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11 Rules the CDC Wants You to Follow Before Traveling Again

Everyone's itching to get out of the house and go someplace new. But the question is: how to do it safely?

Is it safe?

As parts of the world begin to open up after months of shelter-in-place due to Covid-19, many people are wondering if any sort of summer vacation can be salvaged. It’s a fraught question: Countries, states, and municipalities differ wildly in their approaches to coronavirus protocols. As a result, some places are seeing such rapid upticks in the number of cases that the governors of New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey announced new travel restrictions in June and July on those coming from a growing number of states.

Is it safe to travel? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a set of guidelines, but keep in mind, safety refers not only to you and your family but to people in the community you’re thinking about visiting. And before you ask if it’s safe to go, research whether or not it’s even physically possible; the EU, for example, is only lifting restrictions on foreign travelers for select countries—which doesn’t currently include the United States.

Man with face mask washing his hands in public bathroomRealPeopleGroup/Getty Images

First things first

Remember that the basic guidelines for safety and hygiene remain the same no matter where you are: Maintain social distance (at least 6 feet apart from anyone not in your group), wear a mask when social distancing isn’t possible, and wash your hands with soap and water often.

person in bed, checking temperatureBoris Zhitkov/Getty Images

When not to travel

There are many health reasons to stay away from a potential vacation spot. The CDC is clear that if you aren’t feeling well, you should stay home. If you or a member of your group is high-risk for serious illness from Covid-19, you should stay home. Do you live with a person who’s high-risk, even if they won’t be traveling with you? That’s another reason to stay home. If there are a lot of cases in your hometown, that can increase the risk that you infect others, so you should stay home. If you’re unsure, read this guide on how to prep for family visits this holiday season.

Business woman traveling with train while wearing a maskSBDIGIT/Getty Images

Staying close to home

There’s a beach nearby, but you have to take public transportation to get there. How safe is this option? The risk for illness via train or bus is less due to the coronavirus being transmitted on surfaces like poles and seats. Rather, it has to do with crowding, poor ventilation, and riders not wearing masks. To decrease risk, the CDC suggests, try traveling at a less-crowded time of day, wait for a less-crowded bus or train, wear a mask, attempt to keep distanced, use hand sanitizer, and wash your hands as soon as you get to your destination. If you need to hold on to a pole for balance or safety, place a disinfectant wipe between it and your hand.

Man wearing surgical gloves and mask at gas stationSteve Smith/Getty Images

Road tripping

Sure, your car is something of a safety bubble: no outside interlopers, no need to touch poles or seats, or turnstiles. But here, the danger comes when you inevitably have to stop for gas, use the restroom, or pick up food. And the longer you’re on the road, the more those dangers compound. That’s why it’s important to plot your route well in advance, to make sure essential services are open. Be sure to use gloves to pump gas (toss them in the trash immediately after). Pack your own snacks, meals, and water. And, in the restroom, take care not to touch faucets and doors with bare hands; rather use a paper towel or disinfecting wipe. Pay for everything with credit cards rather than cash, to cut down on hand-to-hand interactions.

rv camperThomas Winz/Getty Images


While you won’t likely have to stop as often for food or bathroom breaks on an RV trip, you’ll still need to get gas and stay overnight at an RV park. And that can put you in contact with people who put you at risk for Covid-19—or put them at risk from you. Just like you would when you’re traveling by car, plan your route ahead of time, including making a reservation at an RV park. Pack supplies, including food and cleaning supplies so you can take fewer trips into town. Wear gloves when you pump gas or hook up utility lines, and wash your hands often. Renting an RV? Make sure the one you choose has its own shower and toilet so you don’t have to use the campground’s restrooms.

woman wearing a mask at the airportEduard Goricev/EyeEm/Getty Images


As the CDC points out, the trouble starts in the airport: in security lines and elsewhere in terminals, in multiple publicly-used bathrooms and other spaces, and in close quarters on the plane itself, sometimes over a lengthy time period. If you choose to fly, avoid tray tables, increase your hand sanitizer usage, keep your mask on, and book a window seat, which is farther away from the busy aisle. (Here’s what you need to know about vaccine passports.)

businessman checking in to a hotelmartin-dm/Getty Images

Booking a hotel

Like airports, hotels are used by lots of people and provide ample opportunities for infection. Again, keep your mask on in public areas. Some experts recommend that you also consider cleaning your hotel room yourself—especially high-touch areas like sink faucets and remotes. And consider ordering room service rather than the in-hotel restaurant. Unlikely to be a risk: swimming in a chlorinated pool, although the chairs and other surfaces around the pool should be avoided.

rent a vacation house covid19 Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

Renting a home

Rental homes offer a few advantages over hotels in that they often have contactless check-in and don’t have the same public spaces as a hotel. In addition, home rental sites, including Airbnb, have put new cleaning protocols in place. But you can always clean the home yourself when you arrive.

campingEast Road/Ascent Xmedia/Getty Images


It’s great to be outside in the open air, and experts agree that’s where we have the least risk of contracting or passing on the coronavirus. Again, it’s the common areas that pose the greatest risk: bathrooms and showers, campground stores, that patch of beach beside the lake, picnic areas. Do your best to stay away from people—isn’t that why you’re camping in the first place? Bring all your own supplies. Remember too, there’s risk in getting there, which is why you should pick a camping facility as close to home as possible.

man at airport with passportViorel Kurnosov/EyeEm/Getty Images

Traveling abroad

Which countries can you travel to right now? While many Caribbean countries are open for visitors, you’ll still want to check a country’s guidelines before you entertain the idea. Points to consider: Are they allowing Americans in? Are businesses operational? Would it even be worth the effort if you could, in fact, get there? The World Health Organization’s recommendations for travel haven’t been updated since late February. The organization advises against travel bans saying they “may have negative social and economic effects on the affected countries.” Always be sure to check a country’s policies before traveling.

woman shopping while wearing a face mask d3sign/Getty Images

Going out and about

You probably don’t want to go on vacation and then lock yourself in a hotel room or RV. But whether you’re home or away, you should limit the amount of contact you have with other people as much as possible. When you’re on the road, bring your own food (at least some of it); make sure you have enough medication, toiletries, sunblock, and other essentials to last your whole time away; and wear a face mask when you’re out in public.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest

Lela Nargi
I am a veteran journalist covering food & food policy, science, sustainability, books, and parenting for a wide variety of outlets including NPR, Civil Eats, Sierra, and Publishers Weekly.