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Holiday travel is downright dangerous this year. Earlier this week, the CDC warned Americans to stay home this Thanksgiving. All across the country, people are scrapping their itineraries and making a U-turn.
And for good reason. Some holiday travel errors could land you in the hospital — or worse.
New COVID-19 cases shattering records, as my FORBES colleague Suzanne Kelleher recently noted. Many health experts are warning against all nonessential travel. But if you go — and I’m not saying you should — there are other errors you have to avoid. Because some holiday travel mistakes could kill you.
“Coronavirus is ruthless,” says Mahmood Khan, a professor at Virginia Tech, who directs the business school’s program in hospitality and tourism management. “Every trip that can be avoided will save suffering or even death.”
That’s worth repeating. Taking a trip might be your worst holiday travel mistake. If you can avoid traveling, do it.
Which travel errors could land you in the hospital?
But — and you knew there’d be a “but” — it’s been a long pandemic and many Americans have already made the decision to go somewhere for Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s. It’s not their fault. They made their reservations late this summer, when things were still relatively safe.
So here we are, only days before one of the biggest travel holidays of the year. And people want to go, but they also want to come back alive. So which travel errors could land you in the hospital?
It turns out that following the oft-repeated travel advice, having the right attitude, choosing the right airline and hotel, and taking care of yourself can help keep you safe. Failing to do so could get you killed.
Don’t believe me? Here’s what experts say are the worst holiday travel mistakes. And a word of warning: this is not like past holiday travel advice stories. Far from it.
Not following advice is a travel mistake that could kill you
You know the advice because you’ve heard it a hundred times. “Wear a mask. Practice social distancing. Sanitize your hands frequently. Get a flu shot,” says Nikhil Agarwal, a lead physician at Wellmed, a healthcare provider. “Try to avoid places where the cases are on the rise and large crowded gatherings. “Agarwal says the biggest mistake people make is traveling if they feel sick. “If you are experiencing any kind of covid or flu-like symptoms, stay home,” he says.
Getting too comfortable
Travelers are on edge, and that may be a good thing, say experts like Alex Pollak, CEO of ParaDocs Worldwide, a medical services company. “When it comes to the mistakes that could be very detrimental to a traveler, one of the first that comes to mind is getting too comfortable,” he says. For example, falling asleep on a long-haul flight and removing your mask. “And then rubbing your eyes without remembering to wash your hands first,” he says. “Yes, air travel is considered very safe in the current environment but only if all the rules are followed. Stay awake, and stay alert. This keeps you practicing the good behaviors we’ve learned during the past six months. Order a coffee on a flight, and sleep when you get to your destination.” Not doing so is a mistake that could kill you.
Staying at the wrong hotel
Face it, some hotels are loosey-goosey about health and safety during the pandemic. Don’t stay at one of them. Better yet, don’t stay at a hotel at all.
If hotel lodging is in your future, there’s an easy way to tell if your hotel isn’t cleaning properly. Just look at its website. Is there updated information on its new cleaning protocols? “If they haven’t taken the time to update their website with this information, they probably aren’t cleaning their hotel the way you want them to,” says Amanda Nicholas, the vice president of business development at Jacaruso, a company that provides remote hotel sales service and eLearning.
Using an elevator
Here’s something you may not have considered doing: use the stairs instead of elevators in hotels. “Outbreaks have been tied to elevator use,” says Kevin Farmer, a physician and associate professor at the University of Florida. “But as much as possible, keep your hands off of the banister when using the stairs. Heavily touched surfaces like that should be avoided.”
Assuming the car is safer than the plane
It’s not necessarily, says Peter Plantes, a physician and epidemiologist with hc1, a healthcare company. “Car travel is safer than air travel — unless you’re bringing together multiple people with different daily exposures to COVID-19. Plantes notes that cars don’t have ventilation filters capable of clearing COVID-19. “You’re better off flying and taking extra precautions in the airport,” he says.
Another mistake that could kill you: ignoring your mental health
The holidays can drive you a little crazy. Don’t let that happen to you, says Jeremy Murchland, president of Seven Corners, a travel insurance company. “Combine an already challenging time of year with the stress of the ongoing pandemic and the level of loneliness, and the number of people struggling with their mental health this holiday season is more than likely to increase,” he says. Travelers this year are more likely to struggle with depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Murchland says you can ease the stress by scheduling Zoom calls with friends and relatives to engage with them and make everyone feel connected, without the stress of traveling.
So there you have them — travel errors could land you in the hospital. This year, they won’t just inconvenience you. They could kill you, too.