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Ten holiday travelling tips to keep you safe from COVID-19

By James LaCorte | November 5, 2021 | Healthy Lifestyle, Coronavirus

Couple with face mask sitting in airport terminal

When we shared these safe traveling tips last year, most Americans didn’t yet have access to COVID-19 vaccines. Now, with the vaccines available to everyone five and older, more people may be considering traveling for the holidays.

Our number one safe travel tip in 2021 is to get vaccinated. Vaccines continue to be remarkably effective in reducing risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death. According to the latest data from North Carolina hospitals, 91% of all COVID patients and 96% of all COVID ICU patients were unvaccinated. 

But even if you’re vaccinated, there are precautions you can take to protect yourself and others. Here are 10 safe holiday travel tips to consider if you’re getting on a plane, bus or train this holiday season.

If you're eligible for a booster, don't wait to get your shot!

Booster shots are now available for people who have been fully vaccinated. 

Everyone ages 18 and older should get a booster shot. Learn more from the CDC.

1. Check the number of cases for the last seven days in the state you want to travel to and determine if you are comfortable with the trend.

Check both the state and the local/county of your destination, as well as the cities you may need to travel through to get there.

You can check the Travel Health Notices for recommendations for places you have traveled, including foreign countries and U.S. territories. You can also check states, counties, and cities to determine if these areas are experiencing high levels of COVID-19.

2. Consider whether friends and family members at your destination have been at high-risk gatherings recently.

The following situations are high risk:

  • Going to a large social gathering like a wedding, funeral, worship or party
  • Attending a mass gathering like a sporting event, concert, or parade
  • Being in crowds — for example, in restaurants, bars, airports, bus and train stations, or movie theaters
  • Traveling on a cruise ship or river boat

3. Get on the same page as your family/friends about COVID precautions and expectations.

We may have a lower or higher risk tolerance than the people we are visiting. That means everyone might not be following the same guidelines.

Licensed clinical social worker Kim Eisenberg encourages people to talk explicitly with their families before getting together. This way, she says, you can come to a consensus around shared expectations of behavior.

While you might not agree about everything 100%, it’s important to come to an agreement that everyone can live with. She stresses having empathy for your loved ones with different perspectives and trying to understand the values that drive them.

4. If you or someone close to you feels sick, do not travel.

Follow the CDC’s guidelines on when to delay travel to avoid spreading COVID-19. Keep in mind that even if you don’t feel sick, you could still have COVID-19 and could spread the virus to others. If you think you have been around someone with COVID-19 in the past 14 days, do not travel.

According to NCDHHS, anyone who has symptoms of or has been exposed to COVID-19 should get tested as soon as possible.  To find a testing site in your community, go to  

5. If you have a medical condition, consider the risks carefully.

Know if you are at increased risk of severe illness. Even if you’re careful, traveling or attending group gatherings can put you at risk. Think about how many people you will interact with, how much space you can put between you, and how long you will be in close contact with others.

6. Try to keep your distance in airports, bus terminals and other crowded settings.

You may need to eat or drink during travel. In crowded settings like airports, see if you can find a space far away from others before you take down your mask to take a bite of food or a sip of coffee. You may be able to find an empty gate or another area that isn’t too populated.

7. Ensure the people you are visiting are healthy and do not have certain medical conditions that can put them at risk.

Remember that the lowest risk activities are virtual-only events and gatherings.

If you are planning to visit at-risk family members in person, encourage social distancing during your visit and spending time outdoors. Try to arrange your space to allow for social distancing (for example, keep windows open when possible), but understand that this is not a low-risk gathering.

8. Practice the 3Ws = Wear a mask, wait six feet apart and wash your hands often.

If you do travel, practice the 3Ws. One risk of traveling by plane is being near others in the airport or on public transportation. If you’re traveling by car, stops along the way can put you in close contact with other people and frequently touched surfaces.

Practicing the 3Ws can help reduce your risk. Bring hand sanitizer and disposable gloves, and avoid touching your face. You can wear a face shield in addition to a mask while traveling for extra protection.

Consider upgrading your mask.

Cloth face masks were a stopgap measure at the beginning of the pandemic. Now, KN95s and surgical masks are widely available. Before you travel, consider investing in a higher quality mask for better protection.

9. Get your flu shot and take care of your overall health.

Talk to your doctor about whether your vaccinations and preventive services are up to date. The CDC says it’s particularly important for those at increased risk of severe illness to get their flu shot and take care of their health.

10. Download the Slow COVID App to track if you get exposed during your travels.

The app will alert you if you’ve come into contact with someone who reported a positive COVID-19 case to the app. It can help you protect yourself, your family, and your community.