Normally, at this time of the year, I’d be reporting on how to score the lowest airfares and hotel rates for the Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year holiday periods. Obviously, there’s nothing “normal” about 2020.
Even the idea of “holiday travel” is not universally available to anyone who wants to go somewhere. And when you can go, you will find a different world. Here’s what I know — or at least think I know — about holiday travel this year:
I’ll be over-the-top happy when I can start writing about any travel issue that isn’t dominated by COVID. Sadly, I can’t be over-the-top happy for holiday travel this year. If you follow the news at all, you’ll know:
COVID is staging a comeback in many areas where leaders thought they had “controlled” the pandemic. Some places are hitting all-time highs in cases and deaths.
People in many areas are ignoring the standard medical advice about wearing masks and maintaining social distances.
Sports events, concerts, theaters and other attractions are generally closed to the public now and will likely remain so at least through the end of the year.
Effective vaccines and cures will likely not be widely available until early 2021, at best.
Visiting friends and relatives
As usual, trips to visit loved ones will likely dominate holiday travel this year. Even on a simple road trip, however, you may face some barriers. All or parts of Connecticut, Idaho, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont impose some sort of 14-day quarantine or negative COVID-test result for anyone entering from an area listed as having a high COVID rate. Limits apply to both visitors entering from other states and residents returning from these states. In general, most states are not enforcing those 14-day quarantines rigorously, but if you get caught, you’re up for a possible fine.
Each commercial attraction sets its own policy, within local requirements, but limits at the 800-pound gorilla of attractions, Disney World, can serve as a guideline.
The four main parks and most hotels and restaurants are open, but with masks required and distancing enforced. In addition, to get in, you have to have a paid reservation, face coverings and a cashless form of payment. Check any other attraction of interest for its requirements.
Airlines have been posting ambitious fall and winter schedules, then canceling flights when travelers don’t buy enough tickets. On the upside, fares remain low and seats remain available. Airlines and airports are requiring masks and taking other precautions, and industry sources say that the risk of catching COVID on a flight is very low. But any flight you schedule may require rescheduling.
While lots of hotels have closed completely, many others remain open, usually offering promotional rates. As with airlines, data indicate that travelers are unlikely to catch COVID in a hotel.
Local public transportation
The pandemic has devastated use of public transport, and most systems have made severe cutbacks in schedules. If you plan to use public transport at a destination, check current schedules to make sure it can serve your needs.
Travel outside the U.S. is iffy now, but the industry is working hard to revive it. Currently, the Canadian border remains closed “until the U.S. controls COVID,” which won’t come in time for the holidays. Much of Europe is also off limits, although airlines and governments are working on the idea of establishing safe origin-destination “bubbles” where people can travel even to/from impacted areas.
If there is a bright side to this story, it’s that airlines and destinations are working to establish rapid COVID testing at departure and arrival airports so that uninfected travelers can pass through without quarantine or limitation. United Airlines, for example, is testing Hawaii-bound travelers at San Francisco airport.
Testing may be available widely enough to permit international travel before the year end. Keep checking.
Fall road trips: 10 tips for planning the perfect car-based getaway
1. Take care of routine maintenance before the trip
2. Find the best gas prices on the road
3. Keep emergency supplies handy, just in case
4. Download offline maps to keep navigation going
5. Use digital resources to find unique side stops
6. Ask the locals for advice
7. Know local COVID-19 restrictions for destinations
8. Take plenty of photos along the way
10. Plan ahead to secure safe lodging
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