Is it safe to visit family or take a vacation?


For Jim Jacobs, deciding to travel while on vacation has always been easy. Normally, he and his wife would fly from Tampa to Los Angeles, where they would enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with their daughter, son-in-law and extended family.

But last year, with COVID cases soaring during the holidays, Jacobs canceled his vacation travel plans. The family logged on to Zoom, “but that was far from the real thing,” says Jacobs, a retired salesperson.

“This year,” he adds, “we were looking forward to the trip.

And that’s how it is for many Americans who are considering their vacation plans. The lingering delta variant holds them back, but the need to see family and friends – and to respect tradition – draws them to airports and highways. Taking a trip is a tough decision, say travelers and experts.

Some say it’s still too risky. But others – many more – are tired of waiting. Vaccinated or not, they hit the road for the holidays, COVID or not.

“Although the demand for travel is high, travel during the winter holidays in the coming year will remain unpredictable,” said Rajeev Shrivastava, CEO of VisitorsCoverage.

More people travel on vacation

Booking data for the vacation travel season suggests it may be busier than the last pre-pandemic year.

This is especially true for vacation rentals. Thanksgiving booking volume is up 302% from 2020 and 93% from pre-COVID 2019 volume, according to Guesty, a vacation rental platform. And the volume of Christmas bookings in the United States is up 469% from 2020 and is currently 157% higher than the volume before COVID 2019.

“This holiday season is likely to see an increase in demand and a lack of supply,” said Jeff Galak, associate professor of marketing at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University.

He says many travelers find themselves in Jacobs’ situation: they haven’t seen a family for a year or more – or they just want to get away from it all.

“The result is a very high demand for travel,” he adds.

In other words, if you’re going there, be prepared for the crowds.

Vacationers take precautions

Most travelers who go somewhere on vacation say they are taking precautions. Erin Contour and her husband, both vaccinated, head to a small hotel on the rugged Pacific coast of Oregon.

“We’re planning a quiet hiking vacation and enjoying a room with an ocean view,” says Contour, a retired systems engineer from Happy Valley, Oregon.

What about meals and other activities? Contour says she will monitor the pandemic situation to decide how they handle meals.

“We can have take-out,” she says.

But how do you get there?

Even for people who have decided to travel, the path is not always clear. Barbara Tibbetts, a children’s book author from Nantucket, Massachusetts, plans to visit her adult children in St. Augustine, Florida.

“I don’t know if I should drive or fly,” she said. Last year her children had COVID just before Christmas and they had to turn around and go home. She closely monitors cases and remains flexible.

“I watch and I wait,” she said.

What will you do with vacation trips?

I have no choice in the matter. The travel writer has to travel, right? This is his job. So I’m going back to Europe and the Middle East, which will hopefully get this vaccinated American across the border. We’ll see.

But you have a choice. You can play it safe again this year and stay at home, which makes sense if you are not vaccinated or immunocompromised (see box). Or you can join what will surely be a crowd of other Americans, trying to make up for the last Thanksgiving.

Jacobs, the retired Tampa salesman, weighed the pros and cons and then looked into his health.

“I have a rare blood disease which is treated with a drug that weakens my immune system and makes the vaccine less effective,” he explains. “I just don’t think getting together to eat a long meal in a crowded room is worth it.”

But he’s already making plans for Thanksgiving – in 2022.

Ask these questions before planning your vacation trip

Are you vaccinated? Historically, the Centers for Disease Control has urged unvaccinated Americans to limit or avoid travel. With the pandemic not proceeding calmly or quickly, it is likely that the CDC will continue to advise unvaccinated people to reconsider their travel plans. In addition, more and more countries and travel agencies are restricting unvaccinated visitors. The vaccination card is your new passport. “If you have chronic illnesses or are immunocompromised from medication or for any other reason, it may be a good idea to stay home,” says Jim Evans, emergency physician and senior medical consultant at Allianz Partners.

Is the place you are visiting safe? Check before you go. The Mayo Clinic hotspot map also has a 14-day forecast that will tell you if infection rates are likely to be high. The CDC data also breaks down to the county level, so you can see community transmission rates in more detail. “Countries are constantly evaluating and modifying their COVID protocols,” warns Jackie Friedman, president of Nexion Travel Group.

Do you have insurance? Here’s the bottom line: If you’re flying and staying in a hotel, you should definitely consider a reliable travel insurance policy that covers COVID. If you drive and stay with your family, you probably don’t need a policy, but it’s still worth considering. “No matter where travelers go for the vacation, there is an existing threat of becoming ill, injured or having to cancel or interrupt a trip without warning,” said Jeremy Murchland, president of Seven Corners.

► “There is always a certain amount of uncertainty or risk”: How travel insurance could protect your next trip


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