Travel During Coronavirus: What Can You Expect From COVID Travel?

by Mark and Kristen Morgan
Mark and Kristen where are those morgans wearing masks on the whiteface mountain gondola in lake placid NY travel during coronavirus requirement

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Are you planning a trip in 2021 and wondering what it’s like to travel during coronavirus? Depending on the success of vaccine distribution this could include Summer of 2021.

We’re going to answer the 5 COVID travel related questions on everyone’s minds. But first a little background.

Cast your mind back to February 2020, to a time before lockdowns and overcrowded emergency rooms across the globe. We had just finished our 18 month long honeymoon, traveling across 4 continents and realizing our dreams of exploring the world.

We would finally have time to work on our travel blog.

News of a deadly virus spreading began to dominate news headlines. Surely it won’t reach Europe, Africa, Oceania, North and South America. Right? Wrong.

We decided early on not to write anything about COVID. Although our early gains in traffic fell off a cliff, (and a coronavirus related article would be current therefore likely to get traction) we just didn’t feel qualified to write about something we didn’t fully understand. Keep in mind, we both have worked in science for almost a decade.

(Let’s be brutally honest, is anyone truly qualified considering some of the decisions made this past year?!)

Breaking Our Rule

Fast forward to today, 7 months after the very first lockdown in America, and here we are breaking our own rule about writing a COVID related article. But now we are qualified. Not politically or scientifically … from a travel perspective.

Having barely left our NY county for 9 months, we finally took an amazing 2 week road trip through peak Fall season in New England. It was much needed.

This article is for anyone currently planning a trip or those who are just plain curious about what it is like to travel during Coronavirus.

The goal is to provide you with an insight to help you plan your Winter / Spring travel more effectively. Plus, you won’t be taken by surprise, as we were!

So buckle up, put on your mask, make sure you’re 6 feet away from the next person and wash your hands thoroughly before reading … 

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*Please note this post may contain affiliate links. If you click on one of them, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you! We recommend only products we use and as always, all ideas or opinions expressed in this post are entirely ours. Thank you for the support and happy travels!*

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Limitations of this Travel During Coronavirus Article

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It’s important we outline the limitations of this travel during coronavirus article before we get stuck in.

Consider the following a disclaimer.

  • Our travel experiences are related only to the US Northeast, so our information will not apply to any other part of the world. That doesn’t mean there won’t be similarities.
  • We have a travel blog – which obviously makes us pro travel. We have attempted to keep things unbiased but it is in our best interest for people to travel, including ourselves!
  • That being said, we respect and strictly adhere to all safety precautions and guidelines. We are regularly exposed to people who fall into the vulnerable category, therefore we used our best judgement in all situations.
  • This article will likely be relevant until a vaccine is manufactured and distributed. Though we do imagine a number of the routine safety requirements will be in place for some time. We hope that is sooner rather than later, we all know the world needs it.
  • Our lighthearted writing style is not to be misconstrued as a lack of seriousness.

Update for Feb 2021: How to travel safely in 2021, a roundup of experts from both Medical and Travel industries.

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Where Did We Travel During Coronavirus?

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Here’s a very brief outline of our road trip for context.

New England is widely regarded as one of the most amazing places on Earth to marvel at spectacular Fall foliage colors. In the States, they call it ‘leaf peeping’ … and we were about to become die hard leaf peepers.

So, our leaf-peeping-covid-road-trip began in the Finger Lakes of New York with a 5 hour drive to Lake Placid in the Adirondack mountains. From Lake Placid we drove East into Burlington and Stowe, Vermont, before entering New Hampshire and driving the Kancamagus scenic highway. 

From there, we continued East through Maine as far as Bar Harbor and Acadia. Looping around we drove the Maine coast through Boothbay and Portland, before heading inland through Southern NH and VT.

This Fall road trip was loosely planned back in January at the end of our 3 month road trip out West and before the coronavirus outbreak. Fortunately, we live within driving distance of New England. We felt comfortable using our own car, it was just the two of us and we had minimal exposure to others.

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Why New England?

Kristen’s favorite time of year is Fall and Mark is from (old) England – where Autumnal colors are a fraction of the scale across New England.

As luck would have it (we deserved some good fortune), the states of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine were the only 3 US states we could travel through from New York at the time of our planned vacation.

They were classed as ‘Green’ states (as opposed to Red) which meant New York State would allow us to travel into those states without requiring quarantine upon return to NY.

However, Vermont in particular would only accept us to travel into their state if we were from a ‘Green’ county within New York – according to Vermont’s criteria. Fortunately, our county is and always has been classified as Green.

We have to applaud VT, NH and ME for their disciplined and no-nonsense approach to preventing spread of coronavirus. Stricter guidelines actually made us feel more confident about being able to take our road trip with fewer risks involved for ourselves and our peers.

New England was one hell of a road trip, filled with many weird and wonderful experiences.

Let’s get into those important COVID travel questions!

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1. Travel – Are People Actually Traveling During Coronavirus?

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Oh, yes. 

In terms of pure tourist numbers, we encountered the age old travel problems: Congestion, not enough parking and overcrowding. 

You name the state, we saw the plate. California, Arizona, Florida, Tennessee – check. We met a bunch of people who had flown in from all parts of the US. They said flying was fine, just had to wear masks.

Acadia National Park is stunning, but being one of the only parks on the East coast where a large proportion of the US population lives, the park is always busy. And we traveled in peak Fall season.

However, we did expect COVID to keep at least a small percentage of people at home this Autumn. Oh, how wrong we were. Acadia and Bar Harbor were bursting at the seams. 

Even New Hampshire was packed every time we went on a hike or scenic drive.

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When we would eat out (we’ll get on to that next), waitresses or bar staff would tell us how crazy things had been over the peak Fall season.

COVID is not keeping people at home. It is preventing them from traveling internationally, so they are all traveling domestically. People need to escape, to relax and hike, see new places.

So, yes, people are still traveling during Coronavirus.

The photographs above are from Acadia National Park. First is half a mile long line of cars parked to climb precipice trail at 10am. Second / third are in front and behind us in the 35 minute line we had to sit in to park for Bass Harbor lighthouse at 3.30pm.

Travel Tip: Be sure to check state guidelines (your own and where you want to travel) before booking anything.

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2. Food – Are People Eating Out at Restaurants During Coronavirus?

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Well, isn’t that just the question of the hour! In our experience, the biggest impact on travel during coronavirus is trying to eat out. 

Emphasis on the word: trying.

Restaurants are operating at 50% capacity for the most part and when 100% of tourists are in town, that quickly becomes a problem at each meal time from breakfast through dinner.

Anyone who has traveled New England in the last few weeks will know exactly what we mean when we say if you don’t arrive at a restaurant at least 30 minutes before opening time, you will either have to get on a long waiting list, find a McDonalds or worst of all: eat outside in the cold.

On our first night in Lake Placid, we ate at an Italian restaurant on a lovely patio terrace with Mirror Lake views. The problem? It was freezing cold! No inside availability at any restaurants, anywhere in town.

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Here’s an example of how it went down for us in Bar Harbor:

Morning 1 we get to a breakfast restaurant at 7.05am, 5 minutes after it opened. Not only is all of the indoor seating full, but we’re 5th in line. It’s 32 degrees (0 C) outside.

Needing a quick turnaround so we can get into Acadia, we opt to take an outdoor seating table. Bacon, eggs, toast and coffee turns to ice between the door and our table. Instantaneous.

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“Ok this is going to be a problem, let’s call to book dinner as soon as they open.” 

Call at 4pm on the dot.

“It’s going to be at least a 4 hour wait. You’re looking at 8 – 8.30 pm.”

“Do you take reservations for tomorrow?”

“No.”

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On the entire 2 weeks trip, we walked straight into maybe 4 or 5 places across all meal times. Every other time we had to queue, get a buzzer and wait an hour, or be flat out rejected.

The solution for those who are planning a trip in the near future?

Takeaway.

Almost all restaurants, even the classy top end taster menu only places are doing takeaway. It saves time, effort and money. Takeaway meals became our MO in week 2.

Food Tip: If you have a restaurant in mind, call to make reservations as soon as you know your travel plans. Otherwise, just take it away! Bonus – Supermarkets are the easiest way to do lunch.

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3. Hotels – Any Issues With Safety, Booking Or Checking In?

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Before we set off, hotels were our main cause of concern, whereas the food situation was something we hadn’t even considered. We expected hotels to grill us about where we’d been the last 2 weeks and probe about who we’d been in contact with. Which would have been fair enough.

However, surprisingly, hotels were the least problematic part of the entire road trip. Not once were we questioned about anything. The procedure was simple, fill in a form to indicate our names, address, phone number and signature.

Contact tracing purposes only.

Considering it was peak Fall season, we had no problems finding availability, but hotels in general were busier than we’d anticipated. Particularly in Lake Placid, Bar Harbor and Stowe.

Breakfast was canceled in some hotels, whereas others simply removed the buffet style and served to order. Each hotel had their own way of dealing with COVID safety.

You can reduce risks by using stairs over elevators, keeping distance and always wearing masks inside.

Not once did we think a hotel was underperforming or slacking on additional cleanliness. Every hotel was adhering to enhanced safety protocols with little fuss made and it was business as usual for the most part.

In one apartment (the image of a white bag above) all towels and bedding were placed in a bag for us to make ourselves. Not a problem but completely unexpected.

Housekeeping do not clean rooms throughout your stay.

Hotel Tip: When planning to travel during coronavirus, there’s no need to be concerned with availability or safety when booking hotels.

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4. Masks – Are People Wearing Them / Is Mask Shaming A Real Thing?

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This is a contentious topic and one that will divide opinion.

We all know wearing masks is uncomfortable, unnatural, hard to exercise in and worst of all – they steam up glasses and sunglasses!

However, we had no problem wearing our masks anytime we were in a public space or indoors, plus anytime we thought it was appropriate. If wearing masks allows us to continue traveling, we can deal with a bit of cloth over our faces when in public spaces or close quarters.

We only ever took our masks off if we were outside and exceeded the 6 feet distancing rule.

In, around and out of shared indoor environments – yes, most people were wearing masks. Some restaurants even made patrons wear them while sat at the table between eating and drinking.

When we summited Mount Marcy in the Adirondacks, a summit ranger and sign informed us we need to put on our masks. In 30mph wind, at least 10-20 feet from anyone else, outside. That to us was a little ridiculous but we were of course respectful of the rule and the handful of others around.

The photo above depicts around half of people wearing masks before sunset at Bass harbor Lighthouse. This was par for the course in terms of mask wearers vs non mask wearers when outside.

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What about when hiking outdoors and passing by others, are people wearing masks?

In general, roughly half of all people were wearing masks on hiking trails and many would only put them on to pass people. An interesting trend was the earlier we hiked, the fewer people were wearing masks outside, the percentage of mask wearers outside increased around mid morning and lunch.

Here’s one way of looking at it – when we didn’t have our masks on outside, it was fine for 90% of the time but there were occasions when we would be looked at like we were martians from another planet.

If people have their own masks on, are more than 6 feet away and are OUTSIDE, there’s no grounds for the dirty looks. We found it tiresome and aggravating.

In Acadia, we were walking along Ocean drive to Thunder hole, when someone yelled ‘where are your masks’ in our direction. There were plenty of others without masks near us so we weren’t sure if it was directed at us specifically.

We ignored the comment but it did annoy us. We had been adhering to all the rules, giving more than enough space between others. Sometimes we felt this pent up energy from 2020 has made people much more aggressive towards others. 

So, yes – small doses of mask shaming is a real thing. Most people are responsibly wearing masks when appropriate, but don’t be surprised if you get some dirty looks if hiking without a mask on.

Mask Tip: If in doubt, put it on. Better to be safe than sorry.

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5. Behavior – How Are People Acting When Traveling During COVID?

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On the whole, people are really making an effort to be positive in dreadful circumstances. Some are rising to the challenges posed, going above and beyond to make travel as normal as possible for others.

As we always do when traveling, we met some genuinely fantastic people on this road trip. COVID is for sure making some people act stranger than usual but for others it is bringing them even closer together.

Sunrise, sunset and astro photography locations are one of the best places for us to meet like minded travelers. The fact that we are all there despite covid restrictions and risks made us all feel even more of a bond.

Even without COVID, travel can cause people to act out of character. But throw uncertainty, anxiety and social awkwardness into the mix and you get some genuinely ludicrous / hilarious travel stories.

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Here’s 2 of our favorite stories from travel during coronavirus thus far:
  • In North Conway, NH we were pulling into a diner parking lot for lunch and parked up. As we walked to the door, another car pulled in but was coming in pretty hot – back door flies open and a grandma with walking stick and 2 grandkids jumps out of a car still moving, looks at us and literally runs to get to the door before us in case there’s a line. The parents joined a minute later. On one hand you have to give it to her, right?! It was certainly a double take moment.
  • Later that day (seriously both on the same day), at the REI outlet mall in North Conway, NH we’re walking to get in line to enter the shop. Another group – around similar age to us – is advancing on a very similar trajectory. We looked at each other and Mark (being a polite British gentleman!) was about to usher them in first. But that wasn’t necessary as one of their group sprinted to the X spot on the ground in order to beat us. This one annoyed us. It was extremely awkward for the next 10 minutes and no eye contact was made!

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There are plenty more stories where they came from. Especially the way some people were reacting towards front of house staff in restaurants when they couldn’t get a table. It is frustrating but it isn’t their fault.

People are always going to act in interesting ways, that’s human nature. These are just different circumstances and there will be new ones after coronavirus that will cause some people to act similarly.

Behavior Tip: Try as hard as you can to be patient and avoid people who are causing a scene.

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Useful Coronavirus Travel Resources

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  • CDC travel info – to learn more about travel during Coronavirus
  • CDC symptoms – check this list for possible symptoms if feeling unwell when traveling
  • TSA website – for COVID related airline passenger information (important in upcoming holiday season)
  • AARP – for a list of coronavirus related travel restrictions in each state

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COVID Travel Tips

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Based on our experiences, we can offer some basic tips that will help you stay safe when traveling this Winter or next Spring.

  • Take the right clothing to be eating outside, especially if going skiing this Winter. There is a chance you will be eating outside.
  • Take bottles of hand sanitizer and use it regularly. Wash hands when possible, particularly when you’ve been exposed to large groups.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator in hotels when possible to reduce risk.
  • Don’t worry too much, everywhere you go will have processes in place that are easy to follow, such as distancing using X marks or lines on the ground.
  • Try to pay using card instead of cash, in fact some places will only accept card at the moment.
  • Keep your mask on your person at all times, it can be difficult to remember it every time you leave the car or hotel!
  • Book ahead of time into restaurants (for all meals) to avoid disappointment. Or take away.
  • Remember to enjoy your trip! You will work the kinks out quickly and realize you can travel as usual with some minor adjustments – mainly around food.

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Conclusion – What Can You Expect When Traveling During Coronavirus?

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Travel is an enormous part of people’s lives and it always will be. COVID restrictions are limiting but not impossible to navigate.

As long as you take precautions and follow safety guidelines you can feel confident in booking a trip over Winter and Spring 2020/2021.

You can expect the majority of people to be responsible and understand the value of social distancing / mask wearing when in shared indoor spaces. But don’t expect people to wear masks outside when hiking.

If you have a special set of circumstances whereby you don’t want to risk being exposed and passing onto a vulnerable person, consider staying at home until a vaccine is available, or take your trip and just be careful around others.

The one main thing we have to stress is to plan ahead for meal times. We ended up in Dunkin’ Donuts most mornings for coffee and even bought some lunches at supermarkets in order to bypass the restaurant debacle.

At dinner, if you can’t get a table or reserve, just get takeaway and spend the money you’d save on upgrading your hotel room!

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Was This Post Helpful? Pin It For Later!

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We hope this helped give you an insight into what you can expect from travel during coronavirus.

If you are planning to travel and have any questions for us, please don’t hesitate to leave us a comment below.

-Safe Travels-

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Valuable Resources For Your Next Trip

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  • Booking Flights: Skyscanner is our preferred flights booking search engine, finding the best and cheapest flights has never been easier | Skyscanner
  • Booking Hotels: Booking consistently offers best prices around the world, along with a genius program and mobile discount | Booking
  • Rental Cars: When we hire a car at an airport or in the city, we always use Rental Cars for best value and most options | Rental Cars
  • Travel Insurance: Never leave home without insurance, it’s not worth the risk. World Nomads is our preferred travel insurance provider | World Nomads
  • Photography Gear: Peak Design is one of our favorite brands, we love their innovative camera accessories and travel photography equipment | Peak Design

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