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4 questions about summer travel during COVID-19

Strict social distancing orders and other restrictions aimed at reining in the coronavirus pandemic have kept millions of Americans at home for more than two months. But now that the traditional summer vacation season is officially underway, how safe is travel for pleasure? What vacation activities can you and your family enjoy safely this summer?

Ashley Schroeder, managing director of the Tourism Crisis Management Initiative, and the PBS NewsHour’s William Brangham took viewer questions on how to make safe summer plans during the pandemic.

Watch the conversation in the live player above.

How is the tourism industry handling the pandemic?

The pandemic has hit the tourism industry much like many others around the world. But businesses are trying to find ways to balance safety with the need to stay afloat.

Many hotels, for instance, are not only keeping track of CDC guidelines, but are speaking to their local communities about when they should reopen, Schroeder said.

“The tourism industry is quite unique in that we’re essentially bringing other people into your home, maybe not the physical house, but within your community.” she said. “Many destinations are turning towards their residents to understand whether or not their local community feels comfortable with reopening.”

Restaurants, many of which are starting to reopen as state governments ease restrictions, are finding unique ways to maintain social distancing. Schroeder said some areas in Florida have eased regulations to allow restaurants to spread their outside dining areas into parking lots.

READ MORE: Ski vacation hot spot becomes virus ground zero in Idaho

“People are not going to come out unless they feel safe,” she said.

One area of the industry that’s been hit especially hard is short-term rentals, including companies like Airbnb. Due to the nature of the service, Schroeder said consumers will have to be extra cautious if they want to rent a property.

“A lot of the onus is going to fall on the individual traveler,” she said.

She recommended that anyone thinking about renting a property should do their research and talk to the property owner to make sure they’re taking the necessary precautions before arrival at the property.

Is it safe to travel across state lines?

As the summer travel season arrives, some are wondering if it’s safe to even travel across state borders for a much-needed vacation.

Schroeder advises that, before taking the trip, you should know the destination’s restrictions and policies, especially if the state mandates self-quarantine upon arrival.

In addition to doing research well ahead of time, she also recommended reading about the current situation right before you leave, since things could change at the last minute.

“Even if you do your research in advance, you’ll want to continue monitoring that situation,” she said.

Beyond taking all the necessary precautions, you have to rely on your instincts: “At the end of the day, what do you feel comfortable doing?” Schroeder said.

What precautions should be taken for international travel?

As more countries open their borders, some airlines are also looking to restart their international flights.

“The summer travel season is very significant in areas such as Western Europe,” Schroeder said. “That is the main tourist season for them.”

Schroeder said there are several things to consider when planning an international trip.

One thing is whether countries are even allowing people in, and whether you’ll be able to leave if the local situation worsens again. She also suggested researching what the U.S. State
Department recommends before leaving for your destination.

Before the pandemic hit, many travelers taking expensive vacations would buy insurance in case of unexpected cancelations or disasters.

In the world of COVID-19, Schroeder recommended looking carefully when picking insurance since some plans won’t cover pandemic-related circumstances.

For complex travel plans, Schroeder suggested finding a travel agent who can help you book hotels, find good insurance and adjust plans if things go wrong.

What are some safe vacation options?

As restrictions slowly ease across the country, people are curious where the safest place to have a vacation is. Schroeder said “low risk” options are often outdoors.

One of the most important pieces of insight into COVID-19 is that it does not spread as well in the outdoors as it does indoors. Because of this, camping is becoming a tempting method to get out of the house. However, Schroeder says there are caveats to safe camping.

Going to public campgrounds where crowds are gathering, and where there are shared facilities “would be a situation where being outdoors would not be very safe.”

Overall, Schroeder recommended taking “staycations” where you don’t go too far out of your own town, which can be safer and helps support local businesses.

“Maybe go out and see part of your home community you haven’t seen before,” she said.