosaurs, he tells us in our latest episode of Overheard, our award-winning podcast. (Above, an illustration depicts two Spinosaurus aegyptiacus hunting Onchopristis, a prehistoric sawfish, in the waters of a vast river system that once covered Morocco.)

In a few words

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

One last glimpse

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Everest of the Seas: That’s how this round-the-globe sailing competition among the world’s best sailors is known. British skipper Miranda Merron (pictured above) is one of 33 people—and one of six women—competing in the Vendée Globe 2020. The 26,000-mile journey is a breathtaking feat of endurance that takes roughly three months to complete. It begins and ends at Les Sables-d’Olonne, on France’s Atlantic coast, and follows the route of early navigators who rounded southern capes of Africa, Australia, and South America, Mary Winston Nicklin reports for Nat Geo.

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