What Type of Summer Travel Poses Greatest COVID Risk?

Someone preparing for travel during COVID pandemic.

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Key Takeaways

  • According to the CDC, unvaccinated travelers are at increased risk for getting and spreading COVID-19, making travel riskier.
  • Traveling internationally and domestically to places with COVID hotspots will put you at greater risk of infection.
  • Experts say that all modes of travel pose their own risk and safety will depend on several factors like whether social distancing is possible and vaccination status.

As summer approaches and states begin loosening restrictions, uncertainty still remains about whether traveling is safe, and what type of vacation is the best.

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued travel guidance, stating that fully vaccinated people could begin to travel domestically and internationally.

According to Matthew Weissenbach, DrPH, CPH, CIC, FAPIC, senior director of clinical affairs for clinical surveillance and compliance at Wolters Kluwer Health, the safety of travel will depend on a variety of factors such as:

  • Proximity to others
  • Duration of exposure
  • Airflow
  • Ability to maintain mask-wearing
  • Respiratory etiquette

“The safety of each should be evaluated by the ability to maintain social distancing, mask-wearing, and proximity to other travelers who may or may not be vaccinated,” Weissenbach tells Verywell. 

Safest Mode of Transportation 

The safety of transportation will depend largely on whether an individual is vaccinated, Sri Banerjee, PhD, MD, MPH, epidemiologist and faculty member at the Walden University School of Public Health, tells Verywell.

While a fully vaccinated person can still transmit the virus to others, transmission rates are lower compared to unvaccinated individuals. The CDC states that fully vaccinated travelers are less likely to get and spread COVID-19.

All modes of travel pose a risk, Banerjee says, but the safest way would be by car with individuals from your household. “This is because other means of transportation require traveling with people that may be asymptomatically spreading the virus,” Banerjee says. “For example, all major airlines recently started filling the middle seat. This means that social distancing is no longer possible.” 

According to the CDC, fully vaccinated travelers do not need to:

  • Get tested if traveling domestically
  • Get tested before leaving the U.S. 
  • Self-quarantine in the United States following international travel

“Traveling by car may be safer since there is less exposure to others, especially if you have not been vaccinated,” he explains. “For unvaccinated individuals, the CDC still recommends delaying travel until you are fully vaccinated because traveling increases your chances of getting and spreading COVID-19."

International Travel Is Still Risky

While domestic and international travel each has their own risks, international travel is more dangerous. “In general, international travel will pose greater risks than domestic travel due to the greater mixing of global travelers, more person-to-person interactions, and the number of stopovers,” Weissenbach explains. 

He adds that international travel is risky because the level of COVID-19 precautions taken differs by country. “Not every country or destination will be diligent with COVID-19 precautions or as forthcoming in having readily available statistics regarding current levels of COVID-19 transmission in the community," he says.

In addition, risk comes into focus when vaccination status is factored in. “Every international travel destination is likely going to be on a different timeline than the U.S. for vaccine rollout and status of COVID-19 infection transmission in each community will vary quite a bit,” Weissenbach says. 

What This Means For You

If you are planning to travel domestically, check the state’s COVID-related restrictions and entry requirements here. If you are traveling internationally, visit for country travel advisories and the latest information on travel safety. 

How to Stay Healthy While You Travel

This summer, you should avoid destinations that are COVID hot spots. Banerjee stresses the importance of checking the daily confirmed cases before planning your travel. “For instance, there are still hot spots domestically, especially in specific areas in New Mexico and Minnesota,” Banerjee says. “Internationally, countries like India and Nepal are experiencing drastic surges, and travel is therefore restricted.”

Prior to travel, Banerjee recommends taking the following steps:

  • Check the number of confirmed cases of the area you are traveling to
  • If you are vaccinated, keep your vaccine passport or card handy
  • Check the state and local ordinances regarding mask-wearing and social distancing so you can make sure you’re in compliance
  • When checking into a hotel room or an Airbnb, sanitize the entire space using disinfecting wipes that contains at least 70% alcohol prior to unpacking or showering
  • Plan ahead to avoid crowded places
  • Get vaccinated

"The number one thing all people can do to keep safe and travel with very little worry this summer is to get fully vaccinated," Weissenbach says.

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.

2 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. CDC issues updated guidance on travel for fully vaccinated people.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Interim public health recommendations for fully vaccinated people.

By Kayla Hui, MPH
Kayla Hui, MPH is the health and wellness ecommerce writer at Verywell Health.She earned her master's degree in public health from the Boston University School of Public Health and BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.