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A few weeks ago, I did a post/video on traveling during the coronavirus outbreak. At the time, the outbreak was mostly limited to parts of Asia, so my advice leaned toward canceling trips to Asia but still traveling everywhere else. Two weeks later, things seem to have gotten worse. With trips already planned, many of you have wondered whether it is safe to travel during the coronavirus outbreak.

More cases around the world

The coronavirus situation is constantly evolving. Since I last posted on the situation, there have been large outbreaks of the virus in Italy, Iran, South Korea, and Japan. The cases in China have slowed down, but we’re now seeing the virus spreading to other parts of the world. Even in the US, we’re seeing more cases of community transmission, which means that it’s likely in more places than we would like to believe.

Don’t get scared…get prepared!

While there is a legitimate fear of the coronavirus, I also think it’s important to keep in mind that most people are able to fight off the infection, and many are also minimally symptomatic. Those who are most at risk are older folks and people with pre-existing conditions.

The elderly and those with pre-existing/underlying medical conditions are most at risk from the COVID-19 virus

I don’t mean to say that you shouldn’t be worried about it, but I do think that it’s easy to get sucked into the fear and grim projections. If anything, we need to be getting ready to fight this outbreak and protect ourselves, our family, and our community from what may be ahead.

Is it safe to travel during the coronavirus outbreak?

I previously emphasized that every person should understand their risk tolerance in order to determine whether they should travel. That’s still the case. Whether you decide to travel during this time is a personal and subjective decision.

Understanding your risk tolerance is important when deciding when and where to travel

Based on what we’ve seen in the past few weeks, I personally have more reservations about traveling, particularly overseas. While the risk of contracting the virus during air travel is still low, I’m primarily concerned about being stranded somewhere far from home if outbreaks continue to grow.

Consider postponing instead of canceling

There are obviously a lot of factors to consider when deciding to change or cancel your travel plans. For those of you with travel itineraries where canceling a hotel stay or flight may result in a significant financial loss, I recommend postponing your trip rather than canceling it.

For example, many hotels will charge a fee if you cancel your reservation after the official cancel date. However, you can often postpone your reservation for little or no fee, and sometimes even cancel later since the reservation cancel date has moved.

Postponing your trip (rather than canceling) might be a way to reduce fees and penalties for changing your plans

The same goes for airfare. You can often change your flights for a fee, but it’s better than just canceling your flight outright. And some airlines, like Southwest, won’t charge you a fee. Other airlines, like American, Alaska, Delta, JetBlue, and United Airlines, are starting to change their policies in reaction to passenger concerns over travel.

Several domestic airlines have changed their change fee policies due to the COVID-19 outbreak

Consider driving instead of flying

Also, if you do need to or want to travel, then you may want to consider driving instead. I know that may not be possible for some, but I think it’s a better way to go to reduce your exposure to large crowds, particularly at the airport. It also allows you to still travel in the event that air travel is limited due to control measures.

Why we decided to postpone our trip to Hawaii

My wife and I were supposed to be on vacation in Maui right now. However, since we are expecting a baby this summer, we decided to postpone our trip.

I was less concerned about contracting the virus and more worried about being stuck in Hawaii if there was a large outbreak or if air travel were to stop. In most places in the US, we could still rent a car and get home. But being on an island means that we would have to wait.

I postponed our trip to Maui since we were worried about being stranded in the event that transportation is limited

Being stuck in Hawaii probably wouldn’t be the worst thing, but since Fiona is pregnant, that changed our risk equation. If it was just the two of us, then I think we would have taken the trip.

Honestly, we were also concerned about the financial impact that we would incur for canceling our trip. Luckily, postponing our trip didn’t cost us much money. If we had canceled our hotel reservation, we would have owed about two nights worth as a penalty. Instead, we rescheduled our trip to October at no cost.

We did cancel our flights, but since we used points, we were refunded the point balances and charged about $25 per person for the change. That seemed more than reasonable since we were so close to the departure date.

Luckily, it only cost us $50 to cancel our flights and receive our points back

Tips for reducing your exposure and helping to reduce the spread of the coronavirus

In addition to reevaluating your travel plans, here are some steps that I recommend you take based on what we’ve learned from others in the center of the outbreak:

1. Wash your hands often and properly:

I have to admit that I didn’t know until recently that there is a “proper” way to wash your hands. I was one of those people who would wipe my hands with soap for a few seconds and then rinse. However, according to the CDC, you’re supposed to use the following process:

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water. It doesn’t have to be hot water.
  • Lather and scrub your hands with soap for 20 seconds. This was completely new to me. If you’re used to just wetting your hands for a few seconds, 20 seconds is a long time. If you need a reference, humming the happy birthday song twice should get you to about 20 seconds.
    • You’ll want to scrub your hands and get between your fingers and under your nails.
    • Also, you don’t have to use anti-bacterial soap. In fact, using regular soap might be safer and healthier since it doesn’t kill the good bacteria on your body that can help fight off infections.
  • Rinse your hands under clean running water. Avoid reusing standing water. Also, you don’t have to use a paper towel or your elbow to turn off the faucet.
  • Dry your hands with a clean towel or air dryer, not on your clothes.
Washing your hands for 20 seconds is the best way to prevent an infection of the virus

2. Carry hand sanitizer:

While using hand sanitizer isn’t as effective as washing your hands, it’s definitely a step in the right direction. Using hand sanitizer can help reduce the potential spread of the virus. I recommend carrying some with you, especially if you’re traveling.

Small bottle of Cuticura hand sanitizer gel and pack of Wet Ones antibacterial wipes
Using hand sanitizer and wipes can help reduce the spread, especially when you’re not able to wash your hands

I carry some in my car since I work in healthcare and often find myself at hospitals for meetings. Also, I find it useful for situations where I might be handling something that gets a lot of exposure, like when I pump fuel at a gas station.

3. Avoid touching your face:

I touch my face all of the time, and I’ve only recently caught myself in order to start changing the habit. This is particularly the case for those of you traveling. You’ll want to avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth since this is the primary way to become infected.

4. Wipe down surfaces:

I mentioned this in my other video. If you’re on a plane, I suggest wiping down your seat, armrest, and tray table with sanitizing wipes.

This also applies to staying at a hotel. You’ll want to do a quick wipe down of some of the surfaces. I’ve also heard the recommendation to avoid the top comforter since it’s usually not washed between every stay. People also tend to put objects on top of the bed like their suitcase, so it might be wise to pack some warmer pajamas and remove the comforter.

A few people also commented on the last video with additional tips like wiping down things that we touch every day like our phones, computer keyboards, and doorknobs. You also want to make sure that you’re using wipes that are anti-bacterial rather than just moist.

5. Use contactless payments when possible:

Again, payment transactions are places where there are high amounts of touch and traffic. If you’re not already using mobile payments or contactless cards, then I suggest setting it up. It’s an easy way to reduce touching and spreading pathogens in your daily life.

6. Stock up on essential supplies:

This doesn’t just include non-perishable foods, water, and medicine. I also recommend thinking about other items that you use every day like soap, toothpaste, toilet paper, and pet supplies. This is a good practice regardless of the virus, especially if you already live in a place that is prone to natural disasters.

Also, I recommend buying things that you will consume to minimize waste. For example, we’ve stocked up on oats and rice since we know that we consume these items regularly, and they tend to have a long shelf life.

Based on what we’ve seen in places that have already experienced major outbreaks, these types of supplies can quickly become scarce, so it helps to get stocked now.

7. Consider taking local road trips:

While I don’t recommend traveling to crowded places, you might consider taking a road trip somewhere secluded and enjoying nature. It might not replace your previously planned trip to see the Great Wall, but it might help alleviate the frustrations of postponing your big international trip.

Final thoughts

We’re going to get through this difficult period. Rather than worrying or being consumed by fear, we need to all get prepared and do our part to minimize the spread while our scientists determine the best way to deal with the virus.

The faster we can contain this virus, the sooner we can get back to traveling and experiencing new sights and cultures without worries.

I truly believe that this is one of those events that we will always remember, so let’s not dwell on how this virus is ruining our lives and travels. Let’s focus on getting through this situation as strongly as possible. We’re all in this together.

What are you doing to prepare? Do you have any other tips to share?

Trip Astute has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Trip Astute and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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