During any other year, November is a month that begins ushering in the holiday spirit. As leaves change colors and the weather cools, families around Arizona ready themselves to meet with family, plan holiday getaways and embark on festive season vacations. But this is not a typical year. Although we are all tired from the pandemic's ongoing emotional toll, gatherings and "normal" holiday traditions appear to remain off the table. Although travel decisions during this challenging time are highly personal, people who choose to take trips to visit with family, or enjoy a leisure vacation, are seeking ways to mitigate risks.

Finding ways to travel responsibly and limit risk of exposure remains top of mind for most people. Although millions of Americans will travel this holiday season, it is essential to understand the restrictions and continuously evolving regulations. Many countries such as Canada, Australia, and large parts of Europe, remain closed to US visitors. Additionally, some US states such as NY, NJ, CA, and IL are imposing statewide mandates such as requesting visitors to provide negative COVID-19 tests and quarantine upon arrival. Guidelines and policies are subject to change at a moment's notice and keeping abreast of regulations immediately before travel is vital.

One of the most common questions we get is whether it is safer to fly or travel by car. The answer is largely dependent on many variables. Car travel can be safe for short distances. Still, additional risks arise when traveling across the country, as stopping at rest areas, dining in, and frequently changing accommodations creates additional risks for exposure. Alternatively, air travel is generally considered relatively safe. However, airport security lines, baggage claim, and waiting areas often attract groups of people, making it difficult to social distance.

Before booking a trip and immediately prior to travel, we recommend a few simple strategies. The State Department website offers up to date travel guidance and is one of the most accurate sources of information available online. People planning to travel internationally should enroll in the STEP program and ensure that their passports are up to date and valid for at least six months beyond the period of their intended stay. Asking the hotels and airlines about the precautions and safety measures they are implementing is an excellent way to compare options and make decisions regarding carriers. Travel advisors and concierges can also provide important information regarding restaurant policies, mask mandates, hours of operation, and any closures of museums, public areas, or other attractions. Booking with suppliers who offer flexible terms and conditions and utilizing travel insurance is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself and your family in case of last-minute cancellations or changes.

Although much of the world remains closed to tourism, certain countries are open and have implemented extensive protocols to protect their citizens and visitors. Mexico and Costa Rica do not currently require COVID-19 testing for entry and do an excellent job of allowing for social distancing and implementing extensive hygiene practices. Individual islands in the Caribbean such as Turks and Caicos and Aruba are also open to tourists, although they have specific mandates, and many require negative COVID-19 tests. Hawaii and French Polynesia are other popular options for travelers seeking a relaxing beach getaway and more extended-stay vacations.

Whether you plan to travel this holiday season or remain closer to home, now is a great time to start thinking about travel plans for 2021. Much of the tourism industry has suffered severely during the pandemic. Operators worldwide are actively seeking ways to lure travelers back with exciting promotions, flexible cancellation policies, and elevated experiences.

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