Traveling During a Pandemic
My first trip out-of-state trip since the COVID-19 pandemic took me nearly 3,000 miles out west to Las Vegas and California’s Central Coast and featured a pair of nonstop flights, one-week-long car rental and five different hotel stays.
And while the experience was certainly different—face masks, a lot more hand washing, some closed attractions and no indoor dining in some cases—there were plenty of benefits, including discounted airfare and reduced room and rental car rates as well as lighter traffic on the roads and sidewalks. Overall, my first travel experience during the time of coronavirus was memorable, overwhelmingly positive and taught me a few lessons.
TSA PreCheck is Still the Way to Go
While passenger traffic is still way down compared to this time last year, based on the latest TSA checkpoint travel numbers, air travelers are still likely to encounter lines at security checkpoints if they haven’t yet enrolled in TSA PreCheck, which only costs $85 for a five-year membership. As a PreCheck passenger, I was able to zip through security in about two minutes without removing my iPad, hat, belt, or shoes ahead of both of my flights. Gaining access to the TSA PreCheck lane also minimizes the number of surfaces that you and your luggage come in contact with at the airport.
Air Travel is More Comfortable
Southwest Airlines is among the carriers currently limiting capacity on its flights to allow for physical distancing onboard. Fewer passengers mean a less congested boarding process, more space for luggage in the overhead bin and more room to spread your arms and legs. Some travelers on my flights had entire three-seat rows to themselves while my travel companion and I were able to sit together in the same row with an open middle seat for both of our personal items. Of course, face masks are required throughout the flight but you’re permitted to take them off when eating or drinking during Southwest’s light snack and beverage service.
Rental Cars Are More Affordable
The drop in demand for travel has led many car rental companies to offer reduced rates making exciting vehicles like a 2020 Ford Mustang convertible (my choice) more affordable than ever. Enterprise and other brands have also stepped up their cleaning protocols ensuring numerous high-touch points are disinfected upon every vehicle’s return. Self-service kiosks also make it fast and easy to access and pay for your reservation and be on your way. We packed some of our own disinfectant wipes to clean frequently touched areas like the steering wheel and radio every so often.
Hotel Stays Feel Safe and Easy
We were able to both check-in and access our room key from our smartphone for our final night stay at the Vdara Hotel & Spa in Las Vegas through the MGM Resorts App but each of the five hotels we stayed in had implemented enhanced safety measures that allowed for confident check-ins and check-outs, including face masks for employees and guests, social distancing markers, plexiglass barriers and omnipresent hand sanitizing stations. Some properties supplied additional face masks and bottles of hand sanitizer and allowed us to simply leave our keys in the room upon check-out or place them in a dropbox to minimize close interactions and contact.
There’s Still Plenty to See and Do
In addition to health and safety concerns, strict travel restrictions in some places continue to turn many people off to travel. However, assuming there’s no mandatory quarantine or COVID-19 test requirements in your destination, it only takes a few minutes to find out what’s open and what’s closed. Or, better yet, work with a travel advisor who can do the research for you and guide you to the right destination based on your preferences, interests and safety concerns.
In the case of my destinations—Las Vegas and California’s Central Coast—there’s still plenty to see and do, including gambling, dining and shopping along the Las Vegas Strip. There are also countless beautiful and charming locales open for business along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway, including places like Santa Monica, Santa Barbara, Solvang, Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay, Carmel and Monterey.
A Simpler Experience Doesn’t Mean a Worse Experience
Even if you aren’t already accustomed to wearing face-coverings, leaving space between yourself and others, or washing your hands after coming into contact with frequently touched surfaces, it won’t take long for you to develop these good habits when traveling as you’ll be reminded with announcements and signage quite often. What might first seem to be a minor annoyance will quickly become second nature.
As mentioned, there are still plenty of attractions, sites and businesses open to tourists but the reduction in options and visitor number limits in some cases means there’s a lot that’s out of travelers’ control and thus they’re less likely to fall victim to choice paralysis. With a lighter list of items to see and do, we found ourselves working with a much more fluid itinerary and moving at a slower pace. There wasn’t a rush to reach the next destination and thus more time to take in gorgeous views, connect with nature and uncover hidden gems along the way.
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