Travel Tips

Responsible Travel Looks Different These Days—Here Are 8 Ways To Play It Safe (and Enjoy)

Mary Grace Garis

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Photo: Getty Images/Stefan Cristian Cioata

Astrologically speaking, 2020 was supposed to be a travel year for me and my fellow Taureans. That obviously didn’t go to plan (unless the universe meant “travel” in some sort of abstract, introspective sense). But now, even amid pandemic times, when travel restrictions are still very much in place, it seems as though a number of people are interested in dipping their toe into responsible travel. Nothing wild—a drive to an upstate cottage, staycations with a friend who agrees to accept you into their quarantine pod, road trips to…just anywhere that feels safe. These itineraries may not involve the far-flung itineraries you planned for, but they’re what works right now.

The concept of responsible travel has changed since we’ve entered this still-very-much active pandemic. Before it might have connoted ethical travel or sustainable travel, meaning traveling with regard to the cultural and natural environment and being able to leave things untouched and respected (which are still very much worthy concerns, by the way). Responsible travel in the time of COVID-19, though, is more about being extra safe, but also satisfying your quarantined-too-long urge to explore.

So as we try to spread our wings a little and fly (maybe not in an airplane or to Paris, but you know what I mean), now is an opportunity to try responsible travel. Below, a travel coach and a sustainability expert share how to travel responsibly.

8 things to keep in mind when it comes to responsible travel

1. Be aware of state travel restrictions

Currently, a number of travel restrictions within the United states differ on things like mask mandates and quarantine guidelines, and these rules shift often. So, before embarking on your multi-state travel plans, read up on the current guidelines for non-residents and also those of your home state (so you can know if you’ll have to quarantine whenever you return).

2. Invest in a reusable and washable mask

“Some scientists now estimate there will soon be more masks in the ocean than jellyfish, and the elastic bands on disposable masks have been choking seabirds and turtles,” says Ashlee Piper, sustainability expert and author of Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet.

If you have a little lead time before you hit the road, we have a few cute cloth mask options for you to buy.

3. BYO food, containers, sanitizers, and wipes

Especially if you have a big-time RV road trip planned, and you’ll mostly be keeping to yourself. Again, it helps to know ahead of time which places are in which phase of lockdown. (Google it, baby!) But when you throw in unplanned (and hard-to-avoid) pitstops through areas that might be virus hot spots, it helps to have more than enough essentials in your travel pack. “Plan ahead by packing food and water, in case restaurants and stores are closed, as well as enough hand sanitizer, masks, and medicine to last your entire trip,” says travel coach Dylan Grace Essertier.

Piper echoes this, saying that traveling with your food in containers is a cost-effective way to mitigate contamination risk and heightened interaction risk with other people. Plus, it’s a great environmental win for responsible travel.

4. Take major precautions if you’re hopping on a plane

“If you choose to fly, call to see what percentage of the plane is booked, see what the airline’s middle-seat policy is, and wipe down your seat and tray,” Essertier says. “Wear a mask the whole time. I also advise you to find out what the cancellation policy is.” And furthermore, understand your own risk tolerance. Flying right now isn’t without any risk, but asking the right questions—and feeling empower to make followup choices accordingly based on your comfort level—is key for making the most informed decision.

Doing so is also a matter of ensuring you and those around you when you get to your final destination remain safe and healthy. After all, you want to enter a new place knowing you did your best in terms of staying protected.

5. Have a backup plan in case you unexpectedly find yourself quarantined somewhere

Because travel bans and restrictions are fluctuating so rapidly, you definitely want to make sure that if you get stuck somewhere, you’re truly prepared. “If you’re flying internationally, be sure to consider what your contingency plans are if the borders were to close,” says Essertier.

6. Opt for electronic documents

“What was once just more sustainable and convenient now also allows for fewer hands exchanging your boarding pass,” says Piper. So, try your best to get everything you can on your phone, computer, what have you. As a bonus, it saves paper, which is also a form of responsible travel in the act.

7. Make a plan, and stay patient

The moments when you rush and don’t stay present are likely the moments when you’ll make sloppy mistakes that might in turn compromise health.

“Traveling nowadays is just different,” Piper says. “Give yourself plenty of time to do things in a considerate, distanced, masked fashion, and ensure you’re patient with others—especially essential workers. We’re all figuring out this new rhythm and being kind is one of the most sustainable things out there.”

8. Know that the staycation is always an option

Just like the most safe sex right now is sex with yourself, the most safe travel right now is traveling from your living room. (You can still approximate vacation sex while staycationing, after all.)

“We’ve been planning some really fun travel-themed staycations for our clients, from in-home spa packages, and weekend film festivals, to country-specific getaways,” says Essertier. “For example, we had the “La Dolce Vita” package in honor of a honeymoon to the Amalfi Coast that was cancelled. We stocked the house with Italian food, wine, movies, and music so all our clients had to do was show up and safely enjoy.”

Whatever you do and wherever you go, know that it’s within your power to see the world without hurting it—or yourself. We all deserve a change of scenery; just try to leave it as beautiful as it was when you arrived.

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