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By The Way
Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.
The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A long-haul move is hard enough. A pandemic and racism make it even harder.

Health experts share tips for relocation travel during these uncertain times

(María Alconada Brooks/The Washington Post)

In the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, I needed to move to one of the country’s hot spots.

Usually based in D.C. for work, I was away from my husband in Florida. He was looking for a job to join me, but after the pandemic hit, I went to him instead, thinking things would return to normal soon.

That was March.

Months passed, and I lived out of a duffle bag carry-on, hoping nobody noticed I was wearing the same shirts on Zoom. But I couldn’t afford to keep paying for an expensive empty apartment, so I made the difficult decision in July to relocate.

Not only is it intimidating to travel right now and risk exposure to covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, but I was also fearful of moving across the country as an Asian American. Hate crimes have increased against my community, which is frequently blamed as the cause of the virus. Asians were getting spit on and being set on fire.

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With so much at stake, we traveled as fast as possible — flying in on a Thursday, packing like maniacs so we could drive out that night and get back by Friday afternoon. It was a total of two days, across five states, with many wipes and a huge tub of Purell.

I don’t suggest moving now, but if you have no other choice, like me, experts have many tips for how to make the trip as smooth — and safe, in multiple ways — as possible.

Weigh your level of risk

For our move, we calculated the cheapest method with the least risk. We also wanted to do the move as quickly as possible, and on our own. This meant opting for a two-hour flight rather than a 14-hour drive, no movers and no hotel stays.

My greatest fear was flying again, but experts said it may not be as risky as you think — especially if the airline cleans regularly and doesn’t pack customers in.

“Your actual transmission on a flight is very, very small because they have very careful airflow that comes down from above you that goes out at the bottom,” said Adrian Hyzler, the chief medical officer of Healix International, a medical assistance company for travelers. “It kind of cones you, so it comes down like that and out. They recycle air from the outside every two or three minutes, so it’s 20 to 30 times an hour that there is air brought in from outside.”

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To be extra cautious, we chose Delta, because it required masks and blocked middle seats. Flight attendants also passed out wipes when boarding the plane.

Arm yourself with research and, of course, wipes

Before moving, research the destination’s situation, infection rates and reopening rules, said William B. Greenough, clinical chief of the Ventilator Rehabilitation Unit at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

“The country is very much a patchwork,” Greenough said. “Some areas are fairly safe, and there are areas that are very, very much hyper-epidemic, so the first thing is to get accurate information.”

Some states will also be restricting visitors, warned Greenough, especially those coming from places with a high number of coronavirus cases, like Florida, California and Texas.

If you move to a hot spot, he recommends taking every precaution. Greenough suggests “arming yourself” with plenty of 76-percent-alcohol hand wipes but does not advise the use of gloves, as they’re tricky to get on and off without infecting anything else.

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Safety boils down to three W’s: “Wash your hands, wear a mask and watch your distance,” Hyzler said.

If you’re not able to take the stairs during your move, Hyzler recommends no more than two people in an elevator, and again, using wipes. He also recommends wiping down surfaces of a moving truck immediately and letting it all air out with the windows open for the first 10 or 15 minutes of the journey.

Besides wipes, masks are an essential accessory. For long moves, Hyzler suggests replacing surgical masks every four hours and cloth masks every day. This is important, he says, because if the mask gets wet from your breath, it “tends to be an incubator for viruses and even for some bacteria.”

Avoid others as much as possible

Experts say the greater risk is not necessarily the type of transportation but the surrounding people.

On our long drive back, we avoided populated areas, steering clear of a Starbucks where we saw people stream in without masks and opting for car-shares rather than public transportation.

As for people you can’t avoid, like any movers you may work with, Hyzler recommends social distancing, leaving them to pack and letting boxes air out for three days after the move.

“If you leave any kind of packaging for 72 hours, you can pretty much be sure that any virus that may be there will have become inactivated in that period of time,” Hyzler said. “And you would want to have the windows open so that you got good flow in whichever property you’re in.”

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Traveling as a person of color

Wearing a mask as a person of color isn’t so simple, especially if traveling through unfamiliar and remote areas.

“African American and Latino men are more likely to be seen as suspicious” in a mask, said Sherita Hill Golden, chief diversity officer for Johns Hopkins Medicine. “I know that a lot of African American and Latino men will still primarily wear the surgical mask to make it clear.”

Two black men say they were kicked out of Walmart for wearing protective masks. Others worry it will happen to them.

The risk of catching and dying of the coronavirus tends to be higher among minority groups too, so she also advised against dining in restaurants.

“I have yet to sit down and eat in a restaurant,” Golden said. “As an African American physician, I am still generally concerned enough that I’m still doing my [own] food. … Those are just risks that are just not worth taking.”

She also recommends not traveling alone.

“Having a companion in the car with you is always useful for a variety of safety situations, certainly if there is an encounter with the police,” Golden said. “And, if you’re moving across the country and it’s more than a day’s drive, really be selective and think about where it is that you decide to spend the night.”

Ultimately, my husband and I made it home to Florida on schedule and without incident — probably because we moved as fast as possible. While the trip wasn’t a joyride, we were at least confident that we’d taken every step possible to keep safe.

Read more:

How couples in long-distance relationships travel to make it work

How Coronavirus and Race Collide in the U.S.

The new rules for packing a bag during the pandemic

The coronavirus is infecting and killing Black Americans at an alarmingly high rate

How the coronavirus exposed health disparities in communities of color