For the 50+ Traveler

Are you itching to start traveling again? Many people can't wait to start, and others are nervous about what it might be like to fly again. I felt the same way.

Prior to COVID-19, I traveled often. I didn't think much about it; it was just something I did as often as possible.

Then the pandemic hit, and all travel stopped. I had six trips and two cruises canceled due to COVID.

Hotel Hot Springs, Visit Vicksburg, and B and B on the Bayou provided free lodging during this trip to enjoy their activities. The Mid America Science Center, the Hot Springs Mountain Tower, and Garvan Woodland Gardens provided free admission. Haunted Vicksburg and the National Military Park both provided free tours for us. All opinions remain my own.

The writer and her husband wearing masks.

COVID Changed Things

The first two months, when everything shut down, I felt everything would be opening up again quickly, and then it dragged on a bit longer. I was ready to get out and go somewhere, but I wanted to be safe and travel responsibly.

At the end of June, we started taking some small one-day road trips to local destinations. In August and September, we made an overnight trip about two hours away, still in our state. It was better than not going anywhere, but some things were still closed or open for reduced times, and staffing was reduced.

While it was great to learn more about the local area, we longed for extended trips and farther destinations.

Shortly after the pandemic started, we said that as soon as we were able to go, we would visit Miramar Beach in Florida. We had friends there, and we were excited to see the area. As the months dragged on, we wondered if it would happen in 2020.

People wearing masks at the airport.

We Decided To Fly

In September, we finally bit the bullet and decided we would plan a trip to a few places on our bucket list and Miramar Beach. We knew travel would be different, and there was some risk of visiting a more populated area. But we were willing to take safety precautions so we could travel.

We also felt the travel industry was hurting, and we needed to do our part to help get things moving again.

We planned to fly to Memphis, Tennessee, and then rent a car and drive to Hot Springs, Arkansas. Spend several days there and then head to Florida. We planned a stop in Vicksburg, Mississippi, on the way to break up the driving.

A nearly-empty airport.

Concerns About The Trip

One of our concerns was that we would book tickets and rooms and make plans, and then things would get worse, and flights would be grounded. We made sure everything had a generous cancellation policy in case that happened so we would not lose our money.

The thing that worried us the most was flying. We wanted to be sure we were on a flight where the middle seats were empty. We like flying Southwest, and they were keeping the middle seats empty on all flights at the time, so we booked tickets about three weeks ahead of time.

Leading up to the trip, we were a bit concerned that leaving our rural bubble and visiting more populated areas with visitors from other regions might put us at risk of catching COVID, but felt the risk was minimal. I was more concerned about wearing a mask for several hours at the airport and during the flight.

We planned a trip that would combine several socially distanced outdoor activities and some indoor activities that would require masking up.

Empty airport security.

What Was Different About Flying

Arriving at the airport for an 11:30 a.m. flight, we found about a fourth of the people we usually see. There were zero wait times to get checked in. The lines had markings on the floor, identifying 6-foot distances, and signs were everywhere, reminding people that masks were required and to social distance.

Getting through security was faster than I expected. There were automated readers for tickets in the BWI Airport, so there was less touching of items. They still asked for a driver's license and asked you to remove your mask for 15 seconds till they confirmed it was you.

Usually, they would have six or so lines running through security. They only had two lines operating, and you still had to remove shoes, belts, etc. So not much changed there, but it was speedy. All the employees working were wearing gloves.

Once we arrived at the gate, it was not as crowded as usual since the middle seats were to remain empty.

Everyone had masks on, but social distancing was almost impossible.

When it came time to board the plane, they only permitted ten people to board at a time. They announced over and over not to line up in groups of 30 as normal. After the first 10 were on the plane, they called the next 10. So it did take a bit longer to board, but doing it this way allowed everyone to social distance, and there was never a crowd lined up.

Due to COVID, all paper pamphlets and magazines were removed from the seatbacks.

Flight attendant service was limited. They provided water and an individual bag of snack mix. The only time masks were to be removed was for eating or drinking.

During the flight, they reminded passengers to keep their masks on and limit moving on the plane.

We had a 30-minute layover and remained on the plane. During that time, we witnessed the cleaning crew come in and sanitize.

When the flight landed, they asked people not to jam the aisle waiting to deplane. They asked everyone to stay in their seat until it was their turn to leave. Most people followed that directive, but there are always a few who think the rules don't apply to them.

The Hotel Hot Springs in Arkansas.

Hotel And Attraction Changes

The Hotel Hot Springs in Arkansas required masking and social distancing. Instead of serving their regular buffet breakfast, they provided a bag breakfast that contained a breakfast sandwich, a blueberry muffin, fruit, and orange juice.

Restaurant hours were reduced due to fewer guests and COVID requirements.

The Garvan Woodland Gardens in Arkansas.

While in Hot Springs, we visited Crater of Diamonds State Park, Mid America Science Center, the Hot Springs Mountain Tower, Bathhouse Row, Quapaw Baths and Spa, and Garvan Woodland Gardens.

All had made changes to their operations due to COVID. Everything indoors required masks and social distancing. Operating hours of most activities were reduced. Seating capacity reduced, and touching of things discouraged.

The National Military Park in Vicksburg.

In Vicksburg, we had a tour of the National Military Park scheduled with a ranger. Due to COVID, they were only permitted to provide a non-contact tour. They drove their vehicle, and we stayed in our car and followed along. We connected over the internet, and he told us about the various sites we were seeing and the battles that were fought there. When we stopped to take pictures or see things, we were permitted to get out of the car if we wore masks, but the ranger was not allowed out of his vehicle.

We also participated in a Haunted Vicksburg Tour at night. We were outside walking around the community. The leader of the tour wore a mask the entire time. About 50 percent of the participants wore masks.

We stayed at the Anchuca, a bed and breakfast, and we were asked to wear a mask when we entered the public area for breakfast. Once seated, we could remove the mask. Tables were socially distanced.

The B and B on the Bayou.

In Miramar Beach, Florida, we stayed at an Airbnb, B and B on the Bayou. We had a private entry, and there was a note about extra sanitation measures taken to clean the space.

Most of the restaurants we visited required a mask when entering or moving about the building.

We visited several state parks and beaches. A few of the people at each had masks, but since it was outside and there was lots of space, most did not have masks on.

The shops we visited did require masks. Some limited the number of people entering their establishment.

Beautiful beach views on the writer's trip.

I'd Do It Again

Overall I felt the trip was a success. I never felt threatened at any time, people kept their distance, and there were times when I even forgot about COVID being a risk.

It was a great trip; I’m glad we went. I'd do it again in a heartbeat. In fact, I'm planning another trip after the New Year.

Pro Tips

Schedule a bit of extra time to get through security since as more people begin to travel, it will take more time to keep everyone distanced and get through security.

Take more than one mask! They are easy to lose, and not having one can mean no admittance to many places.

Don't be stressed out if you are in a place that doesn't require everyone to have a mask on. If you feel the need, wear your mask for protection and try to social distance as much as possible.

If having the middle seat empty is important to you, be sure to research before booking. Only a few airlines are still providing this.

Other helpful information for traveling during COVID: