Planning a vacation? You’ve got company: Americans are traveling in record numbers this summer after more than two years of pandemic restrictions.
Overseas travel is booming now that the U.S. government no longer requires citizens to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test or recent recovery from COVID-19 in order to fly home, according to current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of Diseases (CDC).
But with COVID-19 on the rise in many parts of the United States and the rest of the world, it pays to strategize what to do if you get sick while you’re away.
Of course, having a backup plan won’t take away the frustration of a virus-interrupted vacation. But at least it will make things a little less stressful, not to mention safer.
So what can you do? We consulted infectious disease specialists and other sources to get their advice.
Note: No matter where you’re going, make sure you’re up-to-date on your vaccines and boosters — and pack a few COVID-19 test kits and N95 masks in your luggage, just in case.
1. Get updated on the COVID-related regulations at your destination before you travel
If you are traveling internationally, visit the US Department of State or Borderless website for the current COVID-related travel protocols for testing, vaccination, and quarantine for each country.
You will definitely want some information about what a positive test result can bring. “Check the details before you travel in case you’re going to a place where a positive COVID test could mean isolation in a government-mandated hotel, dormitory or hospital,” says Michael Blaivas, MD, chief medical officer at Anavasi. Diagnostics and emergency. department doctor at St. Francis in Columbus, Georgia.
Hong Kong, for example, is currently implementing post-arrival testing and mandatory quarantines in designated hotels for positive cases. Visitors to Canada must submit travel plans to the government three days prior to arrival, and depending on vaccination status they may be subject to mandatory testing and quarantine protocols.
Entrepreneurship in a destination within the United States? Find out the current level of community transmission there, to estimate your chance of contracting COVID-19 during your visit.
2. Check the airline’s change or cancellation policies and travel insurance
Before paying for your flight, find out if your airline will allow you to change your departure or return plans without penalty in the event that you or a family member tests positive for COVID-19 before or during travel .
Look into adding a travel insurance policy that covers changes or cancellations related to COVID. Many of these policies now treat COVID-19 like any other medical emergency—if you’re sick and get a doctor’s note, you can change your flight or hotel reservations with minimal or no penalties.
Be sure to read the fine print (including state-by-state restrictions) before choosing, so you’ll know what’s covered. A cancellation due to fear of contracting COVID-19 often does not qualify; nor government-related restrictions on COVID-19, such as a country tightening its entry rules.
As an alternative, consider taking out a CFAR (cancel for any reason) insurance policy. They usually cost more, but may be worth it if you decide to cancel your trip due to circumstances not covered by other insurance plans.
3. Before you leave home, ask about check-in and check-out flexibility at your hotel or rental and have a plan B
Depending on when you test positive or when you develop symptoms, you may need or want to extend your trip in order to quarantine.
It’s a good idea to go through possible scenarios in your head before you travel. For example: If you or a family member tests positive while traveling, will the hotel allow you to stay longer and be quarantined on site? Will the hotel offer any discounts for an extended stay if you need to quarantine? Some hotels are offering special quarantine packages this summer.
Remember that according to CDC guidelines, you will need to self-isolate for at least five days after a positive test or the onset of symptoms and delay travel for 10 days. Also, anyone who has had close contact with you should be quarantined for five days and tested on the 5th day.
If you are negative and asymptomatic, but a close contact in your group tests positive, you will also need to quarantine for five days. Find out if your destination has any designated quarantine hotels where you can stay if necessary; many places that used to offer this no longer do.
Airbnb and Vrbo have their own policies for COVID-19: Airbnb protocols currently do not allow guests who are knowingly infected or exposed to COVID-19 to check in.
What if you’re already registered and you test positive while you’re there – can you extend your stay? Airbnb’s current policy does not specify; it may depend on the rules and flexibility of the host.
Vrbo’s current policies don’t prevent guests from booking a home for quarantine, and some Vrbo properties are even advertised for that purpose, like this cottage on a farm in Colorado.
Of course all of this can add to the cost of a trip and you may need to investigate more affordable options. Does a relative or friend who lives in the area have a spare house or extra space that you can use to isolate if necessary, or can they inquire on your behalf?
For travelers en route: If you test positive along your route, do any hotels in the area offer contactless check-in so you can quarantine without exposing others? Research your options ahead of time.
4. Know how to keep others in your family or travel group safe if you test positive
“I tell my patients, especially those traveling overseas, to be prepared,” says Kunjana Mavunda, MD, a pediatric pulmonologist at Kidz Medical Services in South Miami, Florida, and former medical director of epidemiology and control. of diseases at the Miami-Dade Department of Health. “It would be better to isolate yourself, check into a hotel and stay there until the symptoms disappear.”
In a hotel, could you risk exposing staff or other guests? “If you can isolate yourself in your room in a house or stay in a hotel and you don’t have to have people coming in and out, and you can have room service put food out, that’s OK and it’s ethical,” Dr . .says Mavunda.
“If you are forced to come into contact with others, wear an N95 mask and disinfect your hands frequently. Make sure people who may be around you are doing the same,” she adds.
5. Pack extra medications and necessities in case you need to delay your return
“Make sure you have everything you need for an extended stay of up to 10 days in case you’re quarantined in the location you’re visiting,” says Dr. Blaivas. This includes additional medications that you rely on every day.
You may also want to investigate travel medical insurance if you are leaving the country, as most US health insurance plans will not cover you while you are abroad. This is especially important if you have any special health conditions that may require you to see a doctor if your trip is delayed because you develop COVID-19 or are in close contact with an infected person.
6. Research how to get medical attention if you need it during your trip
“Think about what medical care will be available if you get sick,” says David Banach, MD, MPH, a hospital epidemiologist at UConn Health in Farmington, Connecticut. “This is true for COVID as well as other travel illnesses. Have an understanding of what type of medical care you can access.”
“If you feel very ill and you’re in a place where medical care is of high quality, then seeking medical treatment is a very good idea,” says Blaivas. “If you travel somewhere [where] medical systems are not well developed, then it is best to contact your travel insurance, assuming you do not feel too ill and should go to the nearest emergency department and get a consultation about possible evacuation at home.”
Adds Blaivas, “If you get significantly sick from COVID, there are several treatment options that will reduce the severity of symptoms” — including antiviral medications like Paxlovid. “Some may not be available outside the United States, so check before you travel,” he says.
Telemedicine can be a convenient option for consulting a doctor during isolation, but Dr. Banach warns that “accessing telemedicine from abroad can be tricky” depending on your Wi-Fi connection. Check the CDC site for more information on telemedicine options.