Travel Tips for a Post-Vax Summer

Healthy Living

May 27, 2021
As the school year winds down, the weather warms up and the end of the last year’s health crisis looms ever more brightly on the horizon, Americans are starting to look forward to possible vacations. If you’re among those looking forward to a more typical summer this year, then you’re not alone. For lots of people, a solo or family getaway feels like just what the doctor ordered after the events of the last 14 months. Not so fast, though. As anxious as you might be to pack your suitcase, summer 2021 travel calls for special considerations. Before you hit the road in the coming months, take the time to develop a plan. As vacationers swarm to popular destinations, advance planning may be the key to a successful trip.

First and foremost, make safety your priority.

Yes, the world is getting back to normal — Recent data from the CDC shows that just under 39% of Americans aged 12 and up have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 while nearly 49% have gotten at least one dose. The agency also notes that cases, hospitalizations and deaths from the disease have gone down substantially from the winter peak. — but we’re not there yet. Vaccination rates vary based on where you live. Maine, for instance, ranks highest among the states for vaccination rates with just under 52% of its population fully vaccinated as of May 22nd. But in some states, vaccination rates fall well below the national average. In Mississippi, ranked last, fully vaccinated people make up just 26% of the state’s population. Because vaccine rates and safety precautions vary by state and county for the most part, you’ll still need to play it safe as you travel this summer.

And don’t ditch your masks just yet.

Mask rules have been changing lately, but don’t throw away your face coverings. You’ll probably need them for at least some portions of your trip. And keep in mind that the rules are different for fully vaccinated versus unvaccinated people — at least in some situations. According to the CDC, here’s a basic overview of face covering guidelines:
  • Anyone can go mask-free outside, unless in a large crowd.
  • Everyone needs to wear a mask on airplanes and other forms of public transportation, even fully vaccinated folks.
  • Fully vaccinated people can go mask-free in most other settings, with some caveats.
Those caveats include being mindful about the group you’re in and around. If you have a compromised immune system, for example, or you’re around younger children who can’t get vaccinated, you may want to take additional precautions even if you yourself are vaccinated. Definitely check in with your doctor if you have a health condition and/or small children at home before you book any vacations. Your doctor might be able to offer helpful tips on what to expect and the extra precautions you should take. Local areas and individual venues may have more stringent rules, too. That means you might still have to mask up at times even if you’re fully vaccinated.

Remember, you won’t reach full vaccination status immediately after getting a jab.

For the one-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine, you’ll be fully vaccinated two weeks later. For the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, full efficacy kicks in two weeks after the second dose. That means it may take 5 weeks or more from the date of your first shot to be fully covered. Schedule your shots now so you’ll be ready to go by the time your trip rolls around. International destinations may involve additional steps as well. Some countries plan to require negative COVID tests or quarantine periods. In many cases, these rules are only for unvaccinated travelers.

How you travel also matters.

As mentioned above, masks are still a must on trains, planes and buses. Those guidelines could change at any time, but you should make your plans with the expectation of masking. If you want to get from Point A to Point B without a face covering, taking your own car is going to be the name of the game. Plus, if anyone in your travel party isn’t fully vaccinated, it’s probably the safest option. As for where to go and what to do, that’s up to you, especially if you’re vaccinated. But outdoor trips and/or uncrowded places are still the safest options for many people, particularly families with younger kids or those who can’t get vaccinated. Last year, those who traveled often stuck largely to outdoor activities, such as exploring national parks. For some vacationers, that may still be the case this year. The adventure travel industry is expecting a boom as a result. Depending on your interests and zest for adventure, you could try hiking, biking, standup paddle boarding, whitewater rafting or horseback riding. But for those who are comfortable, indoor activities should be more accessible than they have been for a while. Cities across the country have announced plans to fully reopen. That means that many museums, restaurants, theaters and arenas will soon be able to welcome back guests or increase capacity. Just make sure to follow any safety guidance in place for where you travel, and take precautions that make sense for you and your traveling party.

What about the kids?

While vaccines have been authorized for everyone ages 16 and up since they rolled out, younger kids haven’t been so lucky. Eligibility was recently expanded to kids 12 and older. But the first round of young teens won’t be fully vaccinated until at least mid-June. Plus, it may be several more months until a vaccine for the under-12 crowd gets the green light. In other words, summer travel for families is likely to include some unvaccinated individuals. That may influence your vacation style. For example, you might choose to drive instead of fly or book a campground instead of a city hotel. Renting a house for the week could be a safer option for families with kids. That way, you can avoid hotel pools and other crowded spots. A rental with kitchen amenities means you can skip restaurants in favor of home-cooked food. And a property with a spacious backyard could be the ideal setting for classic summer activities. Your family’s favorites might include grilling, playing tag or roasting marshmallows over a campfire. If you opt for riskier destinations or travel styles, take precautions where you can. Mask up in indoor or crowded settings, wash your hands frequently, stick to your own travel party, and favor outdoor activities over indoor ones where possible.

Wherever you decide to go, make your plans early.

Plan carefully, but plan quickly. If you’re itching to get back out on the road, you’re not the only one. It seems that the whole country is ready to enter vacation mode. A spring survey from TripAdvisor revealed that 67% of Americans are planning to take a trip between June and August of this year. It’s not surprising if you think about it. Dubbed “revenge travel,” it’s the idea of going all-out for this year’s trips since last summer’s vacations were pretty much nonexistent. In fact, the whole year was pretty much a dud.  Booking big trips is seen as a way to treat yourself for making it through the challenges of 2020 and beyond. This is great news for the travel industry. But for those looking to book summer vacations, it presents an extra challenge. Accommodations and activities are filling up quickly. Don’t drag your feet on setting plans. Get a jump on things, or you may end up blocked out of all your preferred dates.

And for added safety (and savings), choose less popular weeks.

You’ve waited this long for a vacation. What’s another month or two? As anxious as you are for a week of downtime, you may have a better experience if you hold off for just a bit longer. According to the TripAdvisor survey, vacations during the weeks of June 21 and June 28 will be the most popular. If you can wait until later in summer, you might have an easier time booking hotels and attractions. For those with flexible vacation schedules, a fall trip could be even better. The benefits may include easier reservations, lower crowds and greater normalcy.

Don’t forget to account for a little extra cash, either.

Even if you’re a seasoned traveler, you may end up with some sticker shock this year. With vacation demand high, discounts could be hard to come by, especially for popular locations. One expense with the potential to blow your budget is a rental car. When travel dropped off last year, many companies sold large swaths of their fleets. They haven’t yet restocked, so rental costs are high right now. If setting aside extra money for a car isn’t an option, you’ll need to brainstorm an alternative plan for getting around. You might also see higher price tags for other travel elements, like flights and hotel stays, so just keep that in mind as you plan your trip.

Bottom line? Keep your plans flexible.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned during pandemic life, it’s that circumstances can change at the drop of a hat. Take that lesson to heart as you make your travel plans. Destinations with flexible cancellation policies will give you the freedom to change your mind if health conditions shift. Travel insurance is a smart investment, too. But be sure to read the fine print carefully. Not all policies cover pandemic circumstances. Cancel-for-any-reason plans cost more but may provide the flexibility you’re looking for. (And don’t forget to ask your credit card company about travel protection. Some cards include limited travel insurance benefits for free.) Ready to hit the road? It might take a while before we’re back to where we were at the end of 2019, but we’ll get there eventually. Plan wisely for a safer summer travel season.