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After spending months (and months) staring at that one weird crack in the ceiling of your living room, you’ve decided to take a much-needed trip to a cozy vacation home a few hours away. Traveling by car and staying in a private house or cabin with members of your own household can be a lower-risk way to take a vacation during the pandemic, according to the CDC. But booking a vacation rental (and what you do when you get there) has changed in the age of COVID-19. Here are seven things you need to know to stay safe—and keep others safe too—before you go.

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1. Local Infection Rates Can Change

The coronavirus infection rate might be at an all-time low at home, but that doesn’t mean the numbers will be the same where you’ll be vacationing. Before you book your trip, check the New York Times U.S. coronavirus map and case count, which filters cases by state and county, and pick a location with a low infection rate, if possible. Once you’ve booked, these numbers might change. Continue to check the map to stay updated on any unexpected spikes or shutdowns.

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2. Your Host Relies On Your Honesty (and Vice Versa)

A few years ago, if your vacation rental company or host asked you to list everything you did the week before your trip, you’d probably think they were being nosy. Now, most rental companies ask you to cancel your trip if you’ve recently been exposed to COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms. They might even ask you to avoid traveling to certain states or countries with high infection rates prior to your trip. You could ignore that sniffle (it’s just allergies…right?), but you’d be putting your host, plus any cleaning crew and guests coming to stay after you leave, at risk. It’s best to be as honest and open as possible and expect your host to do the same.

cleaning at home
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3. Cleaning Policies Are Strict (and If They Aren’t, Don’t Book)

While COVID-19 is spread mainly through airborne particles, it’s still possible for it to spread on surfaces—especially those shared by multiple people, like doorknobs and light switches, the CDC notes. There should be a strict cleaning protocol in place at any vacation rental you book. Most companies now have their cleaning policies clearly outlined on their website. If not, ask the host how the home will be cleaned prior to booking. Consider booking a home that features a 24-hour vacancy policy between guests to keep risk to a minimum.

woman cleaning doorknob
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4. …Still, Clean When You First Arrive

As soon as you get to your destination, open the windows for as long as you can to keep the air circulating in the rental home, the CDC suggests. And although the house might look sparkling when you get there, it doesn’t hurt to do a once-over on high-touch surfaces with disinfecting wipes, especially if you have children who might be prone to putting their hands in their mouths. Keep hand sanitizer and additional cleaning products handy throughout your trip and use them regularly, as well as make sure everyone in the home washes their hands.

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5. While You’re There, Respect Is Key

You’re finally on vacation! In the old days, that meant hitting up every restaurant, coffee shop and tourist destination in town. Now, it means staying outside (wearing a mask, of course) and in areas with as few people as possible. Instead of dining in a restaurant, get takeout or eat outside. Want to check out the boardwalk? Go early in the morning, so you’ll have the whole beach to yourself. When you aren’t outdoors, hang out in the house with your family as much as possible, instead of going to crowded public spaces. Your host and her future guests will thank you.

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6. Reviews Matter More Than Ever

So, you’re back from your trip and you had a blast. The house was sparkling clean, you had a great time relaxing with your family and the entire trip felt low-risk. Make sure to leave a detailed review so other guests know how seriously your host is taking precautions against COVID-19 in their rental.

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7. You Might Be Able to Get Your Money Back

…Or, maybe you’re back from your trip and things didn’t go as smoothly as you’d hoped. The floor was dirty, your host wasn’t wearing a mask and you spent the whole time taking bigger risks than you’d anticipated. Share your experience with the rental company—if their protocol wasn’t followed or you felt unsafe, you might be entitled to a refund.

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