Planning To Travel After COVID-19?

The year of COVID has seen most Americans step back from many elements of their lives, from social gatherings to school events, from eating at restaurants to going to concerts.

One of the biggest changes for many has been the lack of travel. Countless summer vacation plans were nixxed in 2020, and as the possibility of summer travel beckons in 2021, we’re all wondering what’s possible.

Over at The Atlantic, Joe Pinsker talked to a number of health professionals and came up with a likely timeline for life to return to normal. Though this is bound to change as the vaccine rolls out and as individual states and countries change their travel restrictions, this gives us a basis to look ahead at what travel will look like in the early period of mass vaccination post-COVID.

In this article

    Planning the trip

    The main concern with travel in the early days after vaccinations are widely available and we approach herd immunity is understanding that you’ll be walking through a field of very different regulations and requirements in different places, largely depending on the spread of the virus in that area. Some areas may be partially closed with strict mask requirements, while others may approach a pre-COVID normal. A good rule of thumb here is to go with the flow, and if you’re uncertain, wait a little longer before traveling.

    Let’s look at what we can expect for recommendations and restrictions from various entities.

    CDC recommendations

    Currently, CDC travel recommendations are focused on COVID as a continuing pandemic, without forecasting what things will look like when mass vaccination gets us close to herd immunity. As travel restrictions ease, the things that are likely to stick around for the longest are the things that won’t prevent us from traveling, but mitigate the risk when doing so.

    In other words, travel during the summer may still involve masks in indoor public places and small steps like spacing in lines to maximize social distance.

    Top tip: You’ll still want to pack plenty of masks! They’ll likely still be required in many places depending on crowding, particularly during times when not everyone is fully vaccinated. Having a mask on you will make many things more convenient and probably save you a few bucks as you won’t have to buy one.

    Travel by air

    If you intend to travel by air, expect that most airlines will continue with in-flight masking and other restrictions as long as COVID is recognized as pandemic, which is likely to continue through the summer months. Many social distancing efforts at airports will continue. In general, the tips offered by the Mayo Clinic on safe air travel will continue for the time being. Keep a mask in your carry-on, in other words.

    Some airlines may choose to require proof of vaccination, particularly if flying to certain destinations that may require it or may require it to avoid quarantine upon arrival.

    Top tip: If you’re going to fly, it’s a good idea to make absolutely sure about their vaccination policy for your flights, which will vary depending on location. Bring along your vaccination card to make sure.

    State Department recommendations

    The State Department has a long list of recommendations when it comes to international travel. In short, even during the summer and fall, you should expect that some international destinations may have much different restrictions than your home country.

    Some nations may not allow travel from the U.S. at all, while others may require proof of vaccination or a period of quarantine upon arrival. Do not assume that because things are “normal” in one country that they will be the same way in another country.

    Top tip: If you are considering flying internationally during this period of vaccine rollout, you will want to pay very close attention to the restrictions and guidelines in your destination country. Do they allow travelers from your country? If so, what requirements do they put on them? Do you have to quarantine? Do you need a proof of vaccination card?

    The destination

    Once you arrive at your destination, it’s worth your time to figure out what the exact restrictions are in that area. You should be prepared for common restrictions, such as mask wearing, social distancing and other things even if those restrictions aren’t in place at home.

    Another important thing to note, particularly if you travel internationally, is that conditions may change while you’re there, potentially altering your ability to return. If there is a sudden outbreak at your destination, there may be restrictions on your return trip.

    Top tip: Expect that restrictions might be a little different at your destination than at home, and prepare for common ones. Bring comfortable masks, just in case.

    Travel insurance

    Travel insurance remains a good idea for most trips, particularly international ones. As COVID slowly declines throughout the world, the likelihood that your travel will be disrupted by the pandemic will decline. However, the usual reasons for travel insurance — things like last-minute cancellations, non-COVID medical emergencies and other minor mishaps — remain.

    Top tip: Get a good travel insurance package well before your trip, and make sure you understand the policy regarding any cancellations due to local pandemic restrictions.

    Other considerations for travel and coronavirus


    This might be the perfect time in your life to consider a “workcation.” With so many people continuing to work remotely even as the pandemic winds down and even beyond, some people and even families might see this as the right time to live in a different part of the world for a while. If you’re a remote worker, consider the possibility of turning a post-COVID getaway into an extended stay in a new part of the world.

    Staying close to home

    Another great option to consider during this late COVID period is to focus on travel closer to home for now and wait a bit longer for longer trips or international travel. According to the Safe Travel Barometer, most domestic hotel chains have been doing a great job with cleanliness and COVID protocols, and most hotel policies are pretty unintrusive. The Washington Post compared the protocols at Marriott, Hyatt and Holiday Inn Express and found that they all did a good job of being safe while unintrusive, particularly the budget Holiday Inn Express.

    Travel frugality

    Even if you’ve been financially careful for a while, there are still many practical frugality steps you can take while traveling. If possible, a quick stop at a grocery store to get some food items can save a ton of money by making a small lunch or a simple breakfast cheap, and you can be in and out very quickly. Staying local enough that you can travel by car slashes travel costs and also minimizes exposure to COVID. These steps can keep your vacation incredible while also keeping your costs low.

    Credit card rewards

    A final tip: Use your credit card wisely. You should do travel bookings through your credit card for the bonus points and the cancellation protection, though you’ll want to know the specifics about using credit cards for coronavirus-related cancellations. Speaking of bonuses, you might be able to finance part of your travel with accumulated credit card bonuses over the last year, and it’s a good idea to use a rewards credit card when traveling to get some good bonuses, especially when you intend to pay off the balance in full after your trip.

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    Trent Hamm

    Founder & Columnist

    Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.