Should You Travel During The Coronavirus Scare?

You’d have to be under one serious rock to be unaware of Coronavirus.  The spread of the disease has reached over 50 countries and the number of people who have perished number in the thousands.  What started as a trickle of questions from readers and listeners about traveling during this public health emergency has turned into a steady flow.  I’ve spent the past few days thinking about travel and Coronavirus quite a bit and have consolidated some thoughts and questions.  This isn’t an up-to-date listing of current events revolving around the disease.  That picture changes so quickly I’m not sure I could keep this accurately updated.

Coronavirus is a Serious Threat

Let’s start with the obvious.  The disease is no laughing matter.  Healthy adults might suffer only minor symptoms.  However, younger and older people as well as people with weak immune systems could be at much greater risk.  Many of the fatal cases have occurred in China, where it’s unclear how much of the full picture is available to the public.  And, there have been fatalities as recently as today (in the United States) that don’t have an obvious connection to someone who traveled to an infected area.

Large companies such as Amazon and Google have restricted work travel for many employees.  Airlines across the globe have cancelled flights to China.  There continue to be daily (sometimes more frequent) travel updates/warnings/restrictions. All of these data points add up to one certainty, you should be concerned about Coronavirus/COVID-19.

Avoiding Travel to Certain Regions is Probably Smart

China does not appear to be a safe place for recreational travel right now.  What about the rest of the world?  Iran has a pretty serious outbreak, but most of us aren’t headed there.  Italy, specifically the region around Milan, is heavily affected.  Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and many other areas in Asia are troublesome.  I have a trip planned in the near future to New Zealand to help a friend.  As I’ve watched award inventory my plans have shifted numerous times.  When I first started piecing together this trip 10 days ago, places like South Korea and Japan gave me caution.  I’ve switched flights I had booked through Tokyo to a nonstop flight from the US because I’m just not willing to take that risk, however small.

This is the first time I can ever recall in 20 years on the road where worldwide health conditions have caused me to change my travel patterns.  I wasn’t traveling much during the SARS time period and to nowhere high risk during H1N1.  Zika virus would have played a role in my thinking if we hadn’t already had trips booked to other regions during the time the fears were strongest around Zika.

The Biggest Problem is What’s Next With Coronavirus

There’s so much uncertainty right now with Coronavirus.  Each new development brings new questions.  I consider myself an experienced traveler who doesn’t get spooked easily.  When some of the largest conferences worldwide are getting cancelled and large companies like Amazon and Google are curtailing travel, it’s time to pay attention.  It’s certainly not my place to tell you whether it’s safe to travel.  Rather, I feel like it’s time to ask what criteria are important to you in making the decision whether to travel right now?

Are you traveling right now?

What factors are part of your decision-making on whether to travel?

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Featured image courtesy of Ira Budanova/Bigstockphoto


  1. We are going from New Zealand to New York, Miami, 7day cruise Around Caribbean the ew Orleans them back to New Zealand, every day things around the world is changing, what do you suggest we do. Gabrielle Donaldson.

    1. Gabrielle, I don’t think a cruise right now is inherently more risky than other travel methods. The ship quarantined in Japan seemed to be handled poorly.

      When do you depart on your cruise? What is your routing to get to NY?

  2. I’m flying ANA F ORD-HND in 9 days. Right now I’m following CDC and State Department guidance so I’m still a go. Given I’m not flying in closed quarters in first class and I’m only on the ground less than 3 days I’m hoping to minimize risk. Just going because I want to try ANA first class and eat at a couple of good sushi and Kobe restaurants. Still about 60% sure I’m going. This week will be critical to my decision.

    1. Michael, you’re braver than me. Hope things don’t get worse in Japan for you. I have another friend with a trip to JPN in a few weeks and she’s still deciding what to do.

    2. Good for you not letting fear get in your way. GSTP posted about how the fear has gotten out of hand and the numbers seem to bear his assessment out. That said, everyone has different circumstances, so it’s not a one size fits all deal. For instance if I worked in a retirement home, I probably wouldn’t travel to even slightly dubious places as I wouldn’t want to become a Typhoid Mary. To each their own.

  3. The only reason there hasn’t been more reported cases in the United States is that until the last few days, only people that had been in China or in contact with someone from China and had symptoms were being tested. If that person in Washington State that died yesterday had died a week earlier his death would have been attributed to a different cause, as he had no known contacts and they could not have legally tested him. Now that those restrictions have b been lifted we will see lots more cases.

    Also, although it seems that it is mostly older people with other health issues that die, there have been a substantial number of health workers that have died, which makes one wonder if repeated exposure plays a role. So much we don’t know. I am hesitant to travel until more information comes out. It seems the responsible thing to do.

    1. Theresa, respect that position. Some of the early stories certainly add to the confusion on how bad this could be. And, it’s hard to tell how much truth is coming out of China.

  4. This may be much more prevalent already in the U.S. than previously thought. The Seattle Flu Study has found that a recent case is likely linked to the one six weeks ago. If that is true, then it has been circulating in the community already and there are likely hundreds of cases just in the Seattle area. That is probably good news, since we are not yet seeing a big increase in pneumonia cases, so it would lean toward this being on the milder side for those who are not at high risk.

    The Washington Department of Health has had good information recently, both in their press conferences the last few days (on Youtube) and on their website. This is a good time to make plans for you will respond if, for instance, health officials in your area recommend closing schools and working remotely where possible.

    Given the uncertainty about the spread of the virus, how fast developments are moving, and how much more we will likely know in the next few weeks, I would avoid nonessential travel right now (as Amazon and others have advised their employees).

  5. There is no good reason to just compare this to the flu. Until a vaccine is developed, tested and available everywhere, there is NO set cure for the Coronavirus. Seeing how rapidly it spreads, it is absolutely necessary to take all the minimal precautions such as avoiding crowds (if possible), frequent hand washing, and even delaying travel plans if feasible. Otherwise, at least keep up with the latest reports and follow the advice of medical experts.

  6. Thoughts on heading to Paris, Versailles and Disneyland Paris one week from today, please. My daughter and I hope to ride in first class, if upgraded so we would have some separation from others. I am not one to run scared, but this gives cause for concern, for sure. Side note: The Louvre was closed today, Sunday 3-1-20.

  7. If you want to know what is really going on in Seattle and how serious this is, read Trevor Bedford’s blog. He is the scientist that uncovered the first person in Washington State to get the coronavirus through community spread.

    He thinks there are already 500 cases in this area and it is rapidly spreading. There still is not enough testing being done. Seriously consider your travel plans.

  8. My wife and I are currently in Florida and have reservations to fly home to Syracuse in a couple of weeks. We are thinking of driving a rental car home instead. We are both in good health, but in our 70’s. We would drive home with one night at a motel. Which way should we go?

    1. Warren, thanks for the question. If you’re not in a pinch for timing, I’d drive. It’s lower risk than being on a plane. And, I’m honestly not sure what flights will be operating in a couple of weeks.

  9. I have a family member coming from Guam tomorrow, stopping in Hawaii for refuel and arriving at LAX, staying with us for 5 days then going home in Arizona. What risks are there since she has isolated for 10 days in Guam.

    1. Angie, the risk is probably low if they have self-quarantined for 10 days. However, they may come in contact with people along the way that could put them (and you) at risk. 2 things to consider. First, are any of your family dealing with a compromised immune system? Second, you’ll want to check the Hawaii transit rules. They just made some changes today for arriving passengers. Those don’t appear to apply to transfers, but you may want to double-check. Good luck!

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