How to create a COVID travel plan


Author: Anna Blekhman

So you want to travel during a global pandemic? 

If you haven’t checked out the guidance from the world’s foremost public health experts yet, please take a minute to make sure you really need to make your journey. The brainiacs at the Georgia Institute of Technology have created a helpful coronavirus risk-assessment map for travelers in and to the U.S., which you should consult before you commit to traveling.

 If you’ve heard enough from the experts and you’re going to travel anyway, here are a few things you should consider when creating a plan to travel during COVID-19.

Do your research on where you’re traveling to

Understand COVID-19 restrictions

Local restrictions in your destination might be more or less strict than where you’re traveling from, so use TripsGuard to research the state and county requirements. 

Some cities have specific ordinances and directives regarding entertainment, sports, restaurants, bars, shopping…and even limiting in-home gatherings to people who live in the home, so visiting family you don’t live with isn’t necessarily going to be possible.

Settings where masks-wearing is required is similarly variable, with some cities requiring face coverings even in states that haven’t made mask use compulsory statewide.

Understanding what personal protective equipment (PPE) you and your family will need to pack will help avoid unpleasant surprises when you reach your destination.

Common travel restrictions for popular destinations

AmericasEuropeRest of the World
New York
Costa Rica

Get tested

Whether your travel by plane or a good old fashioned road trip, you might need to provide evidence of a recent negative test for COVID-19. To be safe, as a rule, you should plan to test 1-3 days before you leave, and be prepared to self-isolate from the time of your test until you travel. 

COVID-19 tests can either check for antibodies, where a positive result would indicate you’ve had the virus, or a viral diagnostic test where a positive result would indicate you currently have the active virus in your body.

The viral test can be one of two additional test types: molecular tests (PCR tests) or antigen tests. Both types of test may be able to return a result in an hour or less, depending on the testing center. You can find more information about COVID-19 diagnostic testing on the Food and Drug Administration website.

Some locations will require you to get re-tested if you stay for more than a few days, while international travelers may need to re-test on arrival if they have passed through certain countries on their journey.

Know if you’ll need to self-isolate or quarantine on arrival

This affects whether you should budget extra time to allow for any required self-isolation, so unless you want your trip to include missing all the good stuff because you’re locked in a hotel, you should get to know the rules wherever you’re headed. 

Domestic travel

When traveling within your own country and you’ve tested negative for coronavirus within a few days of your arrival, you may not need to self-quarantine. In some countries, even domestic travelers are required to quarantine when traveling between regions or states.

International travel

If you’re traveling internationally, even if you’ve tested negative within a few days of your arrival and you’ve traveled directly with no layovers in other countries, you might stillneed to self-quarantine for a few days, depending on your destination country.

In case you’ve tested negative within a few days of your arrival but you had a layover that lasted between a few hours to overnight, you’re probably going to need to self-quarantine for a few days, depending on your destination country.

Traveling internationally and don’t have a recent negative COVID-19 test? You may be required to take a rapid response test at your port of entry. Or you might just be refused entry. Or you might be told to quarantine at your own expense.

It’s just not a good idea to travel if you haven’t been tested a day or two before you leave.

For more information, check out the CDC’s guidance on travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, or the loveholidays’ guide for Responsible Tourism During COVID-19.

Make a plan. Then make a backup plan.

Write them down so everyone is clear.

So what’s on the plan so far?

  1. Research local coronavirus mandates and laws in your destination
  2. Get tested 2-3 days before you leave

Okay, good start. What else?

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Buy your PPE to ensure compliance with #1, and to keep you safe on your journey. The PPE you’ll need varies by destination and is different for road trips compared to airline travel. 

For airline travel your hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes will need to fit into your resealable plastic baggie, which doesn’t leave much room for mouthwash and deodorant. Decide what you need to pack in your carry-on bag from the list below, and put the rest in your checked baggage.

For road trips, you can pack as much as you can fit into your vehicle, so let’s look at what the hyper-vigilant traveler might pack for a road trip.

Face masks

Choose either disposable masks or washable masks which you can insert a PM2.5 filter into. Ensure your masks cover your mouth and your nostrils, and make sure you wear them every single time you leave the vehicle, even if it’s just to fill the tank.
Latest facemask information from Centers for Disease Control 

Hand sanitizer

When you stop to refuel the car or yourself, use hand sanitizer before you touch anything you didn’t just clean, and use it again before you get back in the car.
Latest hand sanitizer information from Centers for Disease Control 

Disposable gloves

In the early days of the pandemic a lot of people began wearing gloves for general protection. This can be useful if you only wear the gloves for specific tasks and if you dispose of them immediately after. Wearing the same pair of disposable gloves all day is no different than not wearing any at all (and may be more dangerous since it can lead wearers into a false sense of security about their habits).
Latest disposable gloves information from Centers for Disease Control

Face shields and visors

Visors are not a substitute for face masks since they don’t filter pathogens when users breathe, so this is more of an “and” choice than an “either/or.” If you choose to wear a face shield with your mask, it should wrap around the sides of the face and extend below the chin. Latest face visors information from Centers for Disease Control

Antibacterial wipes, bathroom paper, spray bleach and soap

For the truly committed traveler, antibacterial wipes and a small bottle of spray bleach will clean any surface you need to touch – though bleach comes with its own collection of risks. Do not drink bleach as a treatment for COVID-19 symptoms, no matter who tells you it works. It doesn’t, and it’s dangerous – even fatal.
Latest don’t drink bleach information from Centers for Disease Control

Have plenty of room on your credit cards

If you end up having to self-isolate at your own expense, having enough room to float an additional 3-14 days of accommodation expenses can be the difference between enjoying your trip and turning around at the port of entry.

Additionally, your cash will be no good in some places because many retailers, restaurants and bars switched to card-only payments to reduce potential coronavirus transmission on banknotes and bills.

Assume the best, and plan for the worst

It’s the best way to avoid a catastrophe is to assume one will happen and plan for it. So assume that the bathroom in the fast food place you stop at to pick up lunch won’t be clean. Assume that the person you pay at the fuel stop is working with coronavirus, not just a cold. Assume that the over-zealous security agent at the airport is going to throw your bag of little bottles in the trash. Assume that when you get where you’re going, there’s been a run on bathroom paper and the stores are sold out.

Pack extra everything

  • As much as you’re able to, pack extra PPE.
  • Budget additional time for long lines at the airport or having to self-isolate when you arrive.
  • Pack additional charging cords for your electronics, and if they’re available, rechargeable power banks to charge your electronics if there’s no outlet available (and keep them on if the power goes out).

Now hopefully you feel like you’re ready to plan your trip in a way that keeps you, your family, and everyone you’re going to visit healthy. Safe travels!