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How to Stay Safe If You’re Traveling During COVID-19

After months of stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19, many people had to put off planned travel to stay safe from the virus. Many of those same people may be considering taking a trip now or may be required to travel due to work or family obligations. In the last few months, travel has begun increasing, especially domestic U.S. travel and road trips. The restrictions that states put in place began to ease, but the coronavirus cases and deaths started to rise yet again.

Is it safe to travel now? The CDC says that travel increases your chances of catching and spreading COVID-19, so when in doubt, staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick. But if you are planning to travel this summer, the CDC suggests asking some important questions and getting the facts about your travel options and destinations so you know how to protect yourself and others.

Is it safe to travel now?

No matter where you are traveling to, it’s important to find out if the coronavirus is spreading in your destination or if it's spreading where you live before making any decision.

Many U.S. state or local governments also have different requirements when it comes to traveling. Some, like New Jersey, Connecticut and New York, require quarantines if you come from a “hot spot” state. 

Other states, like Alaska, demand you present a clean COVID-19 test taken three days before arrival. It’s best to check the state and local health department websites for your home and for your destination to keep up to date on restrictions and suggestions.

You’ll also have to consider your mode of transportation. High traffic areas like airports and bus stations have a higher risk of exposure, while individual vehicles and limited stops have a lower risk.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the risks for various modes of travel include the following.

  • Air travel requires spending time in security lines and airport terminals, which can bring you in close contact with other people and frequently touched surfaces. Most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes. However, social distancing is difficult on crowded flights, and you may have to sit near others (within 6 feet), sometimes for hours. This may increase your risk for exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19.
  • Traveling on buses and trains for any length of time can involve sitting or standing within 6 feet of others.
  • During a road trip, making stops along the way for gas, food or bathroom breaks can put you and your traveling companions in close contact with other people and surfaces.
  • RV travel typically means staying at RV parks overnight and getting gas and supplies at other public places. These stops may put you and your RV passengers in close contact with others.

The CDC recommends following these steps to protect yourself and others when you travel.

  • Maintain a distance of 6 feet between you and others as much as possible.
  • Avoid crowds.
  • Wear a cloth face covering.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes.
  • Clean your hands often. It's especially important after going to the bathroom, before eating and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • If soap and water aren’t available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol and rub your hands together until dry.

Is it safe to fly during COVID-19?

The CDC and the Federal Aviation Administration have both released guidelines and rules for air travel during COVID. As a traveler in the U.S., you’ll be required to wear a cloth face mask while on an airplane.

The Transportation Security Administration has also taken steps to make checkpoints safer for both staff and passengers, but there are a number of changes you need to be aware of.

  • Travelers may wear masks during screening, but TSA employees might ask that the masks be adjusted for identification purposes.
  • Flyers should plan to place boarding passes onto the scanner and hold them up as opposed to handing the documents to TSA employees.
  • You’ll be allowed to have hand sanitizer up to 12 ounces in a carry-on bag, but they will have to be removed for the screening process.

The U.S. Department of State has updated information on passport operations, but getting a new or renewed passport may still be a challenge. In addition, many countries, including Canada, have closed their borders to American travelers, and the European Union is considering doing the same.

International travel is still being strongly discouraged. For more information, visit The CDC’s Communication Resources page. For more information on travel restrictions, visit the CDC Travel Recommendations.

Is it safe to travel by car during COVID-19?

Driving may be a safer way to travel this summer, but you still need to plan ahead and be wise about stops you may need to take.

  • Plan to make as few stops as possible, and bring your face masks and hand sanitizer with you at all times. Take your own food and water to reduce snack stops and in case restaurants and grocery stores are closed or have limited access.
  • Take your own disinfectants and gloves to wipe down surfaces in hotels or campgrounds, and use wipes to disinfect gas station handles and buttons when you stop for gas.
  • If you do need to stop for food, opt for carry-out, curbside service or drive-thrus.

Hotels around the nation have taken additional steps to enhance cleanliness, and the best way to find out what those steps are is to visit the hotel website. No matter what, it’s still a good idea to wipe down any high-traffic and high-touch areas in your hotel with a disinfectant wipe.

Vacation rentals are also upping their game, and again, the rental website is the best place to find information on restrictions and enhanced cleaning processes.

Other considerations while traveling

The COVID-19 situation is constantly changing, so be prepared to be flexible and prepared for changes. If your risk of developing severe symptoms of COVID-19 is higher or if you are in a high-risk group, then avoid crowds, non-essential travel and cruise travel. 

Many popular locations reopened, including national and state parks, but as the situation changes, so do the rules. Check with the locations on your itinerary daily to keep up to date with any new information or changes. Be aware that many state and national parks require advanced reservations, even for day visits.

Make safety a priority when traveling

If you feel sick before your trip, stay home and seek medical care. If you think you or a member of your party has been exposed, reconsider taking the trip.

By following the social distancing guidelines, mask guidelines and personal hygiene tips, you’ll have an easier time with travel this summer. But, instead of taking the “trip of a lifetime” that requires extensive travel time, exposure and planning, you might consider a “close to home” adventure instead.

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