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Should the Delta Variant Change Your Travel Plans?

Woman traveling with face mask on.

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Key Takeaways

  • When weighing the COVID-19 risk of your trip, consider your vaccination status, the travel destination's current infection rates, and the activities you plan to do once you're there.
  • If you decide to carry on with your travel plans, it's best that you get vaccinated beforehand, wear a well-fitting mask, and stick to outdoor activities as much as possible.
  • Make sure to plan for your post-travel quarantine or isolation in case you get exposed to someone with COVID-19 or begin to feel symptoms.

As states lifted COVID-19 restrictions at the start of the summer, airports became busy and travel soared. But now, with outbreaks cropping up nationwide, and shifting mask guidance, many Americans are rethinking those plans they made a few months ago.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the highly transmissible Delta variant accounted for 93.4% of new COVID-19 infections in the United States during the last two weeks of July.

Verywell asked experts to weigh in on what you should consider as you reevaluate those late summer or early fall travel plans.

Should You Cancel Your Travel Plans?

The decision to cancel or push through with travel plans depends on several important factors.

“Changes to travel plans should be considered based on your destination and what you plan to do there, how you are getting to your destination, and your risk tolerance,” Keri Althoff, PhD, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, tells Verywell. “If you are a fully-vaccinated household, you have done the most important thing to ensure safe and healthy travels—vaccination.”

Currently, an estimated 90 million Americans are eligible for vaccination but remain unvaccinated. Experts advise that travel groups with mixed vaccination status—including those with children that are not yet eligible to get vaccinated—should reconsider their trip, especially if the intended travel destination is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases.

“If you have members in your household that are unvaccinated or vaccinated but more vulnerable to infection or severe illness with COVID-19, you may want to opt for a new destination or delay your travel if your destination is experiencing a surge in COVID-19,” Althoff says. “This may be particularly important if the health system at your destination or at home is at capacity or overwhelmed.”

Even if the destination has relatively lower infection rates, it doesn’t mean that travelers shouldn't be vigilant. It’s important to continue taking all the necessary safety precautions to prioritize everyone’s health and safety.

“If you are traveling to a lower transmission area, being a considerate guest of your destination includes making sure you are monitoring your own health so that you are not bringing COVID-19 to your destination,” Althoff says. “Be sure you are aware of your destination’s policies on masking. While at your destination, keep an eye on COVID-19 transmission rates at your destination while you are there to adjust your plans based on your risk tolerance.”

What This Means For You

Before traveling, you should make sure everyone in your travel group is vaccinated. To find an appointment near you, go to vaccines.gov.

How to Navigate Your Travel Safely

“Delta is widespread in the U.S. and particularly high in the southern U.S,” F. Perry Wilson, MD, Yale Medicine physician and researcher at the Yale School of Medicine, tells Verywell. “Travel for unvaccinated individuals into high-prevalence areas is risky, and so those individuals will want to consider their own risk factors to make an informed choice.”

If you're unvaccinated and intend to go on your trip anyway, getting vaccinated beforehand is your best strategy for staying safe. Additionally, there are several other practices you can employ to further minimize your COVID-19 risk while traveling.

Wear Well-Fitting Masks

Face mask mandates vary by state, but they remain federally required on public transit such as planes, trains, and buses. Even if the state you're traveling to doesn't have a mask mandate in place, it’s practical to keep wearing one whenever you are able to do so to protect yourself from the virus.

“Individuals should wear masks when traveling,” Wilson says. “For vaccinated individuals, a well-fitting cloth mask may be adequate. Unvaccinated individuals should consider wearing an N95 or KN95 mask to provide more personal protection.”

The CDC does not recommend face masks for children younger than 2 years old, but if you’re traveling with children aged 2 or older, you must ensure that they wear a face mask as well.

“Children should also wear masks when traveling in public, if possible,” Wilson says. “They should also be well-fitting, with limited or no gaps around the nose, cheeks, and chin. There are KN95 masks made for children, but my experience is that these are quite hard to find nowadays.”

Choose Activities Wisely

Vaccinated or not, you should minimize your risk by determining which travel activities increase your risk of getting and spreading COVID-19.

“Beyond masking, the most important thing is to limit indoor activities where there are crowds,” Wilson says. “If you stay isolated with your travel companions, the risk is much lower than if you are participating in indoor activities where the high disease prevalence may lead to breakthrough infections.”

It’s best to stick to outdoor recreation where the risk is significantly lower, such as hiking and camping. Visiting museums or dining indoors can expose you to other groups of people outside your travel group.

“Someone who is vaccinated is probably safe in an indoor, crowded activity provided they have a well-fitting mask,” Wilson says. “Of course, each person needs to assess their own risk profile.”

Plan Thoroughly

It’s important to plan not only for the trip itself, but also for your return. You must know what to do in case of any unexpected circumstances that come your way during your travel.

“Think through your plan for where you will seek testing and how you would quarantine or isolate at your destination and upon returning home, so you or your traveling companions are ready if exposed or become ill,” Althoff says. “As many schools are back in session—or close to returning for the fall—be sure you have a plan for how you would start your child’s school year if COVID-19 exposure or illness occurs when traveling or upon your return home.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID Data Tracker: Variant Proportions. Updated August 10, 2021.

  2. The White House. Press Briefing by White House COVID-⁠19 Response Team and Public Health Officials. Published August 2, 2021.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Your Guide to Masks. Updated June 29, 2021.