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With the US government shutdown now the longest in our country’s history, we wanted to explore how it affects travelers. This isn’t meant to be a political video and post. Instead, I’m going to explore what to expect when traveling during a government shutdown, and what you can do to mitigate some of the challenges.

Air Travel

Uniformed TSA agent checking IDs at the airport with three male passengers in line
Lines at the TSA security checkpoints have been longer than normal in many major US airports (photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The most visible impact of the government shutdown is at the airports. TSA officers and air traffic controllers are currently working without any pay during the government shutdown. This means that you’re likely to experience long lines at the airport security checkpoints. There are already reports of closed terminals at major airports due to absent TSA workers. I would expect to walk more in the airport, especially if you’re forced to pass security through a different terminal due to a lack of TSA workers.

It’s possible that air traffic controllers will protest soon too. It’s scary to think that air traffic controllers are currently working without pay. It’s a stressful job already and they don’t need any additional pressure in their work.

Passports and Visas

Woman sitting on a blue bench with an American passport in the back pocket of her jeans
It’s important to keep your passport safe and up-to-date during these difficult times

In terms of passports and visas, processing still occurs within the normal timeframe. US embassies abroad are still open in case you have an emergency while traveling. However, if the shutdown drags on, it’s likely that passport processing will slow down. If you have an upcoming renewal or new passport application, I recommend submitting it sooner rather than later.

I previously shared my experience of getting an expedited passport last summer. That process is still valid during the shutdown, but there’s no guarantee that the timelines will still be valid, especially as the situation lingers.

EU passport and sunglasses on top of a blue denim jacket
Those visiting the US should be able to get their travel visas within the normal timeframe

If you’re traveling to the US, you should be able to still get your visa within the normal timeframe. Though, as with everything, this could change if the shutdown drags on longer.

National Parks

The US National Parks are struggling at the moment with the shutdown. Most of the National Parks are still open, but some are closing due to vandalism, littering, destruction of natural habitats, and deterioration of basic sanitation services like bathrooms. As huge fans of the National Parks, it’s horrible seeing the destruction of natural habitats in places like Joshua Tree. I have so much respect for the rangers who maintain order and protect the area. It’s disappointing that people are unable to respect the rules and laws of the National Parks when the rangers aren’t around.

Trip Astute Team exploring the South Rim of the Grand Canyon
We visited the Grand Canyon during the government shutdown and it was still full of visitors

In fact, we visited the Grand Canyon right before New Years, and it was a bit eerie when entering the park. The entrance was unmanned and the visitor center was closed. We saw a lot of people speeding in the park and generally disrespecting the property. A few rangers worked to maintain order, but were overwhelmed by the number of visitors in the park.

National Forests

National Forest with mist and fog in the distance
US National Forests are partially closed during the government shutdown

US National Forests are also partially closed during the shutdown. This mostly affects those who are planning camping trips. You’ll want to check with the National Forest Service to see how each individual forest is affected.

National Museums and Monuments

National museums and zoos are also closed during the shutdown. If you’re traveling to the DC or New York area, you won’t be able to visit some of the incredible museums, like the Smithsonian.

Statue of Liberty with dark and colorful clouds behind
The Statue of Liberty remains open for visitors during this dark time

Some US National Monuments are still open to the public. For example, the Statue of Liberty is open for tours, but other places like the Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego is closed. It’s a mixed bag, so check the website or call the national monument before you visit.

Global Entry Interviews

I’ve read reports of Global Entry interviews being canceled due to the shutdown. This can be very frustrating, especially since it’s often difficult to get an appointment slot. If you have an upcoming appointment, I recommend checking your email or calling just to be safe. Additionally, the US Customs and Border Protection website says that the system isn’t being actively managed during the shutdown. If you submit a new application, I wouldn’t expect to see any movement on your status until everything is back to normal.

Many people have reported that their Global Entry interview was canceled due to the government shutdown

Also, other expedited programs are not processing during the government shutdown. This includes programs like TSA PreCheck, NEXUS, and SENTRI. If you’re in the process of applying for these programs, I would expect a delay.

Tips for traveling during the shutdown

If you’re traveling in the US or preparing for a trip, here are some things to keep in mind.

1. Give yourself more time:

Flight board at the airport displaying airline, flight number, gate, departure time, and status
You’ll want to get to the airport early in case the security lines are longer than expected

This advice applies to basically everything, whether you’re going to the airport or applying for a passport renewal. If you’re someone who hates going to the airport to wait, you might want to consider a travel rewards credit card with airport lounge access.

The American Express Platinum has the best selection of lounge options. Learn more about American Express cards.

I used to think that lounge access was unnecessary and excessive. However, since I’ve had access to Priority Pass lounges on my Chase Sapphire Reserve, we’ve used it every time we travel. Since we’re eating and drinking in the lounge for free, we’ve managed to save money instead of buying food and drinks at the airport. We’ve even used the restaurant credit for additional value. The wifi in the lounges is generally more reliable and there are usually more spots to charge up my devices. It’s something to consider if you’re looking for a way to mitigate your wait time at the airport.

2. Consider getting CLEAR:

We previously explored the CLEAR program. While I didn’t think I needed it, now might be the perfect time to get it if you’re someone that’s constantly traveling, especially for work. With the long security lines, it could be handy.

Email of CLEAR discount offer of three months for $29
CLEAR sent me a generous email offer after I started (but did not submit) an application

I also wanted to share a bonus tip. When I did the video/post a few weeks ago, I started my application for the CLEAR program so I could get some screenshots of the process. However, I didn’t submit my application. Within days, I started to get reminder emails from CLEAR to encourage me to complete my application. They even offered a three month trial for only $29. At $10 a month, it might be worth trying!

3. Bring hand sanitizer, wipes, and trash bags:

If you’re venturing into places where services are limited, like a National Park or Forest, I highly recommend bringing hand sanitizer and wipes. I travel with these all the time to wipe down my tray table on flights and any other dirty surfaces. Though these are extremely handy if you need to use a restroom that doesn’t have running water or soap.

Small bottle of Cuticura hand sanitizer gel and pack of Wet Ones antibacterial wipes
Hand sanitizer and wet wipes are underrated travel essentials, especially when visiting a National Park

Small trash bags are also a good idea in case you encounter overfilled bins and need to carry your garbage out of the park.

4. Visit state parks, attractions, and private venues:

Boaters outside of the National Aquarium in Baltimore
The National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD, is privately-funded, so it’s open to the public during the government shutdown

A good alternative to many of the National Parks and museums is to visit State Parks and attractions. These are likely less affected by the federal shutdown. Also, private venues are an even safer bet. For example, I checked the website for the National Aquarium in Baltimore and found that they are still open. A private, nonprofit organization operates and maintains the aquarium allowing it to remain open to the public.

5. Avoid high-risk activities:

Orange and white Coast Guard helicopters flying over water
The US Coast Guard is having to conduct critical missions without pay during the government shutdown

Another tip for those venturing into places with limited services is to avoid high-risk activities. Emergency services in these areas may not be able to respond as quickly as normal, so you might want to avoid activities with a high chance of injury. Along with the National Park Rangers, the US Coast Guard, which reports to the Department of Homeland Security during normal peacetime, is currently operating without pay. This means their ability to respond to emergencies will be affected.

6. Visit supporting businesses:

Empty cafe and shop owner
Small businesses that depend on tourism often suffer during these difficult times

Many supporting businesses are often forgotten during these tough times. If you have a chance to visit a restaurant or cafe in these areas, I think it’s the right thing to do. Most of these businesses depend on tourism and often fill the void when these shutdowns occur. For example, when we were visiting the Grand Canyon, the businesses in the visitor center plaza were helping hikers with directions and maps since the official visitor center was closed. While they didn’t have the full resources of the visitor center and ranger staff, they were doing all that they could to help make the visitors’ experience memorable and enjoyable.

Are you traveling during the government shutdown? If so, have you encountered any of these issues?

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Trip Astute has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Trip Astute and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

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