By George Stone, TRAVEL Executive Editor
It’s not ideal to travel during a pandemic. But, if you’ve really got to go somewhere now, there are ways to decrease your risks while taking a trip. We worked with reporter Johanna Read to lay out expert-approved best practices—including tips for navigating airports, hotels, and restaurants—for travelers moving about the U.S. this summer. (Pictured above, a passenger on an uncrowded flight in Houston in May).
The best seat on a plane? A window seat as far from the restroom as possible (the harder part is keeping six feet from others in airport lines). Hotel tips? Confirm your hotel’s cleaning protocols in advance, avoid packed elevators, crowded reception areas, and give high-touch surfaces a wipedown when you arrive. At restaurants, avoid peak times, eat on a patio six feet from other diners, don’t linger, and tip well (the last bit is kindness advice, not health advice). And remember that you should quarantine for two weeks on each side of a trip to limit exposing others to pathogens.
“Travel, by its very nature, has risks. If the stresses of travel outweigh the benefits, question whether you should do it,” writes Read. Some of the basic rules are the most important: When you leave home, “wear a face mask, avoid crowded areas, stay six feet from others, wash hands/use hand sanitizer frequently, [and] avoid touching public surfaces,” says Dr. Lin H. Chen, president of the International Society of Travel Medicine.
Editorially, we debated whether to publish our article, as we support the science indicating that movement should be limited during the pandemic. But people are going places, so we chose to offer the best advice about how to travel safely.
“I’m not interested in what we can do. I’m concerned about what we should do. That means we all have an ethical choice to make when it comes to travel,” writes the Statesider’s Pam Mandel in a Skiftarticle. “I don’t care how much you ‘need’ a vacation. You do not ‘need’ to go to the Outer Banks or the Gulf Coast or Mendocino or Jackson Hole. You can not convince me otherwise, don’t try.”
Mandel’s intention is to secure a healthy future and return to travel as soon as possible. “We reopened our businesses too soon and we’re paying the price with public health. We are being selfish and unethical by acting like it’s just another American summer. We are not doing workers a favor” she writes. “The science says if we wear masks, practice distancing, and limit our movement, we can get coronavirus under control. Embracing science isn’t just smart, it’s ethical, too, and the fastest way to get our vacations back.”
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Today in a minute
Crowded before: The 15,000-acre Indiana Dunes National Park (above), less than an hour from the third-largest city in the United States, drew 3.6 million people last year. With the coronavirus limiting flights and Chicago and nearby Michigan City beaches closes, the Indiana Dunes and an adjoining state park are being swamped. The challenge, writes Jacqueline Kehoe for Nat Geo: “How to enforce social distancing at a national park that draws Yellowstone-size crowds—but with only one percent of Yellowstone’s acreage?” Other national parks are getting trashed by crowds endangering surrounding communities, Time reports.
How will Congress work? Washington, D.C. says people coming to the capital from 27 states, including California, Florida, and Texas, must quarantine themselves for 14 days on arrival. Monday’s order includes travelers engaged in “non-essential activities”—so that may exclude lawmakers.
Drive-through state fair: Missing your annual hit of the Pronto Pups, fried Oreos and Tater Twisters of the Minnesota State Fair? A limited number of drive-though tickets are being sold for the fair, where you stay in your car for a 1.5-mile route. At the end, there is a parking lot where you, socially distanced, can munch on those treats, Afar reports. A Tater Twist, for non-Minnesotans, is a sausage wrapped in a whole spiral-sliced potato and fried. Afar notes: “Sweet Martha’s Cookies will also be available, as usual, by the pail.” Here’s Nat Geo’s 2019 look at the absurd foods from the fair.
Hard times on the Amalfi Coast: With U.S. tourists banned from Italy, workers in this scenic region are sliding into poverty, the Washington Post reports. “It’s been an economic tragedy,” said the Rev. Francesco Della Monica, of the local chapter of the Catholic charity Caritas. Americans account for 25 percent of the total visitors to the province of Salerno, home to the Amalfi Coast, and more than 40 percent of the check-ins to the area’s five-star hotels.
Update: Last week we wrote about Mallorca and a drive to keep the traditionally over-touristed Spanish island more sustainable after COVID-19. Yesterday, the UK government revised its travel advice for the country to warn against all non-essential travel to the Balearic and Canary islands. The spike in coronavirus cases is actually concentrated in the northwestern regions of Catalonia, Aragón, and Navarra, while the rest of the Mediterranean areas and the two archipelagos show good figures. “British tourists are angry and confused, and Spanish business owners fear the summer season will end up in an unprecedented disaster that will drag thousands to unemployment,” Nat Geo’s Jon Laiseca tells us from Spain.
Your Instagram photo of the day
Birth of the cool: I’m not sure if Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Art Pepper, or Branford Marsalis ever made a pilgrimage to Dinant, this jewel in the Belgian Ardennes. Apart from the town’s skyline, the citadel, and the rocks behind, this town along the Meuse River is the birthplace of Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone.
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The big takeaway
Safe summertime strolls in the city: How do you exercise in the city these days without bumping into people? Part of it depends on the time of day. Finding secret spaces helps, as well. We found less-traveled areas in three cities—Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. In the image above, a man runs up a set of stairs in L.A.‘s Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. “Venturing up these old stairways is, in a way, like journeying into a bygone Los Angeles,” writes Rachel Ng for Nat Geo. “It’s been just the escape I needed."
Overheard at Nat Geo
Why so exotic? As a teen, Anastasia Taylor-Lind saw faraway images of war and thought if she took photographs of conflict, maybe people would see the futility of war. Instead, the veteran conflict photographer tells Nat Geo’s Peter Gwin in the latest episode of Overheard, our podcast, images might fuel the romantic notion of war. “That’s shaped the way I photograph now,” says Taylor-Lind, who has focused in recent years on people’s daily experiences amid conflict, such as in the eastern Ukraine. Above, her award-winning image of a Kurdish Peshmerga soldier in Kurdish-controlled Iraq from 2003.
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In a few words
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The last glimpse
The other Rio Grande: The famous river, before it divides the United States and Mexico, cuts through uncommon beauty in New Mexico. Austin Merrill, writing for Nat Geo, traverses a gorge with rapids named Hell Hole, Pleasure Plunge, and Big Arsenic. “Late July might not be the best time of year to visit this part of the world,” Merrill writes, “It’s hot, the river is low, and violent thunderstorms can materialize out of nowhere. But there are very few people around (even in non-pandemic times), and the place takes on a majestic kind of stillness.” Above, the winding Rio Grande near Alamosa, Colorado, not far from its source in the San Juan mountains.