Although many restrictions are still in place, travel is slowly starting up again in most regions of Europe. Want to get out of your bubble and back to the outdoors? Here are the best practices for getting on the trail without endangering your health—or anyone else’s.
1. Consider if you should be traveling
Let’s be honest: this summer won’t be what you’re used to. And it shouldn’t. We’re barely coming out of the first wave of a global pandemic and traveling isn’t really a priority. At the same time, being in nature helps us with the mental and physical aftermath of lockdown. Before you plan any new adventures, ask yourself: is it worth it? If your region – or the region you’re traveling to / through – is showing signs of a second wave, be reasonable. Cancel your plans and discover some new spots, closer to home.
Stay home and self-isolate even with minor symptoms such as cough, headache, mild fever, until you recover. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention, but call by telephone in advance if possible and follow the directions of your local health authority.
In any case, always research and follow policies about restrictions and mandatory measures, both at home and at your planned destination.
2. Keep up the hygiene measures
Follow the advice the World Health Organisation as your new travel rules: thoroughly clean your hands regularly, maintain distance between yourself and others and avoid going to crowded places. Wear a mouth mask when there’s a lot of people around or when it’s mandatory. Cover your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Wipe down your smartphone and other accessories you often use.
Assume public restrooms are not properly disinfected and treat surfaces as if they have live virus on them. It’s always good practice to put the lid down before you flush.
3. Pick your mode of transport
We’re all for sustainable travel and love to promote public transport. But it’s best to avoid crowded buses, train stations or even the line at the ticket booth. Get creative: can get to your destination by bike? How about ditching transport all together and going on a tru-hike? A road trip by car is another great way to maintain your bubble: be careful at gas stations and at public restrooms.
Make sure to keep proper hygiene and to minimize contact points on public transit. Do a bit of research beforehand: which measures are mandatory and what is expected of travelers?
4. Don’t litter
Littering can cause great environmental damage. Don’t throw away any disposable masks, gloves or even the tissues you’ve sneezed in. Bring a small zip lock bag to stash your trash until you get to the nearest bin. Check out the recommendations from Leave No Trace.
Don’t forget to follow the ‘leave no trace’-principles when you’re exploring the outdoors. Never litter. Keep dirty masks, gloves or tissues in a closed bag and throw them away in the nearest bin.
5. Avoid times and places of high use
There are many health benefits to being outside in nature, and the risks of infections are low and manageable. The key is to keeping a distance of at least one metre at all times. A good practice at a national park is to pretend that other people are bears and stay away from them.
Check the website of the park you’re going to to see if it’s closed. Some remain open, but have closed restrooms and food services, others have included limits on numbers of visitors or other rules like mask-wearing. Avoid crowded places, such as the more famous national parks.
6. Pick your activity
Hiking with friends, climbing with your partner or paddle boarding solo: which activity suits best? Avoid group activities that involve close contact. Practice social distancing and cleaning routines. If the medical services in the region are still coping with an overload of work, try not to take any unnecessary risks that could put you in need of medical help.
Label your gear, towels and cutlery and don’t share it – for the time being. If you’re climbing, check if liquid chalk is allowed on the site. The alcohol used in liquid chalk can act as a cleaning component so the route is safe for whoever comes after you.
Don’t forget your bug spray and sunscreen (though perhaps a face-mask tan will become a badge of honor that you’re doing your part to protect others).
7. Research your accommodation
Camping can be a great way to enjoy the outdoors while staying safe – if you keep your distance from other travelers. If you’re using public bathrooms, make sure they are kept clean and keep your distance between toilet and shower stalls.
If you’re renting a holiday house, ask whether properties are cleaned according to public health guidelines when you’re booking the rental. Airbnb’s Enhanced Cleaning Initiative includes a 24- to 72-hour vacancy period between guests (though cleaners may visit during that window). Since it’s possible for the virus to live on surfaces for two or three days, you could give high-touch surfaces an extra clean.
Research how your hotel is responding to Covid-19 by visiting their website. Do they have information available online? Are they providing employees them with personal protective equipment and paid sick leave? Have they installed plexiglass at reception? Are the limiting interactions? Is the staff required to wear masks? Choose properties that base their protocols on science, rather than things that sound good but have little effect. Some hotels use innovation to their advantage and allow you to check-in online and use your phone as your room key. Details like that can tell you how serious they are.
Avoid elevators. Room service may be safer than the restaurant. Feel free to go for a swim if the pool isn’t crowded. Standard pool cleaning kills viruses, so the pool is probably safe; it’s the people you need to worry about.
8. Be considerate of other visitors
Trying to follow the ever-changing COVID-19 protocols can be overwhelming. It’s easy to revert to pre-pandemic habits in new situations, when we’re trying to relax and have fun. And even if you’re not too worried, other people on the trail might have a different opinion.
Face coverings, physical distancing, managing your dog and a friendly wave when passing go a long way right now. Help park staff do their jobs by doing your part to take care of each other and our beloved outdoors.
Ask about your travel companions about what makes them feel comfortable and what creates anxiety. Always err on the safe side when approaching strangers. Follow good hiking etiquette and give uphill hikers the right of way. Pause on the side of the trail when they’re passing and give them as much space as possible.
Safety when traveling is a process of ‘co-creation. Set a good example to encourage others and avoid unnecessary confrontations. You could politely ask anyone who gets too close to give you a bit more space, but it might be easier just to move away from them. It’s likely not worth the risk, or the stress, to confront a stranger. If you can’t escape the situation, ask a park ranger for help.