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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Penn chapter.

It’s that time of year again: the end of finals week, hope for snow on the ground, coats coming out of boxes in the backs of our closets, and most importantly…winter break trips! The holidays are the best time to not only get away from the monotony of our everyday lives, but also to visit the people we love who don’t live nearby. 

But last year, when COVID–19 hit, traveling during winter break was practically unfathomable. I spent most of winter break writing college applications in the comfort of my room, freezing while visiting friends outside, and video-chatting with my grandparents — whom I usually spend every winter break with. 

While we all made the best of our precious time off from school and work doing activities at home, spending the holidays away from faraway relatives felt almost wrong. I longed to hug my grandparents and experience our favorite holiday traditions together, but I knew that for their safety and our own, we’d have to sacrifice this special time.

Luckily, travel is much more of a possibility now, as enough people have gotten vaccinated against the virus (though everyone should be extra careful with the wave of new cases!) Unfortunately, COVID–19 is still a very real and pressing threat we all need to be aware of, especially when traveling via airplane as many people are planning to do. 

While I’m certainly no doctor or medical expert, I have adopted some new practices in my traveling routine to help make sure I stay protected against the virus and can protect those around me. Below, I’ve outlined some tips and tricks I plan to use so I can stay safe while traveling for the holidays.

Bring hand sanitizer/disinfecting wipes

When traveling, disinfectants are your best friend. Any time I touch something that isn’t mine, I make sure to clean my hands immediately so that I don’t contaminate anything I own with germs from these surfaces. I also always make sure to wipe down the seat, my seatbelt, and the tray table if I’m flying on an airplane. This way, I can ease my fears about contracting an illness. 

Even beyond COVID–19 as a threat, disinfecting your hands and the objects you touch most frequently will dramatically decrease your chances of getting sick in general.

Wear a comfortable, but safe, mask (and bring back-ups, too)

You’re likely going to be sitting in your airplane, train, or bus for several hours, so you’ll want to make sure your journey is as enjoyable and as safe as possible. 

I recommend doing your research beforehand and planning out which mask will work best for you since some people find certain masks more comfortable or safer than others. So, as part of your packing routine, set aside some time to find which mask you’ll want to use, and bring plenty of backups. You never know what kind of mishaps will arise, and you want to be prepared in case you need to switch out your mask for a new one!

Avoid eating and drinking during the journey

Eating and drinking during travel means having to take off your mask, which increases the risk of exposure to COVID–19 and other airborne illnesses. While it’s important to eat enough and stay hydrated, especially on long expeditions, try and plan your mask breaks for when you can properly socially–distance from other travelers. That way, you can still get what you need without putting others or yourself at risk. 

Social distance as much as possible

It can be hard to stay six feet apart on a plane, train, or bus, but if you can sit in an empty row, you’ll decrease your chances of being exposed to COVID–19. If you can’t sit alone, try and travel with a group of people you know have been safe or tested negative against the disease. That way, you can be sure you’re properly socially–distancing yourself from people you’re unsure about. And if neither of these are a possibility, just avoid taking your mask off if you can. 

While these extra precautions may seem like an inconvenience, they’re really meant to keep you healthy as travel starts to open back up. If you follow even just a few of these safety measures, you’re not only protecting yourself, but also everyone else who wants to see their loved ones during the break. So, pack your suitcases, mask up, and make sure to give the special people in your life an extra hug for the holidays. Happy traveling!

Ally Kalishman is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences with a prospective major in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics.