Ready or not, travel is booming again, and people are heading out to destinations in numbers not seen since March 2020. As the world cautiously opens up, it can be hard to know what precautions you should take if you plan to travel, whether domestically or abroad.
COVID travel restrictions keep changing, too, and can be starkly different depending on where you’re going. So here’s a common-sense guide to making decisions about travel in the time of COVID, whether you’re hopping a train to New York or flying to Singapore.
How To Navigate The Ever-Changing COVID Travel Restrictions
Rules and restrictions change regularly, and what is required or recommended in one country may not be in another. You can look up the current guidelines for flying and for traveling around your destination, but because things change so rapidly, it’s wise to have a flexible strategy. This way, no matter how restrictions change, you’ll be ready.
To prepare for your trip, you’ll want to have the right paperwork and supplies with you, make sure you can find a COVID test if you need one, and be flexible if the unexpected happens.
Before You Go
Start by making sure your passport is up-to-date. It’s best if there are more than six months before it expires; in many places, it’s required to get into the country.
Some borders, as well as some flights, restaurants and other amenities, will require a “vaccination passport.” Carry your vaccination card with you, and see if the place you’re going to has a digital verification app to store your vaccine card. Having a verified digital copy of your vaccination status is a good policy anyway.
Masking may still be required where you’re going, so make sure to carry a supply of high-quality masks. N95s, KN95s, and other high-filtration masks are widely available these days, and most are individually wrapped and small enough to fit in a pocket.
Finding a COVID Test for Travel
Some places have COVID travel restrictions that require a negative PCR test taken a certain amount of time before you cross the border. PCRs are sometimes tricky to schedule, depending on where you live, so make sure to look into it enough ahead of time. While pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens offer drive-through PCR testing, it is only covered by your insurance if you are ill, not if you are testing for travel.
Rapid antigen tests may not be accepted at places that require a COVID test for entry, but they’re handy to have in case you start to have symptoms, or are going to visit someone at higher risk. The U.S. government has been supplying them lately at no cost; they’ve also gone down in price and become more easily available. Carry a couple boxes with you just in case.
Facing a Lockdown
In some places, when caseloads go up, local governments may enforce a COVID travel restriction in the form of a lockdown. It’s a good idea to pay a little extra to have more flexible travel possibilities in case this happens. For example, you can buy flights with flexible return dates, or book hotels that offer extended stays.
Do a little research to find out what your destination has done in the past few years in response to COVID, and consider destinations where you’re less likely to get stuck in a lockdown.
Understanding How to Stay Safe While Traveling
“Staying safe” can seem daunting and the recommended precautions have changed multiple times over the last couple of years. The CDC, the WHO, and other organizations put out guidelines that you can track, but often the best you can do is to figure out your own risk tolerance and go from there. There are several factors you can look into, however, to keep yourself and those around you as safe as possible.
Consider Your Risk Profile
Are you over 55? Immunocompromised? Vaccinated? Boosted?
Depending on your personal risk profile, you might have to make different decisions. If you’re fully vaccinated and boosted, you can still catch COVID, but you’re well protected from serious illness and death. If you’re not vaccinated at all, you are in danger of COVID no matter your age. You also may not be allowed onto certain flights, into restaurants or venues, or onto public transit, depending on the country.
Are you visiting someone? What is their risk profile? Even if you are young, healthy, and vaccinated, if you catch COVID asymptomatically, you could spread it to older or immunocompromised friends or family who could get seriously ill or even die.
Consider Your Destination
Every place on Earth has been impacted by COVID, but some places are still hot spots for the virus. It’s a good idea to check what the rates are in the city or country you’re traveling to.
If you’re flying, you’re also going to be close to a lot of people from all over for several hours. While air filtration on planes is excellent, mask mandates keep being lifted and then reinstated, so it’s hard to know how many people will be wearing masks on their own. To best protect your own safety, wear a high-quality mask during flights, for as much of the flight as you can.
There are lots of factors to consider here. After you determine your destination, make decisions that won’t put you at risk of getting sick.
Keep risk low by sticking to the following tips:
- Engage in activities that involve few people
- Consider wearing a mask indoors
Are you going to a city, or to the countryside or the beach? How crowded will it be? Will you be mostly outdoors, or mostly indoors? Will people be wearing masks? Think about choosing travel options that emphasize outdoor activities like hiking, beach lounging, or horseback riding.
If you’re going to concerts or shows, check the venue’s mask policies. Remember, if the venue doesn’t require masks, you can still always wear one to protect yourself. Lots of restaurants still do outdoor dining, especially in the warmer months; you can take advantage of it if you want an extra layer of safety.
What To Do if You Test Positive While Traveling Abroad
What if you’re as cautious as you possibly can be, but you still test positive on one of those rapid tests you packed? If you’ve planned ahead, catching COVID is still likely to be a big hassle, but it shouldn’t be a disaster.
First, remember that we’ve been through a few years of this now, and we know a lot more about this disease. If you’re vaccinated, your case is likely to be relatively mild, perhaps even without any symptoms at all. Be warned that for some people, “mild” still means “a pretty bad flu.” But again, vaccination dramatically decreases the need for hospitalization.
Wherever you are, there may be guidelines for isolating yourself based on either the start of your symptoms or your first positive test. You should check the US Embassy website in whatever country you’re visiting for the current guidelines.
When you’re determining where you’re going to be traveling, consider the possibility of having to quarantine there for a while. It’s helpful if you’re traveling with someone who can help you while you’re quarantined, though it’s important that they also stay masked, test often, and try not to catch COVID from you. But if you’re traveling solo, get familiar ahead of time with the services in the area where you’re staying. Can you get food delivered? Is there a pharmacy that delivers? If you’re staying in a higher-end hotel, concierge services can be really helpful, too.
It’s never fun to have to quarantine, but making it more comfortable for yourself will help. Make sure you have plenty of media with you: riding out a sickness without Netflix can be pretty grim.
COVID travel restrictions can result in some unforeseen costs. It’s a good idea to see what your health insurance will cover abroad. If you’re buying a travel health insurance policy, you will want to check if it will cover any of your expenses should you get sick and need to extend your stay. Otherwise, you could end up spending a lot more than you anticipated.
If you do get sick enough that you need medical care, that’s another potentially big expense depending on where you are. Make sure you have a plan in place to protect yourself in case you get sick or are in an accident!
- Compare multiple quotes and coverage options
- Work with an insurance expert at no additional cost
- Find the best plan for your needs and budget