Updated: March 14, 2020
Note: Stay up to date with current Coronavirus travel information from reliable sources and recognized institutions including the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. If you are looking for medical advice, please contact a healthcare provider. For general information on health while traveling, check out this Traveler’s Health page from the CDC.
As you can imagine, we’ve recently been asked a number of questions by our readers regarding our thoughts on Coronavirus and travel.
We bring a unique perspective to this issue as frequent travelers, but also as Ann is a person with underlying health concerns. She has a chronic illness that affects her heart and has been on medications and treatments that suppress her immune system for the past six years. You should know that our answers to these questions are filtered through that lens. And, as new information about this virus becomes available, any answer we give here could change.
Below are simply our thoughts on travel based on what we’ve read and seen and should not be taken as medical advice – after all, we are not health experts. You should consider your situation and pay close attention as the knowledge and information is changing daily. Then, make decisions for you and your family based on your circumstances and after considering all available information from reliable sources like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO) and conversations with your healthcare provider.
Q: Are you still planning to travel?
A: Someday, yes. But for right now, Ann’s doctor has advised us to stay home. Health experts we’ve heard are encouraging ALL people to practice social distancing and stay home when possible. This is especially important for Ann’s health. Because she is a person with an underlying heart issue and a suppressed immune system, it is best for both of us to stay home and not have guests in our house.
We will be able to go for walk outside (when it stops snowing here in Nebraska) and we can take drives in the car. But until further notice, we will not be traveling, eating out, going to stores or the gym or church. Even though Ann is the one with the illness and suppressed immune system, it is also important for Steve to stay in as well, so that he doesn’t pick up the virus and bring it into our home.
What we’re going to do
We’re going to take this time together at home to catch up on some blog writing, spend time in The Word, clean and organize our house, and likely watch a few movies. We do have a car trip planned to Rochester, Minnesota, to the Mayo Clinic at the end of March. This is a trip we’ve had planned for several weeks for Ann to see specialists regarding her heart disease. We’ll wait and see what happens with that.
We had a number of other trips planned for the spring, all of them car-based. We’ve spoken with our travel partners about those and we’ll wait a few weeks before we make decisions about those trips and contingency plans. Of course, we will continue to monitor the situation by reading recommendations on the CDC website and will consult with our healthcare professionals before we travel again.
Q: Would you take a cruise?
A: Thankfully, we aren’t faced with that decision today. On and around March 13, most cruise lines announced they will not sail from the U.S. for at least 30 days. That said, we do have a cruise booked for August, 2020, which we have not yet canceled. Final payment isn’t due until 90 days prior to the cruise so we have some time to see how things develop. We’ll monitor Ann’s health as well as this outbreak and will make a decision closer to the cruise based on information available then.
A note about cruising
What we know today is that we love cruising and in 13 cruises over the past eight years, neither one of us has ever gotten sick. We have seen, first-hand, the extensive measures cruise ships take to keep public spaces clean and are confident they do all they can to protect their passengers from illness.
We have also seen cruises as ideal vacations for people like Ann who have non-contagious health issues. Cruises have worked well for us, because we only unpack once, we have a room where Ann can rest that is always easy to get to, and there is a doctor on board in case of emergencies. With this knowledge and the faithfulness that Ann’s health will be sustained, we plan to continue seeing the world from the verandas of cruise ships as much as possible.
Q: Do you buy travel insurance?
A: This is a complicated answer as there are a number of different types of policies out there. We’ll do our best to explain our thinking. Note that we are not insurance brokers. Instead, we are speaking from our experience. For complete information, contact a qualified insurance agent or the insurance company directly.
When traveling abroad
We never leave the United States without at least a traveler’s health insurance policy. These are actually pretty affordable ($60-$80/person the last time we bought it) and it covers us should we become sick or be injured while out of the country. We purchased a policy recently through our local health insurance broker.
In addition, we make sure any policy we purchase covers the cost of medical evacuation from wherever we are back to the U.S. These evacuations can be expensive, often more than $100,000–so we definitely want to be covered for that! You should know that we have not purchased a travelers’ insurance policy since the Coronavirus surfaced, so we don’t know how this type of policy would cover getting sick from the virus or being quarantined because of it. Please read any policy carefully and be sure to ask your broker if and how you would be covered.
Insurance for more than just health
Beyond health insurance, whether we protect our entire vacation depends on how much money we stand to lose should we cancel the trip. This requires a little math. We would only buy “cancel for any reason” insurance, which typically reimburses about 75% of the cost of the trip. (In fact, at this point, Coronavirus is a known concern, so “cancel for any reason” is the only policy that would cover you for it.) If the total cost of our trip was $5,000, the total reimbursement would be $3,750. So, is it worth paying an additional premium of several hundred dollars to protect that amount if you’re 99% sure you’re taking the trip? That’s a question only you can answer because it’s based on your situation.
We typically book hotel stays directly through the hotel, and we don’t pre-pay stays. While our hotel rooms might cost a little more, we get flexibility to cancel up to 48 hours in advance with no penalty, and because we booked with the hotel, they will provide customer service. Why pay to insure that? With flights, we generally book directly with the airline meaning they’ll provide customer service in the event of a change or cancellation. And if we do need to make a change, we’ll normally get credit (minus a change fee) for future travel with the airline. Again, there’s little risk of a large loss.
Cruises are a little different as you typically pay in full 90 days before the trip. Right now, however, cruise lines like Celebrity Cruises are offering “cruise with confidence” programs, allowing passengers to change their reservations with no penalty. Some are also giving a future cruise credit good for a year or more. There are limitations to this, however, so read the fine print. That said, a cruise can be expensive, so you might consider insuring it in case something happens within 90 days of your cruise and this free change opportunity ends.
Q: What precautions are you taking as you plan for travel?
First and foremost, we are following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for preventing the spread of respiratory diseases which state:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
Here are some of the other precautions we have always taken and are even more diligent about now:
When we stay in hotels
Typically, we stay at Hilton properties which tend to be very clean. However, when we enter our room we wipe down door handles, bedside tables, remote controls, light switches, faucets, etc. with Clorox wipes. We bring our own water bottles or use plastic wrapped disposable cups (not glass glasses).
While some travelers re-wear the same clothes several times, we don’t. We do our best to put the clothes we’ve worn in a laundry bag and we wash them before wearing again–especially if we’ve been in crowded, public spaces. And, we wash our hands regularly.
When we travel by air
On airplanes, we use a disinfectant wipe to clean armrests, seat belts, tray tables, video screens, overhead vents, the overhead light switch, and any other surfaces we might touch around our seats. Also, we use hand sanitizer regularly, especially after reading the inflight magazine, safety information card, or even thinking about what might be in the seat back pocket in front of us.
But any day of flying means spending time in airports with crowds from all over, so we take care and sanitize chairs in waiting areas and wash our hands in the airport often, as well. After our day’s travels, we shower before going to bed, and put all the clothes we wore in a laundry bag to be laundered before wearing again. And, we wash our hands regularly.
When we take a road trip
A bottle of hand sanitizer sits in the side pocket of our car and we use it every time we get into our vehicle. We also have a box of Kleenex and a plastic lined trash can that we use and empty regularly. When we find an exceptionally clean public restroom, we use it whether we need to go or not.
We have found Buc-ee’s, QuikTrip, and Sapp Bros. convenience stores to generally have very clean restrooms and we look for those. We’ve also noticed that Midwest states like Minnesota and Iowa have had nice, clean public rest areas. So there’s yet another reason to travel the Midwest. And, we wash our hands regularly.
When we eat in restaurants
One of the first things we do is look at the salt and pepper shakers as well as any condiment bottles on the table. If they look as if they haven’t been washed in a week, we get up and go somewhere else to eat. After handling the menu, we also go to the bathroom and wash our hands.
After using tongs on salad bars and buffets, we wash our hands before eating. We bring hand sanitizer and use it regularly. We don’t set utensils directly on the table, instead we opt to leave them on a clean napkin or on a dish. And, we wash our hands regularly.
Q: Has the Coronavirus changed how you operate your home share through Airbnb?
A: Most of our guests have cancelled their stays for this month. That said, we do have a few people still planning to stay in our home in Pawhuska, Okla. We have closed most available dates on our booking calendar until we have more information about this virus. In an effort to distance groups between stays, we’ve purposefully left at least three days between guests where possible. We’ve done this to reduce their risks as well the risk of illness to our house keeper.
Safety and cleanliness have always been a priority with our Airbnb and that has not changed. We have told our guests who are staying to rest assured, knowing that Postcard Place has been thouroughly cleaned and sanitized before they arrived.
In an effort to keep our home clean and reduce the risk of illness, we do not allow groups of more than six guests. We also:
- Clean doorknobs, light switches, faucet handles, fridge handles, remote controls, etc. with Clorox, or similar wipes between guests. (We also provide extra wipes for guests.)
- Provide antibacterial hand sanitizer to our guests during their stay.
- Of course, we launder bedding, including duvet covers, and all bath and kitchen towels between guests.
- Thoroughly clean our house using Norwex cloths with a BacLock agent.
A few extra steps have also been taken to remind our guests of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of germs. In case you also need a hand washing refresher, here you go:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a guest towel, clean cloth towel, or air dry them.
Final thoughts on Coronavirus travel
Travel is an incredible blessing. It teaches us about other cultures and ways of life. It introduces us to new people and shows us the beauty of the earth. Travel reminds us what a small place we occupy in the world and at least for us, it satisfies our curiosities and keeps us hungry for more.
It’s because of those things that we’ll heed the advice of doctor and Infectious Diseases Specialist Abdu Sharkawy. He wrote, “Temper fear with reason, panic with patience and uncertainty with education. We have an opportunity to learn a great deal about health hygiene and limiting the spread of innumerable transmissible diseases in our society. Let’s meet this challenge together in the best spirit of compassion for others, patience, and above all, an unfailing effort to seek truth, facts and knowledge as opposed to conjecture, speculation and catastrophizing. Facts not fear. Clean hands. Open hearts.”
We’ll practice social distancing for now. We’ll enjoy this time together and pray for our world. Eventually, we’ll travel again and by the grace of God, continue to share our adventures with all of you.
Steve & Ann