A man with a suitcase on an escalator.

October 19, 2020

When we hit the road, we hope to escape. But wherever we go, COVID-19 already has arrived.

So how do we stay safe?

“I don’t recommend traveling unless you have an emergency or you really have to,” says Laura Mansilla, MD, family medicine physician at Memorial Hermann Medical Group (MHMG) Greater Heights Family Medicine.

But if you must go, follow these travel precautions from Dr Mansilla.

ONE. Strengthen your immunity.

The same habits that boost your immunity at home stay true for travel: eat a well-balanced diet, do 150 minutes of walking or other cardiovascular exercise weekly and take a daily multivitamin.

TWO. Wear a mask–and wear it properly.

Be super strict about your mask at the airport and on planes.

When you’re in a public space, make sure your mask fits securely over your nose, to the bridge, and also your cheeks and chin. Be aware that when you talk, your mask may slip. When you adjust your mask, touch only the edges to avoid transferring germs to your fingers. The same goes for disposing of it. Only handle the string or ear bands and don’t touch your face.

“Face shields can provide extra protection, but the most important thing is wearing a mask,” Dr. Mansilla says.

She recommends avoiding meals on planes unless it’s a long flight, “because you have to take off your mask, which puts you at risk. Also use restrooms before you get on your plane and avoid touching your face while doing so.”

THREE. Scrub up.

Wash your hands frequently with soap and water throughout your travels. Bring a plentiful supply of anti-bacterial wipes to clean surfaces you are likely to touch. At the airport and on the plane that includes seats, trays, arm rests and tables.

“I don’t recommend wearing gloves unless you’re able to not touch your face.” Dr. Mansilla says. “It’s preferable to wipe down what you touch and use hand sanitizer multiple times.”

FOUR. Look before you book.

Call ahead to determine how stringent COVID-19 precautions are at your hotel or Airbnb, she says. Choose a place where all staff wear masks and rooms are cleaned thoroughly with anti-bacterial products. Given lower occupancies, you may be able to request a room that’s been vacant for hours, if not longer.

And if you’re bold, you can ask how many rooms housekeepers clean in a day.

You can be confident bed and bath linens are clean, but if maids are scheduled to devote less than half an hour to clean each room, it’s unlikely they’ve had time to scrub sinks, toilets, tubs and wipe down desks and other surfaces.

In a time crunch, housekeepers may use a single rag to wipe down surfaces just enough to appear clean. Even before COVID-19, coffee makers, glassware, TV remotes, phones and phone cradles have been germ factories.

So it’s on you.

Also wipe down door knobs, light switches, faucets, toilet handles, menus, chairs, desk and nightstand tops, chairs, safes and temperature key pads.

Since housekeepers will touch many of those surfaces each day, you’re wise to clean them each day.

FIVE. Just because you brought it doesn't mean it's germ-free.

Make sure you wipe down your cell phone and laptop keys upon arrival.

“Everybody should wipe down their phone once daily whether they’re at home or on the road,” Dr. Mansilla says.

Also take a shower after check-in.

SIX. Restaurant rules are the same as at home.

“Takeout is preferred over dining in the restaurant, including at the hotel,” she says. “Sitting outdoors is preferable to indoors. Expect restaurants to require social distancing and mask-wearing.”

In an ideal world, you, members of your household and the people you see should have been tested for COVID-19. “But given the risk of false negatives,” Dr. Mansilla says, “if you have any symptoms at all, you should stay home.”

The information in this article was accurate as of October 19, 2020.

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