Whether you're planning to travel to the States from abroad, or you want to treat yourself to a nice weekend getaway, you might feel a bit hesitant due to the unfortunate event of the government shutdown. Here are some things you should know during this time, as well as some major tips to make your trip easier and worth it!
What is the government shutdown?
Hmm, how do I say this without getting super political and angry?
"In United States politics, a government shutdown occurs when Congress fails to pass sufficient appropriation bills or continuing resolutions to fund federal government operations and agencies, or when the President refuses to sign such bills or resolutions into law." - Wikipedia
Because of a damn wall.
You might be confused as to what this affects when it comes to travel and if this will ruin your family plans or your solo-try-to-find-yourself-part-5.
In short, you'll be fine.
Will the airport be a nightmare?
Most likely not.
I flew out to the Denver Airport from the Raleigh-Durham Airport on the 13th day of the government shutdown and already having airport anxiety, I got there bright and early with the added notion that the lines would be horrendous, there will be no security or no one to handle questions.
I basically over-imagined an airport with no workers.
However, it was all so lovely and easy. The lines were not bad for 8 am, my one-hour delay was due to weather and nothing more, and everyone seemed like it was another day in the life. Even going through security, I went through my usual hijab pat-down and I was sent off to wait for my flight, early than I would have liked.
Even returning, I carried a bottle of sand from the Great Sand Dunes National Park and I was pulled to the side for a quick questioning about it. TSA stepped out of the blue to do a quick test and I was again, sent off to board my flight.
Airports? All a breeze.
But I think I got lucky.
Reports have been shown that in major airports, lines have had wait times up to an hour or two, TSA staffs have had more call outs than ever due to not being paid during this time, and major airports such as Miami have had to shut down terminals amid the staff shortage. Based on certain airlines, flying out may be a longer waiting game than you expect.
If you are flying from out of the country, operations should be as normal. Follow the guidelines and rules as you should to have a smoother time. At most, times might be affected.
So what should you do?
DO be kind to the staff you come across. Be nice to the ticketing agents. Be nice to the security staff and TSA agents. Be patient and realize that they have their own worries and they may have been dealing with this for the past month now and may have to deal with this a bit longer.
DO travel smart. Follow the TSA guidelines with your liquids and baggage rules. Keep electronics near the top of our bags to easily pull them out during scanning. TSA may be short on staff but they will pull you out if needed, and thus adding to your trip time.
DO get TSA Pre-Check to avoid the lines! You may not get this day of but apply early before your trip to avoid the long lines.
Where can I go/not go during the shutdown?
Unfortunately, the shutdown does affect traveling to some of America's great destinations.
To vaguely put, national parks and monuments.
Let's start with the national parks - it's funded by the Interior Department of the government. National parks are one of the most affected parts of the government shutdown, and the catch is, most will probably stay open.
Meaning, a number of the parks will still be accessible to visitors (yay!) but, due to the limited staffing, there will be closed access to a number of park facilities such as restrooms, entrances, and visitor centers. This also raises a number of issues with trash and conservation in these parks as trash will pile up, sites are unmonitored for activity (Joshua Tree National Park for example, which has been hit with human waste and vandalism).
Some States have stepped in to fork out the expenses to keep their state treasures thriving. Arizona reportedly has been spending $64,000 to keep the park open and clean. New York has been paying $65,000 a day to keep the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, which has over 12,000 visitors a day, open.
During my trip out to Colorado, I drove up to the edge of the Rocky Mountains National Park and came across many closures which interrupted my route. Sadly I missed out on Bear Lake and Moraine Park. Luckily, when I drove down past Colorado Springs to the Great Sand Dunes, I was able to visit since it was open 24/7, and since no one was there, I didn't have to pay entrance fees. However, due to the short (or no) staff, this did mean that the roads were unpaved with snow (terrifying for a southerner like me), and if anything had happened to me during my hike, it would take far longer than usual to seek help from a park ranger.
Washington DC has even had a hit of its own. Home to so many national monuments and sites, each one has been affected and closed down due to the shutdown and shortage of funding. The National Gallery of Art, each of the Smithsonian Museums, and the National Zoo have been closed.
One hit that also has come unexpectedly are the restaurants and local businesses not only near the DC museums and monuments, but all parks and sites affected by the government shutdown. Due to the decreased foot traffic from workers and tourists, business have taken a hit of their own. Some have even started their own #ShutdownSpecials.
Lastly, the most interesting thing I saw that was affected was social media sites for some of these places. I kept stalking the Great Sand Dunes Instagram page to see how it'd look with the coming snow, but also to see how active it was during this shutdown, and it was stunned to find out that the page was inactive due to the shutdown. Social media managers for these parks too are not working too it seems. Thankfully, I reached out to visitors before me who posted online to find out the tea.
So, how should you act?
DO check what parks are open. I used the National Parks Service site to update me on what roads, parks, and sites were closed and planned my trip around there.
DON'T for the love of God, litter. Take your trash with you! Be mindful of what you leave behind because it might take a long time for someone else to come and clean it after you. Realize that there are other people, pets, and live animals that roam these areas and you don't want to jeopardize someone else's' trip OR an animals habitat because you didn't think to carry a trash bag with you! I'm a mess but I'm a contained, eco-friendly mess!
DO your research! Just because some parks are open does not mean that you should still go. The Great Sand Dunes was open but the roads were unpaved, the staff and park rangers weren't there, and there was limited access to information on site about the area. Thanks to my research I rented a four-wheel drive and thanks to my intuition I cut my hike short just in the case event that something happened.
DO utilize local businesses! Especially near the locations where the government shut down hits. In DC, still, take the time to walk through the monuments and visit the great foodie spots!
DO donate to the parks! I always wanted my own National Parks Pass but since the Great Sand Dunes had no entrance fees, I got through freely! Though I felt a bit guilty during this hard time for the parks, consider giving back! Volunteer your time if you live near a park by helping with the cleaning, or look up the park and find out if you can donate money to keep it funded!
DO bring hand sanitizer's, flushable wipes, and any extra things you may need for sanitation. Bathrooms may be shut down so if you do happen to do your business, stay healthy about it.
DON'T vandalize. This is not your canvas.
DO bring your own snacks and drinks! Concessions most likely might be closed.
DO consider alternative parks! Not all parks are national parks, so consider visiting state parks if you have that flexibility!
DON'T go off the trail! Respect the signs and respect the trails. Do not think you'll be completely fine venturing out on your own or with your group. This would literally be the beginning of a horror film.
DO double check before camping. Just because there are no entrance fees, or camping fees when you enter a park, does not always mean you can. Call and check to see if camping is permitted, recommended, and what special rules are in effect if you do decide to do so.
Government shutdowns suck, but that doesn't mean that your trip should be ruined.
The best way I can think of traveling during this time is coming across a few more hiccups than imagined. My best advice is to be a bit more patient, a bit more aware, and overall empathetic those who are affected during this time. Travel safe, and be well!