What To Know Before Taking A Domestic Vacation During The Pandemic

Just because you American doesn’t mean you Amerishould.

by JR Thorpe
Originally Published: 
A woman wearing a mask sits at an airport and applies hand sanitizer. Traveling and taking vacations...
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It's been a long 2020. You might be desperate to break out and go somewhere — but everything is still shut down to stop coronavirus from spreading. Surely a short trip can't hurt, right? Not quite so fast, experts tell Bustle. Taking a domestic vacation during the pandemic is high-risk, and you need to assess many different factors before you think about loading up a car or getting on a plane.

As of late November, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recommends people postpone travel and stay home, particularly during the holidays, as cases rise across the U.S. They particularly suggest staying home if you or somebody you live with is at high risk of COVID-19; if cases are high at home or at your destination; if hospitals in either place are overwhelmed by cases; or if you've had any close contact with people outside your bubble in the previous 14 days. They also advise against traveling anywhere by bus, train, or air, where it's difficult to practice social distancing, and say you shouldn't travel with anybody outside your bubble. And you definitely shouldn't travel if you've been exposed to anybody with COVID-19, have symptoms, or have been diagnosed yourself.

But there might be cases where you absolutely cannot postpone travel, and doctors have advice for navigating those kinds of tricky situations.

What Way To Travel Is Safest During The Pandemic?

"It's best to avoid travel if possible, or stick to short-distance car trips," Dr. John A. Sellick D.O., professor in the department of medicine at the Jacobs School Of Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at the University of Buffalo, tells Bustle. "Personal cars may be safer, but you have to be careful with rest stops, overnight stays in hotels, and so on." You don't know the hygiene standards of your average interstate gas station, so it's best to avoid them if you can. That means staying within an easily drivable radius of your house, and preferably traveling by yourself or with your quarantine pod, so you're not exposed to the germs of others in a car. Dr. Amyna Husain D.O., assistant professor of pediatric emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins Children's Center, says you should eat in your car if possible rather than stopping at a roadside café, and bring antiseptic wipes to wipe down any common areas.

Buses, trains and planes shouldn't be your first choice for a vacation right now. "Public transport raises the problems of crowding in small spaces," Dr. Sellick says. Air filtration in planes may be improving, he says, but it's not the major risk. "I’m much more concerned about the guy in an adjoining seat who may be infected and spreading virus."

If you can't travel in a car, planes may be a better option purely because of timing, Dr. Larry Burchett M.D., an emergency physician, tells Bustle. "A bus for days across the country is far more hours than a plane ride," he says. However, he recommends that anybody traveling with other people in public should upgrade to a more protective mask if they can, such as an N95. Dr. Ravina Kullar M.D., an infectious disease specialist, recommends doubling up with a face mask and a face shield. In airports and terminals, stay socially distanced and wear masks at all times, Dr. Husain says — even when other people around you might have taken theirs off.

What Coronavirus Precautions Should You Take If You're Traveling?

If you absolutely can't postpone travel, Dr. Sellick suggests making sure it's an airline that's implementing social distancing and operating at 50-60% capacity, wearing masks and eye protection if possible, and using hand sanitizer liberally. Wipe down all the areas around you with disinfectant wipes and keep your hands away from your face.

'If you travel by air, stand apart from TSA agents and other travelers while going through security," Dr. Amy Khan M.D., the executive medical director for Regence Blue Shield health insurance, tells Bustle. "During the identity check, remove and replace your face mask by its ear loops. Then, sanitize your ID card and carry-on bags followed by washing your hands as soon as possible. She advises bringing your own food, water, and hand sanitizer, regardless of your method of travel. No airline sandwiches or roadside diners, please.

Try to have coronavirus testing immediately before you leave, to make sure you aren't carrying the illness with you. If you've been exposed to other travelers on the trip, whether you've used a bus, a plane or a train, you likely need to self-quarantine and/or get tested when you arrive, as you might have picked it up en route. If you've traveled in your own car and didn't have contact with others on the road, testing afterwards is less necessary. But after the Thanksgiving holiday, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House's coronavirus task force coordinator, told Americans to assume they were infected if they traveled or attended large gatherings, per CBSNews, and to get tested as soon as they could.

Where Can You Travel During The Pandemic?

"Before you decide to travel to another state, check the guidelines in place," Dr. Seema Sarin M.D., an internal medicine physician at health provider EHE Health, tells Bustle. "Some state and local governments may require people who have recently traveled to stay home for 14 days." If that's the case, she says, you need to adhere to the guidelines, which means staying inside and interacting with nobody — even the delivery driver with your Postmates. You should only leave for medical care or essential things you can't get delivered, Dr. Sarin says.

If possible, avoid going to any areas that have a high amount of cases. If your own city or county is experiencing a surge, it's best to stay put so you don't potentially spread it around.

What If You Want To Travel With Another Quarantine Pod?

Vacationing with other people outside your quarantine pod isn't a great idea unless everybody has been tested and/or quarantined for 14 days before they arrive. Even then, you need to be cautious about who might be affected if you get exposed. "It is important to assess your own vulnerability to this novel disease and the potential for bringing the coronavirus home to loved ones," Dr. Khan tells Bustle. Just because people on Instagram are renting a house with a bunch of friends doesn't mean it's safe to do so.

If you've been feeling sick, or if you've been around anybody with COVID-19 in the past 14 days, you shouldn't travel at all, Dr. Sarin says. And if any friends or family who were meant to come along show any symptoms, they should stay at home. Next summer, when the curve of new cases is hopefully flattened, might be a better time for that long-overdue vacation.


Dr. Larry Burchett M.D.

Dr. Amyna Husain D.O.

Dr. Amy Khan M.D.

Dr. Ravina Kullar M.D.

Dr. Seema Sarin M.D.

Dr. John A. Sellick M.D.

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