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Is it safe to travel with kids during the pandemic?

For many families, holiday travel plans are up in the air.

traveling with kids during covid

Parents across the country are wondering whether it is safe to travel with kids right now and if they should move forward with holiday travel—or plan a staycation at home. Unfortunately, the answer to that question isn't clear cut.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) continues to advise against nonessential travel, noting that "travel increases the chance of getting and spreading the virus that causes COVID-19." Some states continue to impose quarantine or testing restrictions for travelers, especially travelers from states that are currently experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

On the other hand, airlines and epidemiologists assert that it's safe to fly again thanks to hospital-grade air filtration and rigorous cleaning and screening practices—although, unlike in the early days of the pandemic, planes taking to the air these days are rarely empty enough to allow for 3 feet (never mind 6 feet) of social distancing between passenger groups, especially during peak holiday travel times.

Public health experts agree that while there's no such thing as a no-risk trip during the pandemic, there are ways to significantly reduce your family's risk of getting sick, including wearing masks when traveling by plane, train or bus, washing hands frequently, using hand sanitizer—especially after contact with high-touch surfaces—and keeping physical distance whenever possible from your fellow travelers.

Here's how to decide whether to travel with your family this holiday season, and how to reduce risks if you do travel.


How do we know if it's safe to travel as a family?

The CDC's guidelines for nonessential travel are basically a decision tree, encouraging individuals to consider the following questions:

  • Is COVID-19 spreading where you're going? You can get infected while traveling.
  • Is COVID-19 spreading in your community? Even if you don't have symptoms, you can spread COVID-19 to others while traveling.
  • Will you or those you are traveling with be within 6 feet of others during or after your trip? Being within 6 feet of others increases your chances of getting infected and infecting others.
  • Are you or those you are traveling with more likely to get very ill from COVID-19? Older adults and people of any age who have a serious underlying medical condition are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
  • Do you live with someone who is more likely to get very ill from COVID-19? If you get infected while traveling you can spread COVID-19 to loved ones when you return, even if you don't have symptoms.

Still not sure whether to plan that family trip? Here's another way of thinking about travel safety during the pandemic.

Epidemiologists identify the risk factors for coronavirus transmission in terms of "time, space, people, place." Put another way, the least amount of risk involves the shortest possible amount of time spent with the most possible space between the smallest number of people in the largest possible place (preferably outdoors). Airline travel, train travel and hotel stays—all of which by definition involve a large group of people confined in a small amount of indoor space—present a challenge for families worried about the risk of virus transmission.

That said, in the absence of clear national guidelines for how, where and whether to travel domestically, it's up to individual families to decide whether travel feels right and safe for them. If your family includes even a single immunocompromised or older individual, your tolerance for risk is going to remain low—or close to zero—and you're likely going to want to stay close to home this holiday season. Likewise, if you are pregnant or the parent of a newborn infant, you are going to want to remain cautious about travel.

If you live in an area where transmission levels are low and declining, you're traveling to an area where transmission levels are low and declining, you're able to take social distancing and cleaning precautions during your trip and no one in your family belongs to an at-risk group, you might decide that family travel is a risk you are willing to take (with reasonable precautions for yourself and others) for the sake of your mental health and your children. If this is the case, you're taking the position that's right for you. If you decide you're not ready, then that's what's right for your family. You know your family's particular situation best.

Here's how experts break down various kinds of travel risks and how to minimize them if you do decide to travel.

Is it safe to fly right now?

is it safe to fly with kids during pandemic

Airports and airlines are doing everything they possibly can to reduce the risk of virus transmission on airplanes and keep passengers safe, including temperature checks, health screenings, reducing contact points during baggage check, check-in, security and boarding, frequent deep cleaning and modified seat booking. But every airline and airport has different practices (just like the pandemic guidelines for everything else from reopening schools to requiring masks, it's all a patchwork), and no one can guarantee that it's impossible to get sick from flying.

One bit of good news about airline travel and coronavirus: The likelihood of getting sick as a result of filtered and circulated cabin air is low. That's because most planes use the same kind of HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters that are used in hospital operating rooms to remove infectious particles and viruses from the air. Airborne viral infection on a plane is only likely if you're stuck sitting near a sick person—not just if a sick person happens to be somewhere on the plane.

Also, we know a lot more about how the coronavirus can spread during air travel than we did at the beginning of the pandemic, and the news is mostly reassuring. The main infection risk of air travel during the pandemic, as recent studies have suggested, isn't touching the seat-back tray table or even breathing the air in the plane, but rather coming into close, sustained contact with an infected person on the plane with you. Some studies suggest that your risk of infection on an airplane is surprisingly low as long as everybody (including your family) wears masks.

If you do decide to fly, there are ways to reduce your family's risks—but they involve advance planning, preparation and a not-miniscule amount of tolerance for hassle. Here's how to minimize your risks if you do fly:

  • Get super-educated about your airline's booking, seat selection and boarding policies— these vary widely by provider and even by route. On some flights you may be able to rebook for free if it's 70% full. On other flights you may be asked to choose your own seat as you board.
  • Likewise, be an expert on what your local airport's check-in, screening and security procedures are—these are changing often, and you don't want to be surprised.
  • Download your airline's app and have your boarding passes pre-loaded on your phone.
  • Choose a window seat, or wherever you can be seated farthest from other passengers.
  • Some experts suggest checking bags to reduce the number of touch-points for your stuff—but the fact is any luggage you bring is going to be in contact with a lot of surfaces regardless. Pack light, and wipe your luggage down after your flight.
  • Wear a mask, obviously—all major airlines now require them for passengers older than 2 years of age, except when eating or drinking, and the CDC has recently provided guidance encouraging airlines to eject passengers who won't wear masks.
  • Eat before or after you go to the airport, so you don't have to remove your mask to eat while on your flight or to eat in the airport.
  • Bring disinfecting wipes and wipe down all surfaces near you, or anything you touch.

Many states now require voluntary self-quarantine or virus testing for out-of-state travelers, so definitely look up what public health regulations are in effect at your destination.

Is it safe to fly internationally right now?

Nonessential international travel is still discouraged by the CDC, although the State Department lifted its blanket COVID-19 international travel advisory in August, and is now requiring travelers to adhere to restrictions and guidelines by destination. Restrictions still apply to international travel to and from many countries, and the Canadian border is still closed to travelers from the U.S. until at least late November. The CDC asks all international travelers to take extra precautions for 14 days after returning from any trip abroad.

Airlines have reduced international service to and from many countries, but it's still possible to fly internationally if you need to. If you do need to fly abroad this holiday season, be sure to follow local and national public health and travel guidelines for your destination, and during the flight, follow the suggestions above.

Is it safe to stay at a hotel right now?

Hotels are, by definition, full of other people you don't know (who come from all over the place) staying indoors for lengthy periods of time, so they definitely don't meet the optimal "time, space, people, place" criteria for lowering the risk of transmission.

That said if your family strictly limits time spent in public areas like the lobby, elevators, restaurant or an indoor pool, that can reduce your risk. Wearing masks and maintaining distance outside your room are also must-dos.

Send one person from the family to the lobby to check-in, ride the elevator with as few other people as possible (in some hotels, lobby waits may be long as elevators are restricted to one family unit per ride), wash hands as soon as you enter your room or touch any high-contact surfaces, wipe down high-touch surfaces in your room with disinfectant and ask that housekeeping be suspended during your stay in order to minimize the number of people entering your room.

Is it safe to take a road trip right now?

Driving in a car with members of your family that you've already been in daily close contact with is safe, experts say. That said, states' travel restrictions vary, so if you're crossing state lines and staying for longer than it takes to refill your gas tank, you will want to be aware of where self-quarantine is expected from out-of-staters.

Is renting a vacation house with another family safe?

If both families have been limiting their exposure and observing stay-at-home restrictions, and can agree on certain safety considerations without damaging a valuable relationship, vacationing with another family can be a safe family travel option this holiday season.

In the best-case scenario, according to experts, both families have tested negative for the virus within days of departure, both families have been quarantining and limiting their exposure to others, both families agree in advance about what constitutes safety precautions before and during the trip—and, crucially, both families keep to themselves and limit exposure beyond their "bubble" while they are staying together.

Is traveling to see family for the holidays safe?

With positive tests and cases on the rise in over 30 states this fall, public health officials have been sounding alarm bells about families traveling to get together for the holidays, including Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas. In a recent meeting with state governors, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield attributed the recent uptick in coronavirus cases in part to "small household gatherings."

"Particularly with Thanksgiving coming up, we think it's really important to stress the vigilance of these continued mitigation steps in the household setting," Redfield said. The CDC's holiday recommendations include keeping gatherings outdoors, wearing masks and making all get-togethers short and locals-only—or household-members-only.

Even if holiday travel is not exactly encouraged by health experts, especially with cases on the rise again and heading toward a "second wave," the bigger danger, experts say, is the traditional holiday gathering that follows the trip: A lengthy indoor party, with lots of talking, hugging and contact between unmasked people from all over the country (who would, of course, be completely devastated if they were responsible for getting their loved ones sick).

With caution in mind, many people are already getting creative with ideas for socially-distanced outdoor Thanksgiving (bring your own sides, grill the turkey) and looking ahead to a Covid Christmas. While a Zoom Thanksgiving might not sound traditional (or especially fun), there have been, sadly, numerous cases of family members unwittingly infecting each other during vacations and celebrations, including one teenager who accidentally infected 11 family members across 4 states during a recent family gathering.

The upshot: As Dr. Jonathan Reiner, professor of medicine at George Washington University, said in a recent interview, "The consequences of this virus, particularly for older folks—the people that we really want to gather with on Thanksgiving— can be really dire. And, frankly, I'd rather do a Zoom Thanksgiving with people that I love than expose them to something that might kill them." Reiner added,"Next year is going to be much better. Let's get through this, and let's get through it safely."


[This was originally published June 4, 2020. It has been updated.]

An expectant mama's to-do list can feel endless… but here's the good news: A lot of those tasks are actually really exciting. Planning your baby registry is especially thrilling: You get a say in what gifts friends and family members will buy for your new addition!

But it can also feel a bit overwhelming to make sense of all the gear on the market. That's why we suggest mentally dividing your registry into two categories: items you need to prepare for your baby's arrival and items that sure would be nice to have.

Here at Motherly, our editors have dozens of kids and years of parenting experience among us, so we know our way around the essentials. We also know how mama-friendly the registry-building experience is with Target, especially thanks to their recently upgraded registry and introduction of Year of Benefits. Just by creating your baby registry with Target, you'll snag a kit with $120 in discounts and samples. The savings keep coming: You'll also get two 15% off coupons to buy unpurchased items from your registry for up to a year after your baby's expected arrival. Change your mind about anything? The Year of Benefits allows for returns or exchanges for a full year. And as of August 2020, those who also sign up for Target Circle when creating a baby registry will also get the retailer's Year of Exclusive Deals, which includes ongoing discounts on baby essentials for a full year.

Here are 10 items we agree deserve a spot in the "need" category on your registry, mama.


A crib to grow with your baby

Delta Children Farmhouse 6-in-1 Convertible Crib

First-time mamas are likely creating nursery spaces for the first time, and that can get expensive. Adding a quality crib to Target registry gives friends and family members the option to join forces to make a large purchase through group gifting.

$269.99

A safe + convenient car seat

Safety 1st OnBoard 35 LT Infant Car Seat

The list of non-negotiable baby essentials is pretty short, but it definitely includes a car seat. In fact, most hospitals will not allow you to leave after delivery until a car seat check is performed. We recommend an infant seat, which can easily snap into a base in your car.

$99.99

A traveling nursery station

Baby Trend Lil Snooze Deluxe II Nursery Center

It's hard to beat a good playard when it comes to longevity. This item can be baby's sleeping place when they're sharing a room with you for the first months. Down the line, it can function as a roving diaper change station. And when you travel, it makes a great safe space for your little one to sleep and play.

$99.99

A swing for some backup help

4moms mamaRoo 4 Bluetooth Enabled High-Tech Baby Swing - Classic

A dependable swing can be a real lifesaver for new parents when they need their hands free (or just a minute to themselves). Because many babies are opinionated about these things, we appreciate that the mamaRoo has multiple modes of motion and soothing sounds.

$219.99

An easy-to-clean high chair

Ingenuity SmartClean Trio Elite 3-in-1 High Chair - Slate

Our best registry advice? Think ahead. It really won't be long before your child is ready for those first bites of solid food, at which point you'll need a high chair. We like one that transitions to a booster seat atop an existing dining room chair.

$99.99

A diaper bag to share

Eddie Bauer Backpack - Gray/Tan

When you're a mom, you're usually toting diapers, wipes, clothing changes, bottles, snacks, toys and more. You need a great bag to stash it all, and if you're anything like us, you'll choose a backpack style for comfort and functionality. Bonus: This gender neutral option can easily be passed off to your partner.

$64.99

A hygienic spot for all those diaper changes

Munchkin Secure Grip Waterproof Diaper Changing Pad 16X31"

We can confidently predict there will be a lot of diaper changes in your future. Do yourself a favor by registering for two comfortable, wipeable changing pads: one to keep in the nursery and another to stash elsewhere in your house.

$29.99

A way to keep an eye on your baby at night

Infant Optics Video Baby Monitor DXR-8

Feeling peace of mind while your baby sleeps in another room truly is priceless.That's why we advocate for a quality video monitor that will allow you to keep tabs on your snoozing sweetheart.

$165.99

A comfortable carrier to free up your hands

Petunia Pickle Bottom for Moby Wrap Baby Carrier, Strolling in Salvador

A wrap carrier may be about as low-tech as baby items come, but trust us, this product stands the test of time. Great for use around the house or while running errands, this is one item you'll appreciate so much.

$39.99

A full set of bottles + cleaning supplies

Dr. Brown's Options+ Complete Baby Bottle Gift Set

Whether you plan to work in an office or stay at home, breastfeed or formula feed, bottles are a valuable tool. To make your life as simple as possible, it's nice to have an easy-to-clean set that is designed to work through the first year.

$39.99

Target's baby registry is easy to create from the comfort of your own home. Start your Target baby registry now and enjoy shopping with the Year of Benefits featuring exclusive deals available via Target Circle, two 15% off coupons, a year of hassle-free returns, a free welcome kit and more!

This article was sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


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