To travel or not to travel: a look inside the COVID holiday season


With numbers increasing nationwide, topping 80,000 new cases daily, it’s hard to think about the inevitable widespread travelling that will come with the holiday season. Typical respiratory viruses like flu are already known to peak during the cold and homey season. However, fewer people want to travel this year, as shown by the decrease in online searches from the summer. “Holiday travel” decreased by 43%, “Christmas travel” 46%, and “Thanksgiving travel” 38% from 2019. The estimated average distance that will be travelled by Americans for this year’s Thanksgiving is only 513 miles, which is a 50% decrease from last year, and nearly half of travelers, according to, say that they are making reservations with careful consideration of being isolated.

However, before you believe that this holiday season will be calm and easy, it is nearly guaranteed that bookings will skyrocket at the last minute. As was the case this summer, more people are making travel plans and accommodations only days or even hours in advance. According to IHG Hotels and Resorts, 63% of bookings in 2020 have happened within two days of stay compared to just 39% from the same period in 2019.

“We’ll likely continue to see a surge of cases in the fall and over the holidays,” says Karen Edwards, professor and epidemiologist at the University of California.

The CDC and other health agencies recommend doing your own research on the hotels and travel services you will be using for travel, even “ask[ing] about the products and technologies used to clean.” Travel agencies of all kinds are taking extensive new measures to ensure safety, such as enhanced screenings at airports and scans for guests checking in at hotels.

The CDC has a detailed page of holiday regulations and recommendations. To sum up the more mentioned guidelines, it recommends gatherings to be small, outdoors, well distanced, not sharing food, and of course, for everybody to wear masks and wash their hands. These rules strip away the sense of togetherness and preferred methods of interaction. When considering these guidelines, it seems both easier and more enjoyable to celebrate virtually, especially considering the guideline of not sharing food outside of your immediate family. Of course, every family will evaluate their own willingness to take risks this holiday season, and it’s certain that there will be people who disregard these recommendations altogether. Because of this, we can only expect the recent surge in COVID-19 cases to increase. Not only will families be at stake, but the health of the nation will be at stake.

“I’m nervous because I know what happens when you multiply the risks by millions of households,” says epidemiologist Andrew Noymer at UC Irvine.

This holiday season will be unavoidably different, but just because it’ll be different doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyed. We can all marvel at the crazy times we live in and do something unique this year that we can all look back on and bond over.