Monday,  October 18, 2021  3:29 pm

How the partial government shutdown could ruin travel to the U.S.

How the partial government shutdown could ruin travel to the U.S.
Christine Hogg

Christine Hogg is the Associate Digital Editor at PAX Global Media. Prior to joining PAX, she obtained her Honours BA in Journalism from the University of Toronto. Upon graduating, she went on to write for several travel publications while travelling the world. Her longest trip was a three-week stint in Europe, and the shortest was a 16-hour adventure in Iceland. Get in touch:

The U.S. is quickly approaching the three-week mark in what could be the longest partial government shutdown in its history.

Hundreds of thousands of U.S. employees are staying home from work or are working without pay.

However, for travellers to the United States, the shutdown represents a challenge from a tourism standpoint, as some major cultural, natural, and historical attractions remain closed. Those who have already made plans to visit the U.S. this year may face disruption and disappointment in some areas upon arrival.

The following areas could be affected by the shutdown:


Classified as an essential service, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol remains open, which means visitors may still enter and exit the country at various border checkpoints across the country. However, travellers have been advised to plan for longer wait times. 

Major Canadian airlines have advised Canadian travellers to allocate the same amount of airport check-in time for a U.S. route as they would for an international one—three hours. 

In a recent Tweet, Air Canada wrote:

"Air Canada advises customers travelling to the U.S. that they arrive at Canadian airports three hours prior to their scheduled departure time due processing times of customers by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency," the airline tweeted.

Due to the fact that customs officers are working without pay, airports are reportedly seeing a spike in the number of officers calling in sick, which equates to longer wait times for passengers to get through the security screen points. 

The Government of Canada has provided an online resource for Canadians so that they may check Canada-U.S. border wait times.

National parks

Most parks will remain open, but they are likely severely understaffed. 

What does this mean? Essentially, those who would like to enter the park may do so, but must understand that resources are limited. Travellers should exercise a high degree of caution on the trails, and be familiar with their surroundings at all times, as the absence of staff could mean that travellers are on their own should an emergency arise.

The fate of Joshua Tree National Park is one example. 

Tourists need to exercise caution when visiting national parks, as most employees are absent, and unable to assist guests.

Tour guides will also likely be absent from the parks. Bathrooms, campsites, resource centres, and trash collection will all be closed. 

In fact, according to this report by National Geographic, the amount of garbage that has already piled up in national parks across the country could take years to clean up.

A lack of funding for park facilities, like public washrooms, means that travellers could also face the risk of coming in contact with human sewage or waste. Excessive garbage is also taking its toll on wildlife and natural resources, with trash spilling onto roadways and waterways. 

Despite campsites being closed, a lack of staff means there's been a spike in trespassing, and setting up camp in protected or prohibited areas could leave irreversible damage on natural land.


Due to the partial government shutdown, all 19 of the Smithsonian museums, as well as the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. are closed.

In a Twitter post, the Smithsonian wrote: 

"Due to the , Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo are closed. We will update our operating status as soon as the situation is resolved. We do not plan to update social media other than to inform you of our operating status."

The 19 Smithsonian museums in the collection include:

  • The Anacostia Community Museum
  • Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
  • Arts and Industries Building
  • Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
  • Freer Gallery of Art
  • Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
  • National Air and Space Museum
  • National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
  • National Museum of African American History and Culture
  • National Museum of African Art
  • National Museum of American History
  • National Museum of the American Indian
  • National Museum of the American Indian's George Gustav Heye Center
  • National Museum of Natural History
  • National Portrait Gallery
  • National Postal Museum
  • Renwick Gallery
  • Smithsonian American Art Museum
  • Smithsonian Institution Building (The Castle)
  • National Zoological Park (National Zoo)