Ireland

10 Tips for Travelling Safely in 2020

There are two things that should be said before anything else in this post.

First, I’m a firm believer everyone should be following the advice of their governments, and leading health organisations. As well as, taking cues from countries that are faring the pandemic better than others.

Following the advice of your government means this post may not be applicable to you- if cases are spiking, and you’re being advised to stay put. Heeding that advice for the safety of yourself, and others, is the most important consideration.

If you live somewhere, as I do at the moment, where domestic travel with pre-caution is being encouraged, then the below tips are for you.

Second, even if your government is saying international travel could be okay, it’s my belief this is not the time for it.

Traveling internationally puts strain on the resources of the country you’re visiting- what if you fall ill? What if you don’t know you have COVID and pass it to the locals around you?

Chances are, even with sufficient research, you’re not going to have a true understanding of their medical resources and capacity. And, even if you do, that’s no justification to risk putting additional strain on them.

One more things to consider- even if you’re travelling to an area with low cases of COVID, that doesn’t mean you won’t pick it up en-route, or that the area won’t see a spike in cases a few weeks from when you visit, as we know the lead time to showing symptoms for COVID can be several days-two weeks.

I say all of these things upfront because this post is full of practical tips for domestic travel, namely road trips. However, I’m seeing a lot of people in my Instagram feed travel internationally, then rent a car, or simply travel to another country to visit beaches because ‘it’s summer‘.

Let’s not forget, we are in the midst of a global pandemic.

Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost.
Economies around the world are shattered.
Cases are on the rise in countries globally, experiencing a second wave or from re-opening too early.
There is no global standard in safety – measures vary dramatically, even within countries.

And, of equal concern is the acknowledgement we don’t understand the long term health effects of COVID yet. Ever-emerging studies are showing that health risks- heart issues, lung function, and stroke, just to name a few- are serious in those who’ve have COVID, even if they ‘only had a mild case’.

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All this said, you may be wondering- why even risk it then? Why travel at all?

Well, not all trips or activities are equal in risk. And, some activities- like hiking or walking along a coast can have tremendous benefit to mental health, which is especially important in times like these.

What’s more, the tourism industry is in dire need of support. Even if it’s not safe to travel in or from where you live at the moment, if you have the means, I’d encourage purchasing vouchers for future travel needs- hotels, treatments, restaurants.

Plus, in a time when so many of us are coming to terms with the ‘new normal’, an activity we used to enjoy, care-free- like, a walk along the beach, can feel refreshingly comforting.

The below tips are based only on my experience. Before traveling, I read a few articles on road trip precautions to be mindful of during COVID, and looked at how the places we visited had fared during the height of the pandemic in Ireland, but everything here is my own advice. As I did, you should do your own research.

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Planning our west coast trip in early July was a bit of a last minute affair.

Cases in Ireland had been on the decline for months, and holding steady at ~10-20 new daily rate for weeks.

Things appeared to be going so well, the government moved up reopening plans.

All of this didn’t happen without sacrifice though.

Back in March, a movement control order was issued in Ireland- no one was to leave a 2 km radius of their home. In mid-May, that radius expanded to 5 km, and in early June, 20 km. Then, in late June, distance restrictions were lifted entirely, and inter-country travel was encouraged, with precaution.

During this time, and still currently, international travel is advised against, unless for necessity. And, those entering Ireland are required to self-isolate for 14 days- meaning, incoming tourism isn’t a factor (in mass) at the moment.

These measures, coupled with the daily case rates, made us feel better about heading to the west of the country for a few days.

What’s more, this region of Ireland wasn’t hit nearly as hard by COVID as larger eastern cities, Dublin and Cork. I recognise part of the driver for low cases along the west coast may be correlated to testing availability. Though, I suspect it’s more a factor of lower population density.

At any rate, we decided a visit to the west would be okay if we took every possible precaution to avoid contact with others.

Some will say we were ‘overly cautious’, but I waited to publish this post until we’d been home for over two weeks for a reason- I wanted to be sure we hadn’t been exposed. Because, try as we might, there were still instances of people coming too close to us, or not observing distancing requirements.

At the time of writing this, Ireland has just announced a delay in the final phase of reopening- in which nightclubs and pubs would open to help keep cases low (currently hovering between 20-30 new cases daily).

We’re glad to see this decision taken, for the greater benefit of the nation and important measures, like schools reopening in August.

At this time, I don’t have any international trips planned for the remainder of 2020. However, I am hoping that cases stay low through summer and fall- I’d love to do a summer road-trip south, and an early-mid autumn road trip to the north of Ireland.

If conditions remain safe enough for me to take either one of those trips, I’ll be keeping the below tips in mind.

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10 Tips for Travelling + Taking Road Trips During COVID-19

First, some practical packing advice. Be sure to bring:

  • Plenty of hand sanitiser
  • Anti-bacterial hand wipes
  • Enough masks for every day of your trip, plus extras
  • Hand soap

Even though we planned to keep our distance from people, we knew there’d be instances we may not have control over how close people came to us, cue the masks. We ended up donning them twice, once to walk through a hotel lobby, and once on a street with more people than we were comfortable being around.

Hand soap was a last minute packing addition- we’d assumed all of our hotel and B&Bs would supply it, but we were wrong.

Our B&Bs were well equipped, but the four star hotel we stay at in Westport didn’t have any hand soap. We complained to management about the irresponsibility of this oversight- even in normal times, there should be hand soap, and were glad we’d brought our own, and didn’t need to go to any shops.

Plan to eat most of your meals on the road. 

BYO food is my normal road trip style, both for cost savings and ease. Who wants to leave the beauty of a national park to try and find a nearby restaurant, y’ know?

Traveling during a pandemic, and keen to limit our exposure to people, we planned on only having one meal out a day, and even then- take away, only.

In our case, we had groceries delivered before leaving Dublin, and like past trips I’ve taken, stuck mostly to food that didn’t need to be refrigerated-

  • Bread, peanut butter, jelly for sandwiches
  • Breakfast bars
  • Dried fruit
  • Raw almonds
  • Fresh fruit: oranges, stone fruits, bananas, blueberries
  • Fresh veg: Bell peppers, cucumber, snap peas, carrots
  • Treats: Salt and vinegar crisps, peanut M&Ms, chocolate covered pretzels, and a few other things

By including some things we wouldn’t normally eat at home (e.g. different kinds of candy), we retained a bit of that ‘treat yourself’ mentality that often comes with holidays. The night prior to leaving and night we returned, we also ordered dinner delivery (something we usually limit to once or twice a week) to help keep the ‘holiday treat’ vibe going.

I won’t lie- not being able to look up the best restaurants and cafes in places we visited was tough for me- that’s usually one of my favorite parts of traveling to new places. But, the trade-offs we made to stay safe by limiting exposure were more important.

And, we did have a few great eats- from trying a local chipper, to handmade ice cream, to a wood fired pizza, we found ways to retain some of the things I enjoy most when traveling.

Set up as much to be contactless as possible. 

From our car rental, to choosing B&Bs that specifically noted distanced, COVID safe check-in procedures, we took extra care in this area.

Our thought: Even if COVID cases are low, why take chances we don’t need to, if there are alternate options available?

Choose self contained Airbnbs or B&Bs, where possible. 

We felt safest in the B&Bs we stayed in- all of the owners took great care to keep their distance, most donning face shields or masks.

It was a whole other scene at one of Westport’s ‘best hotels’. We’d chosen to stay at the hotel, namely for its location on the quay, but also because we wanted to splurge a bit on our first night of hols.

We should have known better- when we arrived to check in, the lobby, which had a restaurant and bar attached to it, was packed with holidayers and locals.

Sure, people were six feet apart, but that doesn’t really matter when you’re indoors and there’s no air flow. Also, the hotel staff came too close at times, showing they didn’t understand the most basic of distancing guidelines the Irish government recommends.

It was definitely an eye-opener for us, seeing how nonchalant some people were. And, in a way it makes sense- we were in the west, which was a very different scene to Dublin during the pandemic. Dublin, was by far, the hardest hit place in Ireland, so of course we’ve become used to being more cautious.

Plan your activities around minimising contact with others. 

The reason we chose a trip along the west coast first (before the south or north)? We knew there were plenty of rugged, gorgeous sights to see- from mountains, to coastline, to beaches.

And, at all of which, we knew we’d able to distance, both because there’d be fewer people than you find around Dublin, and because of the nature of outdoor spaces being larger, and allowing more room for movement.

We walked around some of the small towns we drove through, but didn’t go into any shops, and only chose to eat at places / get coffee from cafes that did online/remote ordering.

Take care to sanitise anything you touch. 

This is where the anti-bac wipes come in handy.

Yes, I know they’re terrible for the environment, which is why we use them sparingly. But, having them to wipe down car surfaces, plus high-contact surfaces in our B&Bs provided an extra bit of relief, even knowing companies and hosts are taking lots of care to be cleanly.

Try to plan for bathroom stops. 

This was a major oversight on our road-trip plan, and meant we were dehydrated to the point of headaches some days.

Why?

Because, we’d planned on spending entire days out exploring, or relaxing (e.g. on a beach, or on a cliffside). Normally, we’d pop into restaurants nearby and use their facilities.

But, in pandemic times, that’s not always an option, both because some places aren’t open, and because, others may have questionable safety measures in place.

In fact, the only place we found open, public restrooms in each town was along the Ring of Kerry, which is known for being popular with tourists.

In those restrooms, all windows/doors were left open, and signs posted noted that no more than 1-2 people were allowed in at any given time. We felt safe using them, mostly because we never saw anyone else going in/out, and of course, had hand sanitiser on us.

Remove yourself from situations you don’t feel safe. 

A few times, we went out of our way to side-step people- like on the Kilkee Cliffs. And, that’s okay- other people’s level of comfort will differ from yours.

I have occasional asthma, usually triggered by bad air quality/pollution, but still asthma nonetheless, which puts me in a higher risk category for COVID, so I’m absolutely more cautious than others.

Don’t get upset, just focus on what you can control.

At the Kilkee Cliffs, for example, in which there were a steady stream of people, we slowed to let others pass us if they were in groups / taking up the entire pathway, and had our masks handy in case we felt the need to put them on.

Would it have been great to see everyone observing distancing guidelines?

Sure. But, that’s just not the reality of the world we live in. We knew we’d encounter situations like the one I’ve described above, and prepped for it as best we could.

Take a moment to breathe when you need it. 

Seeing people openly disregard COVID guidelines can feel infuriating. Some of the advice is so simple, it begs the question- why is it so difficult for people to understand and action?

But, I recognise everyone gets their news from different sources, and interprets it based on their life experiences to date.

Whenever I felt frustrated with how someone acted- whether they came too close to us, or did something that violated general pandemic safety guidelines, I tried to empathise with them.

After all, I have no idea why they acted in the way they did. Instead of being upset about it, I tried to move on and focus on what I could control to keep myself safe.

Understand that travel during a pandemic is exhausting, and will feel different to trips you’ve taken before.

Constantly having to think about distancing and sanitising was exhausting. In many ways, it felt like we had to calculate our every move, which is far from the relaxed vacay vibes I’m normally after.

And while we take many of the same measures in our day to day lives- there’s a lot we don’t have to worry about- checking into a hotel, the cleanliness of the hotel, visiting a new location and not knowing how easy it’ll be to distance, and so on.

It’s a tremendous privilege to have the means to travel at the moment. And, while I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to see more of Ireland, I’m also aware of all the challenges our trip brought- logistics we had to manage, inconveniences we’d normally not experience, and so on.

Saying that though, the gratitude I have for the opportunity and means to take our road trip far outweighs any other feelings. I note it though, because I believe in the importance of acknowledging and working through feelings- no matter how trivial in the grander scheme they may seem.

If it’s safe to do so where you live, and recommended by the local government, are you planning domestic travel during COVID-19? What precautions are you taking to try and stay safe on your trip?

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