Follow our CAN/WOULD/SHOULD/REPEAT process and check these resources, maps, lists and tips for responsible and happy travels during the pandemic.
By Maryann Jones Thompson
There’s no doubt, the safest option for all travelers is to hang close to home for the next few months until current hot spots chill out and vaccinations take hold. But what about planning for trips later in 2021 – and beyond?
The reality is that the pandemic has changed travel planning for the foreseeable future. To keep our families safe and the communities we visit healthy, we parents must do extra due diligence to travel responsibly.
The good news? The first year of the pandemic showed us that it IS possible to safely travel with kids – if more to preserve everyone’s sanity than to have the big vacation we had planned.
That’s why this month, ROAM presented a list of 21 Covid-safe Family Adventures for 2021. We scanned the options and arrived at places that welcome Americans AND will be safe to visit if the pandemic is continuing with no significant improvement.
But how can a parent find a destination that is unlikely to infect their families – and that won’t have local outbreaks worsen because of tourism? And how can you be sure locals aren’t unhappy about visitors’ potential to spread a new virus variant or clog their emergency rooms?
The truth is, sadly, there’s no way to travel perfectly safely – and that’s why many families are staying home for now. BUT when it comes time for a much-needed vacation, consider following ROAM’s four-step CAN/WOULD/SHOULD/REPEAT process to identify a responsible and safe destination for family trips.
Is Your Destination Covid-safe?
1. CAN We Travel?
International Wherever you intend to travel, be sure you CAN go there. Americans are the least desired tourist in the world these days. I’d love to trek in New Zealand or bike in Denmark but those countries are not wanting our germs – vaccinations or no. So U.S. travelers have no choice but to begin their vacation planning by checking the list of countries that will accept American tourists – or at least do so without quarantine if you’ve got unlimited time and don’t mind spending 10-14 days in a hotel room on your own dime.
There are a few publications that are keeping track of which countries are accepting Americans. Click here to access Travel & Leisure’s regularly updated destination tracker.
Domestic Because we’ve got 50 states in America, you’ve gotta check the state government’s website to be sure they’ll allow visitors from other states – especially if you’re from an area with a bad outbreak.
States like Alaska and Hawai’i are obviously going to have their own rules – but so do Maine and New Mexico and many others. Some only require a negative test – and some only pay lip service to restrictions, but be sure to check the rules before you book. Click here to access The Points Guy’s map of U.S. states’ travel restrictions.
Hawai’i The Aloha State has made headlines for its Covid-travel rules. Currently, all islands are open for travel if you jump through a series of hoops. ROAM sifted through the regulations and presents the latest process and official web sites in this article, “How to Travel to Hawaii during Covid-19.”
2. WOULD We Want to Travel?
International WOULD you travel to a tourism-dependent place that would love to have more visitors but where Covid-19 is rampant? Even if you’ve already had the virus or are willing to take a chance on getting sick, how will your conscience deal with traveling in a place trying to cope with a plague? Not well, I assume.
The next step in travel planning requires a look at data on virus outbreaks around the world. Start by visiting the U.S. State Department “Travel Advisories.” Local embassies rate each country, from “#1-normal” to “#4 – Do not travel.” Right now, anything rated #1 or #2 are relatively safe in terms of virus outbreaks. Trouble being, of course, most of these countries do NOT accept Americans.
But there are a few #1s and #2s ready for your visit! So before proceeding, click on the country’s name to get the latest travel advisory for the country you’re visiting. Most have a “Covid-19” page with up-to-date specifics on virus outbreaks.
Alternatively, you can visit this page of the Centers for Disease Control site where you’ll get a topline Covid-19 picture of each major destination.
For U.S. territories like Puerto Rico, and for some less-touristed destinations, we recommend turning to travel advisories for British and Canadian travelers. Click here to access U.K. Travel Advisories and click here to read Canada Travel Advisories
Now, sure, if we’d listened to the government about where we should travel, we’d have never gone anywhere great. But, now we have kids and we’re in a pandemic, so it makes sense to have a look at the official rules.
Domestic There are many sources for finding the latest outbreak information on Covid-19 in the U.S. The map from Johns Hopkins at this link allows searches for small geographic areas, like city name.
Georgia Tech professors led creation of another mapping tool that’s very helpful for travelers. For each county – and for a lot of places in Europe, too – you can see the risk of encountering a COVID-contagious person in a crowd of a particular size.
Click on a metro area and pick the size of gathering you’ll encounter – be it 50 people strolling along a beach promenade, 10 people in a rest stop/gas station shop, or 3 people at a national park visitor’s center. Check your destination here.
3. SHOULD We Travel?
Okay, Americans are welcome and it’s Covid-safe, but SHOULD you go?
Sure, your airline is happy to sell you a ticket – and that resort is happy to book you a room. But when you get there, are the local residents going to curse at you in the aisle of the grocery store? Are hospital beds scarce and ERs already at-capacity in the area?
Here’s where responsible travelers have to do some legwork. Conduct online searches of local newspapers to gauge sentiment about how welcome tourists actually are? Even though most destinations need tourism to buoy their economy, local residents’ desire to not die has outstripped their need to pay the bills. It won’t take but a few Googles to ascertain how comfortable your family will be upon arrival in the area.
Here’s another decision for which social media does not provide reliable data. Just because your friend posted fabulous, fun photos of their family trip to X, doesn’t mean it was a worthwhile trip. No one posts photos of negative travel experiences. Only rely on first-hand reports from trusted travelers. Budgets and opportunities for family vacations are not endless so don’t waste them on a poorly planned holiday.
4. REPEAT Before Departure
If you’ve managed to jump through all the above hoops and book a family vacation, congratulations! Now be sure to REPEAT the three steps before you depart – preferably before the refund/cancellation window closes on your flights and/or rooms – to be sure conditions are still favorable for your visit.
Smaller destinations that have opened their doors to tourists are generally rewarded with higher Covid infection numbers in the months after reopening before the rate settles down again. Last October, California had one of the smallest outbreaks in the nation. By December? It was America’s highest – but only in certain counties.
For the foreseeable future, travel planning is going to take some extra effort – but we guarantee that every bit of the hassle around family vacations is well worth it.
Maryann Jones Thompson – January 2021
After a thousand years in publishing as a business journalist, ghostwriter, content strategist and market researcher, Maryann brings her experience traveling as a backpacker, businessperson, expat and mom to writing and editing for ROAM.
© ROAM Family Travel 2021 – All rights reserved
It's not just for billionaires anymore.
Oh the places you'll go... from home!
Locals' favorite family-friendly lakefront destinations
Same coast. More value. Fewer crowds.
25 unique & classic must-drive vacations for families
Incredible golds, oranges and reds of the coast, high desert and mountains.
Gotta get away? Check these ideas for COVID-19 trips
Armchair trips for active families.
Take the grandparents on a cross-state odyssey of Wild West vistas & outdoor majesty
Your one-stop-shop for 2020 family vacation ideas from all the top travel writers.