The days are longer and the weather is heating up—we’re in the dog days of summer. During this season, many Americans take time off to travel, whether it’s to see family or take a much-needed vacation. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a public health concern, many are left wondering how safe it is to travel. The bottom line is travel increases your chances of getting infected and spreading COVID-19, so staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick.
However, if you are considering flying to a distant location or driving to the next state over, there are precautions to keep in mind to help slow the spread of COVID-19. There is no way to ensure you have zero risk of infection during travel, so we have created this guide for to help you understand the risks and learn how to be as safe as possible.
Travel in the United States
The United States leads the world in the number of confirmed and new COVID-19 cases. The CDC reminds those looking to travel throughout the U.S. that the best way to ensure you will not get sick is to stay home. In general, the more people you interact with, the more closely you interact with them, and the longer that interaction, the higher your risk of getting and spreading COVID-19. If you must travel, though, there are some considerations to keep in mind:
- What state will you be traveling to? In some states, COVID-19 cases are increasing at a much higher rate than others. If you are looking to take a vacation, opt for states that are experiencing a slower spread of the disease. States such as Alaska, Maine and Montana have the fewest COVID-19 cases in the country while states such as Florida and Arizona are currently experiencing a spike in cases. Make sure to also check state travel restrictions. Some states are closing their borders to residents from states experiencing higher amounts of COVID-19 cases.
- What will you be doing when you reach your destination? To stay healthy, plan to engage in activities in which you can maintain six feet of distance between yourself and others. Going to bars, restaurants or crowded beaches are higher risk activities to take part in during the pandemic. It is best to avoid events with more than 10 people or where you cannot ensure safe social distancing. Activities such as camping, hiking and picnics are a less risky way to have fun on vacation while ensuring you and your traveling companions can maintain distance from others.
- Are you or your travel companions feeling ill? Before traveling, check to make sure you and your family or friends who you are traveling with are healthy. Stay home if you are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19.
- Are you or your family more at-risk for developing complications from COVID-19? If you or those you are traveling with are older adults or have underlying medical conditions staying home and avoiding travel and other high-risk activities is the safest course. If you live with someone who has these conditions, it is also recommended you avoid high risk activities as well, even if that individual is not traveling with you.
Traveling Outside the U.S.
Many countries are restricting travel from the United States right now. Check embassy websites for country-specific travel requirements or restrictions. Besides restricting travel from the U.S., many countries that are allowing U.S. travelers are requiring a 14-day quarantine upon arrival. At this time, the CDC recommends limiting nonessential international travel to help stop the spread of COVID-19. If you must travel internationally, you should self-isolate for 14 days upon returning to the U.S.
Air Travel vs. Car Travel
Flying on a plane may sound like a riskier method of travel during the pandemic. While this is mostly true, airlines are taking precautions to keep air travel as safe as possible. According to the Mayo Clinic, because air is circulated and filtered on planes, it is no more likely that you will catch COVID-19 while traveling on a plane than a train. However, a crowded plane can cause the virus to be spread easily from person to person due to proximity. If you must travel on a plane, the CDC and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) strongly recommend travelers wear face masks. They also suggest placing boarding passes directly on the scanner instead of handing any items to TSA employees. In addition, the TSA is requiring food be separated from carry-on bags to limit the chances of setting off sensors and requiring employees to go through bags. Similarly, they recommend keeping keys, phones and wallets within the carry-on bags to reduce handling by employees.
TSA has also updated some policies to make air travel safer. Travelers are permitted to wear masks during security screening and can have one hand sanitizer up to 12 oz aboard the flight. Airports may also be enforcing social distancing, including in their security lines, so be sure to pay attention to the regulations the airport you are at is following.
In comparison to air travel, traveling by car is a less risky way to travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this does not mean there are not risks associated with car travel. Traveling by car often entails making stops at rest stops and gas stations, stopping for food or staying at hotels along the way. Pack cloth masks, hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes to protect yourself from others you encounter and disinfect surfaces in public bathrooms and hotels. If you are able, pack your own food for the road so you can reduce your interactions with others. If you need to stop for food, choose to-go ordering by pick-up or drive-thru.
If you need to travel by bus or train, do your best to maintain at least six feet of distance between yourself and other passengers. Refrain from touching your face during your journey and remember to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after you reach your destination.
The CDC has extended the No Sail Order through Sept. 30,, 2020 or until other conditions are met. Cruise ships involve large groups of people from diverse locations gathering in close proximity to each other. Like other environments that do not allow for social distancing, cruise ships may facilitate transmission of respiratory viruses from one person to another, which is particularly concerning during the pandemic.
Regardless of where you go and how you get there, travel during the COVID-19 pandemic is risky and can increase the spread of the virus. The CDC highly recommends avoiding all travel that is not essential, especially international travel.
For more information on how to stay safe this summer, check out our Each Breath Blog and stay up to date on COVID-19 at Lung.org/covid-19.
Disclaimer: The information in this article was medically reviewed and accurate at the time of posting. Because knowledge and understanding of COVID-19 is constantly evolving, data or insights may have changed. The most recent posts are listed on the EACH Breath blog landing page. You may also visit our COVID-19 section for updated disease information and contact our Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA for COVID-19 questions.
Blog last updated: June 23, 2021