Being fully vaccinated and getting a booster lower your odds of serious complications if you catch COVID-19 while traveling. But what else can you do to protect yourself?
Start with some pre-travel prep. COVID-19 restrictions and advice can be different based on where you’re headed. And certain destinations may have more restrictions than others. Visit the official government website of your destination to get started, and follow these tips.
Wear a Mask
Experts agree that masks can slow the spread of COVID-19. They protect you and those around you. Even if you have a booster, consider wearing a mask more often if someone in your household is more likely to get very sick from COVID-19.
CDC guidance on masks may change, but everyone in the U.S. still needs to wear one on all forms of public transportation. That includes airplanes, buses, and trains. You’ll also need to wear one while inside areas like stations or airports. In general, you don’t need to wear a mask outdoors.
The CDC suggests considering a mask in the following situations:
- Indoor public spaces if COVID-19 transmission is high
- Outdoor crowded areas if COVID-19 transmission is high
- Areas around people who aren’t vaccinated
- Close contact with strangers
Well-fitted N95 and KN95 respirators offer the most protection. But the CDC says it’s OK to wear a multi-layer cloth or disposable surgical mask. But there isn’t a single best choice for everyone in every situation.
What’s most important is that you find a mask that guards against COVID-19 but also fits your face closely and is comfortable.
When looking for a face mask, find one that:
- Covers your nose and mouth
- Doesn’t have any gaps
- Has layers
- You can wear for long periods
You can wear a cloth mask over a disposable mask to get a more secure fit. Or use a mask fitter to get rid of gaps. Visit the CDC’s website for other tips on how to boost the protection of whichever mask you choose.
Wash Your Hands
COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses can stick around on surfaces. You get rid of germs on your hands when you wash them. Lather up for at least 20 seconds. Use regular soap and water. If those aren’t around, a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol is the next best thing.
Wash your hands often, but especially:
- Before you eat
- Before you touch your face
- After you’ve been in a public space
- After you blow your nose, cough, or sneeze
- After you touch your mask
You can also try to limit how much you touch germ-ridden things in public, such as:
- Elevator buttons
Get Fresh Air
The coronavirus can spread through aerosols. These are tiny droplets that come out of your mouth or nose when you breathe, talk, yell, or sing. These particles are more likely to build up in places without good air flow, such as crowded indoor spaces.
COVID-19 is less likely to spread outdoors. That’s because the wind helps scatter coronavirus that may be floating around.
You can boost air flow inside when you:
- Open windows and doors
- Use a fan to blow air outside
- Turn on a ceiling fan
Some indoor spaces offer better circulation than others. For instance, airplane cabins have highly effective ventilation systems. Air flows from front to back and is filtered often. But you’ll still need to wear a mask while flying.
Check Local Spread
Find out the COVID-19 situation at your destination. Check with local health departments or visit the CDC website for updated coronavirus info.
The CDC’s COVID Data Tracker tool can:
- Rate the level of community transmission
- Give you daily case numbers
- Compare states and territories
- Tell you global COVID-19 trends
The CDC also keeps a list of travel recommendations around the world. You can search for international spots where COVID-19 cases are low, moderate, high, or very high.
If you’re fully vaccinated, COVID-19 testing isn’t required before or after trips within the U.S. But you could still have COVID-19 and not know it.
It’s best to take a test as close to your travel date as possible. The CDC says that should be no more than 3 days before you leave or come back.
You can get COVID-19 tests in a few ways, including:
- Over-the-counter from a drugstore
- Through a local health center
- At home through the mail
You can order four free tests from COVIDtests.gov. But you won’t get them right away. Make sure to plan ahead so you’ll have them before you leave. You can pack them with other COVID-19 safety supplies, including:
- Face masks
- Alcohol-based hand sanitizer
What if You Get COVID-19 When You Travel?
Plan for how you’ll pay for health care before you leave. Check with your insurance provider to see if they’ll cover general or emergency medical expenses in the U.S. or abroad. If they don’t, consider buying additional short-term travel health insurance.
If you test positive for COVID-19 during your trip, you may need to stay longer at your destination. You’ll want to consider the costs of extra lodging or last-minute travel changes. You’ll also need to follow these rules:
For domestic travel. The CDC says to isolate for 5 days from the day your symptoms started. If you didn’t have symptoms, it’s from the day you tested positive. If possible, it’s best to delay travel for 10 days.
For international travel. Most people need to take a COVID-19 test when traveling back to the U.S. Rules may change in the future. But for now, your airline has to have proof of your negative test -- or proof of COVID-19 recovery -- before you can get on the flight.
If you do test positive abroad, you’ll want to isolate except to get health care. You’ll be cleared for travel once you test negative.
Up-to-date COVID-19 vaccines can protect you from serious illness. But talk to your doctor if you’re worried about getting sick when you travel. They’ll let you know if there’s more you can do to stay safe.