After months spent in a various stages of lockdowns, reopening, and socially distant settings, many people are feeling the urge to travel again. Aside from the reinstatement of more business trips around the world, with the onset of cold weather across much of Canada, it’s hard avoid the pull of a quick trip down south for some sunshine.
Recently, the Alberta government enacted a new quick screening process at the Calgary airport, bypassing some of the prior regulations about self-quarantining. This is just one part of the new reality of traveling, and one step in the overall process that you can take to stay safe while on the road, in the air, or across the water. Given what we know about COVID-19, seasonal flu viruses, and other diseases, here are some helpful things to remember about reducing the spread of infectious diseases and maximizing your chances of bringing back nothing but memories of a great trip.
- Be mindful of crowds. Whether in an airport lounge, a subway train, or a busy restaurant, being in a confined space with a lot of other people is a recipe for increased transmission. Studies show that being indoors for large amounts of time with others can increase the risk of COVID-19 infection, so try and limit your exposure when planning out your trip and activities.
- Avoid pools! Traveling somewhere sunny? The resort pool might look inviting, but that environment creates a perfect vector for spreading disease in droplets. While the chlorine or cleaner content will probably neutralize most of the viruses, there’s no guarantee it will do so with perfect efficiency. And with splashing, water ingestion, and exposed eyes and mucus membranes, it just isn’t worth the risk.
- Pack hand sanitizer & wash your hands. Small, portable, and extraordinarily convenient, travel-sized hand sanitizer should be your most important traveling companion. Pick up a few extra bottles and have some in your suitcase, purse, or pocket when you are on the move. Don’t be afraid to use it, especially when you’re in high-traffic areas where you might come into contact with pathogenic surfaces, like public transit.In addition to this, wash your hands frequently with adequate soap, following proper procedures. Doing this is the most effective way to prevent the spread of disease, and it takes less than a minute – making it well worth it.
- Watch what you touch. With all that said, another strong preventative measure is to avoid touching any of these surfaces at all. Wear gloves if you can (though you’ll then have to be aware of what those are touching, so it’s not a perfect solution), or simply keep your hands to yourself as much as possible.
- Don’t share straws, food, or other items. Even if traveling with close friends or family members, use your own utensils and other items. These minor actions that we hardly even notice can lead to cross-contamination among small cohort groups or, even worse, further spread beyond them to unsuspecting parties once you return.
- Wash what you eat. If you’re in a new place for more than a few days, you might end up buying some of your own food to prepare. As much as possible, wash raw food before eating, especially produce and meat. While you’re extremely unlikely to catch COVID-19 from food or packaging, this is a good habit to have in general, as it will get rid of both biological and chemical contaminants in your food.
- Use bottled water. While not necessary in most countries these days, using a reusable water bottle is a good way to ensure the water you’re drinking is safe. This goes beyond COVID considerations, and takes into account local standards for hygiene and health, too. Just make sure that you properly clean your own bottle often – water that sits too long is a prime bacterial breeding ground.
- Water Bottle Purification Systems. For travellers looking to take the extra step in ensuring their drinking water is safe, there are several options available for UV-C water cleaning devices. For example https://www.mec.ca/en/product/5024-196/Adventurer-Opti-Water-Purifier or https://www.livelarq.com/shop/larq-bottle
- Do your research. With the alarm about COVID, many people have overlooked the fact that that there are many other potential diseases that can be caught while traveling. These range from relatively common but inconvenient illnesses like influenza to far more serious ones like malaria, dengue fever, and yellow fever. Some countries even require inoculations and preventative treatments in order to get a visitor’s visa, so do the research on your destination before you arrive.
- Go cashless. While it can be tempting to use foreign cash to avoid exchange rate charges and bank fees, if you are not making many purchases, it is safer to use tap or chip Interac cards. Even coming from an ATM, coronaviruses can live on cash bills for 1-3 days without intervening contact, and coins and bills received back from registers after transactions are some of the most germ-laden surfaces you can encounter. Skip the risk and use a card.
As more restrictions lift and travel becomes more normalized in the months ahead, practicing these simple habits can ensure that outbreaks are contained and everyone we meet can stay healthy and safe, in addition to ourselves. Through strong collective actions and cooperation, we can bring a bit of normalcy back to our travels, and enter 2021 with a renewed focus on getting through this, together.