2021 Holiday Travel Safety Guidelines

Carbon Health Editorial Team
October 6, 2021
6 mins

Traveling for the holidays has always been a little bit stressful. But in the era of COVID-19, that stress is magnified by the fact that spending time indoors with other people (whether they are strangers in an airport or relatives at Aunt Joan’s house) comes with an increased risk of exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19. 

If you’re planning to travel this holiday season, here are some tips and recommendations to help you and your loved ones stay healthy.

General Guidelines for Protecting Yourself Against COVID-19

Here are some steps everyone can take to guard against COVID-19

  1. 1. If you are eligible, get vaccinated. The vaccines for COVID-19 are highly effective at both preventing the disease and lessening the severity of symptoms, as well as lessening the danger of hospitalization or death, in people who do get sick. 
  2. 2. If you are not fully vaccinated, you should wear a mask in all indoor public places.
  3. 3. Even if you are vaccinated, the CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends wearing a mask in indoor public places in areas of substantial or high transmission. (Follow recommendations and guidelines of regional governments and health departments.) 
  4. 4. Although you do not usually need to wear a mask outdoors, consider wearing a mask in crowded outdoor settings, in areas of substantial or high transmission, and when you will be in close contact with people who are not fully vaccinated or whose vaccination status is unknown.
  5. 5. If you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been told that you have been exposed to COVID-19, quarantine until your healthcare provider tells you that it is safe to stop. 

Pre-Travel Checklist

It’s recommended that you avoid travel this holiday season until you are fully vaccinated against both COVID-19 and the flu, and that if you are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine booster, you get one. People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose in a two-dose series (the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines) or two weeks after receiving a single-dose vaccine (the Johnson & Johnson vaccine). If you’ll be traveling with unvaccinated people, such as children younger than 12 who are not eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, follow recommendations for unvaccinated people and choose the CDC’s recommended safer travel options. Keep in mind that children are susceptible to catching COVID-19 and may experience serious or life-threatening symptoms that require hospitalization, so caution is advised. 

Everyone, including people who are fully vaccinated, is required to wear a mask on public modes of transportation. If you are not vaccinated, you should take a COVID-19 test one to three days before any travel, to make sure you are negative for COVID-19.

Here are some further recommendations before gathering with family during the holidays:

  1. 1. Have conversations ahead of time to understand everyone’s vaccination status and expectations for celebrating together. If you have loved ones who are not vaccinated, encourage them to do so before you visit. 
  2. 2. Do not attend or host a gathering if you are sick, have symptoms of COVID-19, or have knowingly been recently exposed to COVID-19.
  3. 3. If you’re gathering with others indoors, do your best to keep rooms well ventilated — for instance, by opening windows and using fans. 
  4. 4. Try to avoid or minimize the sharing of serving dishes or utensils. 
  5. 5. Wash hands frequently and clean communal surfaces regularly. 

+ What should I know about traveling within the U.S.?

Wearing a mask over your nose and mouth is required on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation within the U.S. and while indoors at U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and train stations. (Travelers may be allowed to remove masks in outdoor areas of a conveyance, such as the open deck area of a ferry.) Follow all state and local recommendations and requirements, including those regarding wearing masks and social distancing. 

     • The CDC recommends that travelers who are not fully vaccinated continue to wear a mask and maintain physical distance when traveling.

     • Avoid crowds and stay at least six feet (about two arms’ lengths) from anyone who is not traveling with you if possible.

     • Wash your hands often (with soap and water for at least 20 seconds) or use hand sanitizer (with at least 60 percent alcohol). 

     • Avoid touching your face with your hands. 

+ What should I know about traveling to an international destination?

Do not travel internationally until you are fully vaccinated. (If you are not fully vaccinated and must travel, follow the CDC’s international travel recommendations for people who are not fully vaccinated.) Fully vaccinated travelers are much less likely to get and spread COVID-19. However, international travel poses additional risks, regardless of vaccination status.

Make sure you understand and follow all airline and destination requirements related to travel, wearing a mask, testing, and quarantining, which may differ from U.S. requirements. (If you do not follow your destination’s requirements, you may be denied entry.) All travelers should pay close attention to the conditions at their destination before traveling. The CDC will update these recommendations as more people get vaccinated, as rates of COVID-19 change, and as new information becomes available.

+ What should I do when I return from an international trip?

Keep in mind that international air passengers coming to the United States, including U.S. citizens and fully vaccinated people, are required to have a negative COVID-19 test result no more than three days before travel, or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 in the past three months, before they board a flight to the United States.

     • Get tested with a viral test three to five days after travel. If you are unvaccinated, also stay home and self-quarantine for a full seven days even if a COVID-19 test taken in that time is negative. If your test is positive, isolate yourself to protect others from getting infected. (If you do not get tested, self-quarantine for 14 days. All unvaccinated people should avoid being around people who are at increased risk for severe illness for 14 days, whether they get tested or not.)

     • Self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms; quarantine and get tested if you develop symptoms.

     • Follow all state and local recommendations or requirements.

+ What should I do when I return from a trip within the U.S.?

     • If you are vaccinated, there is no need to get tested or to quarantine unless you develop symptoms of COVID-19 or are told that you have been exposed.

     • If you are unvaccinated, get a viral test three to five days after traveling. Also stay home and self-quarantine for a full seven days even if a COVID-19 test taken in that time is negative. If your test is positive, isolate yourself to protect others from getting infected. (If you do not get tested, self-quarantine for 14 days. All unvaccinated people should avoid being around people who are at increased risk for severe illness for 14 days, whether you get tested or not.)

     • Self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms; quarantine and get tested if you develop symptoms.

     • Follow all state and local recommendations or requirements.

Visit your state, territorial, tribal, or local health department’s website to look for the latest information, and visit Carbon Health to find COVID-19 testing near you.

If you still have questions about how to travel safely this holiday season, or need to get a COVID-19 or flu vaccination, download the Carbon Health app or visit carbonhealth.com to make a virtual or in-person appointment with a healthcare provider.


Carbon Health’s medical content is reviewed and approved by healthcare professionals before it is published. But note that our knowledge and understanding of COVID-19 are developing and changing very rapidly; if you have questions or concerns about COVID-19 precautions, treatments, and vaccinations, please talk to your healthcare provider. 


Carbon Health Editorial Team

The Carbon Health Editorial Team is a group of writers, content creators, and thought leaders who are here to empower you to take charge of your health.

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