Here’s what to look for when selecting a hotel or Airbnb during a holiday trip, and how to lower your personal risk during your stay.

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Experts recommend travelers check in with a hotel before departure to make sure they’re following CDC guidelines on COVID-19. Getty Images

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have avoided travel, preferring to stay close to home.

However, as the holidays approach and more and more people are fully vaccinated, people are feeling safer venturing away from home, once again staying in hotels and Airbnbs.

Hotels and Airbnb hosts are happy to hear that — and many of them are doing a lot to protect you and their employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Hotels, like any shared space, come with the risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19,” said Alex Butler, senior editor at the travel website Lonely Planet. “But most hotels have adjusted their normal protocols and cleaning procedures to mitigate this risk.”

She said most hotels will list the measures they’re taking on their website⁠, making it easy for you to do your own research to make sure you’ll feel adequately protected before you make any reservations.

“These could range from enhanced disinfection processes to requiring all guests be vaccinated, like at a number of New York City hotels,” she said.

Experts say if you’re going to pay to stay somewhere, make sure your host is taking the pandemic seriously.

As Butler pointed out, the first step is to check websites for what steps hotels and other facilities are taking to protect guests.

“I think that as long as the hotels and Airbnbs are transparent about what measures they are taking to make sure that it is safe for people to come and stay with them, it should be OK,” said Dr. Gabriela M. Andujar Vazquez, an infectious disease physician and associate hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center in Massachusetts.

“It depends on what state we’re talking about, but the recommendations that the CDC put out for hospitality and opening would be something to look at to make sure that there’s a guidance,” she said.

Andujar Vazquez recommends looking at the local guidelines and contacting the hotel or Airbnb you’re interested in beforehand to see what exactly they’re implementing.

Decreased occupancy, frequent disinfecting, digital keys, 24-hour vacancy between guest departures, and digital check-in are some measures now available at many hotels.

The CDC recommendations on how to safely travel include a lengthy list of tips as well. They include:

  • wearing masks in the lobby or other common areas
  • taking the stairs instead of riding elevators with strangers
  • minimizing your time in areas (like dining rooms, fitness centers, and lounges) where you might be closer than 6 feet to other people

If you have your sights set on an Airbnb, be aware of their guidelines for cleanliness.

Every host who commits to their Enhanced Cleaning Protocol will receive a special callout on their listing, a spokesperson told Healthline.

The protocol is a signal to guests that they’re committed to a stepped-up cleaning and sanitization routine.

Hosts who are unable to commit to that protocol can opt into something called Booking Buffer to create a longer vacancy period between stays.

A buffer between guests is something Dr. Patrick Hughes, director of the emergency medicine simulation program at Florida Atlantic University, encourages.

The risk of contracting the virus by airborne particles when entering a space that someone who has developed COVID-19 has been in is low after 24 hours.

Dr. Stacey Rizza, an infectious disease specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, which advised Hilton Hotels on their cleaning and disinfection protocols, said customers should look for COVID-19 safety measures in hotels and wherever else they go.

“Particularly whether or not they are regularly disinfecting high-touch surfaces, whether public spaces and private rooms are being cleaned and disinfected frequently, whether the staff are wearing appropriate protective equipment and following the rules of social distancing, and acknowledge that they’ve put these measures in place and are adhering to them,” Rizza told Healthline.

The reality today is that many of the activities we enjoy now involve some risk due to COVID-19.

Hotels are no different.

“Anytime you, whether it’s board an airplane or stay in a hotel, or go to a gym, or somewhere where there’s public space and crowds of people, there’s an increased risk for getting COVID-19,” Hughes said.

Though the risk of contracting the virus that causes COVID-19 from touching surfaces is very low according to the CDC, it’s still possible.

Being aware of the areas of potential risk in a hotel or Airbnb is important.

Those would include high-contact surfaces, such as light switches, remote controls, and doorknobs.

Areas where people congregate, such as the public hotel bathrooms, gyms, or buffets, are places where the virus could potentially spread.

Hughes said staying away from home can be safe “as long as people are aware of high-contact surfaces and making sure to clean those, or making sure the hotel has their staff aware that all those spaces and surfaces need to be cleaned.”

The presence of employees who are actively cleaning and disinfecting is a good sign.

“Staff members that are cleaning throughout the day — you’ve seen that instituted in grocery stores, where common surfaces, such as the handles on the freezer section or whatever else, are continuously being wiped down during the day by staff members to try and decrease the risk of contact spread,” Hughes said.

Andujar Vazquez notes that you may notice cleaning personnel becoming increasingly more visible.

“In hospitality, they typically had this mantra before the pandemic where you don’t need to see the cleaning, but cleaning happens magically,” she said.

“Now it’s turning into, ‘We are going to make it visible so that people know that we are actually doing it.’ So I’m thinking that we are going to start seeing more and more of these visible cleaning people are around, cleaning public spaces. That’s probably what I (would) look for,” Andujar Vazquez said.

How comfortable are you with the idea of staying away from home?

How confident are you that the place you’re staying in is taking all the necessary precautions?

Experts say you need to ask yourself these questions before traveling.

It’s also important to be informed about the number of COVID-19 cases in the city or town you’ll be visiting.

“I think that in an area where there may be reports of some uptick of cases, it might be preferable to avoid if you can,” Andujar Vazquez said.

As long as it has been cleaned properly beforehand, your hotel room or Airbnb should be a less risky environment than any shared space.

“Only you and whoever is staying with you are using that bathroom, so you know that no one else is using that bathroom,” Andujar Vazquez said. “If you’re going to the lobby bathroom, then other people are going there, so think about the areas where it would be shared.”

Andujar Vazquez added that she wouldn’t be concerned about air conditioning spreading the virus in the hotel setting.

“I would not be concerned in the community itself, because the areas where we’re most concerned are when it’s in the healthcare setting mainly, because we do a lot of things that produce a lot of aerosols,” she said.

“In a hotel, or an apartment or a house, if you have good ventilation — meaning you can either open the doors or open windows — it should be OK. Presumably, you’re not staying there with sick people,” Andujar Vazquez said.

Rizza said that if you’re staying at a place that’s taking the virus seriously, that has put measures in place and can document that they’re following them, additional cleaning or wiping down surfaces on your own isn’t necessary as transmission of COVID-19 via surfaces is very low.

“But obviously it’s up to each person for their individual comfort, and if you choose to stay in a location that does not have these measures in place, then certainly on an individual level you can maybe choose to do that yourself,” she added.

Butler said, “If you’re comfortable with the hotel’s precautions, then you can also take a few extra steps to reduce your personal risk after you arrive: wear a mask in shared spaces; open the windows, if possible, to ventilate your room; avoid packed elevators; and skip sitting in a crowded lobby or hotel bar.”

“Traveling during the pandemic all comes down to personal choice and understanding the risks,” she said. “The most important thing travelers can do is stay up-to-date on all local rules, regulations, and sentiments in their destination.”

We understand that you’re worried about your health and safety away from home, and the safety of the communities that you’re visiting around the world. As regulations and requirements for travel shift, we’re here to help you navigate this complex and often confusing landscape. Whether you’re driving to a natural wonder in your state or flying around the globe, we can help you protect yourself and others.

Check back often to learn how to protect yourself and your loved ones on your next journey.