Planning COVID-Safe Vacations. What You Need To Consider.

In 30 seconds…

After more than a year of being cooped up indoors, many are looking forward to traveling this summer. But even as countries loosen restrictions, circumstances are still far from normal. During any travel in the next few months, it’ll be crucial to keep minimizing your COVID-19 risk, whether you’re vaccinated or not.

If you’re thinking of traveling this summer, plan thoroughly. When choosing a travel destination, consider the location’s current infection rates and the mode of transportation you’ll need to take to get there. To err on the side of caution, choose outdoor travel activities over indoor ones.

Choosing Your Travel Destination

There’s no doubt traveling will be far from normal for the foreseeable future. If you plan to go somewhere this summer, it’s important that you choose safe destinations over popular, crowded ones.

Do Some Research Beforehand. If you plan to travel domestically, take the time to check public health advisories as well as current COVID-19 infection rates and variant spread for the destination you have in mind. The amount of cases where you are and where you are going should be a primary concern. 

Double Think About International Travel

Be careful about traveling anywhere there has low vaccination uptake.  Many countries have been unable to obtain enough vaccines to distribute them among their residents, or they may not be in a position to know their infection rates due to a low availability of COVID-19 tests. You can visit the CDC’s COVID-19 Travel Recommendations to view their risk assessment of countries.

Traveling vaccinated is relatively safe now, however, this can change at any time if variants emerge that are not covered by the current vaccinations. This is potentially more likely to happen in communities where mask-wearing restrictions have been lifted and where many people in the community have opted not to get the vaccination.

Even though fully vaccinated people do not need to get tested before leaving or self-quarantine after arriving back in the country, they are still at an increased risk for getting and spreading COVID-19, including new variants. Unvaccinated people should not travel internationally until they are able to get fully vaccinated.

How to get there?

When choosing a location, you should also consider how you’ll get there. While viruses don’t spread easily on flights, the number of stops or layovers during air travel does increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission. According to the CDC, short road trips with members of the same household or fully vaccinated people tend to be a lot safer than cruise ships or long-distance train or bus trips.

Aside from evaluating the safety of your travel destination and mode of transportation, you should assess the activities you plan on doing once you get there. Perhaps more important though is what type of activities you will do. A trip to spend a lot of time outdoors away from others is probably fine regardless of conditions, while one where you will be spending a lot of time inside with strangers is the least safe.

Activities Based on COVID-19 Risk

Right now, planning ahead is crucial since a lack of foresight might risk your safety. Before you go on your trip, take the time to figure out which travel activities increase your risk of getting and spreading COVID-19.

Basically, being outside is always going to be the safest, and unmasked in a crowded area the least safe. Camping, hiking, and swimming are likely the safest travel activities as long as you maintain your distance, he adds.

We asked experts to rank typical vacation activities based on the risk they pose to travelers. 

Indoor Dining

Experts say that indoor dining is the riskiest activity you can do while traveling. A South Korean study showed that COVID-19 transmission can occur even with a distance greater than 2 meters when it is combined with airflow. Although the risk of infection is lower for fully vaccinated people, transmission risk is still high due to the closed space, poor ventilation, and the need to remove masks when eating and drinking.

Visiting a Museum

Going to a museum is risky because it’s a closed space where plenty of people come in from outside the community. Although that usually adds to the experience, during this pandemic, it increases potential dangers.

Wear a mask. Use sanitizer. Be extra careful with taking young children who are not able to adhere to perfect mask-wearing and are also not vaccinated.

Remember to check a museum’s guidelines before going. They often require online reservations or advanced ticket purchases.

Safety also depends on how crowded and well-ventilated the museum is, Lessler says. Many museums now have timed-entry tickets limiting capacity, and some have spacing markers to help people maintain physical distancing. 

Going to an Amusement Park

Visiting an amusement park is mostly okay, but one would not want to be on an enclosed ride with people outside [their] household bubble. Before you go, make sure masks are required. Be careful to avoid rides where you are packed in close with others while waiting in line or on the ride, particularly if indoors.

Taking a Guided Tour of the City

An outdoor walking tour would be pretty safe, one in an enclosed bus less so. If the travel group and the tour guide are fully vaccinated, there is little risk of infection, but remember to wear a mask anytime you’re indoors. 

Swimming In Pools

Outdoor pools are relatively safer than indoor ones. Either way, it’s important to avoid really crowded pools.

There has been little evidence that swimming in pools leads to transmission. Chlorine and other pool chemicals seem to kill the virus. However, if people are standing in the pool and are packed in closely without masks, there is a possibility of transmission, especially if unvaccinated. We saw that last summer around the big holidays, where people were standing in pools, maskless, packed in like sardines. Many cases were traced to these situations.

Going to the Beach

Similar to indoor pools, you should avoid crowded locations where you cannot maintain physical distance. “As long as people are not crowded together, outdoor activities like going to the beach and swimming in the ocean are going to be relatively safe,” Jubanyik says. “Vaccinated people should feel free to do this.”

Camping or Hiking

Experts say that camping or hiking is likely the safest activity you can do because it is mostly outdoors. The CDC recommends going with the people in your household, but in general, it’s safe to be with fully vaccinated individuals.

If you are vaccinated, the  guidelines say no mask is needed unless in a large crowd of strangers. Even unvaccinated people will be at very low risk, especially if one travels with their household bubble. I would caution against staying in tents or cabins with other families if there are unvaccinated people in the group.

Getting Vaccinated Is the Best Safety Measure

It’s best to delay travel—both domestic and international—until you are fully vaccinated.

Social distancing appears to not be enough, particularly for indoor activities, to prevent transmission of the virus. Masking is absolutely still essential, for indoor activities with people outside of your household bubble, even if, for political reasons, the state government has lifted mask restrictions. This is especially true for unvaccinated people. 

Overall, avoid traveling to crowded locations or situations that will put travelers in crowded conditions. Outdoor activities are largely much safer than indoor activities. If one is not yet vaccinated and is eligible, people should get vaccinated now. This will help make all travelers safer.

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