In a normal year, when the leaves begin to turn and the children go back to school, it’s shoulder season in the travel world. But as we know, 2020 is not a normal year.
With school and work still taking place remotely for many and some coronavirus restrictions lifting, relatively more people may opt to travel in what’s typically the offseason.
“This is going to be a different fall than in the past, because probably 90 percent of the schools are closed, and so people can travel,” says Roger Dow, president and CEO of U.S. Travel Association.
After a record-breaking August in terms of occupancy and room rates, Gurney’s Star Island resort in Montauk, New York, is on pace to have a strong fall, with three times more bookings this September than in 2019.
“We already have now more business on the books than we budgeted for the year,” says George Filopoulos, owner of Gurney’s resorts. “I think now we’re seeing people who ... are budgeting time to spend out here to extend the summer, or to catch up on summer plans maybe they didn’t have.”
While domestic travel is returning faster than international, Gavin Harris, the commercial director for travel booking site Skyscanner, says fall international booking behavior is on the rise, too. “Travel providers are driving the return to domestic and international travel with extremely attractive pricing, enhanced safety measures and flexible booking policies,” Harris said in an email.
At this time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to warn that “travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19.” Health experts say that those who are at high risk for a severe case of the coronavirus are advised against travel unless it’s essential.
If you do embark on a fall trip this year, here are some tips to keep in mind:
Traditional trips may still be viable
With the exception of big events like Oktoberfest and Halloween parades, many of fall’s best-loved travel activities can be enjoyed without crowds.
Popular fall travel destinations like Salem, Massachusetts, will still host Halloween tourism events, but only if they can be carried out with social distancing in mind.
Once the 2020 fall foliage prediction map comes out, you can plan a road trip to see the country’s most colorful changing leaves near you.
Many of fall travel do’s and don’ts still remain. Remember to avoid approaching wildlife, touching gravestones, walking around with lit candles or taking nature home with you from national parks.
Consider a more remote getaway
Avoiding crowded transportation methods and crowded destinations can reduce your risk of coronavirus exposure.
Lin Chen, a doctor and director of the Travel Medicine Center at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts, says that even though there are not many confirmed cases of in-flight coronavirus transmission, traveling by car may be safer than traveling by plane, or crowded bus or train, during the pandemic.
Choosing where you’re going is just as important as choosing how you get there. If you travel this fall, pick a destination that allows for easy distancing from others.
Bookings on travel organizing app TripIt between Sept. 15 and Nov. 15 showed flights to city destinations like Chicago, New York, Seattle and Washington, D.C., dropped considerably this year, while such beach destinations as Cancun, Mexico; Honolulu; and Fort Myers, Florida, have increased considerably.
Kelly Soderlund, a spokeswoman for TripIt, says its data show “large increases in the share of flight reservations for more remote or beachy cities, especially in Hawaii, and in resort destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean.”
And even if your fall trip is to an outdoorsy destination, travelers should be mindful about avoiding crowds.
“If you decide, ‘I’m going to a crowded beach or a crowded gathering,’ then obviously you are putting yourself in a riskier situation with a higher ability to get infected,” Syra Madad, a special pathogens expert who was recently featured in Netflix docuseries “Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak,” told The Washington Post in May.
Get tested before you leave
Before you take off, consider getting tested for the coronavirus to know you won’t be taking the virus on the road with you. According to the CDC, travel-associated coronavirus testing is a “worthwhile concept” that can help reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
But a negative test result doesn’t mean you’ll be protected while you travel. Remember to stay vigilant about mask-wearing, hand-washing and physical distancing whenever you’re out in public.
Check with your general practitioner and local and state health department websites, for information on coronavirus testing options in your area.
Be aware of travel restrictions
Coronavirus travel restrictions change often and can be difficult to keep straight. Dow says that as of last week, 31 U.S. jurisdictions have no travel restrictions for visitors coming from other places, and 21 have restrictions for visitors that could require self-quarantines.
“They need to do a lot of homework about all the different (coronavirus) policies,” Chen says. “Whether you’re going to go to Maine, or you’re going to go to Rwanda, you have to figure out of the policy at the destination and along the way.”
By “along the way,” Chen means travelers should be aware of coronavirus travel restrictions in any places people could pass through on a trip.
“What if the trip is interrupted and they’re stuck there, what are the policies?” Chen says.
Before you leave for a trip this fall, check the government website(s) of the destination(s) you’ll be in along the way, and your local government website to see what kinds of restrictions you’ll face when you come home from a trip.
If you’re trying to plan international travel, you can consult CovidEntryCheck, a new tool that monitors more than 34,000 travel routes, as well as websites and data sources, to show travel restrictions and the number of reported coronavirus cases at your desired destination.