Originally posted March 20, 2020 | Updated October 18, 2021

Constantly fluctuating conditions have made it hard to know how to plan for travel since the Covid pandemic began in March 2020. As infection numbers fall in one country, they rise in another. News reports regularly suggest new ways of thinking about virus variants, protection from vaccines, and safety precautions. In this everchanging and often concerning milieu, what do you need to know about travel and Covid-19?

At Journeys International we are certainly not medical experts. We are, however, travel experts, and we are committed to providing information and insight to help you make travel decisions. Here are some FAQs regarding travel and coronavirus/COVID-19 to help you plan your upcoming adventures.

Should I avoid travel right now because of the coronavirus?

This is a highly personal decision, and there is no clear answer. As of this update in September 2021, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has stated that nobody should travel until vaccinated. Once vaccinated, the CDC suggests that domestic travel may be considered safe, while international travel carries an increased risk of testing positive for Covid-19 as well as an increased risk of carrying and transmitting the disease.  Broad awareness of the importance of Covid precautions throughout the travel industry has helped improve the safeguards available during travel. Hotels and other accommodations have detailed cleaning protocols. Masking policies on airplanes are strict (although enforcement, especially domestically, may be less inconsistent). Rigorous studies have proven the efficacy of air filtration on planes.

Whether to travel is a complex and personal decision and must account for individual risk factors. Your own vaccination status and health conditions are likely a significant factor in your own consideration of whether to travel.

You should also consider the conditions where you intend to travel. Vaccination rates around the world trail that of the United States. The State Department has issued Level 4 “Do Not Travel” advisories for more than 70 countries around the world based on Covid-related conditions. (Read more about understanding these advisories.) Some countries have loosened border restrictions, and travel along many routes is possible. Yet many nations, particularly in Asia, continue to restrict visitor entry. Research specific potential destinations carefully to be aware of closed borders or specific travel restrictions.

If you do intend to travel internationally, a key consideration to keep in mind is the US requirement that every traveler entering the country – including all Americans, travelers returning home from vacations, and those who are fully vaccinated – must present evidence of a negative Covid-19 test taken 3 days before your return trip to the United States. If you do plan to travel, ensure that you have a plan in place to obtain this test. (If you are traveling with Journeys International, we will help you with these arrangements.) In addition, however unlikely you think it may be that you will contract Covid while traveling, put a plan in place for where you will quarantine for two weeks or more if your pre-travel test comes back positive. As the delta variant secures its dominance, the number of vaccinated travelers who test positive for the virus is increasing, leading to an increase in the number of travelers who must quarantine before returning to the USA. Of course, you should also know where you will obtain medical care if it becomes necessary, although cases remain mild for most vaccinated travelers.

Is it getting easier to travel again?

Compared to the spring and summer of 2020, it is becoming easier to travel again to destinations that allow entry. So far, Journeys travelers have returned to Costa Rica, Mexico, Tunisia, Italy, Iceland, Belize, and South Africa and others with no significant hiccups. Airlines have worked out their protocols, and airport services are approaching full functionality. One consideration when scheduling travel is that current protocols may take longer than you may remember compared to pre-pandemic routines. Many airports now require passengers to tag their own baggage, for example, and this requires waiting in additional lines. Plan to arrive with extra time to complete all requirements. There are also additional forms that must be completed.

Also note that many countries, especially in Europe, maintain health precautions that are more restrictive than those in many parts of the United States. Border crossings or event movement between regions may require virus testing. Some foreign airlines now require medical-grade masks (surgical, N-95, or KN-95) and will not accept fabric masks as face coverings. Throughout your trip you should always have a mask to put on when requested, and expect indoor service to be unavailable in some restaurants and other venues. Museums and other indoor attractions may remain closed to the public, while others may require you to show proof of vaccination. If there are key sites that could make or break your enjoyment of a trip, check the specific restrictions in place before booking.

Seeing a Covid-19 vaccine become widely available around the world will be the key to general freedom of movement, and this may not happen until the end of 2022 or beyond. However, we believe vaccinated American travelers can confidently plan to travel to most countries, with proper precautions and documentation, in fall 2021 and beyond.

Rest assured that if you do make plans that turn out to be too soon, we are happy to postpone your arrangements with no penalty.

Where can I think about traveling now?

Different countries’ borders are opening and closing each day, and vaccination and testing requirements change frequently. We have published an active border report to keep you informed of what countries are open and accepting American visitors. Each country has different requirements for travelers and tourists. Some of the easiest international destinations to enter right now are Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Italy, Iceland, and Belize.

An increasing number of countries are likely to open as vaccines are distributed. For now, travel to Asia and Oceania remain widely restricted.

Again, keep in mind that every traveler entering the United States, including travelers returning home from vacations, must present evidence of a negative Covid-19 test taken 3 days before your return trip to the US. If you do plan to travel abroad, ensure that you have a plan in place to obtain this test – Journeys International will assist with this if you are traveling with us. As the delta variant secures its dominance, the number of vaccinated travelers who test positive for the virus is increasing, leading to an increase in the number of travelers who must quarantine before returning to the USA; however unlikely you think it may be that you will contract Covid while traveling, put a plan in place for where you will quarantine for two weeks or more if your end-of-trip test comes back positive.

Domestic travel does not require testing or quarantine.

What are the safest and most sanitary trips available?

Some types of trips particularly lend themselves to social distancing and controlled sanitation. For instance, an African safari allows only a limited number of people to ride together in a vehicle, with windows always open (and often roofs!). Furthermore, we can reserve private lodging and dining services to decrease the risk of exposure, and the safari takes place in wide-open spaces, with other tourists staying at a distance in and around their own private vehicle(s).

Other trips exploring the great outdoors are also good options. By spending time outside in nature, there is enough space to stay distanced from other travelers and the fresh air reduces risk of exposure and illness. Most of our outdoor-oriented trips can be customized and provided completely privately. It’s a safer way to see more of this magnificent earth!

What safeguards ensure my health and safety while traveling?

First and foremost, given the availability of the Covid-19 vaccine in the United States and the developed world, it is our point of view that at this time all travelers aged 12 and older should delay travel until they are able to receive a full course of vaccination. Not only does this protect you, but it protects local people in your destination who may not have equitable access to the vaccine.

Other precautions are also important. Most countries have health requirements for entry, including many that require travelers to show proof of a negative COVID test within 72 hours of travel. Check whether your airline has resources to facilitate this testing – these services are increasingly common. Large medical centers will also recognize upcoming travel as an approved reason for testing, but depending on current local infection rates, it may be difficult to get fast enough turnaround on test results to satisfy the timeline requirements for your destination. Many areas now also have rapid testing locations, but always check whether the type of test offered at a testing site will satisfy the conditions of your travel destination and your own standards of certainty.

The travel industry is implementing COVID-19 safety protocols widely. We work with dozens of ground partners around the world, and we are impressed by the care that each is showing in updating their destination-specific guidelines. For instance, Ecoventura in the Galapagos Islands, has published this sanitation protocol, just one representative example of the level of standards that our suppliers follow. In other places countries are releasing nationwide sanitation and hospitality requirements to ensure tourists and visitors feel safe and welcomed, such as Tunisia’s recent sanitation protocol. We review the health protocols for each departure to ensure that proper plans are in place for the specific itinerary, group, and point in time.

Your own practices are the most critical in protecting your health. You can participate in your own and others’ protection by getting vaccinated, by wearing a face mask in enclosed places and in proximity to others, by washing your hands and sanitizing them frequently, by maintaining a safe distance greater than 6 feet from people outside your travel party. Stay masked while in airports and on airplanes, including while sleeping. Choose water bottles with unexposed mouthpieces and spend as little time as possible indoors in the company of people outside your travel party.

What happens if I can’t make the trip I have planned?

Everyone in the travel industry is on your team in wanting to give you a positive and healthy experience. So far we have seen airlines, hotels, and tour companies all demonstrate flexibility in working with travelers to rearrange their plans in the face of this pandemic. Because Journeys works with so many different suppliers in so many different destinations, we must consider each situation on a case-by-case basis. Our goal is to reschedule your travel for a future date with as little price increase as possible.

I have heard that travel insurance didn’t cover people who had to cancel trips because of the pandemic. Should I still buy travel insurance?

We do still recommend purchasing travel protection policies. Some destinations currently require particular types of coverage to cover costs incurred in the event of coronavirus-related delays, and most insurance providers have developed add-ons to their standard offerings that will satisfy these specific requirements. Even in the absence of such a requirement, you may choose to add a supplement that would cover the expenses of quarantine in the unlikely event that it becomes necessary. You may also opt for a “Cancel for Any Reason” policy or upgrade that has fewer restrictions on the covered reasons for trip cancelation. These policies tend to be more expensive. Each insurer is prepared to answer specific questions about their offerings.

Generally, a travel insurance policy will cover the immediate treatment of a condition contracted while traveling, lost baggage replacement, and service provider bankruptcy, among other things. But, more often than not, trip cancelation related to the coronavirus will not be covered. More specifically, a cancelation due to fear of conditions, new travel advisories, or even sites becoming inaccessible because of closure or quarantine will usually not be covered without the upgrades mentioned above. Each policy is different, so it is important to read the language of a policy before purchasing to know what types of emergencies it covers. Make sure to thoroughly discuss your travel insurance plan with the plan provider if you have questions.

Most US health insurance providers do not extend coverage outside of the United States. It is important to check with your individual health insurance provider as you navigate what travel insurance policy will work best for you.

What can I do if I’m still not ready to travel?

Dream and plan! Though travel is currently very limited, it won’t be forever, and we’d love to join you in thinking about more expansive days ahead. Believe it or not, accommodations in some destinations are already filling up for 2022, and we suggest you save your spot now! We can even start planning for 2023.

We also want to encourage everyone to maintain a mindset of adventure and exploration, even in your home environs. Reflecting on previous travel experiences can help you embrace the values of connecting with people who see the world differently, spending time in nature, and stepping outside your comfort zone. At Journeys, we know that adventure is not solely about the places you go, but also the wonder and discovery you encounter wherever you happen to be. We would love to hear about your alternative adventures, and insights, during this very alternative time.

More questions?

Check out these resources:

You can also contact us about questions specific to Journeys International at any time.