Travel will look different forevermore: Are you ready?
June 1, 2020
Normally by mid-May I've come and gone several times from my home in Anchorage, sometimes unpacking and re-packing in the same day. It usually feels both frenetic and satisfying to finally be on the road, in the air, or upon the water after a long winter of wishing I was traveling. But nothing is usual, this year.
Statewide mandates, while easing for most Alaska cities, are still in place, including a 14-day quarantine for incoming travelers from Outside. But truth be told, many Alaskans, like other hunker-weary humans around the world, yearn for a change of venue after nearly two months in one place. Consider my hand raised.
Not so fast, though. If we're ever going to keep the upper hand on COVID-19, if it is even possible, travelers, and the tourism and hospitality industry, are going to have to make some changes.
A recent independent study from Destination Analysts (https://bit.ly/2TpDraL) revealed that would-be travelers, while willing to consider the idea of taking a trip, still have reservations based upon both the uncertainty of novel coronavirus itself, and consistent steps by the travel industry itself to keep them as safe as possible.
I would go so far as to say it's going to have to be a two-way street. Those of us who travel for a living have seen it all: the sneezing all over a airplane tray table; the lack of attention to handwashing in general; bare feet in the hotel breakfast bar. Times have changed, folks, and if we're going to expect an open door at our favorite hotel or day cruise boat, we're going to have to take some responsibility. Here's what you should expect, or even take initiative to do right now, before planning that weekend adventure.
Stay apart. Gone are the days of crushing queues in airport boarding areas. Plan to board by row number, and get out of the habit of lining up early. Six to eight feet between non-household members is now the rule. Worried about your carry-on baggage because you can't get on first? Plan ahead and check it, or gate-check when the airline requests.
Create a "travel sanitizing kit." I've long traveled with a zipper-type bag of hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes (the heavy-duty kind), and tissues. Whenever I sit in a new seat (bus, airplane, train, boat), I wipe down the entire area around me. People used to give me funny looks. Not anymore. I've also added a fabric mask, because that should keep my germs from reaching other travelers should I sneeze or cough.
Know where you go, and with whom. The idea of "contact tracing" is an important part of COVID-19 protocols when someone is diagnosed positive. Nurses trace the movements of the infected individual for the previous 10 days, including every single person they may have been in contact with. I have trouble remembering if I ate breakfast some days, and can't imagine recalling people. Alaska State Medical Director Dr. Anne Zink has held to the mantra "If you can't remember all the people you came in contact with for the past few weeks, you've seen too many people," and I believe her. That said, a "coronavirus logbook" is a great way to record your movements around town and elsewhere. List the date, time, destination(s), and include individual names of friends or family.
Start small. This is all a big experiment, of course, to see if Alaskans can handle less restriction without a large spike in coronavirus cases. Ease into your travel by starting local with a day trip. Be prepared for closures of businesses along the way, and carry your own food, water and supplies in case of a minor emergency. Respect each individual community's desire for health and safety.
Above all, be kind. We're truly navigating a new normal, and it is going to take some time to feel comfortable again.
Erin Kirkland is an Anchorage-based freelance travel journalist and author.