After a year of bad news, travelers finally have something to look forward to again. On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave the green light that fully vaccinated people can travel again.
The long-awaited guidance is welcome news for travelers who want to visit family and take vacations for the first time in more than a year.
But even though nearly 100 million Americans have had at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine, we are not out of the woods yet. Officials are still not recommending travel for everyone due to the rising number of cases in the United States and globally.
When we venture out again, travel will not look the same as it did in 2019. For the foreseeable future, we will still be following coronavirus precautions and restrictions. Crossing borders will come with new complications. Vaccine passports may be as essential as a photo ID.
To prepare for your post-vaccination travels, we compiled this checklist to help you get squared away before you go.
1. Check where you can go and what you can do there
Before you lock in a plane ticket or hotel reservation, make sure the destination you would like to visit is open to Americans. And if it is, make sure you’re familiar with any restrictions in place.
“It’s really understanding where am I going, what do I want to get out of this trip and what will be the expectations for me?” says Elizabeth Blount McCormick, the president of international travel management company Uniglobe Travel Designers.
Review restriction information by looking up your destination’s local government websites. Other resources are available for conducting that research, including the State Department and CDC websites or the travel-organizing app TripIt which allows users to learn about coronavirus infection rates, entry and exit rules, and other guidelines.
Jen Moyse, senior director of product at TripIt, says that as travelers choose destinations to visit, they may still want to avoid places with increasing or high levels of infection. Not only are those places riskier for both visitors and locals, Moyse says, they are also likely to have more restrictions.
2. Consider travel insurance
If you’re taking a substantial trip, you will want to protect yourself with travel insurance — even if you have never been inclined to before. (For a low-key getaway nearby when there is less money on the line, travel insurance might not be warranted.)
Blount McCormick says that for now, travel insurance is a must, as the status of the pandemic can change daily on personal, local and global levels.
Angela Adto Tepper, chief executive and founder of AZA Luxury Travel, says travelers should consider options like “cancel for any reason” coverage, as well as Medjet or COVAC GLOBAL memberships, which can fly you home in case of a medical emergency.
But be warned: Travel insurance doesn’t cover everything.
Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group, says travelers should check with their insurance company (if you have insurance) to find out what will be covered by their policy, then supplement what is missing through travel insurance. Don’t forget to read the fine print to make sure you are protected for exactly what you need.
3. Pack your vaccine card with your passport …
Once you’re done getting your vaccine shot(s), protect that fragile document like a Fabergé egg. Depending on where you are going (and what the status of vaccine passports are when you go), you may need to show the vaccine card before you board a plane, or before you pass customs and immigration, among other entry points.
Warren Webster, chief executive of the travel and media company Atlas Obscura, recommends protecting your vaccine card the way you would protect your passport: Take photos of it and save them on your phone. Make physical copies of it, keep those copies in a few different places and get one of those copies laminated (some places like Staples and Office Depot will do it free). Don’t laminate the original, as you may need to document future booster shots on it.
… then check if you need an actual vaccine passport, too
It remains to be seen how important vaccine passports will be in your day-to-day life, but we do know they will be important for travel.
Here is how they should work: You will upload proof of your vaccination, plus any required coronavirus test results or health waivers, into a mobile app (or if you don’t have a smartphone, there will be something you can print out). As a result, you will be allowed access to foreign countries, cruise ships, flights and more.
Brandon Brown, an epidemiologist and a public health and medical ethics professor at University of California at Riverside, says vaccine passports are a helpful way to encourage people to get vaccines, and thus a way of protecting a traveler’s health (not to mention protecting other people a traveler encounters on a trip).
Brown also says vaccine requirements to travel are nothing new. Many countries require specific inoculations to visit; the coronavirus vaccine is just another one to add to the list.
4. Prepare to get tested before, and potentially after, you travel
Depending on where you’re traveling, you may still need to show proof of a negative coronavirus test result even when vaccinated. Per new CDC guidance, fully vaccinated domestic travelers (who have had their final shot for at least two weeks) do not need to get a coronavirus test before or after trips, and they do not need to self-quarantine after travel.
But if you’re returning to the United States from an international trip, you have to provide a negative test result or documentation of recovery regardless of your vaccination or antibody status.
One you have done your research and found out which test you need and when, figure out how you will be able to get it within the accepted time limit. The process of getting a coronavirus test is going to vary widely, whether you are finding one in the United States or scheduling one abroad.
Brown says even if a test is not required for your trip, it’s always good to know your health status before you venture out and interact with others. The CDC recommends domestic and international travelers get a viral test one to three days before departure and three to five days after travel. The agency also suggests self-quarantining for seven days when you get home, even if your test is negative.
5. Make sure you still have pandemic essentials
Pack a face mask and a backup. Even if you have been vaccinated, you will probably be required to wear a face mask. TripIt’s Moyse warns travelers that shirking local restrictions — such as mask-wearing — is not just a health risk, but a financial one. Some places may fine (or in extreme cases, arrest) travelers who do not adhere to local guidelines.
Even though health experts are less concerned about coronavirus transmission from surfaces than they are from respiratory droplets in the air, pack sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer that is at least 60% ethyl alcohol or 70% isopropyl alcohol.
You may also want to pack refreshments for your trip, particularly if you’re flying or taking a train. Bryan Del Monte, president of the Aviation Agency, says travelers can expect a reduction in service when they start traveling again. Food and drink options could stay limited on planes, trains and at airports. If you are going to be traveling for long periods of time, pack food and a water bottle (that you can refill after passing through the TSA checkpoint) as a backup.
Travel during the pandemic:
Lena H. Sun and Lori Aratani contributed to this report.