Staying Safe While Traveling During COVID-19

Illustration of three people in an airport wearing masks.

While many Americans realize the need for social distancing, face masks and hand sanitizer, it’s also understandable many want to get away and travel instead of being stuck at home. After all, this is summer, the time of year when you’re supposed to see the world and enjoy the good weather. With the COVID-19 pandemic still in its first wave, however, it’s much more difficult to travel because of the risk of catching and spreading the virus.

But that doesn’t mean traveling during COVID-19 is impossible. You just have to be smart about it, so you limit your risk as much as possible. If you want to vacation while the virus is active, here are a few things you need to do to protect yourself and others.

Be Prepared When Traveling During COVID-19

Illustration of people in the airport sitting 6-feet apart.
Practice physical distancing (at least 6 feet) while waiting to board the plane.

Preparing yourself means taking extra precautions specific to the type of transportation you’ll be taking. If you opt to fly, CDC recommends you social distance as much as possible while you’re on an airplane and in the airport. It might not always be possible to stay 6 feet away from others, but you should do as best as you can and wear a face mask just as you would on any other trip.

You’ll also want to bring hand sanitizer no matter how you travel. The TSA has temporarily approved up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer to take with you on a flight, so be sure to use it regularly. As long as your hand sanitizer contains at least 60% ethanol or ethyl alcohol or 70% isopropanol alcohol, it’ll help kill any bacteria on your skin.

If you travel by car, being prepared means planning your road trips carefully. You won’t always be able to avoid spots where people are congregating, such as gas stations, so your best bet might be to buy fuel in a less-crowded gas station that doesn’t get a lot of traffic. Regardless, you’ll want to plan all of your stops as carefully as possible. If you can, use the bathroom before you leave for your trip and then when you get to your destination to avoid using public restrooms.

Plan for Closed Locations

Just because things are opening up in your home area doesn’t mean it’s necessarily safe to visit restaurants, shops and destinations in another city. When you’re traveling during COVID-19, you might get to your destination and discover most of the restaurants have chosen not to re-open for sit-down service, leaving you with few options.

Rather than risk having your trip spoiled by hunger, it’s best to have road trip snacks available in case your restaurant of choice isn’t open. Packing extra food might seem like an annoying step, but it’s far better to have a granola bar or a bag of chips available than to scramble to find open restaurants when you’re overly hungry.

Know Your Destination’s Situation

If you’re crossing state lines, find out COVID-19 restrictions for the state you’re visiting. Most importantly, follow the news to see whether there’s been a spike in cases in the area you want to visit.

If the state you want to visit is having a surge in COVID-19 cases, do yourself a favor and change your travel plans. It’ll be hard to enjoy yourself if you’re in a location at a heightened risk for the virus. Plus, there’s no guarantee the areas you want to experience will remain open if cases keep increasing.

Even if you want to travel to a state that’s got a handle on the coronavirus, you’ll still need to take precautions. Several states are requiring people to wear a face mask whenever they’re out in public, while other states merely recommend a face covering.

Some states, such as New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, require 14-day quarantines for certain out-of-state visitors. If this doesn’t sound like something that works with your travel plans, it’s best to limit travel to your state for now. You can still find plenty of exciting destinations without ever leaving your home state’s borders.

Every country has separate regulations as well. Some are only permitting visitors from specific regions, and others are requiring you to purchase COVID-19 insurance. Double-check all travel advisories before you leave home to avoid an unwelcome surprise — like enforced isolation.

Cruise Ships and River Cruises

The risk of COVID-19 outbreaks on a cruise is extremely high. As of June 2020, there are still over 80,000 people (most but not all of them are crew members) are still stranded on cruise ships amid the coronavirus crisis. It’s safe to say that you should likely defer and postpone all cruise ship travel. The CDC has issued a level 3 travel health notice for cruise ship travel. If you are still considering going on your cruise, check with the cruise ship company or your travel agent to determine if your foreign health officials have implemented formal quarantine procedures.

For more information on cruise ship travel during a pandemic, visit the CDC.

International Travel

As of July, 2020, the European Union (E.U.) has reopened its borders for non-essential travelers coming from a select list of countries. That list, however, does not include the U.S. And more to the point, the U.S. State Department continues to recommend that U.S. citizens avoid international travel.

Are there exceptions? Certainly! The restrictions do not apply to European citizens returning home, seasonal farm workers, transit passengers, students and anyone traveling for emergency family reasons. Full list of exceptions can be found here.

Your Return & Post-Travel Precautions

Illustration of a woman self-quarantining at home (with her cat) after traveling.
When you’re finished traveling, you may want to self-quarantine for at least 14 days.

What happens after your trip will depend on where you visited. If you’ve been to a foreign country, your state may require you to self-quarantine. Make sure you understand all the rules, so you’re not hit with extended time off work. The CDC recommends that you stay home in self-quarantine for 14 days after returning home from international travel.

From the CDC:

[Take] these steps to monitor your health and practice social distancing:

1.      Take your temperature with a thermometer two times a day and monitor for fever.

2.      Stay home and avoid contact with others. Do not go to work or school.

3.      Do not take public transportation, taxis, or ride-shares.

4.      Keep your distance from others (about 6 feet or 2 meters).


Remember, traveling during COVID-19 will be a completely new experience. If you’re smart and you follow FDA and CDC guidelines, including wearing a mask and washing hands regularly, you can have a great vacation experience while still limiting your risk of getting the virus.

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