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The New You: Tips for safe travel during the pandemic

As many of us start to make vacation plans again, here are some important things to know.

CLEVELAND — The beach, the sun, the food: Many of us could use a vacation right about now.

Dr. Joseph Khabbaza, a pulmonary and critical care physician at the Cleveland Clinic, says the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many of his patients to cut back or cancel travel plans over the last year.

"Especially here in Cleveland, we have a lot of patients that spend three or four months down in Florida, and many have even canceled those trips," he said.

So many of you have canceled your trips that the airline industry lost an estimated $35 billion last year, according to CNBC. But thanks to the vaccine, things are slowly starting to change.

"I am seeing some patients even in the higher risk category who are feeling safe with traveling," Khabbaza told us.

However, the danger of contracting COVID-19 still exists, and it is important to not let our guard down.

"I think the main issue with various forms of traveling--especially with airplanes, trains and buses--is that you have that wild card of who is going to be sitting next to you and how they approach the pandemic," Khabbaza explained. "The more you’re around people you don’t know or who are outside your bubble, the higher risk you are."

Experts believe that just by sitting next to someone for 10-15 minutes, you could significantly increase your risk of contracting the virus. Khabbaza says it's important to consider how much risk you're comfortable taking.

"You have to be aware of what your own personal level of risk tolerance is," he said. "There are some people who are still nervous about going to the grocery store."

The CDC is still discouraging any unnecessary travel even if you are vaccinated. However, if a warm destination is calling your name, make sure you’re sitting six feet apart from non family members and bring plenty of hand sanitizer. The TSA now even allows passengers to keep up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer in their carry-on bags.

"It all comes down to distancing, masking and being aware of what your hands are doing," Khabbaza said.

The safest way to travel may be to drive, since it likely won’t include any interactions with people outside your bubble. Khabbaza has another suggestion to help protect yourself from the virus.

"I've been recommending wearing a face shield," he said. "That is one extra level of protection that is quite comfortable."

I asked the doctor how long did he thinks travel restrictions would be in place. When could we return back to normal? He believes that it would depend on human behavior, whether or not the vaccine protected against additional COVID mutations and how many of us got the vaccine.