Should anyone be traveling for pleasure right now? This is the question on my mind as we enter month six of quarantine here in the Bay Area of California. When our local shelter-in-place was mandated, I had just returned from Austin, Texas and before that, Mexico City. I had trips to Maui, Punta Mita, Denver, and Portland already booked. As a full-time freelance writer and sensory analyst for coffee, I traveled at least once a month for work in 2019, not to mention family vacations. So, when the pandemic hit, I felt immediately bereft, as did so many people whose plans were disrupted. But there was so much more at stake, so we all hunkered in and started doing our part to flatten the curve. In many ways, sheltering in place was easy because it was clear what we should and shouldn’t be doing. Yes to grocery store (masked and distanced), yes to food delivery and hiking on wide open trails. No to restaurant dining, playdates, and visiting up close with anyone outside your immediate family. Then, a few months in, things got confusing.

As different U.S. states cities entered new phases of opening at different times (and with different degrees of success), the Bay Area tiptoed into re-opening territory. Outdoor dining was allowed again, winery tasting rooms in nearby counties welcomed visitors back, and hotels deployed new sanitizing measures to ensure safety. But what is really reasonable to do with the confidence that your behavior is safe and responsible, both in terms of protecting your own health and the health of your community, in particular the most vulnerable among us?

In the Bay Area, as elsewhere, business are suffering mightily, and restaurants are among the hardest hit. It seems to have been established that ordering takeout is relatively safe and that supporting the local economy by buying food to go is a positive contribution, as well as a way of taking a night off from cooking. What are the travel parallels? Can we continue to responsibly enjoy the pleasures of travel while supporting hotels, restaurants, and attractions that might not otherwise survive the pandemic? Here are five guidelines for getting out of dodge safely and responsibly.

1. Road Trips Only

While all anecdotal evidence points to the notion that airplanes are cleaner than they’ve ever been, it would be a logical fallacy to conclude that they are safe choices for leisure transportation during a global pandemic. This argument might be debated elsewhere, but I’m skipping right over it as a faux controversy, and will say straight out: Road trips are the only way to travel safely and responsibly during the COVID-19 pandemic. But all road trips are not equal. They should be close enough to your home base that you don’t have to transport your germs all along the freeway in public restrooms on your route. Have kids who pee a lot? Pack a 16-ounce solo cup for car emergencies — or better yet, take the time to pull off the road for a whiz in the woods. And remember not to leave behind any litter.

Pack a cooler with lunch from home, cold drinks, and fresh fruit. Pack a dry bag for non-perishable snacks, napkins, utensils, and anything else you might want or need along the way. Pack another bag with all your fully charged electronics (of course). The idea is that you don’t want to have to stop along the way. If you need to get gas, remember to have disposable gloves handy, along with your mask and hand san, and resist that urge to go inside and buy a Kit Kat.

2. No Indoor Dining

In many counties, indoor dining is not an option, but even where it is, you should choose to dine outdoors or get takeout instead. Why? Even if a space is large and well-ventilated, think of the risk servers are facing, day in and day out inside highly trafficked dining rooms. You can support local restaurants without putting workers at risk. It’s as easy to do this on the road as it is at home.

If you decide to dine at a restaurant, choose to sit outdoors and scope out the setup before committing. Are tables spaced apart? Are servers wearing masks and practicing social distance? Do other guests seem to be complying with safety guidelines? If you proceed, remember to pull your mask up when your server swings by. It’s a strange thing to remember to do, but it becomes habitual quickly.

3. Vet Your Hotel’s Cleaning Protocols

The best hotels and resorts are providing full disclosure about their cleaning protocols, and some upgrades to existing systems in place are impressive. I am only traveling by car in and around the Bay Area, and I’ve encountered some superior attention to details typically overlooked before COVID. Tahoe Luxury Properties is using ultraviolet light sanitation wands in all its rental homes to disinfect soft objects that aren’t easily thrown into the washer, like pillows, couches, and comforters. The Madrones in the Anderson Valley is ensuring safety by booking only one unique set of visitors per guest quarters per week, likely meaning that your accommodation will be empty for a time before your arrival and after your departure, giving any remaining germs time to dissipate. And Bernardus Lodge & Spa has spent 50k on staff training and PPE to make this auberge-like property, already primed for social distancing because of its many open spaces, even safer for guests — including a dedicated pool attendant, the removal of reusable print material such as menus, newspapers and magazines, and no housekeeping services while guests are present in the room.

4. Skip Housekeeping

Yeah, I know we go to hotels so that others will clean up after us, but in truth, we don’t really need turn-down service or fresh towels every day. Choose to have your bedside chocolate delivered at the door, and ask for any specific supplies you need then, rather than invite housekeepers into your space. It will be better for them and for you to provide services at more of a remove.

5. Tip Extra

Tip extra, anyway. Because times are hard, and it’s a gift to be able to leave your home right now, to go away safely and responsibly to clear your head, take in a new view, change your perspective. People working in hospitality service roles are taking risks in order to pay their bills, and supporting the businesses that employ them means also taking their wellbeing into consideration.

You can still enjoy the pleasures of travel if you are vigilant about safety for yourself and others. Getting from here to there takes a bit more planning and time, but the mindfulness that comes with assuming responsibility for your actions will benefit everyone in the long run. And it will also allow you to relax, breathe deeply, and have a real vacation.

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