While we’re still in a worldwide pandemic, there are many signs that the world is starting to return to a sense of what life was like before COVID-19. Many states and countries are lifting quarantine and mask mandates as well as modifying travel restrictions. Shops, restaurants, and other places of business are working toward full capacity and there seems to be interest among people to get out and enjoy a vacation or travel to see family members they haven’t seen in over a year. According to the Transportation Security Administration, the number of passengers that have crossed airport security has more than doubled since this past January. Even though many of us may feel comfortable out in the world again, it is important to stay diligent, take care of your health while traveling, and be mindful of others.
Planning Your Trip
A little bit of planning before your next trip will go a long way to ensuring your safety. Schedule an appointment with your doctor for a checkup at least four weeks before you travel. This is the prime chance to address any existing health concerns that might take away from the experience of your trip. Also, it would be a good time to learn about the status of your health to make sure you stay well after you have already left for your journey. It’s also a great time to bring up questions related to the area you plan to travel — are there certain viruses prevalent, can we drink the water there, and what’s the pandemic look like in the region.
The following list is the information recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to share with your primary care provider during this visit:
— Special conditions such as pregnancy, allergies, or chronic health problems.
— Destinations on your itinerary.
— Type of accommodations (hotels, hostels, short-term rentals).
— Type of travel (cruise, business, adventure travel).
— Timing and length of your trip.
— Planned activities.
During your predeparture visit with your health care provider, it would also be a good idea to bring up any of your prescribed medications. You can discuss any issues that you might be having with the medication and ensure that you will have more than enough doses while you are away.
In addition to your over-the-counter medicine, consider packing a few extra health items. The items you bring may be dependent upon where you are traveling, but a few suggestions are your health insurance card, proof of vaccinations, a small first aid kit, hand sanitizer, insect repellent, or sunscreen.
Immunizations for Your Trip Depending on your travel plan, your provider may suggest certain vaccinations. These vaccinations may even be required by the local government where you’re traveling. Some examples of common travel vaccinations include:
— Hepatitis A
— Hepatitis B
— Typhoid and paratyphoid fever
— Meningococcal disease
— Yellow fever
It’s also recommended that you be up to date with routine vaccines, or those that you might think of as the childhood vaccines that you get before starting school such as the annual flu shot and Tdap.
Pandemic Considerations Whether you are traveling or not, the COVID-19 vaccination is strongly recommended. If you are fully vaccinated and traveling domestically, it is advised that you still mask up in heavily populated areas, such as planes, buses, or other forms of public transportation. Afterward, you should monitor yourself for any COVID-19 symptoms and get tested if they develop. The same advice should be followed if you are traveling internationally, however you should certainly get tested once you arrive back to the United States.
If you are unvaccinated and traveling domestically, consider the previous recommendations and additionally get tested before and after you go on your trip, avoid people that have higher risk of severe illness, and quarantine for seven full days after travel. You should not travel internationally if you have not been vaccinated for COVID-19. If you must, follow the recommendations for travel that are located on the CDC’s website.
Do Your Homework We’re in uncharted territory as our cities and countries start to open back up for travel. When planning your next trip, start with an appointment with your primary care provider. Then, do your homework and remain flexible. Keep in mind that restrictions can change rapidly depending on local conditions. It’s also important to keep in mind the COVID-19 situation, such as the level of spread and presence of variants, varies in each country. Check back for updates as your trip gets closer. Save yourself unpleasant surprises and delays by checking for restrictions at your destination and anywhere you might stop along the way.
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Rutul Dalal, MD, is the director of Infectious Diseases for UPMC in North Central Pa. For more information, visit UPMC.com/services/division-infectious-diseases.