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Responsible travel in 2021: 7 important steps to help keep yourself and others safe

Jan. 20, 2021
11 min read
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I haven't been to a grocery store or restaurant since March of 2020.

I've avoided public spaces where it's not possible to social distance and only took one close-to-home road trip last year. That's my comfort level for avoiding the novel coronavirus.

But many other Americans have made different choices that are within their comfort zones. Despite the ongoing pandemic and the slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, Americans are traveling.

The Transportation Security Authority (TSA) can back this up with numbers. It screened more than 1 million passengers across the country's airports on many days throughout the winter holidays.

Some people, such as frontline healthcare workers who are repositioning to provide medical assistance at coronavirus hot spots across the country, are traveling out of necessity. Others are traveling to see family or friends, and there are still plenty of businesses that need to have their staff on the road.

And, as more doses of the various COVID-19 vaccines are distributed, a new group of people will likely feel more confident and will begin booking flights and hotel rooms at a pace more akin to pre-coronavirus days.

While there's certainly great debate about whether or not anyone should travel right now, the fact is this: People are traveling. So, as we enter 2021 and a new phase of our battle against COVID-19, a more appropriate question may be: How can I be a responsible traveler this year?

Here's TPG's advice for a few ways to stay safe, and protect people around you if you decide to venture farther from home this year.

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Learn best practices for avoiding the virus

On a day-to-day basis, long before you even think about taking a trip, try to follow all of the recommendations for avoiding the virus. Wear a mask (preferably an N95) whenever you leave home or even when you're at home if you've invited someone from outside of your "pod" to visit you indoors.

When interacting with people outside of your pod, maintain a safe distance (at least six feet) and, if someone speaks loudly or is yelling, move farther away since the distance virus particles can travel increases when voices are raised.

Wash your hands with hot water and soap often. And, carry hand sanitizer when out and about when a sink and soap aren't readily available.

Try to schedule all of your social interactions outdoors -- a feat that was, admittedly, much easier in the spring and summer.

Related: The best face masks for travel and where you can buy them

Consider the community at your destination

Lanai's Hulopoe Beach (Photo by AJ Feducia/Hawaii Tourism Authority)

Not all tourist destinations are eager to see visitors return.

Residents of the Hawaiian Islands, for example, continue to be torn about visitors to their paradise. While there is a need for the economy to get back to normal (tourism is the largest single source of private capital for Hawaii's economy, and visitors spent $17.75 billion there in 2019, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority) there's real fear over medical resources.

Island hospitals are small and don't even have enough ICU beds for residents -- much less tourists -- if there's a large-scale COVID-19 outbreak.

"Places that have small communities ... have been struggling for a very long time," one Hawaii resident who asked to remain anonymous told TPG. "But ... we don't want people to come [and] bring the sickness," she said, urging travelers to stay home.

To help deal with the influx of travelers, the Hawaiian island of Kauai is trying the "resort bubble" concept. You'll need a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of arrival and then you proceed directly to your resort where you stay "inside the bubble" for the next three days. You can enjoy the resort and its amenities, but you can't leave the property -- and you'll have a wristband monitoring your location to make sure you don't.

After being in the resort bubble for three days, you can take a test at your resort (at your expense) and, if you get a negative result, can resume normal vacation activities beyond the boundaries of your resort.

Related: Hawaii’s reopening highlights problems facing tourist destinations, but there’s hope for 2021

It's not just out-of-the-way island destinations that are worried about visitors. Health officials in California have been scrambling as beds fill at hospitals across the state -- not just in ICU wards but throughout the facilities. In December, UCI Medical Center in Orange County took the unprecedented step of setting up a mobile COVID-19 ward in its parking lot.

So, in light of all that, when deciding on a vacation spot, consider the destination's:

And, of course, be respectful during your visit by continuing to wear a mask and practicing social distancing during your stay.

Follow the rules: Where you are and where you're going

If you're traveling with the United States, there's still a maze of coronavirus precautions to wade through since each state -- and even counties -- can have vastly different mandates. Research the rules where you'll visit and vow to follow them.

Also, if the rules aren't as stringent as where you live, just keep following the best practices you've adopted at home. For example, I live in a Florida county that does not have a mask mandate. However, I follow the scientifically backed suggestion to wear a mask whenever in public anyway.

Determine if there are any quarantine rules or even stay-at-home or curfew orders. Los Angeles County, as an example, is currently under a regional stay home order. That means many nonessential indoor businesses are closed.

Each state and most counties have webpages devoted to their COVID-19 rules and regulations, so consult that information before you commit to any trip to that destination.

And, international destinations can be even more complicated since the ones that are open to visitors from the U.S. are requiring negative COVID-19 tests.

Read more about entry requirements around the world:

When to quarantine

(Photo by courtneyk/Getty Images)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests you quarantine for a period of time before traveling. Ten to 14 days is the gold standard. This helps ensure you're not already infected with COVID-19 when you embark on your trip.

Depending on where you're going, you may need to quarantine for a certain amount of time -- in some cases, just until the COVID-19 test you took upon arrival comes back negative. In other destinations, the quarantine period can be as much as 14 days before you can go out and about.

When you return home, the CDC also recommends quarantining out of an abundance of caution that you did not bring COVID-19 back to your local community.

For international trips, get a COVID-19 test three to five days after travel and stay home for seven days after travel. You should stay home the full seven days -- even if your test comes back negative. If you don't get tested, quarantine at home for 10 days after travel.

Related: CDC officially announces shorter quarantine recommendations

Take one (or more) COVID-19 tests

We're at the stage of the pandemic where health officials have begun recommending some combination of multiple COVID-19 tests. This may include testing before a trip, upon arrival, during your stay, prior to departure and a few days after returning home. Depending on the rules where you live and where you're going, it can add up to quite a few tests.

Regardless of any rule, common sense says you should get tested a few days before leaving on your trip. This will give you peace of mind and minimize the risk of unwittingly pass the disease along to others during your travels.

While Americans still aren't allowed entry into many foreign countries, most of the ones that are welcoming us require you to show a negative result from a recent COVID-19 test upon entry.

Some locations, such as Rwanda — where TPG founder Brian Kelly recently visited — require that you take a COVID-19 test upon arrival and then quarantine at your hotel until the results come back. In his case, a negative result was returned within about 12 hours.

Other locations may require or suggest a COVID-19 test a few days after you've arrived at the destination.

And, going into effect on Jan. 26, 2021, all travelers entering the United States -- even U.S. citizens and anyone over the age of 2 -- will need to take a COVID-19 test (and get a negative result) within three days of departure.

While the details about the U.S.'s new reentry rule are still developing, many hotels in destinations that cater to American tourists are already rolling out on-site COVID-19 testing.

Read more about COVID-19 testing for travelers:

Think about your food

There's another important consideration for travel during this pandemic: how to approach eating and drinking on the road. Remember that medical professionals suggest you wear a face mask that covers your nose and mouth whenever in public.

Some airports are fairly crowded right now and, with limited concessions open at each hub, all of the people looking to grab a meal or drink are congregating in the same place.

If possible, dine at home before arriving at the airport and avoid eating and drinking in the airport, the lounge or on the flight. If that's not possible, try to limit the amount of time your mask is off.

If you're drinking a bottle of water to stay hydrated during the flight, keep your mask on between sips. It's what a doctor would advise and it's also the edict on every major U.S. airline. For example, the rule on United Airlines states: “While you can remove your face covering briefly to eat or drink, you must immediately put it back on afterward.”

In part to discourage passengers from spending too much time eating or drinking on aircraft, airlines have reduced their inflight offerings so, even if you're hungry, it may be slim picking. Be sure to pack snacks from home or buy supplies at the airport before boarding.

Related: How to protect yourself (and others) on a crowded plane

Pack your patience

(Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Taking multiple COVID-19 tests in a single week, wearing tracking bracelets and donning a mask to walk through a restaurant lobby on the way to your dinner table may not be the picture of vacation perfection. But, it's the reality of the day.

If you plan to travel in 2021, understand that it will probably be even weirder than if you took to the skies or the road in 2020. Understand the hoops you'll need to jump through, and come to terms with them before your trip or don't travel.

During your vacation, if things don't feel as organic as you'd like, take a deep breath and know that things will get better as vaccinations become more available around the world and traditional mask-wearing, social distancing, testing and contact tracing help stamp out COVID-19.

Bottom line

The world will get back to normal, but we still have a long road ahead of us. Do your part to stay safe when you're at home and when traveling. Taking basic precautions can go a long way to ensuring your safety, and the safety of those around you.

Featured image by Featured image by People Image Studio/Shutterstock
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023