New recommendations about traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic

The fall and winter holidays are popular times to travel. However, traveling can increase your chance of getting and spreading the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), waiting until after the pandemic to travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.

Risk of getting or spreading COVID-19

It’s best not to travel during the pandemic. You could get infected while traveling and risk yourself and others. Remember that people can spread the disease when they don’t have symptoms. This means you can be next to someone infected and you won’t notice. You and the people you are traveling with (including children) may feel well and not have any symptoms (asymptomatic), but you can still spread COVID-19 to your family, friends and community.  

If you have been exposed to COVID-19, you should delay travel, stay apart from other people (quarantine), get tested and monitor your health. Don’t travel if you are sick or tested positive for COVID-19. Don’t travel with someone who is sick.

Anyone can get very ill from the virus that causes COVID-19, but older adults and people of any age who have certain medical conditions—including pregnancy-are at a higher risk.

How to protect yourself

If you must travel, find out whether COVID-19 is spreading where you are going. If you’re traveling in the United States, check the number of COVID-19 cases in that state in the last 7 days. If the number of cases in the state is high, you should avoid traveling to that state. If you’re going to another country, read the CDC’s Travel Recommendations for Destinations Around the World.

You may be required to wear masks where you are visiting and may need to stay home (quarantine) for up to 14 days when you get back, depending on state and local laws. Check state, territorial, tribal and local public health websites for information before you travel. If you are traveling to another country, check the U.S. Department of State’s website for information about any steps you will be required to take to travel.

Ask yourself:

  • During the 14 days before your trip, have you or those you are visiting had close contact with people they don’t live with? The following activities can put you at higher risk for COVID-19:
    • Going to a large social gathering like a wedding, funeral or party
    • Attending a mass gathering like a sporting event, concert or parade
    • Being in crowded places like in restaurants, bars, gyms or movie theaters
    • Being on trains, buses, boats or in airports
  • Do your plans include traveling by bus, train or plane, which might make staying 6 feet apart difficult?
  • Are you traveling with people who don’t live with you?

If the answered “yes” to any of these questions, you should consider making other plans or delaying your trip.

What to do if you need to travel

Do not travel if you have tested positive for COVID-19. Immediately isolate yourself and follow public health advice.

If you must travel:

  • Think about getting tested for COVID-19 with a viral test 1 to 3 days before your trip.
  • Keep a copy of your COVID-19 test results with you during your trip. You may be asked to show them.

Airports, bus stations, train stations and rest areas are all places travelers can be exposed to the virus in the air and on surfaces. These also are places where it can be hard to social distance. In general, the longer you are around a person with COVID-19, the more likely you are to get infected.

Here are some steps you can take to reduce your risk of getting the virus:

  • Get your flu shot before you travel.
  • Do not travel if you or your travel companions are sick.
  • Pack sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol (in case you are unable to wash your hands).
  • Wear a mask to keep your nose and mouth covered while in public, including on public buses or trains and in airports and stations.
  • Bring extra masks in case your mask gets wet or dirty.
  • Avoid contact with anyone who is sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Try to stay at least 6 feet apart (about 2 arms’ length) from anyone who is not from your household.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after using the bathroom, eating, pumping gas or after you have been in a public place. If soap and water are not available, use  hand sanitizer.
  • Use disinfecting wipes on handles, buttons and other surfaces in public areas such as gas stations, airports, and hotels.
  • If you don’t bring your own food, use drive-through, delivery, take-out, and curb-side pick-up options. This is safer than eating at restaurants, even if you eat outdoors.

Tips for planes, trains or cars

  • Wear a mask for the entire ride unless eating or drinking.
  • Limit touching surfaces such as kiosks, touchscreens, ticket machines, turnstiles, handrails, restroom surfaces, elevator buttons, and benches as much as possible.
  • Wash or sanitize your hands often.
  • Consider traveling during times that are less busy.
  • Sit away from other travelers if possible, including the driver.
  • Avoid riding with unmasked drivers or passengers.
  • Avoid sharing taxis or cars with people who are not in your household.
  • If possible, ask the driver to open the windows.

Tips for traveling overnight

  • Before you go, ask the hotel if staff wear masks while at work and if it disinfects frequently touched surfaces like tables, phones, remote controls, doorknobs, light switches, elevator buttons, water fountains, payment stations and ice and vending machines.
  • Wear a mask in the lobby or other common areas.
  • Limit close contact with others.
  • Use options for online reservation and check-in, mobile room key, and contactless payment.
  • Avoid areas that may lead to close contact with other people, such as inside lounge areas, bars, dining areas, game rooms, pools, hot tubs, salons and gyms.
  • Consider taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

What to do when you return home

You may have been exposed to COVID-19 on your travels. You may feel well and not have any symptoms, but you can be contagious without having symptoms and can spread the virus to others. You and the people who traveled with you (including children) can infect other members of your family, friends and community for up to 14 days after you were exposed to the virus.

To protect others from getting sick after you return:

  • Get tested for COVID-19 with a viral test 3 to 5 days after your trip.
  • Limit any trips outside your home for 7 days after traveling, even if your test is negative. If you don’t get tested after your trip, try to limit non-essential activities for 10 days after traveling.
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from other people who are not from your household. It is important to do this everywhere, both indoors and outdoors.
  • Wear a mask to keep your nose and mouth covered when you are outside of your home.
  • If there are people living in your home who did not travel with you, wear a mask and ask everyone in the household to wear masks in shared spaces inside your home.
  • Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid being around people who are at increased risk for severe illness.
  • Watch your health and look for symptoms of COVID-19. Take your temperature if you feel sick.
  • Follow governmental recommendations or requirements for what to do after traveling.

Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others. If you must travel, take steps to protect yourself and your family.