Planning to travel Memorial Day weekend? Here’s how to be savvy — and safe


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Memorial Day weekend is here, and many of us have trips planned for the long weekend.

As vaccination rates in the U.S. approach 40%, more people are booking getaways for this summer, starting with Memorial Day. AAA recently reported that more than 37 million people plan to travel from May 27 to May 31 — a 60% increase from last year’s holiday weekend.

If you do plan to hit the road — whether on a road trip closer to home or a flight to one of the destinations open to U.S. residents — here are tips to stay safe and have fun.

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Before you leave

Having a perfect long weekend getaway starts well before you lock your front door for the next few days — so keep these best practices to keep in mind.

Know the busiest days for travel, and plan accordingly

The newest guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say fully vaccinated individuals can travel safely within the U.S., which means expect this Memorial Day weekend to be filled with travelers looking to get away for a few days. Friday and Sunday are undoubtedly going to be packed days at the airport and on the highway.

This means you’ll want to allow for extra time to get through TSA security lines (especially because of a shortage of TSA agents) and expect heavier traffic on the roads.

Don’t let the bad guys know you’re not home

In this day and age, many people Instagram their every move as a way to keep friends and family posted during trips. But you know who else loves knowing when you’re eating-praying-loving your way through your first trip since 2019? Thieves.

In extreme cases, insurance companies have even been known to reject homeowner claims when there’s self-uploaded social media evidence proving they were away from home.

So, if you’re committed to leaving town during the long weekend, be sure to keep quiet on social media. Plus, lock the doors and windows; arm your security system if you have one; let a responsible neighbor know to check in on your place every day or two; and turn on your “smart” lights.

TPG’s senior travel editor Melanie Lieberman even asks a friend or a neighbor to park in the driveway when she’s driving out of town.

Make sure you have your travel documents

Sure, you want to make sure your passport or license have a valid expiration date — but these days, travelers might need an entirely different set of travel documents, even when traveling domestically.

Depending on where you’re going and how you’re getting there, you may need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within a certain period of time before arrival. These documents may be required by your airline, your destination and may even be required to return home — so keep track of all your testing information and keep printed documents on hand, even if they’re not explicitly required.

And keep in mind that fully vaccinated individuals aren’t automatically exempt from needing a negative test for some destinations. Know the difference between vaccine passports, proof of vaccination and proof of negative COVID-19 test, and make sure you know which you’ll need for your destination.

Related: Some states are issuing vaccine passports — here’s what you need to know 

If you’re driving, tune up your car

The last thing you need is a flat tire or a coolant leak during a long road trip — and we know the vast majority of travelers will continue to choose cars over planes during this Memorial Day holiday.

“I always leave the day before everyone else does, or early that morning,” travel writer Penny Sadler told TPG in 2019. “To prepare, I pack the night before [and] I fill the car with gas as many days before departure as possible to avoid waiting in lines. Also, any needed service or maintenance, [I] take care of that a couple of weeks in advance. Basically, I just try to have everything ready to roll early in the morning!”

Book your rental car ahead of time

With the current rental car shortage and astronomical prices in some destinations, you’ll want to book your rental car as early in advance as you can.

If you haven’t booked a rental car yet in a destination prone to recent shortages, try off-airport locations or alternative rental options such as a local car dealership or Silvercar.

Related: Can’t find a car rental? Here are 7 secrets that may help

Clean your house to make coming home more comfortable

Coming home from a trip is always a bummer, but returning to a mess is doubly so, especially if you’ve grown accustomed to turn-down service and freshly ironed sheets.

“I always like to leave my apartment clean before I travel,” Sasha Perez told TPG. “It’s just nice to come back to a clean apartment [and] fresh sheets.”

George Gensler, a writer and columnist, also told TPG in 2019 that a frozen meal or can of soup already available makes coming home that much easier, especially for those late-night returns.”Before I leave for any travel … I make sure I have toilet paper, water and something quick and easy to prepare for food when I get home.”

Label your belongings

Darren Murph told TPG he prints out stickers with his contact information and labels everything he brings on his travels. “This has saved my AirPods, a water bottle (three times) and a hard drive with wedding photos,” he said. “I even put them on the little charging blocks that come with your iPod, since those blocks are so easy to forget in a hotel room or plane.”

Continue following CDC guidelines

This might sound like a no-brainer, but it’s never been more important to remember that staying healthy — and keeping others healthy — should be your top priority right now.

If you’re flying, you’ll still need to wear a mask while at the airport and in the air. And many places still have mask mandates in place for indoor spaces. Whether you’re flying or driving, make sure to continue to social distance when possible, and be generous with the hand sanitizer and handwashing throughout your trip.

During your trip

Sometimes, even the best-laid travel plans can go awry, so savvy travelers don’t stop being proactive after takeoff.

Keep valuables safe and accessible

Mitchell Stoutin, TPG’s director of engineering, sets himself up for success by clipping his car and house keys to a designated spot inside his carry-on bag. “I won’t be using them while away, and I don’t want them to get lost in the shuffle,” he said in 2019. He also leaves his airport parking ticket hidden inside the car so he doesn’t have to worry about losing it during his trip.

Take control of your comfort

Planes are notoriously cold, hot and generally uncomfortable by turns. There’s not much you can do about the central ventilation, but you can adapt by bringing your own comfort: Cozy socks, noise-canceling headphones, a sweater or travel blanket, even eye masks.

Of course, you’ll need to pack the essentials, too, because peace of mind goes a long way toward making the travel experience more enjoyable. Yes, you’ll need to wear a face mask over your nose and mouth for the duration of the trip. But you might also want to pack gloves; a face shield or glasses to keep you from touching your face; and extra hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes.

Use apps to streamline your experience

Ruksana Hussain, a Los Angeles-based travel journalist, uses the GateGuru app to see what amenities are available near her terminal and gate. “It saves me time finding food or specific services,” she told TPG last year. This might be especially helpful now that so many concessions are closed or operating with limited hours. 

The TSA app is another good tool that will help you figure out how much earlier you need to arrive at the airport in order to make it to your gate on time.

Related: The worst part of Thanksgiving travel isn’t actually the airport

When you return

Do your laundry right away

Don’t get me wrong: I hate doing my chores at the best of times, let alone at the end of a long trip and travel day. But I’ve found the benefits of washing my clothes as soon as I get home far outweigh the fairly minimal discomfort of being responsible. I wake up the next morning feeling more prepared to return to my daily routine, and it’s always nice to be greeted with fresh piles of clean, folded clothing — rather than heaps of dirty laundry.

To make things a little easier, I separate my lights and darks in two separate laundry bags when I travel, so I just shake them out and start the machine as soon as I get home.

Back up your photos

If your phone and camera aren’t already synced to the cloud, it’s a great idea to download and back up your photos, videos and other digital souvenirs as soon as you return home. Mishaps do happen, and memories can be lost very easily with one accidental slip of the wrist or a device malfunction.

Check for symptoms

Be mindful of any new symptoms when you return home — even if you are vaccinated.

If you’re vaccinated and do develop any symptoms, the CDC recommends you self-isolate and get tested. The CDC is still recommending all non-vaccinated travelers self-quarantine for a full seven days after travel and get a COVID-19 test within three to five days, regardless of whether or not symptoms arise.

Additional reporting by Melanie Lieberman and Madison Blancaflor. 

Featured photo by Getty Images.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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