3 Tips for Traveling Post-Vaccination

Travel has always involved some risk, but the COVID-19 pandemic adds another layer even if you're vaccinated.
Sam Kemmis
By Sam Kemmis 
Updated
Edited by Meg Lee

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We all want to know when it’s OK to resume our travels. Can we travel internationally after we’re fully vaccinated? After most people in the world are immunized? Ever again?

Expert guidance has been, frankly, confusing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidelines for vaccinated travelers, suggesting they can “Refrain from testing before leaving the United States for international travel (unless required by the destination) and refrain from self-quarantine after arriving back in the United States.” Yet the CDC is also telling U.S. citizens to avoid travel to nearly every international destination.

Like with most things during the pandemic, the question of when and whether travel will become safe again doesn't come with a clearly defined answer. Travel will neither be completely safe nor completely unsafe at any point this year (or ever). Instead, we must all navigate the gray area of changing conditions and our own risk tolerance.

Given that, here are three tips to help put the confusing decisions regarding your future travel into perspective.

1. Don’t wait for an all-clear

Travel is risky. If you’re willing to get in a car to drive to the airport, you're already demonstrating a tolerance for some risk. The reality is, if your goal is to wait for an all-clear on COVID-19 (or any other infectious disease) before traveling, you’ll likely never leave your house.

A better question to ask about traveling during a pandemic is not when the risks will disappear completely, but when will the risks meet an acceptable threshold?

Does that mean you should ignore the State Department and CDC guidance? Absolutely not. But you might not need to wait for a destination to fall completely off its watchlist before you consider traveling there.

For example, the State Department often carries a low-level warning on travel to Mexico City due to crime, yet thousands of U.S. tourists flock there every year. The question is not “Is Mexico City completely safe?” but rather, “Is Mexico City safe enough for me to feel comfortable traveling there?”

In the end, this is a personal decision. Do your research, listen to the experts and make your own judgment call. Just don’t wait for an all-encompassing go-ahead.

2. Don’t worry (as much) about transmitting to others

Throughout the pandemic, there have been two main reasons to avoid traveling. First, most obviously, is to avoid contracting the disease yourself. Second, and often underplayed, is to avoid spreading the virus to others.

The available COVID-19 vaccines seem to be effective at stunting the spread of the virus, rendering the second issue less pressing for would-be travelers. According to the CDC’s interpretation, “Any travel-associated transmission risk is likely to be substantially reduced among those fully vaccinated with an effective vaccine.”

Again, this isn't to say that fully vaccinated travelers can't spread the virus, but rather that the risk is significantly reduced. It means that fully vaccinated people aren't being completely selfish or putting others at high risk by traveling. So you can (almost) take this off your list of concerns.

3. Don’t expect certainty

Between the two types of travelers — those who plan everything in exacting detail and those who fly by the seat of their pants — this tip is going to be tough to swallow for the former.

No matter when you decide that the risks of travel have dropped below your threshold, you should still expect the unexpected and plan accordingly. What does that mean in practical terms? It means booking flexible airfare and accommodations. And having a sense of humor when your plans fall apart.

Thankfully, flexible booking is much easier to do than before the pandemic. Most airlines have eliminated change fees for all but their lowest-cost fares, and many hotels are offering more flexible booking options. As long as you avoid purchasing basic economy fares, it should be relatively easy to rebook your trip should any unanticipated disruptions arise.

So if you’re on the fence about the safety of traveling, you can book regardless, and then change your plans if needed. Just don’t expect to get a full cash refund.

The bottom line

After years of canceled plans and uncertainty, we’re all eager to get the green light to travel again. Yet, while infections continue to spread around the globe, a full return to normal remains unlikely.

Instead, it’s up to you to do your own assessment of the relative risks and rewards of traveling after getting vaccinated. The good news is that the risk of spreading the virus to others drops significantly after immunization, and airlines are making it much easier to rebook travel if you change your mind.

When will it be safe to travel? When you decide that it’s safe for you to travel.


How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:

Travel Cards from Our Partners
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
5.0
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1x-5x

5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries, 2x on all other travel purchases, 1x on all other purchases.

Points

Intro offer

60,000

Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

Points
Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Freedom Unlimited®
5.0
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1.5%-6.5%

Enjoy 6.5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®; 4.5% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and 3% on all other purchases (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year). After your first year or $20,000 spent, enjoy 5% cash back on Chase travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards®, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.

Cashback

Intro offer

$300

Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back!

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

on Capital One's website

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
4.7
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

2x-5x

Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options.

Miles

Intro offer

75,000

Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel.

Miles
See more travel cards
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