If you have to travel right now, here's how to stay as safe as possible

Trae Bodge, CNN Underscored
Updated Wed March 18, 2020

While some of us have the ability to work from home and cancel travel, there are plenty of people who do not. For those who must take a plane, train, bus or taxi or drive a long distance, for business or personal reasons, we've compiled some expert tips for staying safe and healthy.

Disclaimer: The information and recommendations we provide below are consistent with the information available from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the status of COVID-19, as of publication.

Before you travel

The CDC recommends that older adults and persons with chronic health issues "discuss travel with a healthcare provider and consider postponing nonessential travel." We spoke with Dr. Kenneth Redcross, a concierge physician who practices in the New York City area, who concurs: "With the way that things are going now, strongly consider if this particular trip is essential and can possibly be put off for a month or so until we learn more." So, do you really have to go?

Preparation is key

If you must travel, you can and should take precautions to stay safe and informed. Patrick Hardy, CEO of Hytropy, a US-based disaster-management firm, who's a certified emergency manager and FEMA master exercise practitioner, says, "Make sure you know what the pandemic plan is of the place you're going to stay so that you know the types of precautions that they are taking" — noting that many destinations are posting plans online or via email. If you don't see the information, ask.

Hardy also recommends creating an evacuation plan, especially if you are older than 60, have a long-standing medical condition like diabetes or heart disease, or have a compromised immune system. "Decide in advance where you will go and how you will get there if there are sudden closures or evacuations." If you take prescription medication, ensure that you have an ample supply, in the event that you are quarantined. Hardy designed the Disaster Hawk app to help people get organized quickly in this type of situation. Also, think about what you'll do if you get sick while away from home.

En route

As we're all likely aware by now, the CDC recommends that we all wash our hands often, for at least 20 seconds, and avoid touching our faces or coming in contact with persons who are ill. "Any bar or liquid/gel soap is fine to wash our hands with," says Dr. Jeanne Breen, an infectious-diseases physician and researcher affiliated with Yale New Haven Hospital. "Antibacterial soap isn't necessary; some might even say it should be avoided because of concerns about the development of resistance [by bacteria]." She also recommends frequently cleaning hands: after using the bathroom, blowing your nose, or coughing or sneezing, and after touching high-touch surfaces like door handles and public-transportation surfaces. Also wash your hands before, during and after handling food.

Hardy suggests keeping the essential supplies on hand. "Carry your own EPA-approved antimicrobial product, such as Lysol or Clorox and soap," he says. "You don't want to be at the mercy of hoping other people have supplies for you." He recommends using an antimicrobial product to wipe down everything from your armrest and tray tables on an airplane, bus or train, to the light switches at a hotel. "You'll want to wipe down absolutely everything you're likely to touch. This includes your own cell phone."

In small or crowded spaces

The CDC also advises avoiding crowded spaces — and while public transportation has generally been less crowded these days, try to sit at least 6 feet away from other people whenever possible. If you're in line and can't create a 6-foot space between yourself and others, Hardy suggests that you stand staggered so you aren't right up against someone. "Put the hood up on your coat or jacket, and do not touch any of the line barriers, ropes or stanchions," he adds. "Do not lean on walls or touch the side of anything that may have been placed on the ground."

When purchasing food and other necessities while you travel, be especially mindful of what others touch, like your credit card. "Food servers, airplane staffers, hotel-desk workers and many others may touch your card, so make sure to disinfect it often," Hardy says. He suggests wearing disposable gloves for transactions and for pressing buttons that other people have touched.

Safeguard Nitrile Disposable Gloves 100-pack ($13.98; amazon.com)

Safeguard Nitrile Disposable Gloves 100-pack

If you want to take Hardy's advice, this Safeguard Nitrile Disposable Gloves 100-pack, will allow you to pack plenty for your trip and save some at home for your return. Use them whenever you're heading out to run an errand or to work in public, and wash or sanitize your hands immediately after throwing each pair away.

Planning to drive? Redcross also advises wiping down the pump handle when you fill up at the gas station, just as you would any other surface that's been touched by many hands.

On the plane

Dr. Gustavo Ferrer, pulmonologist and author of "Cough Cures," says, "Airplane cabins' recirculating air system dries out the nasal passages, creating thick mucus that favors the development of viral infections. Rinse your nose with saline/xylitol to decrease the adherence of bacteria, viruses, and irritants to your mucous membrane."

Simply Saline Adult Nasal Mist ($21.87 for a three-pack; amazon.com)

Simply Saline Adult Nasal Mist

Along the same lines, Redcross stresses the importance of drinking water to prevent dry mucosal membranes. These two Voloop Collapsible Water Bottles hold 18 ounces of water each, to help you stay hydrated without having to stop at a store. When a bottle is empty, it can collapse a few inches to minimize its bulk in your bag, and it also features a compartment at the bottom for medications. Each bottle comes with a collapsible straw, a straw cleaner, and a straw-storage case. Before you refill, use soap and water to wash it thoroughly.

Voloop Collapsible Water Bottles ($10.99; amazon.com)

Voloop Collapsible Water Bottles

At the hotel

Hardy recommends cleaning all common surfaces in your room upon arrival. And more: "If you're at a hotel with a common breakfast area, aim to be there early to avoid other guests. Only eat food that is covered. Use gloves or a napkin to protect yourself when handling tongs or serving devices." He suggests taking your food back to your room, to avoid eating in an area crowded with other guests, and thoroughly washing your hands before and after eating. (All that hand washing and sanitizing can make your hands pretty darn dry, so you may want to incorporate a moisturizer into your routine as well; check out our list of dermatologist-recommended hand creams.)

Redcross says that bedding can harbor germs unless it's been freshly laundered (and you never really know about those comforters). If you truly want to play it extra-safe, bring your own sheets, pillowcases and blanket. You may also want to hang up the "Do Not Disturb" sign to keep housekeepers away, so you don't have to sanitize the room once they've left.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer's listed price at the time of publication.