When social distancing guidelines became part of our everyday lives this year, solo travel turned into the smartest option for so many. Traveling by ourselves also allows us to make the best decisions for our own safety and budget, including accommodation options, itinerary interests, and what we ultimately feel the most comfortable with in light of the pandemic.
Shanika Hillocks is a writer, travel influencer and digital strategist based in Harlem, NY. Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, her travels took her all over Mexico and beyond, but recently she’s developed a love affair with the New York food and wine scene Like many of us, Hillocks has pursued experiences outside of her own home with caution this year, particularly as a solo traveler. She shared her top tips on travel during the holiday season.
When it comes to holiday travel, safety is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. For Hillocks, important precautions to take include staying connected while away. “I took my first solo trip to Oaxaca at the top of 2020 and it was important to me that my emergency contacts had a clear line of sight on my whereabouts. This is a tactic I've utilized while traveling pre-pandemic, and one of my go-to recommendations for solo travelers. Create a "view only" Google Sheet with information on where you're staying and the primary contact information--things like the address, direct phone number, and your room number if it's a hotel--and send it to your emergency contact(s) for visibility. If your itinerary changes, the edits applied can be viewed by those you give access to in real-time,” said Hillocks.
This sense of safety is especially important for Black travelers, who have not always historically felt welcomed or comfortable in a number of travel situations. The gazes and questioning can be exhausting, especially ahead of what’s supposed to be a relaxing experience. This is why train travel, which allows you to simply be a passenger, is a great alternative to other modes of transportation. Amtrak offers travelers the opportunity to avoid flights and still experience the scenic routes we all love. Another major perk of train travel is the ability to sit back and relax, without the worry of mapping out routes or making stops.
And when it comes to sanitation, Amtrak offers a new standard of travel that includes enhanced cleaning protocols, cashless transactions on board, social distancing on board and in stations, required face coverings and onboard filtration systems with a fresh air exchange rate every 4-5 minutes. Free Wi-Fi is offered on most trains, with plenty of legroom and no middle seat. With more than 30 train routes throughout the United State and flash sales, there is plenty of opportunity for the future of travel via train.
“As a Harlem dweller, I've used the train to explore several destinations in New York state including Hudson Valley, Accord, Poughkeepsie, and New Paltz. I most enjoy being able to observe the various elements of each region from the window view,” says Hillocks.
To save money, she recommends bringing your own food with you. “I've made it a point to pack my nutrient-dense snacks like walnuts or pistachios, nut butters, handheld fruits, and a water bottle to fill up at filtered fountains,” she said.
For safety precautions while traveling, Hillocks comes full prepared. “Ensure that you have enough PPE in your arsenal just in case you leave a mask while traveling. I like to have both reusable and
disposable masks at the ready, small packs of disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer on my person. In addition, I keep Vitamin C, oil of oregano, and activated charcoal in my personal item in anticipation of any physical changes I might experience while in transit,” she said.
Our comfort level with travel will continue to fluctuate in light of the pandemic. And though this new norm is not what we could have anticipated, the best way to navigate it is by being empowered and informed. As we look ahead to a new year and new possibilities, there’s always room to imagine what travel experience we’d like to have one day.
“I believe train travel allows an escape from the autopilot mode often associated with plane travel. For me, it gives me the opportunity to savor the time spent in motion without feeling the need to rush to my destination, which is a unique quality of train travel. As someone who grew up in Florida, I'm still learning to embrace the seasons so I'd love to take the train to the Adirondacks and into Canada for leaf peeing or watching the weather change into winter,” said Hillocks.
(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)