A year after the COVID-19 pandemic upended nearly all travel plans, many Southern Californians are eagerly awaiting their next chance to get out once again and explore. Whether planning travel for the next few months or dreaming of a later trip, the Automobile Club of Southern California and AAA Travel experts advise would-be travelers that things will look very different than the last time many of them took a vacation.
“While COVID-19 has transformed the travel experience, there are many places to enjoy while adhering to safety measures like social distancing and mask wearing,” said Filomena Andre, the Auto Club’s vice president for travel products and services. “The roll-out of vaccinations is boosting travel confidence and prompting travelers to make plans now before popular bookings fill up.”
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Video of AAA’s America’s Cowboy Country Tour with new COVID-19 safety protocols (Credit: AAA)
What Travelers Can Expect
- Masks – Face coverings are required on planes, buses, trains and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within or out of the United States, and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations. Outside of these transportation requirements, states—and some establishments—have mandates and/or restrictions on where and when masks must be worn.
- Auto – Road trips to domestic destinations are a popular way for many to travel, but even these trips require additional planning and preparation. Those who make the decision to travel by car can refer to AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map and TripTik.AAA.com for the latest state and local travel restrictions, and to identify which rest stops, gas stations, restaurants and hotels are open along their route.
- If renting a car, ask what has been done to clean the vehicle. Hertz, for example, has introduced Hertz Gold Standard Clean, an enhanced vehicle disinfectant and sanitization process. For extra peace of mind, use disinfecting wipes to wipe down door handles, steering wheels, shifters and control panels.
- Hotels – Prior to any hotel stay, call ahead to ensure your hotel is open and ask what precautions they are taking to protect guests. Ask about social distancing protocols like capacity reductions, hotel staff requirements to wear masks at all times and if all amenities are available, like restaurant dining.
- Air – AAA reminds air travelers that in-flight amenities, including food and beverage services, may be limited or unavailable. Some airlines continue to limit flight capacities or block middle seats to allow for social distancing. Due to COVID-19, TSA is allowing one oversized liquid hand sanitizer container, up to 12 ounces per passenger, in carry-on bags, rather than limiting those to 3.4 ounces. Masks are also required at airports and on planes. There are no test requirements for domestic air travel at this time except for Hawaii, which requires air travelers into the state to submit a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours or less ahead of their flight.
- International Air Travel – All air passengers coming to the United States, including U.S. citizens, are required to have a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery from COVID‑19 before they board a flight to the United States. Travelers who don’t provide this to their airline will be denied boarding.
- Cruise – Cruises are expected to return to their status as one of the most popular vacation options when they return to operation later this year. Many have introduced relaxed cancellation policies. AAA recommends speaking to a AAA travel advisor about the best cruise deals and new policies to protect your investment. Several cruise lines have already announced they will require staff and passengers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 at least two weeks before their trip.
Travel agents, also known as travel advisors, are more important than ever during a pandemic. They serve as an advocate before, during and after a trip, and can answer questions related to:
- travel insurance options
- open destinations and attractions both domestically and internationally
- destination-specific testing and quarantine requirements
- what to do if you need to make last-minute changes to a trip, and much more
AAA Resources Guide Travel Planning and Offer Inspiration
In addition to trusted travel advisors, travelers have a new resource in the AAA Digital TourBook guides, now available for destinations across the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean at TourBook.AAA.com. Available on smartphone, tablet or desktop, the new interactive guides feature detailed destination information, must-see attractions, sample itineraries and more.
All featured hotels and restaurants have earned a AAA Diamond designation by going through rigorous inspections conducted by AAA’s team of professional inspectors, based on the latest industry trends and travelers’ expectations. Hotels and restaurants must meet AAA’s high standards of cleanliness, comfort and hospitality to be part of the esteemed AAA Diamond Program, then they are assigned a designation of either Approved, Three Diamond, Four Diamond or Five Diamond.
In the upper echelon of those AAA Diamond hotels and restaurants are just 182 Five Diamonds (119 hotels and 63 restaurants) and 2,354 Four Diamonds (1,731 hotels and 623 restaurants). Out of 53,000 AAA Diamond designated hotels and restaurants across North America, only 0.3% have earned the coveted Five Diamond designation and 4.4% have achieved Four Diamond status.
Diamond inspections were on hold for most of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so no new Four Diamond or Five Diamond lodgings or restaurants have been added in Southern California.
Travel Restrictions Remain in Place—Plan Ahead
The CDC continues to urge Americans to delay traveling, warning that doing so increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. For those who choose to travel, current guidelines and requirements include the following:
- Travel Restrictions – State and local governments may have travel restrictions in place, including testing requirements, stay-at-home orders and quarantine requirements upon arrival. Check the state and local health department where you are, along your route, and where you are going. Prepare to be flexible, as restrictions and policies may change during your trip.
- COVID-19 Vaccines – If you are eligible, consider getting vaccinated for COVID-19. The CDC says to wait two weeks after getting your second dose to travel for your body to build protection after vaccination. Even if you’ve been vaccinated, continue to follow all official travel requirements and guidelines.
- Testing – The CDC recommends taking a viral COVID-19 test one to three days before your trip. Do not travel if you test positive. Keep a copy of your negative test results with you during your trip and make plans to get tested again with a viral test three to five days after you return. Self-quarantine for a full seven days after your trip, even if your test is negative. If you don’t get tested after returning home, the CDC advises staying home and self-quarantining for 10 days.
To find a travel advisor or for more information, visit AAA.com/Travel.