Should Coronavirus Change How You Travel?

Before coronavirus nurses leaving Blackfriars Depot, Chippendale NSW 1919 during flu epidemic (courtesy NSW State Archives on Flickr Commons)

Nurses leaving Blackfriars Depot, Chippendale New South Wales, Australia, during the worldwide flu epidemic, 1919 (courtesy NSW State Archives on Flickr Commons)

The coronavirus (the disease it causes is called COVID-19) is spreading rapidly from its origin in China’s Hubei Province, so people who travel need to think about whether it’s a good idea right now to spend time in crowded places like airports, aircraft, train stations, or cruise ships. Do you need to stay home and cancel plans?

Similar to the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, or Ebola, or SARS and MERS, it is scary to contemplate picking up a possibly-fatal disease as the price of taking a trip. Here is what it’s like in Lombardy in northern Italy(update March 9, 2020 – Italy extends quarantine measure to entire country)  as people deal with being quarantined because of the virus.

I am not a health care or infectious disease expert, but as an experienced traveler who has to board some business travel flights in the near future, I did some research and have a few tips:

**  Any trips you book should be covered with travel insurance against cancellation or rebooking. I’ll admit that I usually blow off buying such insurance – except for big-ticket events like our anniversary trip to Harbour Island in The Bahamas – but I’m making myself be smarter about buying insurance for regular flights. Who knows when things may be upended, conferences cancelled, etc.

**  If you’re going on a cruise and didn’t already buy trip insurance for it, it’s probably too late. Don’t back out of the cruise yet, but do stay informed. This virus is quite a challenge for the US$45 billion cruise industry, as they cancel some bookings and have to re-route ships because they can’t get into certain ports.

(Update March 9, 2020 – the U.S. CDC now recommends that travelers, particularly those with underlying health issues, defer all cruise ship travel worldwide.)

I’d think about possibly negotiating a lower cruise package price, a cabin upgrade, free or cheaper shore excursions, or get some other sorts of freebies thrown in. People are going to bail in fear of the virus, so you’ll have some passenger leverage if you’re willing to be very flexible and reasonable.

**  Pay particular attention to your own health and ability to resist infection before you travel. Try to stay well-rested, eat decently, drink fluids, take your vitamins and prescribed medicines. My teacher husband swears by Airborne Immune Support when he travels – he pops one of their tablets into the bottle of water he carries around.

Be a bit obsessive about hand-washing, which is the main thing you can do to fight this, or any virus. Wash hands with soap for at least 20 seconds. Use a paper towel on latches, doorknobs, etc. in public bathrooms. Don’t touch your mouth, nose, or eyes.

(Update March 8, 2020 – I’d now add that when you return to your home/apartment/dorm from being out and about, don’t touch anything until you wash your hands. Use a disinfectant wet wipe to clean all light switches and door knobs/handles. Monitor where your hands go – refrigerator door handles, coffee pot and microwave buttons, etc. – and give them a wipedown, too.)

And keep that germy phone of yours clean.

(Update March 9, 2020 – Apple now says it’s OK to use disinfectant wipes (Clorox, Lysol, etc.) on your iPhone. Phone cases can handle such wipes better than more-delicate touchscreens – it helps if you have a protective clear cling on your touchscreen.)

If you didn’t already get this year’s flu vaccine, ask your doctor if it makes sense to get it now.

Don’t go crazy about buying and wearing surgical masks (unless you are sick, then it may help prevent your illness from spreading to others.) (Update: guidance has shifted, and medical experts now recommend that everyone mask up outside their home, if you can’t maintain a safe physical distance from others of at least six feet.)

The N95 respirator masks can be very effective, but they need to be fitted and worn properly, not just slapped over your face.

**  Be particularly thoughtful when packing for travel. Is this the time to lug that giant suitcase with 8000 pairs of shoes, or would it be better to strip down and go carry-on only, for maximum flexibility?

**  What if you get sick and need to see a doctor while on a trip? Do some research ahead of time so you know your options, particularly if you have restrictive U.S. health insurance and need to know who is “in network” to avoid huge bills.

**  Don’t go on a panic run to the grocery store, but do some home preparation as well (it’s not a bad idea anyway to be ready at all times for storms, hurricanes, power loss, etc.) Have nonperishable food and water on hand, gas up your vehicles, fill your prescriptions, keep some charged-up power packs around for your phone. Here is a PDF checklist.

**  Guard your mental health. Don’t fall for panic and misinformation about the coronavirus posted by some rando on Facebook… or your Uncle Bill who always shares conspiracy theories and debunked rumors. Turn to trusted news sources, and bookmark the WHO (World Health Organization) coronavirus advice for the public and WHO travel advice.


Are you heading out on a trip soon, and worried about traveling during this time? Have any tips for other travelers? Let us know in the comments.

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  1. Robin Rivers February 26, 2020
  2. Kami March 4, 2020

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