The Responsible Traveler's Guide to Covid-19

A set of questions and answers to help you gauge whether, how, and where to travel as states reopen for business. Last updated July 17, 2020.
Thatch
The Thatch Team

As coronavirus restrictions ease across the country, we're getting a lot of questions about whether it's safe to travel within the U.S. again - and if so, where to go and what's allowed. Whether or not local travel is allowed heavily depends on where you live and where you're headed. We've gathered together a set of national resources about travel and COVID-19 to help you ask and answer the right questions no matter where you are.

For detailed information and resources on specific travel destinations across the US, including the latest regulations and restrictions, check out the links below, which we will be updating regularly.

California

New York State

New England

Rocky Mountains

Mid-Atlantic

Southeast

Pacific Northwest

Southwest

Midwest

Am I allowed to leave home to travel?

Nationally, the CDC still discourages non-essential travel.

The CDC notes health risks to you as a traveler and your potential to unwittingly spread the disease to other communities. If you choose to travel, no matter where you go and how you do it, you'll still need to practice social distancing.

Your home state may have more stringent restrictions.

Look at this map to see if your state is starting to reopen. If so, review your public health department's rules on travel for more specifics.

Review your home county rules specifically.

Outbreaks are local in nature, so your county could have tighter restrictions than its neighbors or the state at large. Google searches like "[county name] coronavirus restrictions" can yield helpful results — but make sure it's a reliable source, like a local newspaper or public health department.

Where am I allowed to travel to?

Rules for where you're headed also vary by state.

Some states, like New York, Illinois, and Hawaii, among others, have mandatory quarantine periods for either all visitors or visitors from specific states with known outbreaks.  Some - like Hawaii's - are more strictly enforced than others. Your own county, or neighboring ones, are most likely to welcome you.

Check the county health department's rules for more detail.

Try searching "[destination county] visitor restrictions coronavirus".

What type of transportation is least risky?

Cars are probably less risky than planes, buses or trains.

The safest method of transit depends on the amount of people you'll encounter on the way. By limiting your co-passengers to people you've isolated with and by limiting the number of stops on a roadtrip, you'll likely encounter fewer people than at an airport or bus terminal and onboard. The CDC is clear that we don't know if one way to travel is safest.

Your own car is less risky than a rental or carshare.

That said, rental cars are available. Check that your local branch is open, as business is down across the industry. National rental car companies are implementing comprehensive cleaning guidelines, so be sure that you're getting a car that meets those standards. No matter what you're told, follow your own additional cleaning process.

Car shares are more risky than traditional rentals.

More people are likely to use a given car from a service like Zipcar, Getaround, Turo between rigorous cleanings. Take extra precaution - or reconsider - if this is your only option.

For any car, do some extra cleaning.

When you first get into the car, wipe down all hard surfaces with disinfectant wipes and open the windows to air the vehicle out. Any time you start or stop driving, wash your hands or use a 60%+ alcohol hand sanitizer. Additionally, Limit people in your car to those with whom you've already been isolating

Avoid gas stations & public restrooms if possible.

High-touch areas like credit card keypads and gas pumps are the biggest risk, since the virus can live on hard surfaces like steel and plastic for up to 72 hours. On the road, do a quick google search to see if there are any full-service gas stations. You can use a free app like Gasbuddy to filter for full-service spots.

Public restrooms may put you in close contact with other people or in spaces where other people have recently been. Additionally, it's not yet clear whether the virus can spread from aerosolized fecal matter, so sharing a restroom poses additional, unknown dangers.

Tips for Minimizing Risk While on the Road

Adapted from Consumer Reports and The News & Observer

Pick lower-risk areas for any stops.

High risk is defined as a place that may not be able to handle an influx of infection, or has a high rate of infection already. Avoid spots where new outbreaks are occurring.

Pack wipes, hand sanitizer, and disposable gloves.

Wipe down the gas pump and keypad with disinfectant wipes. Sanitize each time you re-enter your car. Use the gloves or paper towels to shield your hands from direct contact with the gas pump and keypad. Put gloves on in the car before you get out. Invert and dispose of them before touching your car handle to get back in.

Wait for crowded to tight spaces to empty before entering.

This particularly applies to public restrooms or convenience stores.

Be mindful of what you touch in restrooms.

Turn the faucet off with a paper towel and avoid using the hand dryer, which can spread germs.

Wear a mask.

This applies any time you leave your car.

What is the deal with flying?

The biggest risk is interacting with people.

It is challenging to effectively social distance in security, throughout the airport, and on a flight. Regardless of airline policy, many passengers don't wear masks on flights and airlines have not strictly enforced rules that passengers wear masks. If the person next to you on the plane is infected (knowingly or not), and they choose not to wear a mask, there is little you can do to ensure you don't pick up any germs.

Additionally, flight attendants, gate agents, and other airport personnel have interacted with thousands of people since the onset of the pandemic, making it much more likely that they have encountered someone with the virus. When you interact with them, you take on that risk.

Note that people in the far away from you on the plane don't pose much of a threat; viruses and germs are not easily spread in the air during flights because of planes' air filtration systems, according to the CDC.

Tips for Minimizing Risk while Flying

Adapted from the New York Times

Wear a mask in the airport and on the plane.

Many airports and airlines are now actually requiring that passengers and crew wear masks in the airport and on flights.

Wash your hands frequently.

Use hand sanitizer or wash your hands after touching any high-touch places such as kiosks, security bins, overhead bins, or coming in contact with others in security or elsewhere.

Sanitize your seat area.

Cleaning the areas around your seat, such as your arm-rest, seat tray, seat belt, etc can augment the cleaning done by plane staff between flights.

Download the airline app and check-in ahead of time.

Don't hand your phone to gate agents; rather, present it and let them scan your boarding pass to limit interactions.

Pack your own food.

Bringing your own snacks and meals will help you avoid entering establishments to buy food at the airport. This will also be helpful for longer flights, as some airlines have discontinued their onboard food service.

Choose your airline carefully.

Review most airlines' new Covid-19 policies from boarding procedures to cleaning protocols on their websites. Some airlines, like JetBlue, are blocking off middle seats so travelers will not be forced to sit next to someone you are not traveling with.

Can I go camping? 

The safest way to camp is in an open area within one tank of gas.

That includes your return trip! Remember that even stopping for gas can pose a risk.

Bring everything you'll need for the whole trip.

Bring gear, food, firewood (if allowed), and water from your home or your local area rather than buying it on the way or near your camp. Each additional stop increases your exposure and your ability to spread germs to others.

Pick a destination that isn't in a high-risk area.

High risk is defined as a place that may not be able to handle an influx of infection, or has a high rate of infection already. Check this dashboard to see the risk level in your destination. You should also avoid destinations that will require you to stop in a high risk area en route.

Pick a site that's open.

Note that places that are listed as closed are closed, even if no one is there to tell you not to be there. Search and rescue will not be available if something happens, and you would be putting yourself and others at risk.

Dispersed camping offers a lower contact risk, but carries other considerations.

Make sure that the area that you are wanting to camp in is open and accepting visitors. Also, be aware that even though some areas may be open, search and rescue may not be at full capacity, so do not do anything that could require you to need them. Remember that facilities may be closed, so plan ahead for alternates and be sure to practice leave no trace.

Campsite rules depend on where it is and who manages it.

Public lands are open in some parts of the country and closed in others. Head to the main website for the National Park Service, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, state or county park system to understand their overall approach, then look up the specific park you're interested in. Finally, check to see if the particular campground, or camping area for dispersed camping, you'd like to stay in is open.

Private campgrounds are bound by their local regulations, and give updates on their open status on their website. In all cases, it's a good idea to call to verify, as some websites are not up to date.

Campground Resources

National Parks

This resource offers information about which parks are open or closed on a state-by-state basis.

State Parks

Navigate this roundup by state.

Bureau of Land Management

Generally visitor's centers, campgrounds, and some bathrooms are closed, but the land itself is open. Like everything, this varies by state.

Forest Service

FS land is open on a forest-by-forest basis. Review their general coronavirus information, and then search for a particular state or forest for more information.

Recreation.gov

The national campground booking site is kept mostly up-to-date information on campsite closures in public land areas. Look for the closure notification at the top of the page, not at the availability of campsites. Most campsites are still marked as "available" even if the campground is closed.

HipCamp

Many Hipcamp sites are open.  If you can get to these sites safely, they may offer the most seclusion and privacy, especially the ones on private land.

Campendium

Their search function allows you to  filter out all closed campgrounds.

What is the scoop on RVs?

The same rules apply as for both driving and camping.

See the section above to figure out if where you're looking to go is open, is currently allowing camping in a van or RV, and is safe to get to. The main benefit of an RV is that RVs with bathrooms can reduce the need to stop at public restrooms. Note that camper vans don't afford this same benefit.

Make sure the RV you rent is clean.

National brands like Cruise America claim to have more rigorous cleaning policies in place. RV marketplace Outdoorsy leaves cleaning up to the host, so have a frank conversation with the person you're renting from (many of which are entrepreneurs running local camper van or RV businesses) to learn about their cleaning process. Plan to do additional   Ask about or request a buffer window between reservations to give potentially infected surfaces a chance to clear.

Plan to do your own additional cleaning.

You'll be spending extended time in the close confines of the RV, so bring your own cleaning supplies and wipe down high-touch surfaces, like car keys, door handles, window controls, the radio, steering wheel, and more. Bring your own linens or sleeping bag for the bed area.

Select routes and destinations that minimize stops.

Remember that you likely can't get as far between gas stations with an RV as you could with a car. On the positive side, you won't have to stop for bathroom breaks!

RV Rental Resources

Cruise America

A major perk of Cruise America is that they offer one-way rentals, and have locations across the country. Their stock Traditional RVs in a variety of sizes.

Outdoorsy

This RV marketplace (think Airbnb for RVs & camper vans) offers a wide range of vehicles, including Campers, RVs, and off-road ready vehicles with car-top tents.  However, like Airbnb, quality and inventory varies widely, so you may have to dig (or drive) for the vehicle you want.

Escape Camper Vans

They have multiple locations and explicit coronavirus cleaning information.

Camper Cartel

Southern California-based company with stylish camper vans.

Can I stay in Hotels? 

Some hotels are only open to essential workers or displaced locals.

This largely depends on local regulations, which vary by state, and the type of hotel, though many hotels are increasingly welcoming standard guests. Many higher-end resorts and leisure travel hotels originally closed their doors, while chains, mid-tier, and budget hotels remained open. Call the hotel directly to understand their policies prior to booking, and recognize that their websites may not be up to date.

Make sure your hotel has enhanced cleaning measures.

The American Hotel & Lodging Association has recently issued "Safe Stay Guidelines" regarding "Enhanced Industry-Wide Hotel Cleaning Standards" in accordance with CDC guidelines to their 27,000 members throughout the hotel industry. A number of well-known hotel brands have also issued their own increased safety initiatives. Review the cleaning protocols for your preferred hotel.

Take extra precautions.

Consider staying at a hotel with contact-free check-in and where employees are required to wear masks. And, even if you have selected a hotel with heightened safety and cleaning measures, follow the CDC’s guidance on how to additionally clean and disinfect your room.

Can I stay in a rental?

It depends on the state.

A number of states and counties have put temporary bans on short-term rentals like Airbnb and VRBO, but restrictions are lifting in some places. Be sure to check for the latest regulations in the state and county you plan to stay in to ensure you are abiding by all orders before booking.

You may have to quarantine when you get there.

Certainly, that means no going out for groceries, take-out, and other activities. And, that might also mean no leaving your rental at all, even for hiking or exercise.

Some (but not all) rentals are doing deeper cleans.

Airbnb has been working with the former US Surgeon General and other experts to implement a new "Enhanced Cleaning Initiative" to regulate and standardize cleaning protocols for hosts. Hosts can now get certified in these intensive cleaning protocols and flag their certification on their listing. Hosts who cannot commit to these increased cleaning standards have the option to apply a 'Booking Buffer', which requires a 72-hour buffer between guests. Hosts abiding by these new measures will have a badge flagging it on their listing. Unfortunately, you cannot currently filter for these cleaning tags in your search, so will have to look for them at the top of the individual listings. If it appears your host has not opted into these additional measures, be sure to reach out and understand the cleaning methods they are using.

Increased time between bookings decreases your risk.

The virus can live on common home surfaces for days, so rentals that have not been occupied recently (experts say in the last three days) will likely be safer. Check the listing calendar and message your host to confirm.

Multi-unit apartment and condo rentals may be riskier.

These types of properties generally have more common spaces than standalone houses, so consider this when booking. You will want to have as little contact with other guests as possible, so understand how many units are in the building, how trafficked the common spaces are, if you'll need to use an elevator, etc. and be sure to take necessary precautions when touching surfaces or engaging with others in common areas.  Note that elevators, where airflow is more limited and touching surfaces is required, may be higher risk.

Take extra precautions when you arrive.

Avoid any unnecessary contact with the host and plan to do some additional cleaning when you get there. Wipe down house keys, disinfect any high-touch surfaces, run dishes through the dishwasher, and wash the linens or ask for clean linens to make your own bed.

Questions, suggestions, or requests for additional information? Email us at support@thatch.co.

A note: We aren't doctors or lawyers

...so we can't give you definitive answers about what is safe or legal for your specific circumstances. However, we are travel planners & researchers well-versed in combing available resources to find best-in-class information. Please use what we've compiled to make smart decisions that are safe and healthy for you & your community!

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