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Traveling with children has always been a high-wire act. When you throw a global pandemic into the mix, the stakes—and stress—can be nothing short of panic-inducing. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have urged people not to travel over Thanksgiving, 1 million people per day passed through airports from Friday to Sunday the weekend before the holiday. “Traveling increases a person’s risk for COVID exposure, especially if traveling through crowded airports, train stations, or bus stations,” said Dr. Tina Tan, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine. The safest option, Tan said, is not to travel at all. If you must, make sure to avoid large family gatherings and instead see only small groups outdoors or in well-ventilated areas, she said.
For families taking their kids on the road, we’ve done some of the hard work for you, including reading the fine print of the health and safety guidelines and talking to experts with battle-tested advice about how to travel responsibly with children during a pandemic. Here’s what to keep in mind before you go.
Understand the Risk Profile of Your Destination
The CDC has broken down the entire globe into five categories in terms of COVID-19 risk. There’s very high risk (Level 4), high risk (Level 3), moderate (Level 2), low (Level 1), and level of COVID unknown. The reason this is important to understand is “the risk [of COVID-19 infection] is significantly increased the greater the rate of disease in the community,” said Dr. Tan. And that, unfortunately, means that many of our favorite swaths of the world, from the Caribbean to Europe, are classified at Level 4, a category of destination that the CDC is advising all travelers to avoid. However, there are countries with lower rates of infection that are classified as Level 2 or Level 1 (i.e., moderate or low risk), like Bermuda, Saint Lucia, and Mauritius.
Know How Many Nose Swabs Your Child Will Need
This varies greatly by destination. For instance, to travel to Anguilla, which the CDC categorizes as a Level 1 (low risk) country, everyone, including babies, needs to show proof of a negative PCR test taken three to five days prior to arrival and to submit to another test upon arrival in Anguilla. Further, if you live in a place like New York that requires tests for inbound travelers, you’ll have to take a third test upon returning home to avoid 14 days of quarantining. You’ll also want to keep in mind the cost associated with each test abroad; Anguilla, for example, requires visitors to pay an entrance fee of $500 per couple and $250 for each dependent to cover the cost of testing, along with providing proof of active health insurance.
While, of course, this adds logistical challenges, Jose Adames, the general manager of the Four Seasons Resort and Residences Anguilla, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property, which reopened last week, underscored the importance of testing: “The island is determined to keep the island COVID free. While the measures add layers of complexity to travel plans, they are truly reassuring.”
Be Prepared For Your Kids—Over the Age of Two—Wear Masks On Flights
On June 15th, Airlines for America, the industry trade organization representing the leading U.S. airlines, announced increased enforcement of face coverings for travelers over the age of two. "Wearing a mask is a critical part of helping make air travel safer," Dr. James Merlino, chief clinical transformation officer at Cleveland Clinic, said in a statement released by United Airlines about strengthening their onboard mask policy. "The more people in a given space wearing masks, the fewer viral particles are making it into the space around them, decreasing exposure and risk." (In April, United became the first airline to require flight attendants to wear a facemask.) Airlines, as they should, take this seriously. While United says the vast majority of passengers comply, customers who don’t will lose their travel privileges on the airline for a duration of time to be determined pending a comprehensive incident review.
So for even the most finicky of mask wearers—e.g. defiant toddlers—look for brands with adjustable straps that are made from breathable material. Lele Saudoughi, who is more known for her stylish headbands, sells high performance facemasks made of moisture wicking, cloud soft spandex material that contours to small faces. (These masks have been toddler-tested in our household by an almost three-year-old who would not wear any kind of face covering for the better part of the fall. Said toddler now keeps this one on for over two hours stretches with very few complaints. In other words, there’s hope.) Eduardo Gaz, a luxury travel specialist based in Brazil, recently took his children, ages 10 and 12, to the Maldives. While there is no magic bullet to getting kids to wear masks Gaz observed that both his children “got used to it,” even for a flight across continents. “They [kids] adapt,” he said.
Understand Your State’s Reentry Testing Requirements
You don’t want to be turned away at school or your pediatrician’s office because your family didn’t understand the post-travel protocols. Check your individual state’s rules before you travel. New York, a state with some of the most stringent travel protocols in the nation, requires anyone returning from a noncontiguous state, U.S. territory, or CDC Level 2, Level 3, or Level 4 country to take a test three days prior to their return departure and submit to a mandatory 14-day quarantine. To test out of the quarantine, the traveler must still quarantine for three days and on the fourth day obtain another COVID-19 test. If both tests come back negative, the traveler may exit quarantine early upon receipt of the second negative diagnostic test.
Know Your Testing Options
Since almost all travel these days is going to require at least one COVID-19 test (likely more), plan your testing ahead of time. Many clinics, like CityMD, don’t take appointments and wait times can be long. A new medical concierge service called OpenClear, which partners with private labs and does not take insurance but accepts HSAs, will come to your house. At home tests range from $499 (per person) to $899. (The price depends on the turnaround time.) Some tourism bureaus and resorts have partnered with medical concierge services to ensure fast testing before and after travel. OpenClear has aligned with Bermuda’s Tourism Authority to help travelers test at the company’s Midtown Manhattan offices, where the cost ranges from $199 to $599. Similarly, Mauna Lani, an Auberge Resort Collection, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property on the Big Island, is partnering with Vault to administer state-approved tests to Hawaii-bound travelers in the comfort of their own home (for $119).
Be Aware of Air Circulation
Tan, the pediatric infectious disease specialist at Northwestern, said that transmission of COVID-19 from surfaces plays much less of a role in transmission than most people think. Still, she advises that parents wipe down surfaces with a disinfectant wipe. On airplanes, because of HEPA filters, which circulate the air frequently, Tan said if all passengers are wearing a mask, the risk of transmission is small. “Buses and trains probably have less air circulation,” she said.
Find Flexibility Wherever You Can
Since traveling during a pandemic can be very unpredictable, make plans that can be adjusted easily. A growing number of hotels are adjusting to the new reality that hanging around in public places waiting for your room to be ready isn’t really consistent with current health guidelines. As a result, some hotels have floating check-in and checkout times to accommodate travelers’ growing need for flexibility. “Before the pandemic, I planned our family holidays well in advance, but changing policies and new outbreaks make it very challenging to do so now. My advice to other families is to look for flexible travel options and wait closer until your departure date before planning the rest,” said Amanda Dyjecinski, chief marketing officer of OneFineStay, the luxury home rental company. “It means being more spontaneous as a family, but for us, I find it quite fun!”
Stay Longer If You Can
If you’re going through the trouble of traveling with your family during a pandemic, staying longer might make sense, particularly if your kids are attending school virtually. Certain luxury hotels are making tantalizing offers to those contemplating a home away from home. At Belmond Cap Juluca, an American Express Fine Hotel & Resorts property in Anguilla, when booking a 30-, 60-, or 90-day stay, guests will receive daily breakfast, a 60-minute spa treatment per week, unlimited laundry, and $100 resort credit per day, among other perks.
Consult the Destination Experts to Plan Ahead
No one wants to be surprised when traveling with children amid a pandemic. So reach out to people on the ground before you travel to get the lay of the land. OneFineStay can advise guests about what’s open along with facilitating childcare, a private chef, and grocery deliveries. Jennifer Hawkins, CEO and founder of her eponymous travel public relations firm, advised doing reconnaissance on whether the hotel is COVID-compliant and on food and dining options. One question to ask: Can you dine al fresco at every restaurant? Take advantage of the additional resources offered by hotels; The Grand Wailea, for example, has an on-site Wellness Ambassador who is available to assist travelers prior, during, and following arrival with navigating Maui’s changing health and safety protocols.
Look for Places with Kid-Specific Amenities
Tan said children can go to a hotel’s outdoor kids’ club if the property has implemented all safety protocols—universal masking, physical distancing, good hand hygiene, symptom screening, and cohorting kids into small groups that do not mingle with other groups. At the Four Seasons Anguilla, the Kids for All Seasons program will take place exclusively outdoors and is managed via a new reservation system. If your destination doesn’t allow for outdoor activities or you want to avoid groups, there are other options. Gurney’s Resorts, which has locations in Newport, Rhode Island and Montauk, New York, is offering kits curated by Cornell Cooperative Extension Marine Program that have games such as coloring seashells, crossword puzzles, and fact sheets. The Grand Wailea created a self-guided Grand Passport Program for kids to learn about Hawaiian culture. “We wanted to create a safe and educational experience for kids who have been stuck inside constantly and in front of a screen this year,” said JP Oliver, the property’s managing director.