What You Need to Know Now About Traveling During the Coronavirus Crisis

From figuring out if airline travel is recommended to good hygiene protocols to picking the safest vacation destinations, NEA Member Benefits has the answers.

Passengers Wearing Face Masks on a Plane

by NEA Member Benefits

Jul 12, 2021

Editor's Note: NEA Member Benefits understands how much you love to travel and how much you’ve missed it. As states begin to relax their regulations with regard to COVID-19 and more Americans become vaccinated, travel is opening up more and more. Before planning a trip, read the health and safety protocols and requirements for visitors to any destination, as well as those of airlines, car rentals and hotels before booking and again before traveling.

The world is slowly reopening after the novel coronavirus made its way across the world in 2020. And while vaccinations have helped curb infection rates in the U.S., many countries are still suffering third and fourth waves of the virus—and the U.S. isn’t fully out of the woods yet. We’ve all learned to cope with new directives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as federal, state and local governments, which are updated constantly.

The most recent advice from the CDC is to delay all travel until you are fully vaccinated (which means 14 days after your injection of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or 14 days after your second Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine). Summertime brings the hope of travel within the U.S. for those who are fully vaccinated, after a long year-plus of staying close to home.

There are still a lot of questions about the state of leisure travel so let’s dig into what many people are asking about traveling in the age of coronavirus.

Can I travel right now?

Current CDC guidance allows Americans to travel within the U.S. if they are fully vaccinated. The CDC recommends wearing a mask over your nose and mouth while on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transit and in transportation hubs such as airports and train stations. They also recommend following all state and local guidelines around mask wearing and social distancing. Many states have eased mask-wearing restrictions, especially outside.  (See state-by-state coronavirus restrictions further below.)

While vaccinated travelers do not need to quarantine on arrival or return, the CDC recommends monitoring any symptoms closely and to isolate and get tested if necessary.

If you’re not yet vaccinated, the CDC recommends getting a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test one to three days before your trip and three to five days after your return to detect any traces of SARS-CoV-2 in your system. If you test negative, you should still quarantine for seven days. They also recommend that unvaccinated travelers wear a mask in all public places, avoid crowds, maintain a distance of more than 6 feet and wash or sanitize your hands frequently.

For international travel, the CDC recommends not traveling internationally if you are not vaccinated. And for those who are vaccinated, travel is allowed, but the CDC cautions about COVID-19 variants emerging in countries across the globe. If you are vaccinated and traveling, they recommend wearing a mask throughout your trip and to make sure you understand all the requirements of your destination—each country is different. 

The U.S. requires all returning international travelers to have a negative COVID-19 test three days before they board a return flight home, even if they are fully vaccinated, and another negative COVID-19 test three to five days after landing in the U.S. 

If you are unvaccinated, the CDC suggests getting a COVID-19 test one to three days before you depart the U.S. for your international destination, as some countries may require it for entry.

Certain countries with current outbreaks might be on the U.S. State Department’s list of suggested non-travel, such as India and Japan, so check their list carefully before booking international travel.

Because the vaccine has not been approved for young children under 12 yet, you might find that the adults in your group are vaccinated, while children are not. Each destination has its own rules around dealing with this, so check guidelines carefully at your chosen destination, particularly if it’s abroad.

Most national, state and local parks have reopened, as well as beaches, theme parks, hotels, restaurants, and most indoor museums and attractions. Check websites carefully before setting out though, as conditions are constantly evolving. Some tourist spots now require timed tickets or reservations for admission, which are available on attraction websites.

Where can I travel?

Almost all U.S. states have canceled quarantine requirements for U.S. travelers, making them easier to visit. However, a few still have some restrictions, such as Hawaii and Rhode Island. Hawaii still has a pre-travel testing requirement for anyone over the age of 4, and Rhode Island requires a negative test from unvaccinated domestic travelers arriving from anywhere with a positivity rate greater than 5%. 

If you’d like to check state-by-state coronavirus restrictions and travel advisories, consult these resources:

Alabama | Alaska | Arizona | Arkansas | California | Colorado | Connecticut | Delaware | Florida | Georgia | Hawaii | Idaho | Illinois | Indiana | Iowa | Kansas | Kentucky | Louisiana | Maine | Maryland | Massachusetts | Michigan | Minnesota | Mississippi | Missouri | Montana | Nebraska | Nevada | New Hampshire | New Jersey | New Mexico | New York | North Carolina | North Dakota | Ohio | Oklahoma | Oregon | Pennsylvania | Rhode Island | South Carolina | South Dakota | Tennessee | Texas | Utah | Vermont | Virginia | Washington | West Virginia | Wisconsin | Wyoming

Bermuda is open for U.S. travelers but has some of the strictest requirements: Travelers must have a negative test result three days before arrival and another test will be given at the airport upon arrival for anyone over the age of 10. As of June 6, any non-vaccinated traveler over the age of 17 is required to quarantine for 14 days. Vaccinated travelers are less restricted in their movements on the island, but all travelers are retested on days 4, 8 and 14 of their stay. 

The European Commission announced in May that all vaccinated travelers will be allowed entry to the EU this summer, however each member state makes final decisions on when and how that will happen and what kind of requirements they’ll have in place. In May, the UK announced a traffic light system where different countries are assigned a red, amber or green status, with each one requiring different restrictions. As of June 8, the U.S. is on the amber list, which requires several negative COVID-19 tests and a quarantine period.

Check individual countries’ information to find out if they allow U.S. travelers and what their rules and regulations are. You should also check the U.S. State Department’s website to see if a country is on its list of places where it’s advised against traveling.

Are there types of vacations that may be safer than others now?

Yes. Trips focused on outdoor activities are a better bet than visiting lots of indoor museums, dining indoors, or attending music or other festivals that may attract large crowds in close quarters. 

Some travelers are thinking about renting RVs, camping, booking cabins or home rentals in the mountains or near a beach, or finding other out-of-the way destinations where they can enjoy recreational pastimes without the crowds.

What’s going on with the cruise industry now?

The cruise industry was one of the hardest hit during the pandemic, with most ships docked for much of 2020 and well into 2021. Currently, the CDC is strongly recommending all cruisers (crew and passengers) get vaccinated. 

Starting in July and August, a few cruise lines will start sailing out of the United States, including Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and Disney Cruise Line.

Small-vessel lines such as American Queen Steamboat Company, American Cruise Lines, Alaskan Dream Cruises and UnCruise Adventures, which sail on U.S. rivers and coastal areas, are currently in operation.

Some cruise lines have begun operating out of other countries. For example, Celebrity Cruises started cruising out of St. Maarten and Athens, Greece, in June; and Crystal Cruises resumed on July 3 with an all-Bahamas voyage leaving from Nassau, Bahamas.

Bottom line, cruises are starting to return this summer, so keep checking your preferred lines and the CDC rules to see when you can make a booking.

Should I wear a face mask or take other precautions when I travel?

The CDC’s guidance on face masks is constantly evolving.  In May 2021, the agency announced that if you are fully vaccinated you do not need to wear a mask, except where required by federal, state or local law. As of February 2, 2021, masks are required on all airplanes, trains and public transportation traveling within, to or from the U.S. If you are unvaccinated, masks are recommended in all public settings. Most states have adopted these latest CDC guidelines, but check your destination’s regulations carefully before setting out to make sure you’re prepared.

Will travel insurance protect me if I want to cancel a trip because of coronavirus fears?

Unfortunately, many travelers found out the hard way that most travel insurance policies don’t cover pandemics and epidemics. (Always read the fine print before buying an insurance policy to find out about exclusions like this.) So, even if you had insurance for an upcoming trip, it likely won’t cover you unless you purchased a “cancel for any reason” add-on. CFAR, as it’s known in the industry, adds about 40% to the cost of a traditional trip insurance policy but it allows you to cancel your trip for any reason—including fear of getting COVID-19. CFAR isn’t perfect though: The coverage usually only reimburses you for 50% to 75% of your trip costs. But, that’s still a good deal if you’re planning an expensive trip-of-a-lifetime and can’t afford to lose your money if something like this happens again.

However, some policies have added epidemic-related coverage. For example, Allianz Travel Insurance has a new Epidemic Coverage Endorsement, which includes covered reasons for certain specific epidemic-related situations, like if the insured or a family member becomes sick with COVID-19 during or before a trip. In that case, there is trip cancellation coverage and emergency medical care. Check your policy carefully to see if it includes this additional coverage though. 

Are travel companies taking steps to protect travelers from the novel coronavirus?

It’s heartening to see so many individuals and companies stepping up to help in whatever way they can during this pandemic. In an effort to inform customers about new procedures, Hertz—which offers up to a 25% discount to NEA members through NEA Travel—announced enhanced cleaning methods of its rental cars, rental counters and shuttle buses. The company has also installed more hand sanitizers throughout its rental locations.

Many hotels and resorts provide hand sanitizer and masks to guests and offer enhanced cleaning protocols between guests.

As mentioned above, masks are required by anyone over the age of 2 on planes, trains and buses, except while eating and drinking, although how strictly these rules enforced varies by company. All companies are now filling to capacity—middle seats are no longer left empty in the main cabin on any airline or train, On Amtrak, when you purchase a ticket you can see how full the train is at that point. Amtrak and all airlines have information on their websites about their cleaning and air filtration protocols, as well as reduced or changed in-flight services to reduce contact with crew members, so check their websites for more information.

Find destination inspiration for future travel