Life hacks & Travel tips

How to Travel Safely During a Pandemic

A personal recount of the precautions I’ve taken over the past seven flights since February 2020.

Daybreak from the airplane window. Snapped it half-asleep.

As I am writing this post, I have just arrived at the Soekarno Hatta International airport in Jakarta, Indonesia. Recently, new regulations were imposed where all travelers have to be subjected to quarantine for five days in government-assigned accommodations and undergo COVID-19 swab tests. When I first learned about the new regulation, I was pleased at the implementation of these measures, as a mere citizen like myself, have been quarantining in inns up to 5 days, away from family, ever since my first flight at the beginning of the pandemic in February 2020.

Ok, to be fair, quarantining was originally my old man’s idea. 😆

Today, I will be sharing the precautions I take before, during and after my flights.

To provide some context, my COVID-19 test results (PCR swab and antigen blood tests) were negative at the time of writing this article.

Before departure

1. Ensured all requirements are met in order to enter the country.

For my case, I needed a negative COVID-19 swab test at most 72 hours before departure. To be honest, the rules change every so often, I had to check the embassy website daily to stay updated with their new guidelines.

2. Packed ‘pandemic essentials’ into my hand-carry

This includes: A change of clothes, a digital thermometer, hand sanitizer, anti-septic wet wipes, some plastic bags (or a roll of trash bins) and a mix of surgical masks and KN95 masks.

Due to the recent COVID-19 strain, which is notably much more infectious, a call for protective face coverings was needed — this made perfect sense, as surgical masks and KN95 masks offer significant protection from these viral particles (due to their unique filtration system), in contrast to cloth masks that have limited efficacy in transmission prevention. Personally, I use the tighter fitting, KN95 mask in crowded enclosed areas such as the airport. Once I’m on the airplane, I switch to a surgical mask.

(Fun fact: You’re more likely to be infected by eating out in restaurants than taking a plane. Feel free to check out Dr. Roger Seheult’s discussion on potential high risk behaviors and their association with increased incidence of COVID-19.)

3. Arriving at the airport at least 4 hours in advance

Better be safe than sorry — Just in case more procedures are required to be done at the airport. Besides, by arriving early, the check-in lines are way shorter and I get to request for window seats (which are farthest away from the aisle, meaning I’ll be less exposed to people walking along the aisle). To add to that, window seats usually have direct overhead vents that can be opened to further increase air circulation.

Speaking of air circulation, do you know that airplanes use HEPA filters?

Interestingly, these filters are also used in hospitals, which are capable of removing 99.97% of all airborne particles (this includes bacteria and viruses). In other words, the cabin air is theoretically as safe as the air in hospitals.

Still, don’t let your guard down and keep that mask on.

During the flight

1. Whip out the sanitizer and wet wipes

It has become a ritual for me to sanitize my hands once I take my seat on the airplane, followed by wiping down the arm rests, table tray and the touch screen entertainment system.

You can’t be too careful.

2. Switch my KN95 mask to a surgical mask

Unless I have a ‘seatmate’ right next to me, I usually put on a surgical mask as it is more comfortable and places less strain on the ears. I dump used masks into one of the plastic bags I’ve prepared.

3. Avoid eating at the same time as my ‘seatmate’ / ‘rowmate’

We take off our masks when we eat — this action strips away our protective barrier. Eating, similar to talking and breathing, generates particles and aerosols that may be virus-laden. Thus, I would usually wait for my ‘row mates’ to finish eating and only begin munching away five minutes after they’re done.

4. Minimize going to the loo

By staying put, I reduce the risk of coming into contact with other surfaces (and people). However, when I do need to relieve myself, I make sure to always wash my hands when I’m done, as well as sanitize them once I’ve propped myself back in my seat.

5. The golden rule: Do not touch my face

Our eyes, nasal and oral cavities are lined with mucous membranes. Viruses may transverse the mucous secretions and proceed to invade the cell membrane and initiate infection. Hence, it is crucial to prevent this from occurring by minimizing the cause.

Touchdown

1. The sanitizing ritual

I remember reading reports where the novel coronavirus is capable of surviving on surfaceswhen I think of surfaces, I think of luggage bags and clothes. With that in mind, once I’ve obtained my luggage, I would religiously wipe them down with wet tissues and finish off by spritzing some sanitizer on them.

To take a step further, I would bask them under the sun for a couple of hours before bringing them into the house. (Sunlight consists of ultraviolet radiation, which is known to break down / modify the genetic materials of cells, i.e., DNA and RNA. This is also why we are encouraged to wear sunscreens when we are out under the sun — as chronic exposure to UV rays causes skin cancer.)

2. Changing clothes

Before hopping into the car, I would change into a fresh set of clothes and store the used ones in a plastic bag, followed by a good hand sanitizing ritual.

3. To self-isolate or not to self-isolate? That should not be a question.

Following the success of many Asian countries that impose quarantine-upon-arrival regulations, they’re able to timely identify passengers carrying the novel coronavirus and isolate them from the general population. This greatly reduces transmission.

“So, why is quarantine necessary when we have swab tests?” you might ask.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it takes an average of 5 to 6 days (from the first day of infection) for symptoms to show, but in some cases, it can take up to 14 days. Like all tests, they could have false positives and false negatives — the COVID-19 swab test is no different. Quarantine simply adds a layer of certainty to the results.

When I first voluntarily quarantined from my family, I stayed in an inn for 5 days. The only time I saw my parents was when they brought food and water. Even then, during that short span of interaction, I maintained physical distancing and had my mask on whenever I met them. Additionally, I measured my body temperature everyday as fever is one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19.

On the fifth day, when I am still asymptomatic (read: no fever, cough, fatigue or muscle aches), I head back home. However, I still wore a mask whenever I interacted with my family. I also ate my meals separately and always sanitized the toilet bowl and door knob after using the toilet. This persisted for another 9 days, until I was pretty certain that I am unlikely to develop symptoms any further than that.

This powerful reminder caught my eye as I strolled along the streets of Manchester.

These days, traveling is no longer fun and games. I hope this post offers you some tips on how to keep you and your loved ones safe when you absolutely must travel during a pandemic.

As always, stay safe and abide to your country’s rules and regulations. After all, health is wealth. Please don’t gamble it away.

See you in a bit! 🌆

Love, Alice

P.S.:
Two
negative COVID-19 swab tests later (as per government regulation), I am free to head home after my fifth day of quarantine on 3rd February 2021.😄

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