Last Updated on June 10, 2021 by

Traveling during the pandemic is a personal decision, one that comes with some risks. This article shares practical tips on how to mitigate risks and travel safely during COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the world as we knew it, especially when it came to travel. We’re a year into the pandemic now though, and restrictions are starting to ease up now that the vaccines are being distributed. It’s understandable that many people, including myself, are on the move again.

To be clear, I’m not advocating that everyone travel right now. COVID-19 rates are still very high in many parts of the world. However, people will continue to travel now and in the future. With this article, I hope to share the precautions I’ve taken and discuss some ways on how to mitigate the risks and keep yourself – and others – safe while traveling.

how to travel safely during covid-19

How to Travel Safely During COVID-19

Traveling during COVID-19 is still a touchy subject. It’s absolutely critical to be thoughtful when it comes to travel right now, and it continues to be a deeply personal decision. 

Armed with the right precautions, equipment and mindset, I do think it’s possible to travel safely right now as long as you’re mindful and cautious. You may have seen I took several road trips last year, including a month-long trip around Europe on our camper  van. I waited ten months into the pandemic before taking my first flight. Since then, I’ve flown to Curacao in February, Egypt in March and Colombia in May. 

Sure, I had plenty of reservations. I questioned whether we ought to travel at all. Given how many lives COVID-19 has taken, I was concerned about our safety, and the safety of others. Making these trips possible involved more research, careful planning and consideration than usual. 

travel safely during covid19 - empty amsterdam airport  cancelled flights - traveling during pandemic

Is it Safe to Travel During the Pandemic?

Let’s start by discussing this question that’s on most of our minds: is it safe to travel during the pandemic?

It would be wrong say it’s 100% safe to travel now – there are some risks involved – but I think there’s space for mindful, responsible travel if you take the necessary precautions. If you’ve been vaccinated, the risks will of course be lower. Check out this list of countries open to vaccinated travelers.

It’s also important to realize that every place is different when it comes to the pandemic. The answer to whether or not it’s safe to travel during COVID-19 will vary widely depending on where you’re based, where you’re traveling to and what you intend to do there.  

how to travel safely during covid19 - alone in luxor egypt  covid travel safety - abu simbel egypt


Research Your Destination’s Travel Restrictions

Before you make your decision, look into your destination’s current COVID-19 situation.

Is it a COVID-19 hotspot? Are they allowing non-residents to enter? How are the hospitals coping?

Travel restrictions vary wildly for different destinations and change frequently — some countries may even require mandatory 14-day quarantine that cost upwards of US$2000. Most destinations now require proof of vaccine or negative PCR test results, plus a series of forms to be filled up, printed and carried with you on the trip. Be sure to check your destination’s official health website.

Important COVID-19 travel questions to ask:

  • Does your destination require quarantine upon arrival?
  • Does it require proof of a COVID-19 test before entering?
  • If yes, does the COVID-19 test need to be done within 72 hours or 96 hours in advance?
  • Does your destination welcome vaccinated travelers?
  • Does your destination also administer COVID-19 testing at the airport upon arrival?
  • Is your destination considered “high risk”?
  • How are the local medical facilities coping?
  • Will you be required to quarantine at home after you return from your trip?

covid travel safety - with a mask in spain air travel during covid - provence southern france 

Resources for researching COVID-19 travel restrictions by country:

  • Headout Travel Tracker: Choose the country you’re traveling from and the country where you want to travel. It will display not only the current border status and travel restrictions, but also recent COVID-19 data in terms of active cases from the last 7 days.
  • Borderless: A world map indicating which countries in the world have open borders, closed borders, or partially closed. As you mouse over a country, you’ll see the latest COVID-19 data. Click on a country to get more details on its current travel restrictions.
  • Reopen Europa: The European Union (EU) official site on border openings, travel restrictions and related EU regulations. Choose your destination from the dropdown and get a list of travel-related information, including direct links to that country’s government and health pages.

covid travel requirements - tracking map

What to know about COVID-19 PCR Tests:

First, check how and where to get a PCR test near you. Most countries have a list of official labs that offer COVID-19 PCR tests that include travel certificates. Next, check for a credited lab in your destination that provides testing (if you require one to return home). It can be more difficult to get one in developing countries.

In Amsterdam where we live, there are several labs in each city that are open 7 days a week. Schedule an appointment on their website, the test itself usually takes a few minutes only and costs upwards of €100.

Here are some important things to note:

  • Many countries only accept deep throat and nasal swab PCR tests, NOT rapid antigen tests.
  • Use an official lab that is on your government’s approved list — a friend of mine went to one that wasn’t approved by Egypt, and was denied boarding in Cairo. I took mine at the one and only lab in Hurghada.
  • Take the test within 72 or 96 hours  before flying (depending on your destination).  Don’t forget to take into account time differences!
  • Most results take 12 or 24 hours to process, so be sure to schedule your PCR test at least 2 days before your flight. 
  • Check the results carefully to make sure that it states clearly the type of test and time/date of test taken. On my way to Curacao, the airline almost didn’t accept my test results as it didn’t state that it was a deep throat/nasal swab. 
  • Certain countries do not require kids under six years of age to show COVID-19 test results. Make sure to check on the age cutoff as it varies around the world.

covid testing - covid travel requirements


Choose Destinations that Allow You to Socially Distance

To travel safely during COVID-19, it’s important to choose destinations where you can spend time outdoors, in an uncrowded setting, whether that’s on the beach or national parks. 

For that reason, we chose Curacao for our first trip outside Europe since the pandemic started. The empty, remote beaches were perfect for social distancing, the national parks were uncrowded, and people were respectful of COVID-19 measures. They’ve had very low infection rates throughout the pandemic, and great healthcare. 

In contrast, traveling Egypt during the pandemic was quite the opposite experience: the cities were crowded, few people wore masks, and most people I spoke to did not acknowledge the virus outbreak. That said, most of the tourist sites had very few visitors. [To clarify, Egypt was supposed to be a stopover enroute to Socotra island, but my Socotra trip got cancelled while I was in Egypt.]

covid travel requirements - hiking in curacao   traveling during pandemic tips - beach in curacao


Travel During Off-Peak Periods

Traveling during off-peak times means you’ll be safer without the crowd. If possible, avoid traveling during summer, spring break, Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Honestly, some towns we went in Europe during summer were packed (such as Eze in Southern France) — instead, we drove just 15 minutes into the mountains and had the whole place to ourselves. Curacao was very quiet and uncrowded when we visited — mainly because we chose to visit in February instead of December.

In many countries, hotels and restaurants are operating at limited capacity. There may not be availability in the hotels if you travel at the height of peak travel season too. 

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traveling by campervan - travel safety pandemic


Be Flexible and Expect Delays or Cancellations

There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world right now though, and things are changing all the time. With so many flight bans and travel restrictions across the globe, you can expect delays and cancellations along the way.

It goes without saying, make sure to book only flexible tickets that allow free changes. Most airlines still allow for free last-minute changes, while some issue a voucher for future travel if the flight gets canceled. Be selective with the airline you choose — Egypt Air provides masks and sanitizers onboard, AirEuropa’s customer service is ridiculously hard to contact; while Turkish Airlines is prompt at sending refunds after a flight’s been cancelled.

When booking your flights for travel during COVID-19, I recommend choosing direct flights rather than connecting flights. At every layover you make, you’ll need to adhere to their travel restrictions and PCR test requirements. You might need to take another test while in transit or quarantine. I’d rather pay more to get a direct flight to save me all the stress.

air travel safety covid - mask from egyptair


Know Your Travel Rights

In case of flight delay or cancellation, you might be entitled to compensation, even if you don’t have travel insurance. Each country gives travelers different rights when it comes to a flight delay or flight cancellation. There are some companies that specialize in helping you understand and enforce your rights, too. 

Flightright is one of the most popular ones. It provides online-based legal services that give advice about your situation and tell you the regulations you need to know about. If you qualify, Flightright can also help you get the right compensation when a flight is delayed

In the EU, compensation for delays depends on the distance of your flight and whether the delay was over 3 hours. Airlines expect you not to know your rights and will not initiate any compensation on their own. You need to fight for these compensation. I’ve been compensated hundreds of euros for each delayed flight I’ve had within the EU, thanks to Flightright.

travel safely during pandemic - delayed flight or cancellation


Get COVID Travel Insurance

Traveling during COVID-19 can bring with it many risks. Flight delays and unpredictable flight cancellations are covered by most travel insurance plans. But what if you contract COVID19 while traveling? What if you require medical evacuation? 

As many policies don’t include COVID19 as an eligible medical condition, getting a COVID19-specific travel insurance can help cover any treatment cost or medical expenses. Refer to my travel insurance guide for more details.

Safety Wing is the most popular travel insurance company for COVID19-coverage at the moment. I use their Nomad Insurance plan, which covers COVID-19 as any other illness as long as it was not contracted before your coverage start date. it also covers people from all over the world, while outside their home country (For Americans, you can pay extra to cover travels within the US).

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How to Find the Best Travel Insurance for You 2021

flying during covid-19- travel insurance


Research on Up-to-Date COVID-19 Measures

Protocols and procedures vary wildly by destination and change frequently. Before flying to your destination, check the government’s websites for up-to-date information on current COVID-19 measures.  

Many countries require you to wear a mask at all times when you’re outside, such as Spain. If you don’t, the police will fine you on the spot. Even in places where mask-wearing is not mandated, I highly recommend wearing it at all times — it’s the best way to keep you and others safe.

Here are some questions to ask regarding COVID-10 measures:

  • Is there a curfew and if yes, what time does it start?
  • Are supermarkets open and is there a limit on number of customers?
  • Are hotels and restaurants open for business, at usual hours? 
  • Is it allowed to travel freely in your destination, across provinces/regions?
  • What are the rules on group sizes?

How to Travel Safely During COVID-19


Pack Sanitary Items for the Flight

It’s wise to prepare for your flight a few days in advance, as flying during COVID-19 isn’t quite the same. First of all, you’ll need to buy extra masks and hand sanitizers, which are basic essentials for your flight. I bring at least 3 masks with me on every trip, with one in each bag I carry. The KN95 mask is said to be the most reliable, protective mask with a 5-ply protection.

Here are some essential items to pack for your flight. For a full list, refer to my doctor friend Abigail’s COVID-19 packing list.

  • Masks (at least 3)
  • Hand Sanitizers (less than 100ml)
  • Disinfecting wipes
  • Gloves (optional)
  • Printed documents (health declaration forms etc)
  • PCR test results in print

air travel restrictions covid - empty plane  flying during pandemic


Expect Extra Checks at the Airport

Get to the airport early for your flight, as there will be extra checks at the airport. Some airlines require you to physically check-in for your flight even if you have no bags to drop, as they need to check your PCR test results and other forms. Sometimes they also do temperature checks before a flight. 

Many airports are operating only at a limited capacity and restaurants, shops and banks are closed. So make sure to bring food or exchange your money in advance. For instance, Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport is eerily empty these days, and most stores are shut. 

airport check during pandemic


Choose Uncrowded Places to Explore 

With social distancing and other measures in place, the pandemic has definitely changed how we travel. To avoid social contact, road trips and rural escapes are the way to go. It’s the reason why we bought our campervan last year. Traveling this way definitely helps to minimize social contact and lowers our chance of being in a crowded space. 

It’s wise to opt for the outdoors, explore national parks, go camping instead of staying in a city, and veer off the beaten path. Besides discovering new and less-traveled parts of your destination, being in the open air reduces your risk of catching or spreading the virus.

social distancing travel during pandemic - campervan travel in europe


Rent a Car Instead of Taking Public Transports

Masks are typically a requirement on public or shared transport (e.g., flights, trains, buses, etc.). Wearing a mask not only protects yourself from illness, but it also protects the people around you. Even if it’s not a requirement, be sensible and keep a mask on at all times.

Considering renting a car to mitigate the health risks public transportation poses during the pandemic. Private transportation is also a lot more flexible than public transport, too. We almost always rent a car when we travel these days.

renting a car in curacao - stay safe while traveling during covid


Choose Airbnb and Boutique Hotels

Locally-owned businesses have been hit especially hard. Small and family businesses don’t usually have the same resources that big corporate chains do. That’s why you should consider supporting Airbnb, small boutique hotels and family-run restaurants if possible. They also tend to be less crowded than the big chains.

Try to choose accommodations that offer contactless check-in, enhanced cleaning processes, regular sanitization of common areas and a 24-hour wait period before entering a room after guests have left. All these measures keep everyone safe and show how responsible the business is towards their customers. 

stay in rural houses during covid - airbnb in netherlands  


Tips for When You Get Back Home

After your trip, there’s an extra precaution you should take when returning from a trip during the pandemic: self-quarantine

Because you’ve exposed yourself to a new environment and different people, it’s a good idea to isolate yourself at home for a few days when you return (even if it’s not a requirement). It’s possible to transmit the virus without showing symptoms, so self-quarantining protects both you and the ones you love. 

As soon as you feel symptomatic, take a COVID-19 test and stay at home until you receive the results. Avoid going for walks or grocery shopping. Inform work, school or anyone that you’d been in contact with in the past two weeks. 

stay home during covid


Final Thoughts on Traveling During COVID-19

Post-pandemic travel is not the same as it was before, and it’s important to remember that. While I’ve decided to steer away from destinations like Pakistan and Brazil (where social distancing is difficult) until the coronavirus is no longer a threat, I feel comfortable traveling to locations where the virus is under control and measures are respected.

Keep in mind that the decision to travel is incredibly personal and complex. It is up to you to make your own decision by calculating the risks involved and considering the many factors at play.

If you do decide to travel during the pandemic, I hope my tips will be useful to you.  Leave a comment below if you’ve got any questions on traveling during COVID-19. We’ll be happy to answer them.

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