Health on the Road in the Age of Coronavirus

Coronavirus has reached Europe--and it's spreading. There’s no way to predict how the virus will impact travel in Europe in the coming weeks. The crisis may be old news in a month, or it may cause economic activity (including tourism) to grind to a halt through 2020. By any honest assessment, nobody knows for sure.

In the meantime, should you cancel your trip to Europe? I see two considerations: the danger of actually getting the virus, and simply not wanting to risk the possibility of flights being cancelled, sights being closed, and streets being empty. And then, the big question: when to make your decision?

Complicating matters is the reality that our commercial news media, by its nature, sensationalizes the danger of this or any crisis. Before making any decisions, it’s important to take a breath and keep things in perspective. So far this winter, the run-of-the-mill flu has killed about 16,000 Americans...and yet, more than half of us don’t even bother to get a flu shot.

Because Coronavirus is especially high-risk for the elderly and people with compromised immune systems, people in those categories should minimize their exposure. But for the hale and hearty, it's a more complicated decision. Keep a close eye on updates from the World Health Organization (WHO) and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who have been carefully tracking the spread of the virus across Europe.

As for me, I'm booked on a flight to Istanbul on April 12. At this point, I haven’t even thought about cancelling. I’m thinking positive and hoping to make my trip. If things change between now and then, I’ll do the responsible thing. But for now, Easter Sunday is, for me, wheels-up.

One thing we do know is that, regardless of Coronavirus news, basic health and hygiene while traveling have become a bigger priority. If you choose to keep on traveling, you'll want to keep yourself healthy--and be a responsible traveler by taking steps to avoid spreading the virus.

How? We've come up with new standards that our guides will use to encourage healthy conditions on our Rick Steves bus tours in 2020. These same strategies are just as applicable for independent travelers:
* Wash hands frequently, with soap and hot water, for at least 20 seconds.
* If you can't wash your hands, use hand sanitizer (60% alcohol or higher).
* Stock up on packets of tissues (widely available throughout Europe) and alcohol-based sanitizing wipes (less common in Europe, so bring these from home).
* Cover your mouth when coughing (with the inside of your elbow).
* Avoid touching your face--the eyes, nose, and mouth are areas where illness can easily spread.
* Stay hydrated--drink lots of water (tap water is safe to drink anywhere in Europe).
* Get your sleep.
* Opt out of activities if you’re feeling tired or unwell.
* If not feeling well, go to pharmacy or see a doctor. (Your guide or hotel staff can help.)

It remains to be seen exactly how, and for how long, European travel will be affected by Coronavirus. We're staying on top of the situation and posting important updates on our website. Stay informed, stay healthy, and--if you deem it safe and responsible--keep on traveling.

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