How to Travel Safely During Covid
The world is slowly opening up and travelers are itching to get back out on the road. The US is doing an incredible job getting millions of Americans vaccinated, but remember that traveling during Covid, and its aftermath, will be a different experience than we all remember.
Even if you are vaccinated there is still a chance you could contract or spread Covid to others, particularly those who are not yet vaccinated. There are also restrictions in place for many destinations whether a traveler is vaccinated or not. Planning and following appropriate safety precautions will make it considerably safer for everyone traveling.
Do your part to limit the spread of Covid by being a responsible traveler - remember, you might be low risk but there are countless people you could come into contact with who aren’t. Even when the US has provided all Americans who want a vaccine with one there will still be dozens of countries around the world lagging behind in vaccine efforts. That means you may be traveling alongside at risk or unvaccinated individuals.
Your method of travel will play a major factor in the risk level of your trip and there are many things you can do to limit the risk to yourself and others. Covid is constantly changing our world and it's possible that things change mid trip. So if you choose to travel use the tips, tricks, and knowledge in this guide to get out and travel responsibly. And know that we’re excited about the possibilities of getting back out there with you!
Do your part, travel safely, and follow our checklist of travel tips during and in the aftermath of Covid-19.
Best Ways to Travel During Covid
Where you are going, what you’re doing and how you’re getting there can affect how much risk you are taking when traveling. Here are our quick takes on the risk levels for each mode of transportation based on our research, personal experience, and the CDC guidelines on travel.
Highest Risk: Cruises
Ocean cruise lines are still under a no sail order in most of the world, although you can buy tickets for cruises in 2022 and later. The CDC ranks cruises as a level 4 risk level (very high) and recommends travelers avoid all cruise ships, including river cruises. This may change as vaccination efforts continue to ramp up but for now, if you choose to travel, stick to other methods.
High Risk: Public Transit
Traveling on buses/trains can significantly increase your risk of contracting or spreading Covid-19. Public transit generally has poor air circulation, no air filtering, and often small and crowded spaces that do not allow for social distancing. There are many frequently touched surfaces and buses & trains are not as consistently cleaned and sanitized as other means of transportation. The length of time you are traveling by bus or train can significantly affect your level of risk.
Moderate Risk: Air Travel
Most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and gets filtered on airplanes. Social distancing is still difficult on crowded flights and air travel requires spending time in security lines and airport terminals, bringing passengers in contact with others and frequently touched surfaces. The good news is that planes are cleaned and sanitized after each flight and terminals are cleaned and sanitized more often now thanks to new guidelines. TSA screening generally includes temperature testing and most travelers require proof of a negative Covid test for the majority of international destinations. This will limit who you are exposed to while you’re in transit.
As more American’s and residents of destination countries get vaccinated air travel will likely continue to be a moderate or lower risk method of travel. TSA data shows the number of air travelers steadily increasing this year and expectations are this will continue.
Low Risk: Car Travel
Car travel, in your own vehicle with only people from your household, is ideal. You can still be exposed during breaks but the length and level of those exposures can be limited. Appropriate precautions like wearing a mask, limiting the length of time you spend around others and consistent hand washing can reduce your risk when you stop at hotels and for meals.
Use the following checklist to plan your trip, prepare for departure, stay safe when traveling by air, and choose the best activities at your destination.
Planning Your Trip
1 - Select Your Destination: This might be an obvious starting point but there are extra factors to keep in mind. Every destination will be different in their Covid travel restrictions and only certain countries are even accepting tourists. Plus, that list is constantly changing. Make sure you confirm your desired destination is allowing tourists, and remember that it could change at any time. Strongly consider domestic travel for the safest option. Many of the top places to visit in the US are driving distance or easy, non-connecting flights.
Review any travel advisories for your proposed destination This should be standard practice anyways to avoid dangerous locations but with Covid outbreaks popping up without notice its extra prudent now.
2 - Be Flexible With Travel Dates: Plenty of countries and destinations have reopened and then implemented restrictions or shut down so keep your travel dates flexible. Airlines across the world cut routes so previously easy to reach destinations might have limited flight options now. Despite all these possible last minute changes that could throw off your plans, airlines and hotels are offering never before seen cancellation flexibility so you can easily adjust as needed.
3 - Review Covid Stats: Look at how your proposed destination has handled Covid and how it's currently being managed. Data is easily available with a quick Google search. Understanding how the country has handled Covid, what they are currently doing to limit the spread, and how low current cases are will give you an idea how safe the destination is compared to others.
4 - Plan to Stay Longer: Many countries and destinations have some level of required quarantine after arrival, often until a second negative test result or up to 2 weeks no matter what. This can put a serious dent in a short term trip so consider staying longer than you usually would. That way you’ll still get a full vacation even with a quarantine period at the start.
If you have the flexibility, consider working remotely to extend your trip. The number of remote workers this past year has skyrocketed and millions now have the luxury of location independence to work. Consider extending your trip and working from a different location. Many are getting their first taste of working and traveling as digital nomads, or plan to continue working remotely after Covid.
5 - Plan to Move Around Less: Yes, it's tempting to see as much of a region as possible when you're there but every time you move around you increase the risk of contracting and spreading Covid. Taking public transit, whether its planes, buses, trains, or ride shares will always mean a high chance of close contact with others. Instead of bouncing between a bunch of countries or hopping between cities take this time to slow down and stay in one city, in one country, longer. Who knows, you might just end up getting more out of the trip!
Preparing For Your Trip
1 - Research the Covid Rules at Your Destination: You’ve already done research to understand the Covid-19 travel restrictions in getting to your destination, now make sure you know what it will be like on the ground. Are there specific regions with higher cases? Lockdown measures in place? Restrictions on certain businesses? Curfews in effect? Research this in advance so you aren't caught off guard or unprepared.
2 - Covid Testing for Travel. Nearly all international destinations will require a negative PCR test within a few days of arrival. Plan your timing and schedule your test so that you’ll get the result in time. On our trip to Barbados as digital nomads during Covid, we had to ensure our test was within 72 hours of arrival. This can be a very tight window if haven't planned ahead as many testing sites still need 3 to 5 days to return your results. Even if your destination does not require a test to get in this is worth doing anyways to ensure you aren’t inadvertently spreading Covid.
3 - Pay to Book Seats: If your ticket doesn't include seat selection its worth paying to strategically place yourself as far from others as you can. Even though the CDC has said it's relatively safe on the plane because of the recirculated air, it's still unnerving to be jammed between two strangers for hours at a time in the midst of a global pandemic.
4 - Get Travel Health Insurance: Many regular travel health insurance plans do not include coverage for Covid or Covid related situations. Expect to pay more than you're used to and double check your plan has adequate coverage for Covid. Many countries require health insurance that covers Covid for travelers.
5 - Prep Your Documents: Proof of vaccination and pre departure testing will likely get requested multiple times. As well as proof of health insurance for some destinations. Print out a bunch of copies to keep with your passport, especially for checking into your flight and going through health screening at arrival.
6 - Prep Your Pandemic Pack: The contents of your carry on daypack might look a little different than previous trips. Load your pack with masks and hand sanitizers. We also recommend bringing alcohol disinfectant wipes for the area around you on the plane. Most airlines provide some of these items but it's inconsistent if you get them before taking your seat or after takeoff.
7 - Review Arrival Requirements: Gone are the days of clearing immigration and strolling out the door 20 minutes after touchdown. The addition of health screenings has added a significant amount of time to arrival proceedings. Research in advance what to expect so you can move through without any problems and have your documents prepared in advance. Expect the arrival process to take at least an hour if you’re going international.
8 - Remember That You Can Change Last Minute: Airlines and hotels have virtually eliminated change and cancelation fees entirely. With most US airlines you can cancel a ticket mere hours before takeoff with no penalty. So don't hesitate to make last minute changes if you feel uncomfortable or unsafe because of a changing situation.
Covid Air Travel
1 - Expect Rough Travel Days: The fun of travel days that many of us love is largely absent when traveling during Covid. And this will likely be the case for a while. Extended hours wearing masks, extra long waits, and a constant hyper awareness to keep your distance from others is draining. Set your expectations and prepare to feel extra exhausted after travel days.
2 - Bring Extra Masks: N95 on the plane and a cloth mask when waiting in the terminal is a great strategy. If you’re not used to wearing a mask for extended times you might want to swap them out, the tight N95s get very uncomfortable after long periods. Shout out to the health care professionals who have been wearing these daily for the last year! It's also worth having a stash of masks to use at your destination. It might be harder to find ones you like there.
3 - Arrive Early: Budget extra time for additional screening. Even though airports are less busy, the extra screening and social distancing means things move way slower.
4 - Pre Flight Prep: Eat and bathroom break before the flight. Limiting in flight lavatory runs is self explanatory. Additionally, N95 masks are meant to be put in place and remain in place, not repeatedly lowered, so they’ll be more effective if you can leave them on the entire time you're around others. So that means eat and drink some water before the flight and do your best to wait until you're off the plane and away from others before removing your mask.
5 - Arrival: Expect a much longer arrival process with additional health screening and testing validation before leaving the airport.
6 - Prepare For Quarantine: Most countries require a mandatory quarantine period, generally from 3-14 days. Often this period ends when you test negative a second time. Prepare for this idle time by packing items like books, playing cards, a laptop, and a retractable HDMI cable to stream movies onto a TV. You’ll be itching to get out and explore during this period so make sure you have activities you can do in your accommodations to keep busy.
What to do on Your Trip
Choose Safe Activities: Focus on activities where you can easily maintain social distance. Think beach days over spa visits and walking tours over bus tours.
Support Those Most Impacted: You’ll see the appreciation from locals and small businesses in your daily interactions. Particularly when you're in a country with a high reliance on tourism. Do your part to support those who are most impacted and frequent the small businesses whose livelihoods are dependent on tourism.
Respect Local Precautions: Remember that the safety precautions, rules, and expectations at your destination might be different from those at home. Follow local guidelines and do your part to keep yourself, locals, and other travelers safe!
Traveling During Covid
As the world gradually opens up remember these guidelines to travel safely during Covid. We’re likely still a long time away from a return to normal travel, so even as vaccination efforts continue to ramp up, these precautions will be applicable.
Even if you’re fully vaccinated remember many others aren’t, and moving around will always present at least some risk to yourself and others. Be prepared, follow local safety guidelines, and do your part to stay safe so we can all explore exciting new destinations while traveling safely during Covid.
We’re optimistic 2021 will see many of us returning to the road and the skies. If you’re eager to scratch that travel itch sign up for our newsletter below to get updates on all our best travel tips, destinations, gear guides, and sales!
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