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Friday, June 9, 2023

How to Travel Safely During Your Pandemic Summer

Welcome aboard, would-be passengers. This is your author speaking. It's a lovely day on the metaphorical tarmac. On behalf of the WIRED crew, I ask that you please direct your attention to the guidelines located beneath the introduction. This article is equipped with sections on how to enter various countries, stay safe and healthy, and prove your vaccination status. Take a minute to locate the sections most relevent to you. Please do not turn off all personal electronic devices, including smartphones and tablets, because then you won't be able to read any further.

The Covid-19 pandemic is not over, but parts of the world are opening up to travelers. Never before has the list of rules and stipulations been so fragmented and conditional. It's enough to make a traveler’s head spin more than the in-flight booze. Hopefully, this guide on how to safely travel domestically and internationally can help. Remember to secure all baggage—we recommend several great carry-ons—in the overhead compartment.

Where Can I Go Internationally?

Check the country list. Entry rules are all over the place, and they change constantly. They differ so much from country to country, region to region, and state to state that it's impossible to give specific advice that applies to much of the world. Depending on the country:

  • You might only be eligible if you've had a certain vaccine approved by the country you're traveling to. Most countries recognize the three vaccines available in the US: Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Johnson & Johnson's Janssen.
  • You might need to quarantine in a hotel at your own expense before you're allowed to travel freely in the country.
  • You might need to take a Covid-19 diagnostic test and receive a negative result before you're allowed to travel around the country. It could be required immediately upon arrival, within a short time frame after arrival, or within a short time frame before you get on the plane and depart your home country (or a test before you leave and when you land).
  • You might not be allowed to enter if you've been to certain other countries recently.

There are so many variables. The European Union has suggested guidelines on traveler entry for its 27 member states, but they're not mandatory, and some countries have set their own policies. Many countries around the world also have curfews and limits on social gatherings. We recommend frequently checking the official travel website for the country you're planning on flying to for up-to-date information.   

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a map that breaks down which countries are at higher risk than others.

What About Domestic Travel in the US?

States in the contiguous US (those wedged between Canada and Mexico) won't stop you from crossing over a state border, make you submit to testing, or check your vaccination card if you're arriving from another US state (for the most part). Some states now recommend but do not require quarantining yourself for a certain amount of time, especially if you haven't been vaccinated or have recently been to a state considered a hot spot for Covid-19 infections.

Rhode Island is one of the few states that require quarantining or proof of a negative Covid-19 test result upon arrival for domestic travelers. Kansas has a very particular list of stipulations. Alaska has no special entry requirements. Native American nations, many of which are sovereign nations, have their own entry requirements. If you plan to visit or pass through one, check official tribe websites for guidance.

The overseas states, territories, and possessions of the US have stricter entry rules. In Hawaii, even if you're vaccinated, you'll have to take a Covid-19 test and receive a negative result before you hop on your flight (if you got your vaccine outside Hawaii originally). Otherwise, get ready for a mandatory 10-day quarantine upon arrival, although the testing requirement will be dropped for vaccinated travelers on July 8. Travelers who've recently recovered from a Covid-19 infection may be exempt as well, under certain circumstances.

Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the US Virgin Islands, and the Northern Marianas Islands also have their own entry screening and requirements. Take a look at the CDC's guidelines for domestic travel before you plan your trip.

Am I Safe on the Plane?

Ah, the old flyin' bus. You can reduce your risk of infection by making sure it's been more than two weeks since your final vaccination and by wearing a face mask in the airport and on the airplane whenever possible (as in, not eating). It's currently US federal law to wear a mask at all times in airports and on board an airliner. We have face mask recommendations here.

Some commercial airplanes have powerful air filtration systems that scrub and exchange all the air in the cabin two or three times per minute. That's far more often than in a typical commercial building or your home. All major US airlines are now booking middle seats—they had been cordoning them off during the thick of the pandemic to create space between passengers, but no longer. For more information about what to expect when flying, visit your airline's Covid-19 portal:

If you're driving instead, read WIRED reviewer Medea Giordano's guide on road-tripping safely during a pandemic. Amtrak is another option if driving would take too long and you want to avoid flying. It has been upgrading its trains for Covid-19 precautions. You can book a private roomette if you want to be separated from other passengers entirely.

Can I Travel If I’m Unvaccinated?

If you’re unvaccinated, it’s not going to be anywhere near as easy for you to travel, and you’re putting yourself at a higher risk of catching Covid-19. Wearing a mask can reduce some risk, but there's a dearth of good data on how much—and it won't reduce it as much as vaccination.

Seriously, vaccines are safe, they don't magnetize your blood, and they don't contain human fetal cells. The WIRED office is filled with people, myself included, who got the jab. Among us, we've had all three brands of vaccines. We wouldn't tell you to do anything we haven't already done ourselves. There are minuscule chances for serious side effects, and WIRED senior correspondent Adam Rogers talks frankly about them here.

Will I Have to Quarantine?

If you're unvaccinated, almost certainly. And that's if they let you in at all. With a negative Covid-19 test, you might be released after a few days. But maybe not. It's common for countries to require 10 or 14 days in a particular hotel, with you being unable to leave of your own accord. Check the rules of the country you're planning to visit. Some US island states, territories, and possessions will also quarantine you in certain circumstances. And remember, you're probably going to have to pay out of pocket for it. Bills often run into quadruple figures in US dollars.

So, Uh, Vaccine Passports? Tell Me About Those.

Right now, the paper vaccination card you got when you received your vaccine shot(s) is your most important document. For now, at least, it's the default document you should keep with you when traveling to show customs you've been vaccinated. 

You can get a World Health Organization yellow card, an official proof-of-vaccination document recognized in most places internationally. It's not required to have a WHO yellow card to travel, despite the false rumors circulating, but if you want one, you can purchase it from the US Government Bookstore for $25. Take your blank yellow card to your vaccine provider and ask them to add your vaccination information to it.

The International Air Transport Association has developed an app, the IATA Travel Pass, to function as proof-of-vaccination and a vaccine passport accepted by several international airlines, but there's no guarantee that border agents will accept them in lieu of your official paper document. Bring your physical vaccination card anyway, whether you also have a WHO yellow card or use an app.

What Should I Do With My Vaccination Card?

Put it in a plastic baggie that seals, and then bring it with you. Take a photograph of it on your phone too, in case you lose it. Seriously, that's all you have to do. Don't bend it or run it through the wash. Pretend it's a $1,000 bill and treat it accordingly with all your tender love and care, but otherwise, that should be enough to keep the ink from rubbing off via pocket abrasions or by getting wet. 

We don't recommend laminating it, because you may need booster shots down the road to bolster protection against Covid-19 variants, and your vaccine provider won't be able to add this information to your card if it's laminated. 

Should I Bring a Mask?

Yes, of course. Even if your home state in the US doesn't require them, most countries and airlines have mandatory masking requirements. WIRED senior associate reviews editor Adrienne So has tested a lot of masks and offers her recommendations in her guide

My favorite is a Hedley & Bennett cloth mask worn over a KN95 surgical mask, although if you need a more portable mask, you can buy a pack of these blue surgical masks I've been using lately. Make sure whichever surgical mask you buy, it's on the FDA's approved list. There are a lot of counterfeit surgical masks out there that offer little to no protection.

Got It. Anything Else?

Think about where you're going and what kind of an impact you're going to have if you're there. Many countries, particularly those dependent on tourism, are open to vaccinated tourists even as their own citizens starve for vaccines. It can, in some areas, create a situation where tourists are very visibly freer to enjoy those places than the people who live there. 

And yet, some of the people there who depend on tourism may desire the return of tourists to help alleviate the economic ruin that came from previously closed borders. It's an ethical dilemma you'll have to personally figure out, but do spend some time thinking about it and researching your destination before you book your trip.

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