Preparing For The Return Of Travel:  By Brianna Korb Of Sculpted Escapes

As states and countries begin to ease restrictions and open back up, we are gearing up for the return of travel. If you’ve been on a plane since mid-March, you know things are a lot different than they used to be. If you haven’t flown, here are a few things to know. First, the Department of Homeland Security has pushed back the REAL ID deadline to Oct. 1, 2021, so those without enhanced driver’s licenses may still use their regular IDs when going through security.  The State Department still has a Level 4 travel advisory in effect, and as countries open up, restarting tourism may happen slowly as they try to avoid people from other countries bringing coronavirus with them.   If you need a passport, applications and renewals have reopened. However, the State Department advises the process could take several months and discourages new passport applications, which are in-person, except in cases of emergency. Still,  if your passport is due to expire soon, now is an excellent time to renew by mail. Within six months of expiry, many countries won’t let you in any way, so you might as well send it in.  Domestic travel will get going in earnest first. Perhaps your first venture out will be by car within a few hours of home. Fortunately for you, your travel advisor knows hidden gems in every state. If you’re skittish about being around a lot of people, we know the best boutique hotels. If you want to avoid major cities, we know the best ranches and retreats to enjoy the great outdoors.  If you are flying, you might not get that discount fare. That’s because, to achieve social distancing, airlines won’t be filling every seat. With fewer seats to sell, they’re likely to charge enough to make up the difference. You’ll probably be required to wear a mask, as several airlines are instituting new policies starting this month.

Before you get on the plane, things will be different too. You should always get to the airport with plenty of time to spare. Still, now that’s even more important as the TSA grapples with how to maintain social distancing in security lines, and depending on the airport, you may have to take a temperature test and be subject to secondary screening if your temperature is above a certain threshold. If you miss your flight, there might not be another one going to the same destination for several hours, and it will be much harder to re-accommodate you than when there were so many more flights operating. Once you’re at the gate, don’t expect to be able to board as soon as passengers from the previous flight deplane. The process will take longer as flight attendants sanitize the plane.  Once you land and get to your hotel, you’ll see enhanced sanitation measures there, and you might check-in via smartphone. You probably won’t see a breakfast buffet, so room service will be more commonplace. Restaurants will have rearranged seating to make sure diners can be at least 6 feet apart from other tables.  The attractions you visit will have social distancing rules in place as well, and private guides will become more popular as the logistics of group tours change. The good news is this might do away with overcrowding in a lot of places that had become overrun in recent years. As always, your travel advisor is an excellent source for securing the best guides and tours with safety protocols in place.

We’re all eager to travel somewhere besides the backyard or the basement, but people are going to be very cautious even when venturing out again. Domestic travel is going to restart ahead of international travel, and at first, a lot of people might stick to places they can drive to in a few hours before flying, even as airlines continue their vigorous sanitization efforts. We want our travelers to be safe first and foremost, so we have some tips on how to social distance while traveling.

Wine country

California’s Napa and Sonoma valleys get the most publicity, and with good reason, because there are some great wines and beautiful places to enjoy them along with some great views and meals. The Willamette Valley in Oregon and the wine regions of Washington are also very nice. If the West Coast is too far afield for you, though, there are ample wineries in New York’s Finger Lakes and North Fork, throughout Virginia and five American Viticulture Areas in Pennsylvania. Wherever you live, there are wineries with vast vineyards and boutique hotels full of charm.

Alaska

With a population density of 1.2 people per square mile, our largest state is almost entirely wide open spaces. The wildlife is of a different type but plentiful enough to rival anything you’ll see on safari. Fishing lodges reachable by floatplane can ensure plenty of breathing room. Alaska’s summer season ought to correspond reasonably well with the relaxation of shelter at home orders. It’s yet further evidence that Seward’s Folly wasn’t such a bad deal at all.

Ranches Living the cowboy life in Big Sky Country sounds pretty good to us right about now. There are a bevy of Virtuoso-preferred ranches out West — in Montana and other states — that have an array of personalized activities outdoors day and night, from horseback riding to stargazing. Fresh air and mountain scenery abound. Accommodations are typically well spread out—the endless sure beat walking around your block for the 5,000th time.
National parks The entire system allows one to return to nature. While the highest concentration of parks is in the West, there’s almost certainly a national park within a few hours of your home. There are also national trails and monuments throughout the country. Operations right now depend on the park, so be sure to check before planning. Glamping options and National Park lodges abound so that you can be in the heart of nature.
Outdoor cities
Some might not be able to resist the lure of a new city. If that describes you, make sure to pick one with good weather and tons of outdoor activity. The Phoenix, Houston, and San Diego areas have some of the largest urban parks in the U.S. Denver, Seattle, Portland, and Salt Lake City have abundant outdoor opportunities and are within easy reach of nature areas. We don’t know what reopening will look like exactly, but we’ll keep dreaming with you until we make your travel dreams a reality.