Tips to Live By

What to Consider While Planning a Vacation During COVID-19

June 24, 2021 - Katie McCallum

With the COVID-19 pandemic still going on, the need to get away and recharge feels more necessary now than ever before.

“If you’re fully vaccinated, many activities are safer, maybe even that vacation you’ve been putting off. However, that doesn’t mean traveling is completely risk-free. In addition, many people, including young children, are still unvaccinated, which might also affect your travel plans,” says Dr. Hardeep Gill, primary care doctor at Houston Methodist. 

If you do plan to travel — fully vaccinated or not — here are tips for making your vacation as safe as possible.

Understand your risk

For those whose are fully vaccinated, you're now more protected from COVID-19. However, there are still times and places you'll need to take precautions, especially if you’re flying or traveling to an area or country where COVID-19 community spread is high.

“In particular, we’re still learning about the effectiveness of these vaccines in people who are immunocompromised, so these individuals may need to continue remaining more cautious. Your doctor can help you understand what’s safe and what’s risky,” adds Dr. Gill.

For those who aren’t yet fully vaccinated, the CDC advises continuing to delay travel plans.

While the situation isn’t as dire here in the U.S. as it was even just six months ago, that doesn’t mean those who are unvaccinated aren’t vulnerable anymore,” says Dr. Gill.

“Especially if you’re higher risk, it’s best to limit your chance of exposure.”

Not only can your primary care doctor help you understand your level of risk and make recommendations about what’s safe and what’s risky, he or she can also help you understand the benefits of vaccination and explain what makes these vaccines safe.

Protect your kids’ health, too

Because COVID-19 vaccines are only available to kids over the age of 12, some parents will find themselves in the confusing situation of being vaccinated while their kids are not.

“If your child is 12 or older, get him or her vaccinated as soon as possible and delay travel until he or she is fully vaccinated,” recommends Dr. Gill.

Families with kids under the age of 12 may have some harder decisions to make, since it will likely be another few months before COVID-19 vaccines are available to younger children. Postponing vacation without a clear timeline is, of course, hard.

“Some good news is that children are generally less likely to get very sick from COVID-19. The ultimate reality, however, is that this doesn’t mean they’re immune,” says Dr. Gill. “If you have kids younger than 12, you’ll need to make a personal decision about your comfort level with resuming activities like traveling.”

Know how community spread might affect your plans

Even if COVID-19 cases are low in your community, most states and many other countries are still experiencing moderate to severe levels of community spread. You can track community transmission in the U.S. here

For international travel, be aware of all the entry requirements and restrictions for your destination. The CDC continues to mandate a negative COVID-19 test three days prior to your international travel or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 regardless of vaccination status.

Those who are vaccinated may make the personal decision to still be more cautious and avoid traveling somewhere with high community spread.

“Breakthrough cases in individuals who are fully vaccinated are rare, but they do occur — especially with circulating COVID-19 variants,” warns Dr. Gill. “When they do occur, however, cases are mild. This highlights the importance of getting vaccinated.”

If you’re unvaccinated, avoid visiting a community experiencing significant spread. Additionally, if you live in an area with a high COVID-19 caseload, you might choose to delay your travel to avoid inadvertently spreading COVID-19 to someone else.

Travel safely

If your travel plans include flying, be prepared to wear a mask while in the airport and on the plane — whether vaccinated or not.

“The CDC continues to recommend that all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, take measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while traveling— whether that’s by car, bus, train or plane,” adds Dr. Gill.

If you are unvaccinated, you will need to be even more conscientious about wearing your mask at all times, keeping your distance and practicing excellent hand hygiene during travel.

“Those who aren’t yet fully vaccinated may want to choose destinations with shorter flights, or opt to drive to their destination rather than fly, keeping in mind that you will still need to practice safety measures while stopping for gas, stopping for food and staying in hotels,” adds Dr. Gill. “Even those who are vaccinated may choose to drive rather than fly to further mitigate their risk.”

Consider your lodging

If your travels include staying with family or friends, be sure to know who is vaccinated and who isn’t, as well as everyone’s comfort level with combining families.

“If both families are fully vaccinated, combining households is less risky,” says Dr. Gill. “If some members of either family are unvaccinated, the risk increases.”

This is especially important to consider if the person is high risk for more severe disease.

If you’re unvaccinated and planning to stay in a hotel, avoid crowded indoor areas as much as possible and wear a mask while in common spaces, such as lobbies and hallways. 

Plan safe activities

Once you’re at your destination, make sure your day-to-day plans take the recommended safety measures into account.

“Just because you’re treating yourself to a vacation doesn’t mean that you can ignore the recommended guidelines,” says Dr. Gill. “These guidelines vary based on whether or not you and your entire family are vaccinated.”

If you’re vaccinated, you can feel safer being outdoors, going to uncrowded indoor places, such as museums, and eating at restaurants. You will also need to follow any mask mandates at establishments you visit.

“You may still make the personal choice to remain fairly cautious — dining on patios and avoiding spending extended amounts of time in indoor public spaces,” adds Dr. Gill.

If you’re unvaccinated, plan a trip that allows for plenty of outdoor activities and the opportunity to dine on patios or even cook your own meals, if possible. You should limit time spent in indoor public spaces, especially ones that are crowded.

“We’re all ready to get back to our normal lives, and that includes vacationing. Given the success we’re already seeing with COVID-19 vaccines, it’s important to remember that the pandemic isn’t over,” adds Dr. Gill. “If you’re vaccinated, you can feel safer — but there’s still a lot we’re learning about these vaccines, including how well they protect against COVID-19 variants. And if you’re unvaccinated, travel remains risky. It’s as simple as that.”

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