This is as hard for me to write as it is for travelers to hear: It’s time to consider canceling or postponing your nonessential holiday trips.
Normally at this time of year, I would be writing about strategies to deal with the impending holiday crowds or how the two weeks after Thanksgiving or New Years are the cheapest times of year to travel, the so-called “dead weeks” when demand, and therefore prices, hit annual lows.
I’d be preparing for my annual holiday visit to Atlanta to see my family, or a “bleisure” trip to New York City to see the lights, visit some clients and pay through the nose for a Manhattan hotel.
But as the COVID-19 pandemic rages, with record rates of infections and hospitalizations in California and across the country, the “dead weeks” take on a whole new meaning. In the U.S., we’ve lost nearly 300,000 people, many of whom were, maybe this time last year, our fellow passengers on flights, or the folks across the hall from us in hotels. Maybe they were the business travelers behind us in a long line at SFO security, or the friendly older couple visiting New York City that we bumped into while gawking at the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center.
What about those travel deals I’ve been writing about in recent months when the virus seemed to be on the wane? If you booked holiday trips at those great rates, consider canceling them or pushing them into the spring. The airlines no longer charge fees for changes and cancellations on most fares, so it’s not going to cost you much to do so. Hotels in California regions that are affected by shutdowns are now closed to everyone except essential workers for at least the next three weeks, and thankfully offering refunds to those who have to cancel their trips.
We are the survivors of this plague, so let’s do all we can to vanquish this disease for good, including wearing masks, altering our holiday habits and staying off planes. Not forever, but for the next couple months until infection rates decline and we have widespread availability of a vaccine. Once we’ve pushed the virus off the table, we can get back to our frequent travels. But until then, we need to sit still, something that does not come naturally to the frequent traveling crowd.
Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN Monday that his concerns for the Christmas-New Year’s travel season were the same as his concerns for Thanksgiving, “only this may be even more compounded because it’s a longer holiday.” By mid-January, he warned of a very “dark period” as travelers begin to experience the impact of infections that occurred in late December.
COVID-19 spreads when people move around and breathe each other’s air, so let’s take a collective step back. Those plans to drive home or somewhere else and share air with family, friends or strangers? Nix them. You might be saving your life, or someone else’s, by just staying put. Not forever, but for now.