“I gave a lot of thought about whether to go or not,” says Kemp, a retired graphic designer from Matthews, N.C. She decided that the 5½ -hour drive, which she could make without stopping, was worth risking. “We brought all the masks and sanitizer with us that we could think of, and then some,” she says.
During the pandemic, short trips have become much more popular. Chris Carnicelli, CEO of the travel insurance company Generali Global Assistance has seen an uptick in interest among his customers this fall. Why? Travelers “may think a shorter trip implies a greater level of safety,” he says.
The reality is more nuanced than that. “In a general sense, yes — taking shorter trips may be safer during the pandemic,” says Nailah Abdulbaaqee, a San Francisco-based physician with One Medical, a health-care provider. “There are a few reasons for this, but the main factor is limiting the number of people you come in contact with while traveling.”
In other words, a shorter getaway means fewer chances to get infected. So if you plan a long weekend for spring break, instead of a full week, you are less likely to get sick.
To be as safe as possible, experts like Stanley Spinner, the chief medical officer at Texas Children’s Pediatrics, recommend a road trip.
“The safest approach would be to drive to a destination that can be reached in the same day and stay at a family-owned house or condo or one that you have rented where no others would be staying at the same time,” he says.
So no hotels, no mass transit — and no stops at public places like restaurants. Stay as far away from other travelers as possible.
Where you’re going matters, too.
“If you’re traveling to a covid-19 hot spot — or any destination where crowds can’t be avoided — it’s important to consider the risk more carefully,” says Christine Buggy, vice president of marketing at Travelex Insurance Services in Omaha. “With this type of travel, you are more likely to contract the virus.”
Even if you’re headed somewhere to do something that appears safe, like a weekend camping trip, you should be careful, medical experts warn.
“Outdoor trips like camping can be safe, especially if camping with members of your household,” says Syeda Amna Husain, a pediatrician from Marlboro, N.J., who has been advising families on the safety of road trips. “But if you come in close contact with others or share public facilities like restrooms or picnic areas, there is still a risk there.”
Of course, exposure to someone who is infected can happen whether you’re on a three-day staycation or a three-week safari.
“If you get close to someone who happens to be infected and they cough or sneeze toward you, an infection could occur within minutes,” warns Dale Bratzler, chief covid officer at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Okla. “So regardless of the duration of the trip, you need to keep yourself safe by wearing a mask during any public transport or when around anyone outside of your travel companions. Also, practice social distancing and avoid crowds — particularly indoor crowds.”
Rashid Chotani, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, says travelers often overlook the little things when they’re on the road.
“Gas pump handles and credit card keypads are high-touch areas and could have the virus present,” he says, noting that covid can survive for hours or even days on hard surfaces. His advice: When you get out of your car, wear a mask and disposable gloves made of nitrile or latex. Turn the gloves inside-out and dispose of them after using them, and sanitize your hands after getting back in the car.
So when it comes to whether it’s safe to take a short trip during the pandemic, the answer is a little complicated.
“There are three key factors,” explains Jaimie Meyer, an infectious-disease specialist at Yale Medicine in New Haven, Conn. “First, where you’re going; second, how you’re getting there; and third, what you do while you’re there?”
Meyer says that once you consider these critical factors, short trips may make the most sense. “They meet a lot of key criteria. They involve relatively local or regional travel, they may be reachable via private vehicle, and precautions and regulations may be similar to what you experience at home.”
As for Kemp, the short trip to Amelia Island with her daughter was a success.
“Being by the ocean is always, for me, something I find to be peaceful and comforting. And spending one-on-one time with my daughter was the icing on the cake,” she said. “So I’m glad we went.”
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