How to Travel Safely… If You Absolutely Have To

Seems like just about all of us are self-quarantining these days. Maybe because it’s the law in the states where we live. Or perhaps because we feel it’s the right thing to do.

Health officials are in agreement on this. They believe the only way to stem the tide of COVID-19 is keeping our distance from each other as much as possible.

And that means staying home rather than traveling to visit family and friends. The temptation to travel is great. Especially if you’re feeling healthy. But it’s been shown that people can spread the coronavirus without knowing they have it.

There are times, however, when it’s absolutely necessary to leave your home. Today I’d like to provide some suggestions on how to stay safe during this crisis while traveling.

Better call ahead

Are you planning to fly somewhere? The first thing to do is check in with the airline. Make sure the flight hasn’t been cancelled.

Airlines have cut back on flights to just about everywhere. They should notify you if your flight is cancelled, but check just in case.

The U.S. has limited non-essential travel across its borders with Canada and Mexico.

Airlines are stepping up

So, you’re probably not doing any overseas travel these days. But perhaps you have to fly somewhere domestically. The good news is that airlines are stepping up their sanitation efforts.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has posted guidelines for aircraft cleaning. And CDC officials have said most viruses and other germs do not spread easily in a plane. Due to the way air circulates and is filtered.

Delta Airlines recently started using a fogging technique with a disinfectant on some of its planes. 

If you were planning to fly somewhere to get on a cruise ship, it’s very likely that trip has been postponed.

Hands down the No. 1 precaution

As far as which precautions you can take if you’re flying, hand washing is still No. 1. Not touching your face is No. 2.

Dr. William Schaffner is a professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University. He says, “Even if there is virus in the inanimate environment, it’s not going to jump off the seat and bite you in the ankle.

“You’ve got to touch it, and then touch your nose or your mouth. So it’s those hands we have that are the important intermediary. And that’s where I would put the emphasis.”

The CDC advises washing hands with soap and water often for at least 20 seconds. When soap and water are not available, hand sanitizers and antiseptic hand wipes are effective. But they’ve been very difficult to find.

On-plane tactics

In the weeks leading up to your flight, it’s important to stay as healthy as possible. Get plenty of sleep and exercise, and eat right. This should help keep your immune system strong.

Once you’re on the plane, clean all hard surfaces before you sit down. Such as seatbelts and tray tables.

Then use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that’s at least 60 percent alcohol. You can also use a nasal lubricant to protect mucous membranes from viruses and bacteria.

A window seat allows you to keep more distance from those walking the aisles. It’s also advised to keep food out of seat pockets.

In-car strategies

It should be much easier to keep yourself safe when traveling by car rather than plane. But there are still some activities you can engage in to stay healthy.

The downside here is that you will be in close quarters with whoever is in the car with you. So, the fewer people the better.

Disinfect all of the areas you’ll be touching in your vehicle. Before you leave and after you return.

This includes the steering wheel, gear shift, locks and window buttons. Plus the radio, glove compartment handle and other areas.

Caution at the pump

If possible, open a car window or two while you’re driving for increased ventilation.

When you have to stop for gas, use a disinfectant wipe on the gas pump handle before you pump gas. Then wash your hands with soap and water.

Pay for your gas outside if possible. If you have to go in the building, limit your interactions with service station attendants.

Then wash your hands again before returning to your car. This might seem excessive. But the virus can live on a variety of surfaces from hours to days.

Is travel a want or a need?

Sometimes there is a fine line between “wanting” to travel somewhere and “needing” to.

Dr. David Williams is Ontario, Canada’s chief medical officer. He says we should ask ourselves these questions while considering traveling:

  • Do you really need to go on the trip?
  • What are your risk factors on this trip?
  • Do you have underlying health conditions?
  • What behavior will you be involved with on the trip?
  • What ability will you have to exercise social distancing on this trip? 

And, of course, anyone who is ill should stay home. Travel is strongly discouraged while the virus continues to spread. But if travel is absolutely necessary, it’s good to know which precautions we should take. 

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