As much as FaceTime, Skype, and Zoom have enabled many of us to see and interact online with our family and friends during the COVID pandemic, the experience still can’t substitute for actually being there. Immersing yourself in a vibrant crowd, standing shoulder to shoulder with real people again. You realize how much larger and grander everything is compared to what you can see or sense on your iPhone.
The same goes for sight-seeing. No technology has yet been invented that serves as a suitable stand-in for the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls. One experience is the real deal, and the other is like substituting non-dairy creamer for real cream.
But the good news is, with growing numbers of Americans getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and infection rates dropping around the country, travel is feeling a lot safer than it did last year. You can start getting out there again. Just be aware that you may need to adjust your re-entry plans a bit.
Here are five tips for venturing out again:
1. Check the Latest CDC Guidance
Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidance on travel, stating that fully vaccinated people (those who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or a second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, at least two weeks prior) can travel safely within the United States.1
Nevertheless, you must still wear a mask over your nose and mouth 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. You are not required to wear a mask in outdoor areas of a conveyance (like a ferry or top deck of a bus).
2. Assess the COVID-19 Rates of Infection for your Intended Destination
The truth is, not all states share the same vaccination rates. In states boasting higher vaccination rates, infections are dropping. In states where vaccination rates are lagging, infections are often rising, according to a recent Washington Post analysis.2
So, if your travel plans are taking you into the eye of the hurricane — a state with low vaccination rates, and thus higher exposure to COVID-19 — you might want to alter your itinerary until the storm has clearly passed.
For trips outside the United States, check the U.S. State Department website to determine what the virus rates are and what entry restrictions apply. This may vary by vaccination status. European Union countries agreed in late May to ease COVID-19 travel restrictions on non-EU visitors ahead of the summer tourist season.3
3. Be Ready to Mask Up
If you’re not vaccinated, you’ll need to keep up all the COVID-19 safety protocols, including washing your hands regularly, keeping at least six feet of distance between yourself and others, avoiding poorly ventilated indoor spaces, and, of course, wearing a mask in all public settings.
And even if you are fully vaccinated, you may want to mask up anyway out of care and concern for those living with compromised immune systems or who can’t receive the vaccine for medical or other reasons.
While COVID-19 vaccines are working well, some people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will still get sick, because no vaccines are 100% effective, according to the CDC. These are called vaccine breakthrough cases.4
4. Decide on Your Travel Mode
Half the fun is getting there, right, but some forms of travel in the COVID-19 era may be safer than others.
Driving in your own car or motor home may provide the safest form of transportation because you can largely control your environment. For day trips, driving would seem ideal because you can control your interactions to a great extent.
Airline travel, with their upgraded safety measures (masks are required onboard) and improved ventilation systems, has also become safer. For example, many airlines use HEPA filters, which completely refresh and filter over 99% of airborne viruses, bacteria, and other contagions.
5. Don’t Freak Out About Hotel Stays
The principal mode by which people are infected with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is through exposure to respiratory droplets carrying infectious virus, according to the latest update from the CDC.6 It is possible for people to be infected through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects (fomites), but the risk is generally considered to be low.
Don’t view this new advisory as a pass from continuing to maintain your usual sanitary vigilance, such as using antibacterial wipes to disinfect hotel room light switches, doorknobs, the TV remote, and other high-touch objects. Even when there isn’t a pandemic to deal with, these are good hygienic habits to practice and maintain to limit exposure to other potentially infectious diseases.
Cool Your Jets
If you have been cooped up for the length of the pandemic and are now beginning to see images of stadiums with raucous fans packed in their seats like sardines (the Foo Fighters concert at Madison Square Garden on June 20, the venue’s first concert in more than 460 days), you can probably interpret these re-openings as a positive sign that life and travel are returning to normal. Just don’t throw all caution to the wind.
Be mindful that while the daily number of new COVID-19 cases continues to drop across the country, COVID-19 hasn’t disappeared. Nationally, new COVID-19 cases fell to about 11,000 per day over the past week (June 14-20), according to recent data from the Washington Post. 7 Yet, over that same period, eight states reported increases, with Oklahoma citing a 35% rise in cases.8
Plus, the pandemic continues to rage in many countries in South America, Asia, and Africa. Among the top 10 countries in terms of daily new cases, as many as six are seeing fresh spikes in cases, with Brazil infamously leading the way.9
So, if travel is a must, also make it a must to pick your destinations, travel partners, transportation, carriers, and accommodations carefully and wisely. Also assess your personal risk, based on your underlying conditions, your vaccination status, and other factors. Remember, each country makes its own rules. Depending on the latest data impacting their populations, countries can apply or discard travel bans and testing requirements as easily as band-aids. So never leave home without checking ahead first.
Above all, be flexible and be prepared, which is always good travel advice, pandemic or no pandemic.