Traveling for the holidays? Here are 7 tips to get you there safely

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- For the first and likely only time in 2020, I boarded a plane for flight to New Jersey, to visit my family. I've traveled that six-hour leg, countless times. It required almost no planning - Just book the trip and go.

But, nothing is easy in the time of COVID-19.

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Instead, I had to plan for weeks -- buying safety gear, researching the latest information on the virus, keeping an eye on my destination's COVID-19 numbers, getting tested.
A few things surprised me about the trip -- good and bad.

First, I felt safer than I expected. The plane was squeaky clean, everyone wore a mask, no one coughed and I booked a flight that guaranteed that no one would sit beside me.

But, I was also surprised at how busy the airport was in some areas, though empty in others.

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At Newark International Airport, there was a long line with virtually no social distancing at baggage drop-off. While the waiting areas were less crowded, you still have to be prepared to be around a lot of people.

I wanted to be extra safe -- so I wore a mask, shield and goggles. However, I had to take them on and off at various checkpoints.

I spoke to travel expert Chris McGinnis and travel blogger Leslie Harvey for even more tips to share, in case you're planning to travel this holiday season.

2019 was a record breaking year for air travel and while those numbers are drastically down this year, it is starting to pick up again.

Here are 7 tips, worth keeping in mind:

"Everything about travel is more stressful than it used to be, I kinda feel like it's traveling with a baby all over again," said Leslie Harvey, who is the founder of Trips with Tykes blog.

1. Consider getting tested.

Chris McGinnis who writes all about travel for SFGATE is planning to fly to visit his parents, who are senior citizens.

"I'm taking a test the day before I depart and then when we get to Atlanta, I'll be doing a spit test," he said.

2. Prep, your safety gear.
This could be tricky, depending on who you're traveling with. Travel Blogger Leslie Harvey puts her gear to the test days before going on a trip, considering some masks fit more than others, especially for young ones. A lot of mishaps during travel could also mean that you lose masks and shields.

"I had an entire mask bag on our last road trip, I mean I think it was a dozen masks for every person in the family," said Harvey.

3. If you are road tripping -- plan your route carefully, including bathroom stops.
"We just do a lot of preparation, we're doing a lot more packing things from home and bringing it with us in car because you never know what the supply situation is at your destination," said Harvey, who is planning a road trip with her family to Palm Springs for the holidays.

When she's away, she often relies on contactless delivery, in order to limit exposure during travel.

4. If you're flying, know what to expect from the moment you leave your home to your final destination.
In my experience, I wanted to make sure we had a safe ride to and from the airport. It was a pleasant surprise that both cabs and rideshares that I took had a lot of protection in place, including barriers between the back and front seats.

Be prepared to encounter some crowds at airports. You might want to consider printing your baggage tag, if that option is available, in order to keep your experience as contact-free as possible. Remember, you will likely not have meals on your flight.

Depending on the duration of your flight, use a mask that is comfortable enough to keep on for the entire time. Most airlines will require you to keep masks on at all times.

McGinnis has a handy tip, "Tic Tacs or maybe double mint gum to keep it kind of pleasant behind the mask, " he said.

5. Know all the new rules.
There are many and they are changing constantly. Pick the right airline for you. Some promise empty middle seats, others unlimited cancellations. Don't forget to ask - does your destination require a quarantine or a negative test result, like Hawaii does?

I stayed in Newark and visited New York City. At the end of my trip, Governor Cuomo announced that he was discouraging visits from both places. Keep tabs on the changing infection rates at your destination, as this will likely have an impact on what you can and can't do during your visit.

6. Take advantage of the upsides of air travel
Travel providers are eager to help. Cancellations and changes will likely carry no penalty. Planes are the cleanest they've ever been. A recent study by the Department of Defense and United Airlines showed that the risk of catching COVID-19 on a plane was virtually nonexistent when masked. Many places are still pretty crowd-free, allowing you to enjoy activities with plenty of social distancing.

During my visit to New York City, we had a coffee break at Rockefeller Center and it was the emptiest I've ever seen it. The city had also set up large tables that were comfortable and spread apart.

7. Have a good attitude
I chose to travel because it's the one and only time I would see family in 2020, it took a lot of preparation to get to our brief reunion but it was worth it. It was nice to feel a sense of gratitude from many of the workers I encountered during my trip -- including service staff at restaurants, flight attendants, and airport security.

"When you're out there traveling, there's this very nice, we're all in this together type of feeling, between passengers but also passengers and TSA agents and pilots," said McGinnis.

Harvey, who on any other year would have many trips booked alone and with her family, says she tries to find ways to safely support the industry as much as possible. Her family has taken several road trips around California.
"It is what it is for this year and hopefully it won't be that way forever, it won't be that way forever," she said.

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