Important Tips for Traveling During a Pandemic

by Skye Sherman - August 17 , 2020


Photo Credit: by Hernán Piñera, flickr.com
Photo Credit: by Hernán Piñera, flickr.com

Looking to plan a trip? Travel is an extremely popular pastime, but when the COVID-19 virus hit, taking flight or hitting the road went off the table. For months, in countries around the world, people have faced travel bans, lockdown, quarantine, and many other restrictions. Many people were discouraged even to leave their homes, much less travel for work or pleasure.

However, now that restrictions have eased a bit and the world has begun adjusting to a “new normal,” travel is again a possibility. Before you plan a trip during the pandemic, you should consider the risks. While traveling always comes with some inherent danger, traveling while the COVID-19 pandemic is still underway makes it even riskier.

Consider what “normal life” is like right now: You wear a mask, practice social distancing, wash your hands regularly, and only touch sanitary surfaces to avoid contracting or spreading the virus. The same goes for travel. In addition, establishments have upped their cleaning protocols, putting extra sanitization measures and health screenings in place.

So while travel may not look the same as it used to, it’s still something you can do, even during the pandemic. In this article, we’ll explore how to decide if you should travel during the pandemic, how to travel safely, where you can travel during the pandemic, and more.

How to decide if you should travel or not during a pandemic

Deciding whether to travel during the pandemic is both a personal choice and one that demands consideration for others. You should first determine whether or not it’s safe for you personally to travel. Are you in a high-risk category that makes you more susceptible to COVID-19 and complications from the virus? Then you should probably stay home. Are you unwilling to wear a mask, practice good hygiene, and stay six feet from others? Stay home.

However, if you are in good health with no high-risk conditions and you’re willing to take extra steps to follow CDC guidelines, then travel is a possibility for you. But you should also consider things like family obligations, who you come into contact with, and how you’re feeling. If you feel any symptoms of illness whatsoever, then leaving home is an automatic no-go. If you are in charge of caring for an elderly relative or come into contact with COVID-19 patients as part of your job or daily life, then you should not travel during the pandemic.

It’s also important to be aware that, both on and off a flight, you may face situations where it’s challenging to stay six feet apart from others. For example, there are still security lines at airports, not to mention crowded buses, trains, and other forms of transportation. If you feel uncomfortable with this prospect, it’s probably best to postpone your travel plans and stay home.

However, if you’re willing to take precautionary measures to protect yourself and others, then feel free to begin planning a trip. Before you decide on a destination, you should look into how the area has been affected by the virus. If the location was a COVID-19 hotspot, you may not want to visit right now. They may have specific protocols in place regarding visitors. For example, some places require visitors to self-quarantine for fourteen days. Then, upon your return home, your local government may require the same since you have traveled.

There’s another thing you should be aware of before you book a trip during a pandemic, especially if you haven’t had the virus: if you contract COVID-19 on your trip, you will most likely have to stay there and you’ll be responsible for all costs associated with your isolation or quarantine -- that includes transportation, lodging, food, medical care, and any other expenses. You also might want to consider buying a travel health insurance policy if your existing insurance doesn’t cover outside your home region.

Of course, if you feel sick, that’s a quick and easy way to decide that you should not travel. In that case, you are morally obligated to quarantine yourself at home and eliminate contact with others, especially through travel.

Tips for staying safe if you decide to travel

If you opt to travel during the pandemic, you’re going to need to take some extra steps to stay safe. There’s no vaccine for COVID-19 yet, but some health officials recommend getting your annual flu vaccine before you travel if you’re traveling during the flu season, which is typically during the winter months. Because there’s no COVID-19 vaccine yet, the best protection is simply to exercise extreme caution and avoid exposure altogether.

While traveling, you’ll want to practice the same safety measures you do at home -- for example, wearing a mask and practicing proactive hygiene -- but you’ll also want to take things a step further by sanitizing your surroundings and only visiting hotels and restaurants that have strict safety protocols in place.

You should also boost your immune system before, during, and after your trip through healthy eating, ample sleep, exercise, and vitamins. Nutrazul tablets are a great way to boost your vitamin C intake, and you can even make a fizzy, citrusy “quarantini” out of them.

Where you can (and can’t) travel right now

Many people are confused about where, exactly, they can and cannot travel right now. Is international travel fully off the table? Do you have to travel domestically only for the time being? Like most of life during the pandemic, the situation changes regularly.

On August 6, 2020, after almost five months, the US State Department lifted its global Do Not Travel advisory, which warned US citizens against traveling abroad.

According to CNN, “The department issued the Level 4: Do Not Travel advisory -- the highest level of travel advisory -- on March 19, urging US citizens not to travel overseas due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, [the State Department said] ‘with health and safety conditions improving in some countries and potentially deteriorating in others, the Department is returning to our previous system of country-specific levels of travel advice (with Levels from 1-4 depending on country-specific conditions), in order to give travelers detailed and actionable information to make informed travel decisions … This will also provide U.S. citizens more detailed information about the current status in each country … We continue to recommend U.S. citizens exercise caution when traveling abroad due to the unpredictable nature of the pandemic.’”

USA Today reports, “Several spots in the Caribbean and Mexico are welcoming guests again and drawing U.S. tourists as airlines resume flights and add new ones. United Airlines on Friday said it is adding additional flights to St. Thomas and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Of the few Americans traveling internationally, travel app Hopper says bookings to Puerto Rico, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic topped the list in the past two months. … European countries have reopened their borders, but most are off-limits to U.S. vacationers due to the surge in coronavirus cases. … Canada is off limits as the border remains closed and only essential travel is permitted, even by air.”

Note that even though the US State Department lifted its global travel ban, there are still many no-travel advisories for individual countries, and the CDC still recommends against nonessential travel to much of the globe. Many countries that are accepting visitors are doing so conditionally: for example, you might have to present evidence of a recent negative COVID-19 test before you’re permitted entry.

While international travel comes with complications, domestic travel is pretty open right now. Some states require visitors to quarantine upon entry, but not all. Still, you should remember that even though they are within US borders, some states had a very serious outbreak and became a major COVID-19 hotspot. If you’ve ever wanted to explore the US National Parks in your own van, for example, now is a pretty good time.

How to travel safely during a pandemic: road trips vs. flying

If you are in a high-risk category, such as someone with respiratory issues, or otherwise want to reduce your chances of exposure to COVID-19 as much as possible, then traveling probably isn’t a good idea for you right now. For everyone else, however, it’s possible to travel even during the pandemic, as long as you do so safely.

If you’re suffering from a severe case of cabin fever and are desperate to get out there and explore the world a bit, you can do so in most cases, but you should consider whether it’s best for you to take a road trip or a flight.

Air travel is especially dangerous because, by nature, commercial air travel means that you’re in close quarters with a large crowd of people, and you have to remain in a closed environment with them for hours on end.

While many airlines are now taking precautions such as requiring all passengers to wear masks, upping their cleaning protocols, and even blocking out some seats to allow for extra distance between passengers, at the end of the day, taking that flight is going to increase your chances of exposure to COVID-19 much more than staying at home would.

It’s the same scenario for road trips. There’s probably no course of action that will protect you as much as staying home will. However, if you decide to travel, a road trip can be a good option because you can avoid contact with others, remain in your own space (your car), and enjoy experiences in the outdoors without having to go through airports and other forms of transportation and crowds.

Still, remember that you’ll likely stop in rest stops, restaurants, hotels, and other establishments along the way. Each of these carries a risk of exposure, and there’s not really a way to avoid them unless you decide to go off the grid with a camping trip or something similar. Otherwise, you will encounter other humans and expose yourself to locations where the virus may be present. Road trips may dramatically reduce the number of humans you come into contact with since you can chart your own course and avoid crowds, but they still carry some degree of risk.

If you decide to travel, you should depart prepared with items you’ll need to keep yourself safe.

What to pack for travel during a pandemic

Wondering what to pack for travel during a pandemic in order to keep yourself safe? Beyond the usual items such as a facial covering or mask, hand sanitizer, and gloves, there are a few additional items that can make your trip even safer.

Consider packing your own snacks so you can limit stops for food, whether that’s snacks from an airport kiosk or a restaurant on your road trip. You can pack your own reusable snack bags or cutlery, too, so that you don’t have to accept those items from others. Limit interactions with strangers as much as possible.

You might want to pack your own thermometer so that you can be monitoring your temperature to have peace of mind knowing that you don’t have a fever. You may be subject to temperature checks during your travels, so it’s always best to know ahead of time that your temperature is normal and not be caught by surprise.

Another handy tool, especially if you are worried about contracting COVID-19, is an oxygen monitor. Low oxygen levels in your blood can be an indicator of the virus, so ensuring that your oxygen levels are healthy might also help to give you peace of mind.

Other items you might want with you are sanitizing equipment and supplies so that you can clean your surroundings and your own personal belongings, such as your suitcase or phone. Make sure to also pack plenty of masks, or laundry soap if you plan to wash your reusable fabric masks while on the go.

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DISCLAIMER

While the above article is based on thorough research, we do not claim to offer a substitute for medical advice from a qualified healthcare provider. We aim to provide helpful information to our readers, but cannot provide a treatment, diagnosis, or consultation of any sort, not even for pets, and we are in no way indicating that any particular drug is safe or appropriate for you and your individual needs. To receive professional medical attention, you must see a doctor.