Have you struggled with making decisions about whether travel is worth the risk to you and others? And if you do travel when and how do you travel safely in the midst of a global health crisis? We sure have thought a lot about these issues.
Before the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, our calendar was filled with exciting new travel adventures. In early March, though, we visited with Ann’s doctors about the Novel Coronavirus. We took their recommendations and canceled all of our travel plans for the summer in an effort to stay safe and healthy at home while slowing the spread of the virus.
If you’re new here, you should know that Ann has several chronic health issues, including a disease called cardiac sarcoidosis. For the past six years, she has been on immunosuppressive treatments for her condition.
This means that because her immune system needs to be lowered to combat her cardiac disease, she has more susceptibility to getting viruses, including coronavirus. Plus, her heart condition puts her at even greater risk if she should acquire COVID-19.
Since March 12, we have been at home. We have gotten our groceries via curbside pickup, socially distanced from others, and started walking outside instead of going to the gym. We have cooked more than 300 consecutive meals at home, including this one we shared (from a distance) with friends in our garage.
At some point, we knew we’d need to take more risk for essential travel, but when? And how would we travel safely?
An important note
Note: We are not medical experts. Everyone’s health and value system is different. We just wanted to share the thought process that has gone into our recent travel decisions. And even these may change or be altered depending on new research as well as information on the spread and risks related to coronavirus. We definitely want to travel safely and will take the steps necessary to do so. We also want to keep others safe, meaning that we want to have good habits so that we don’t inadvertently spread the virus to others if we are sick without knowing.
How we’re deciding when and how to travel safely
Our wellness coach, Nicole, has been a big help as we’ve maneuvered this new space. In December, we spent three days at the Mayo Clinic’s Healthy Living Program.
Included in our our fee for the program, were follow up phone visits with a wellness coach for six months. While Coach Nicole was furloughed during the pandemic, she also has her own small business called Dynamic Wellness. So, we were able to pay to continue our coaching sessions through Dynamic Wellness while she was off work. WORTH EVERY PENNY!
One of the wellness issues we’ve talked about with Nicole is how to decide when and how to travel safely.
Evaluating our level of risk and our values
One of the exercises Nicole had us do was to revisit the “Defining My Values” sheet we filled out at the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program. We looked at our Top 10 values and ranked them in order of importance. Here’s an example of Ann’s values sheet below we found on TherapistAid.com.
Next, we wrote down our top five values and talked about each of them and why they are important to us. Then, Nicole helped us make a Decisional Balance tool. On it, we listed the pros and cons of a specific decision we’re trying to evaluate, like eating in a restaurant. We rated each of the pros and cons on a 1-5 scale (5 being very important) and thought about how they each relate to the things we value most. At the end, we asked the question, “Does it meet the ‘gut’ test?” Basically, what does our gut or intuition say? (The decision-making aid example Nicole used was from the CDSMP Leader’s Manual of 2016, chart 11.)
Putting our risk level and values into action
After using this decision-making tool and thinking for weeks about our values and the level of risk we are comfortable taking, we’ve decided to go on two short trips. One trip will be to visit our daughter (value of family), and the other for medical tests and doctor appointments at Mayo (value of health). We want to do all we can to travel safely on both trips both for ourselves and for those we might encounter along the way.
We’re driving from Nebraska to Tulsa
Today, we are driving to Tulsa, Okla., to see our daughter, Meghan (she’s the third one from the left in the photo above). She went to nursing school at OU-Tulsa. After graduation, she started her career as a cardiac ICU nurse at a hospital in Tulsa. Because of her potential exposure to the coronavirus at the hospital, we have only seen her once since February.
A quick visit outdoors in Pawhuska
In May, she visited us in Pawhuska and we distanced ourselves and only spent time together outdoors. We haven’t given her a hug since February and we miss her a lot. Meghan is moving out of her apartment and into a new one, so (with lots of precautionary measures) we’re going visit her in Tulsa to help her get settled in her new place.
Of course, we will stay in a hotel (not her apartment), distance ourselves and wear masks when we’re in public or with her. We don’t wear masks to protect ourselves; we wear them to protect others should we have the virus and not know it.
Meghan is also hoping to have a coronavirus test and results before our visit to further ensure our safety. In the end, we had to weigh our value of love and family with the potential risks. We’re all three comfortable with the plans we have in place. We’re taking along a lot of food and plan to interact with as few people as possible while on the road.
Our plan to travel safely to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
We’re also going to be traveling to Rochester, Minn. soon for Ann to have medical tests and meet with her cardiologist. Originally, these appointments had been scheduled for early spring, but they had to be pushed back for her health and safety.
Just as we will do with our trip to Tulsa, we will take much of our own food with us, use the Luggable Loo for most bathroom breaks, and not make any unnecessary stops. Now, about where we’ll be staying.
Why we chose Hilton Hotels for our upcoming trips
We have been going to Hilton Hotels for years. But in the age of the coronavirus, it’s not good enough to simply keep doing what we’ve always done. So before we stayed in any hotel, we knew we had to do some research because we wanted to be as safe as possible while away from home.
It turns out that Hilton has been doing their research, as well. They’re working with the Mayo Clinic Infection Prevention and Control team and have created a series of new procedures to keep their guests and team members safe in their hotels. In addition, they have partnered with Lysol to make sure they are using only top-quality, hospital grade disinfectant products.
A Hilton Garden Inn in Tulsa
Before making our decision to travel, we called the Hilton Garden Inn Tulsa South and asked about their procedures. They told us that when a guest checks out of a room, they wait three days before housekeeping goes into the room.
At that point, all linens are removed and the room is thoroughly cleaned. Then, they do a second disinfection of all high touch surfaces including door handles, light switches, remote controls, faucets, etc. Finally, fresh linens are brought into the room, a supervisor gives a final inspection, and the room is sealed. Literally. It then sits empty an additional day before it is rented out to a new guest who breaks the seal.
During the stay, housekeeping services are suspended–in other words, no one will come into our room. Should we want clean towels, linens, toiletries, or trash service, we can arrange it through the front desk.
Changes beyond the guest room
But that’s just what’s happening in the guest rooms. Public spaces have changed, as well. The hotel now employs one member of housekeeping who works full time cleaning and disinfecting public spaces. The restaurant is currently closed; the hotel offers a grab-and-go option for breakfast. And because we are HiltonHonors members and have downloaded the app to our phones, we don’t even have to stop at the front desk when we check in. We can just go straight to the room and use our phone to open the door.
Given this information, we felt like this hotel was about as safe a place as we could find to stay outside our own home.
UPDATE evening of 6-28-20: We arrived at the Hilton Garden Inn-Tulsa South and found it to be almost business as usual. There were no markings for social distancing, employees were not in masks, and Hilton CleanStay procedures didn’t seem to be closely followed. As a result, we left that hotel and moved to the Hilton Garden Inn-Tulsa/Broken Arrow. There we found a hotel that was following the guidelines and we felt much more comfortable. Be sure you call ahead to your hotel and then hold them accountable.
DoubleTree by Hilton Rochester, Minnesota
Knowing we also have a trip for Ann to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., we called the DoubleTree hotel where we have our reservation to ask about their procedures. Needless to say, these safety changes have been implemented across the Hilton brand. Enhanced cleaning, contactless check-in, and time between guests are also features in that hotel. The Executive Lounge is open, but there is spacing between seating and guests are encouraged to use a grab-and-go option. This hotel also offers contactless delivery of room service, meaning we can safely eat in our own room.
Honestly, Hilton has impressed us with all they are doing. The fact they consulted with experts at the Mayo Clinic shows (at least to us) their commitment to creating procedures based on the best, current evidence for preventing the spread. If you’d like to learn more about Hilton’s procedures, click [HERE].
Final thoughts on how to travel safely
Again, we are NOT MEDICAL EXPERTS. However, we’ve had lots of questions from our readers about when and how we will travel safely and wanted to give you some insight as to how we’re making travel decisions. We hope this helps you understand our thinking on the issue of travel during a pandemic and how we weighed the risks and our values. In the end, we want to keep both ourselves and those we meet along the way safe and healthy.
How are you weighing the risks and benefits of travel right now?