Ready to Travel? Here’s What to Bring — and Do — to Stay Safe

By Christina X. Wood, Contributor

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It’s finally summer – and it has been a rough winter. We’ve been cooped up indoors, scared and anxious, for months. The idea of getting outside, getting some fresh air, relaxing in the sun (and soaking up some Vitamin D) is calling to all of us. According to a recent survey from KOA, 21% of people say they’re ready to go camping right now, while 57% report they plan to camp within the next couple of months.  Meanwhile, expert site JustAnswer reports that inquiries regarding boating have increased recently by 400% and inquiries about cars went up nearly 200%.

The travel industry, too, desperately wants us to travel. That industry is in a tailspin, given that more than half of the 15.8 million travel-related jobs in the U.S. have evaporated since the outbreak of COVID-19, according to the U.S. Travel Association. It’s working hard to get travel-related tax benefits for businesses to encourage us to hit the road.

The siren call of adventure will be hard to resist even though the CDC has made it clear that travel increases your chances of getting and spreading COVID-19. “Any travel will increase your risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 and potentially spreading it to others,” says Dr. Stephanie Kreml, a physician and advisor to  telemedicine platform Medici.

If, somehow, the need to go somewhere, outweighs the risks for you, take some precautions to protect yourself and everyone you encounter along the way. To help prepare, I tracked down some obvious, slick, helpful —  and one or two comically extreme —  tools, apps, and gadgets to help you keep your adventure fun and safe.

Pack Masks and Gloves

Obviously, you’ll need a mask – probably several – and disposable gloves before you set off. The CDC recommends you wear a mask in all public places. Some places enforce this with hefty fines. And most airlines won’t let you fly without one. Cloth masks —  the minimum requirement — don’t offer much protection but they do protect the environment from you and, if everyone wears them, that goes a long way to keeping infection down. If you want better protection, get a mask with filtration such as the BioGator, which is a fabric neck gaiter with G95 filtration built in or the slick Biohoodie. It provides G95 filtration in the hood, which zips up to cover your face.

Gloves, while important to have on hand, don’t help that much unless you need to touch something like a gas pump, once, throw them away, and get back on your way. Dr. Kreml says “wearing gloves in public spaces is not necessary unless you plan on changing your gloves after each item you touch. It is much better to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer frequently.”

Don’t Head into A Hot Zone

As Americans eke back into pleasure travel, we don’t, for the most part, plan to go far. A full 70% of the respondents in the KOA survey said they planned to stay close to home. More important than proximity, though, when deciding where to go, is how hot it is there. And I’m not talking about the weather. The CDC has a map of the US to help you choose a destination that isn’t a Covid-19 hotspot.  Or download the HealthMap app, which tells you if there are outbreaks near where you are. On a road trip? Check the map before you get out of the car. Take extreme precautions if you venture into a restroom in a danger zone.

Pack Some Cleaning Supplies

“You may want to bring disposable gloves and disinfecting wipes to clean your travel lodgings,” suggests Dr. Kreml. If you do this immediately upon arrival, you can relax your digs without worrying about keeping your hands off of every surface. “Gloves should only be used once and discarded after each use,” he adds. So toss those before you chill.

You might even want to up your cleaning game and hit every public seat and all parts of your lodging with a UV Hand Sanitizer or even a UV sanitizing vacuum cleaner.

Try Not to Touch Anything

The Covid-19 virus can live on hard surfaces like door handles for as long as five days, which is one reason it is so risky to go into places where many other people also go, such as airports, car rental outfits, and hotels. Gloves don’t really protect you unless you put on a new pair every time you touch something. So try not to touch anything. Or use an implement like a pen stylus to sign the digital checkout kiosk, push elevator buttons, or turn on the faucet. You might even want to invest in a Hygiene Hook for opening doors. Failing that, pack some disposable disinfecting wipes and wipe everything off before you touch it.

Stay Out of Public Bathrooms

One place that’s hard to avoid when traveling – and that brings you into contact with lots of surfaces other people have touched – is the public bathroom. Avoid these hot zones by packing your own bathroom, as much possible. Bring hand sanitizer so you don’t have to go in there to wash your hands. Dr. Kreml says to look for a “hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.”

Men can get in and out of a public restroom to pee without touching many surfaces. But women might want to arm themselves with a device, such as the SHEWEE that lets them stand to pee, without touching anything else in the restroom. Or the TravelJohn is a device that lets you pee discreetly anywhere and toss it into the trash. (It turns pee into a harmless, odorless solid.)

Always wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water before touching your face (or any part of you) if you have to venture into a restroom.

Create Your Own Safe Zone

If you’re headed to the beach or the great outdoors and find yourself suddenly, surrounded by more people than anticipated, you might want to whip out your own zone of safety. The Walking Pod Pro ($129.99) is an instant, fully enclosable protection that moves with you. It’s like a face mask for your upper body. Ridiculous? Maybe. But you’ll be safe!

Clean Your Phone

What did you touch today? I’ll bet folding money, your phone was top of that list. This is so much more the case when traveling even then when at home. And are you sure you didn’t touch your phone right after you touched a hard surface in a public place but before you washed your hands? You must have a method for cleaning it frequently. Wipes work. But what about those little crevices? Consider a UV phone cleaning station such as the PhoneSoap or a UV Light sanitizer that you can also throw your keys and cash into.

Avoid Sick People

I’m stating the obvious here, right? But where do you mostly find sick people? At the doctor’s office. Stay away from there! If ever there was a time to embrace telemedicine, this is it. But you might want to stock some checkup gear such as the TytoHome Remote Exam Kit that lets you perform the checks a doctor would do —  look in your ears, take your temperature, etc. —  through an online connection to the doctor. Or consider the slick contactless Thermo thermometer from Withings that lets you take someone’s temperature without touching them.  

Stay Six Feet Away

According to Dr. Kreml, the airplane itself is the least dangerous part of your travel-in-pandemic adventure – if you keep your distance. “The risk of infection from any virus while traveling on an airplane from the air within the cabin is low,” she says. “Because of how the air circulates and is filtered according to the CDC. But you may have to sit closer than 6 feet to others for prolonged periods of time, which may increase your risk of infection if you sit next to someone with COVID-19.” Whether you are on the plane, in the airport, or at the store, do everything in your power to stay six feet away from everyone else. You might want to pack a laser measuring tape so you can quickly shoot a beam of light to tell you how far away you are – or to make a point to that close talker who didn’t get the memo on social distancing.

Stop Using Cash

Cash is dirty. You have no way of knowing how many people have touched it or how careful the person who just handed it to you was about cleaning it. Some strains of Covid-19 live on paper for up to five days and coins are even worse. If you can’t use a credit card, download Venmo or Paypal to your phone and use that instead. Or use Google Pay or Apple Pay.

Remember, the safest place to be is at your home. But, as my mother always used to tell me, if you can’t be good -- at least be careful.