Spending

$4,000 per person to travel in the U.S.: A new bill would help Americans vacation

The TRIP Act would give Americans $4,000 to travel

Twenty/20

Senator Martha McSally (R-AZ) recently proposed a new bill that, if passed, would give Americans a $4,000 tax credit for taking a vacation within the United States.

Under the American Tax Rebate and Incentive Program Act, or the American TRIP Act, each adult could claim up to $4,000 in travel-related expenses. Married couples could receive up to $8,000, and families would be eligible for another $500 credit per child. 

The credit would apply to vacations taken between December 31, 2019, and January 1, 2022, so if you took a vacation earlier in 2020, you could write it off in your taxes. To be eligible, the trip has to be more than 50 miles from your home. 

"The American TRIP Act is about getting more than 180,000 Arizonans and over 9 million Americans who are employed by the tourism and hospitality industries back to work," McSally said, according to a press release. "If Americans aren't traveling, then millions of other Americans have no job to go back to."

The idea may have some support from the White House. President Donald Trump discussed an "Explore America tax credit that Americans can use for domestic travel, including visits to restaurants," at a briefing in May, adding, "That's a big deal."

Still, critics have pointed to a number of problems with the bill, including a design that means low- and middle-income people are unlikely to benefit from the tax break. Plus, the bill might encourage travel at a time when the U.S. still does not have the coronavirus outbreak under control. For those reasons, experts say, the bill is unlikely to pass.

Yet the idea comes at a time when many Americans feel restless. Roughly 1 in 5 people (19%) say they would travel right now, according to a survey from The Vacationer during mid May of 583 Americans. An additional 39% say they would be comfortable traveling within the next 3-6 months.

Just because you want to travel doesn't mean you should yet, though, doctors warn. "I'm not trying to take travel away from anyone, but in this day and age it requires an extra layer of thought," says Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, a pulmonary and critical care medicine physician.

Whether or not the TRIP Act passes, there are precautions one should take when traveling during the pandemic. 

Focus on outdoor destinations and activities

The more time you can spend outdoors on your trip, the better. "Things that are outside are better than things that are inside," Dr. Nathan Grubaugh, an epidemiologist at Yale, told Grow

Camping or hiking in national and state parks is a good way to get out of the house while not putting yourself at great risk for contracting Covid-19. Plus, many trails are free to access. Research what state or national parks are open in your area on a site like All Trails.

Not all outdoor activities are safe. Water parks, for example, are outdoors but have many high-touch surfaces like railings and banisters, which can foster the transfer of the coronavirus. Same goes for cruises. Even if you envision yourself lying out on the deck, there are plenty of high-touch surfaces on a ship that could transmit the virus. 

"It's hard to pinpoint when cruise ships will be OK, but it's probably not now," Grubaugh says.

I'm not trying to take travel away from anyone, but in this day and age it requires an extra layer of thought.
Panagis Galiatsatos
pulmonary and critical care medicine physician

Due to coronavirus concerns, many typical summer destinations, like zoos, are altering their offerings so you can enjoy them from the car. For example, drive-thru zoos are sprouting up around the country. The Pittsburgh Zoo, is hosting a "drive-thru zoofari" for $60 per vehicle

Six Flags Great Adventure Park in Jackson, New Jersey, is hosting a drive-thru safari for $17.99 per person, or at no cost if you have a season pass. 

Drive-thru theaters are also reemerging as a safer way to see movies. In some areas, viewers can get that experience at a nominal cost: In Hockley, Texas, for example, the Showboat Drive-In is charging $8 per person.  In big cities, though, the situation is different. In Brooklyn, the new Skyline Drive-In NYC is charging $55 per car. Viewers can order food from food trucks on site. Pedestrians and bicyclists will be accommodated soon, according to the theater's website.

Pick a less risky mode of travel

Like water parks, airports have many high-touch surfaces. If you're planning a vacation, remember that driving is safer than flying, according to Galiatsatos. "Travel that needs people to be compacted, whether it's in a train, bus, or plane, will always be high risk," he says. 

"Planes are, for me, the scariest, because you are relying on everyone else doing the right thing" before getting to the airport, Galiatsatos adds. The risk of contracting Covid-19 is increased on lengthier flights, as the longer the flight time, the more likely it is that people will remove their masks to eat or make themselves comfortable.

Planes are, for me, the scariest, because you are relying on everyone else doing the right thing.
Panagis Galiatsatos

Risk of traveling in enclosed spaces has led to other travel trends: Twenty percent of travelers say they are more interested in RVs in the aftermath of the outbreak, according to data from the RV Industry Association. The industry group estimates 46 million people plan to take an RV trip in the next 12 months. To compare, in 2019, its research projected nearly 25 million people would take an RV trip during the peak spring and summer seasons.

Gas is also much cheaper right now than it was at this time last year. Right now, the average price for a gallon of gas is $2.18. Last year at this time, gas was $2.72. 

Choose vacation rentals over resorts 

As long as you don't have a lot of people going in and out of your personal room, staying at a hotel is relatively low risk. The same typically holds true for Airbnbs and other private rental properties.

"When it comes to surfaces, we worry about it when we have a lot of people touching things and there's very little time in between," Grubaugh says. "If you're getting a hotel or an Airbnb, all of these things are functionally very low risk." 

The risk increases if you're picking your accommodations for the shared, on-site amenities like a casino, water park, or restaurants. Spending a lot of your time in public areas of the property where many people are interacting with surfaces in a short period of time is less safe. "It's more about how you're spending your time," he says. 

If Senator McNally's bill passes, keep in mind that though it might make vacation more affordable for some U.S. families, it will remain important to consider how to travel safely.

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