Is It Safe to Travel During COVID-19?

For months, many of us have been staying close to home in an effort to stay safe during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. But as public spaces begin to reopen and temperatures rise, it’s natural to want to go on a trip. The question is, how do you decide whether it’s safe?

The experts say: Traveling can be done in a low-risk way, but it will require more thought and care than in the past. Car travel is less risky (in terms of coronavirus) than air travel, because you’ll be exposed to fewer people. Staying in a hotel is relatively low-risk, too.

“I think it’s OK to enjoy being in a different location as long as you’re still following all of the recommendations,” says UNC Health pediatrician Elizabeth Blyth, MD. “It’s not a bad thing to be somewhere else, and it’s not a bad thing to be outside.”

Factors to consider:

– Who will be traveling with you? It’s best to stick to people in your household, and to continue physical distancing from others at your destination as you would at home.

That’s why planes can be tricky, says Emily Sickbert-Bennett, PhD, director of UNC Medical Center Infection Prevention. “You don’t know about the people you’re going to come into contact with, and you don’t know how full the airplane will be,” she says. “You can’t control the behavior of everyone on the plane in terms of whether they’re masked.”

– If you’re going to be exposed to others, how long will the exposure last? For example, a short plane ride would be better than a long one.

– Where are you going? Less inhabited destinations, such as the mountains for a camping trip, are safer than traveling to a city.

– Does your destination have an especially high COVID-19 rate, or has it seen a recent spike in cases? This might be a reason to delay your trip.

– Is anyone in your group high-risk, such as people older than 65 or those who are immunocompromised? If so, that person should consult with his or her doctor before making the trip.

How to stay safe:

The same things you do to stay well at home will work when you’re traveling. Practice physical distancing and wear a mask when you can’t stay 6 feet away from others. Don’t spend more time than you have to in rest stops or restaurants along the way.

“The goal when you’re traveling is to reduce your exposure to other people, because that reduces your risk,” Dr. Blyth says. “Keep it short and interact with as few other people outside your circle as possible.”

Pack enough masks so that you can always have one at the ready, and carry hand sanitizer for when you can’t practice frequent hand-washing. Bring disinfectant wipes to clean surfaces in your hotel room or rental property, such as the bedside tables, doorknobs, phone and remote control. Open windows to air out the room.

For the latest information on COVID-19, visit the CDC website and the UNC Health COVID-19 Resources page, and follow UNC Health on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.