Traveling in the era of COVID-19 is not easy and it’s not just health measures you need to be concerned with; there are potential flight cancellations, sudden changes in access to your final destination, and possible quarantine requirements once you arrive.
The best general advice about traveling during any public health crisis, let alone a global pandemic, is to limit your exposure with masks and social distancing where applicable. But there’s also some very important specific advice on how to travel during COVID 19.
U.S. Government Travel Guidance
Knowing how to travel during the COVID-19 pandemic includes this guidance from the United States government–Americans are asked to “delay all travel until they are fully vaccinated.”
In cases where that is not possible, unvaccinated travelers should take “a Covid-19 viral test one to three days before departure. Then, during the trip, travelers should practice social distancing and wear a face mask while indoors in public settings and in crowded venues.”
Unvaccinated travelers should also get a viral test “three to five days after returning home and self-quarantine for one week”.
COVID Travel Guidance by Country and State:
- COVID Travel Restrictions By State
- COVID Mask Mandates by State
- States With The Fewest COVID Restrictions
- Countries That Have Reopened For American Tourists
Health Measures And Travel Insurance
One of the biggest issues facing travelers who must travel during COVID? Cancellations of flights, hotels, and other accommodations typically needed by those in transit.
Whenever possible, it is wise to purchase travel insurance and pay the extra fees for flexible cancellation options on flights or lodging.
You will need to ask for this insurance option at purchase time–be advised that like other types of insurance you cannot buy this coverage retroactively to cover a cancellation that has just happened–you must opt in to the coverage when you make your reservations.
Do you need travel insurance? Take the advice of one state government’s official site–here’s the advice of the State of Illinois Department of Insurance:
“Does your medical insurance policy limit payment or coverage for accidents or illness that happen outside your coverage area or the United States? Evaluate your current health insurance coverage carefully before you travel”.
The State of Illinois reminds us with examples–did you know that Medicaid and Medicare do not pay for treatment outside the United States of America? Furthermore, depending on the policy you agreed to, emergency medical evacuations may not be covered while in transit.
But the biggest way to determine whether you need to apply for travel insurance or pay for flexible booking options? Ask yourself if you have the budget to cover the cancellation and replacement bookings. Many do not, and in such cases it may be wise to consult the provider to ask about your options.
One example? United Airlines has a Trip Insurance page on its official site. When booking a hotel or flight, be sure to ask about your options if COVID-19 creates instability in the flight schedule or the hotel’s ability to accommodate you.
How To Travel During COVID-19
The first thing you should know about travel during COVID is that both in and outside the continental United States, mask requirements and other public health measures may vary greatly.
It’s best to arrive fully prepared to comply with the local rules regarding face masks, any mandatory quarantine period that may be imposed on new arrivals, etc.
The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) has a section of its official site dedicated to reporting travel conditions and COVID-related travel advisories. It is strongly recommended to check this site when you plan your travel at home or overseas.
For all travelers to the USA, citizens and non-citizens alike, CDC guidance on its official site includes the following:
“All air passengers coming to the United States, including U.S. citizens, are required to have a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before they board a flight to the United States.”
Note that there is no accommodation made for specific objections to this policy–as presented on the CDC official site this requirement is mandatory.
CDC guidance also includes the following for those traveling to and within the United States:
“Wearing a mask over your nose and mouth is required on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and while indoors at U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.”
No matter where you expect to travel at home or overseas, chances are good that you will have to do some traveling to the nearest international airport before you leave the United States, or travel to a nearby transportation hub such as the closest major city. In all cases, CDC guidance should be heeded. You will need to pack face masks and any other accessories you may need to comply.
COVID Travel Tips
- It’s best to pack your carry-on bags anticipating a change in plans for your travel–flight cancellations can happen in the best of times due to mechanical problems, a lack of staff, or other issues. Add the pandemic to the mix and it’s more likely than not that you will experience some alteration in your schedule. Anticipate these delays by packing the appropriate toiletries and even some food to tide you over in an extended airport delay or other interruption in your schedule.
- You can also check the U.S. Department of State official site Travel Advisories page for information about overseas travel.
- Do not travel if you have symptoms. You are far better off getting care in your own hometown rather than relying on an emergency room in another state, province, or country.
- Last minute checks of the availability of your flight, rental car, and hotel are strongly advised–check ALL your reservations before you commit to stepping aboard the plane, train, boat, etc.
- If while traveling, you have a concern about masking or social distancing, please consult a staff member, flight attendant, or other official. It’s best not to take matters into your own hands while traveling. Stay calm and let the officials do the work.
- In some cases there may be no way to avoid close physical contact with fellow travelers. It is important to stay calm and be extra careful; you may wish to double-mask in such cases, with a paper mask as the bottom layer and a cloth mask over the top. Some may question the science of this, but some find extra peace of mind with the added barrier between the nose, mouth, and the outside world.
- If you are concerned about your physical proximity to someone who appears to be showing symptoms, take the above advice and contact a representative, attendant, or crew member. It’s good to be discrete, calm, and patient in such cases.
- Learn what the requirements are at your destination, but also for any layovers which may require you to de-plane. You can check the state health department official site of any stateside destination you’re visiting, but when traveling overseas, check with the U.S. embassy official site for the countries you plan to visit.
- Be kind to those who are charged with enforcing mask mandates and other public health measures. These people have likely been shouted at about these issues for many hours before you arrive. They will welcome your kindness.