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You Asked If It's Safe To Travel Right Now, So We Had Experts Answer

All of your burning questions answered.

Since the beginning of quarantine, travel (especially international) has largely ground to a halt. But with summer in full swing and everyone itching with the travel bug, many are wondering whether it's safe to travel this summer.

HBO

So a few weeks ago, we asked the BuzzFeed Community to tell us what questions they have about traveling during the coronavirus pandemic — then we got some experts to weigh in.

Meet our experts: Brandon Brown, an epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of California, Riverside School of Medicine, and Steffanie Strathdee, associate dean of global health at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and author of The Perfect Predator.

1. "Is it really safe to be traveling at this time?" —Jasmin55j

CBS

Brown: We are still in the middle of the pandemic and it is not as safe to travel as before. Travel has been limited for a reason: to prevent the spread of infection. Most, if not all, forms of public transportation do not allow for sufficient physical distancing to prevent the spread of the virus. Masking is useful, but similar to wearing a seat belt and having air bags, you want both masking and physical distancing to prevent the spread of the virus.

Strathdee: I don’t think so, in all honesty, looking at how many countries have trajectories that are increasing. People should be very careful about traveling right now, at least until we see most parts of the US trending downward rather than upward. This isn’t the flu, right? If I were somebody over 60, or had any underlying condition or was a smoker, I would definitely not travel right now.

2. "When will it be safe or even possible for us to travel abroad again?" —mychelleelizabeth

VH1

Brown: I am not considering traveling overseas again for at least six months. I travel often so this is difficult for me, but I have made this decision to be as safe as possible for preventing catching the virus. Some countries like the United States are being hit harder than others, so I am sure people in other countries do not feel it is safe to travel to the US at this time.

Strathdee: Because we’re the country with the most number of cases, international travel to many places is probably safer than traveling in the US right now. However, traveling those same routes we used to carries considerable risk right now. It’s going to get worse before it gets better; we’re headed toward a possible total shutdown in some parts of the US.

3. Is it safe to sit on an airplane?

ABC

Brown: Sitting on an airplane, whether it be in coach or business class, involves a level of risk. You will be touching surfaces, you will be interacting with [flight attendants], you will be interacting and in close contact with other travelers. If everyone is masked and if physical distancing measures are put into place, that is safer than if none of those precautions are taken. If we do reinitiate travel, it will never be the same again, and maybe it shouldn’t be.

Strathdee: Window seats make more sense now because people will be walking through the aisles to use the restroom. Bringing your own bottle for water is a good idea, and even your own utensils. Try to avoid airlines that pack people in, unless they say they’re committed to leaving middle seats empty. Choose flight times that are less popular and will therefore be less busy. If you can afford it, travel business class because there will be more space. The biggest area of risk is the bathroom — it is a high-traffic area, a small space that is "high touch," (e.g., bathroom handle, flush button, taps) and there is potential exposure to multiple body fluids (nasal, droplet/aerosol, fecal matter). If you have to go, take some wipes with you to avoid touching the door, flusher, etc.

4. What’s safer: staying at a hotel or an Airbnb?

CBC

Brown: The safety of a hotel or Airbnb depends on a few things, primarily how the spaces are being sanitized. For a hotel, one is the use of alcohol-based sanitizers to clean surfaces at the front desk, in the lobby, on doors, in the restaurant, etc., and the masking of employees in the hotel. For an Airbnb, you may actually be able to contact the host and ask about the previous guests and if they got sick, and ask them to leave cleaning supplies so you can give the space a good cleaning before settling in. I would personally use an Airbnb at this specific time if I absolutely need to leave home.

Strathdee: Airbnb usually means you’re the only person or family in the facility, which is advantageous over a hotel with a restaurant or buffet (I would avoid buffets, myself). But again, it’s making sure that whoever the host is has a policy toward sanitation — using bleach, making sure the place is very clean. It doesn’t hurt to have your own wipes to wipe down the frequently touched areas. Airbnb is a good idea over hotels as long as it’s a reputable host.

5. "Is it safer to road trip (assuming you’ll have to stop for gas and stay in a hotel) or fly?" —buggybugbug

VH1 Films

Brown: Going on a road trip gives you more control over your interactions with others compared to flying. You can remain in your vehicle with those whose prevention practices you know, which is not the case on a plane. For gasoline needs, most locations have self-service, and you can always bring your own food or safely go through the drive-thru. Contrast this to some airports, which have thousands of flights per day, full of people. It's about numbers, and the chances of transmission from one person who is positive among tens of thousands is just so much higher, especially without strict prevention measures in place. Even if measures are in place, driving is safer than flying as it relates to COVID-19.

Strathdee: Yes, if it’s your vehicle rather than [public transportation]. Stay in a reputable hotel chain and check policies for cleanliness. Use wipes to wipe down things like doorknobs, steering wheel and handles in a rental car, and have your own water or bottle from home.

6. "Can I still go camping?" —AmbriaB_126

NBC

Brown: Camping may be safe if you are able to keep a physical distance with other campers, and if the folks you are camping with have been and are still using safety precautions to protect themselves (and thus, you) against the virus.

Strathdee: I think that being outdoors itself is going to reduce the risk you’re exposed. Having campsites that are spaced out would be important, or having an RV that you wipe down before using. Use toilet seat covers in any public restrooms. And of course, wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer.

7. "When will it be safe to go on a cruise again?" —vanessam94

FOX

Brown: A cruise may have more physical space at times than a plane, but the length of time is usually longer than a flight, and if someone happens to be on the cruise with COVID-19, it may be difficult to prevent the spread of infection. In some cases, it may be difficult to disembark once folks are found to be infectious. Large gatherings occur on cruises during the activities including meals, which are chances for the virus to spread.

Strathdee: There are a lot of ventilation issues, and we still don’t know much about the minimum requirements to minimize spread. Staying 6 feet apart is just a guideline — the data suggests it might even need to be more distant than that. I think going on a cruise right now would be a big mistake. There are stories of people going on cruises and being stranded there because it can’t dock — that sounds like a vacation from hell, in my opinion. I think there are safer vacations to go on.

The CDC has issued a No Sail Order for cruise ships, in effect until September 30.

Questions and responses have been edited for length or clarity.

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