Traveling during the pandemic

Precautions to take

Written by Jennifer Hanson

With the pandemic taking over many world events, it’s no wonder that traveling has become an abnormal experience. Most airlines are requiring passengers and crew to wear face masks, and many beach destinations are closed down. Vacationing in large groups is frowned upon and there’s no end in sight for when it might be acceptable.

In the case that you absolutely have to travel, planning ahead is crucial. Here are some steps to take so you’ll know you’re as safe as possible.

Before you go

Preparing to travel can be incredibly stressful even without a pandemic to worry about. Stress is not an unusual reaction to have, but it can actually affect how your immune system (and the rest of your body) functions. Finding ways to mitigate stress is an important part of protecting immunity from invaders.

How do you usually take care of yourself while at home? For most people, one very important component is staying hydrated. Drinking water helps the lymphatic system and is crucial for white blood cell transport and immune response. Airplanes especially are notorious for drying out sinuses. Staying hydrated in the days leading up to your trip will ensure your body is functioning well and you’re prepared for whatever you encounter while traveling.

This level of care extends to any medications or supplements you normally take. It’s easy to forget about these normal habits leading up to traveling, but your body will thank you if you make the effort. Consider adding some immunity supplements before your travels to buffer your immune system. In addition, prioritizing fresh foods and meats instead of eating processed foods can top off vitamin levels. Better quality food means better nutrients getting to your body.

Nourishing yourself will also make it easier to maintain your exercise regimen before traveling. Exercise prevents negative impacts to the immune system1 and has been shown to be protective against the experience of stress.2 In addition to hydration and regularity, make sure you’re as well-rested as possible. The body relies on sleep to heal itself, which will keep your immune system in top shape.

Prioritizing a self-care routine is vital too. In a 2018 study, U.S. medical students who engaged in self-care activities reported less stress and higher quality of life.3 Whichever habits keep you sane, whether they be meditation, bubble baths or calm reflection, give yourself permission to engage in them and minimize your stress. Staying hydrated, sleeping well and at least attempting to eat well while traveling will help your immune system stay on-guard for the duration of your trip.

When preparing to travel, first figure out whether you’ll be going by car or plane. Although plane travel is statistically safer, a car that you can keep clean throughout your jaunt is helpful to control germ spread.

Traveling via car

Chances are you’ve probably sanitized your car once or twice since the pandemic started. This is a chief piece of advice no matter where you’re going. Make sure to clean your car before you begin your travels. Keep some cleaning supplies like wipes or spray handy to go over your car when you stop for the day. You could extend this to every time you stop if you feel so inclined.

Try to keep any gas stops brief. Put on your mask, fill up, get what you need, wash your hands and leave. The less contact you have with strangers, the more you protect yourself. Use hand sanitizer every time you get back into the car to eliminate any chance of germ spread on car surfaces. Use drive-through windows to avoid unnecessary contact. There’s evidence to suggest that infectious virus particles present in feces can stay airborne after flushing and land on nearby surfaces,4 so scientists recommend putting the toilet lid down before flushing, cleaning the toilet seat before using it, washing hands carefully after flushing and not touching the door handle on your way out. Also, remember to wear your mask correctly (covering both your nose and mouth with no gaps) when using the bathroom to avoid inhaling any airborne particles.

Once you’ve arrived at your destination, wipe down any frequently touched surfaces inside the car and both the door and trunk handles outside. These steps will help ensure you’ve done all you can to minimize germ spread while on the road.

Traveling via plane

Although transmission risks in an airplane cabin are unknown, there is little evidence of direct transmission to passengers not seated next to an infectious person.5 Airlines are taking different levels of precaution to ensure safety, and some are more proactive than others. Find out specific airline and airport protocols beforehand by visiting their respective websites. Traveling by plane is safer in some ways since many planes are equipped with high grade HEPA filters that catch particulates like viruses. However, there’s nothing to stop germs and bacteria from getting on your hands from touching surfaces. Wear a mask at all times and make sure your hand sanitizer is at the ready.

Think about every interaction you have while traveling and how much touch is involved. Wash or sanitize your hands after every interaction at the airport even if you feel ridiculous. Touched a touchscreen? Sanitize. Checked a bag? Sanitize. Went through security? Wash your hands! It only takes one time of touching an infected surface and then touching your face for germs to easily infiltrate your immune system.

Keep your mask on and sanitize your hands again once you’ve boarded your plane. Luckily almost anything you touch from this point forward will be your own. Don’t take the tray table down or play with the air vents unless absolutely necessary, and make sure to sanitize again if you do.

After deplaning, repeat the same procedure. Sanitize any time you touch or grab something that isn’t yours. Stay vigilant about this until you reach your final destination, and whenever you travel back to where you came from.

When you get to your destination

You’ve arrived. Now what? Many destinations are going to be impacted by social distancing protocols. Wherever you’re staying will become your new home except for the reason you’re there, so comfort is an absolute priority. Additional travel at your destination should be considered carefully unless you’re positive certain destinations won’t be packed with people.

Getting takeout is an easy option that minimizes contact while still allowing you to try local cuisine. Ecotourism, or visiting parks and nature preserves, offers a chance to see the sights as long as distance is kept from others. If you’re going to be interacting with people for business purposes, take measures to keep yourself safe like wearing a mask and observing social distance. This goes for seeing family as well. The main premise of your trip can’t be avoided, but it can at least be approached in the safest way possible to ensure less germ spread.

If you are seeing family in particular it will be hard to maintain six feet of distance at all times but think about it as the most loving thing you can do for your relatives. By keeping up social distancing you are ensuring that both you and your loved ones stay safe and healthy. Alternatively, if you are planning a long trip, you can mutually self-isolate when you get to your destination for two weeks and then form a new quarantine pod. Try to remember that the pandemic won't last forever, but the effects of COVID-19 might.

It's hard to overstate how important these precautions are in the face of a worldwide pandemic. Factors like low immunity can mean potentially putting yourself, loved ones or colleagues at higher risk for infection. Thankfully, many risks can be minimized by preparing thoughtfully and remaining vigilant in public. Social distancing, hand washing and wearing a mask are the most important practices to keep in mind both while traveling and at home.


  1. Fleshner, F Physical Activity and Stress Resistance: Sympathetic Nervous System Adaptations Prevent Stress-Induced Immunosuppression, Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews: July 2005 - Volume 33 - Issue 3 - p 120-126.
  2. Tsatsoulis A., and Fountoulakis S.: The protective role of exercise on stress system dysregulation and comorbidities. In Chrousos G.P., and Tsigos C. (eds): Stress, obesity, and metabolic syndrome. New York, NY US: New York Academy of Sciences, 2006. pp. 196-213.
  3. Ayala, E. E., Winseman, J. S., Johnsen, R. D., & Mason, H. (2018). U.S. medical students who engage in self-care report less stress and higher quality of life. BMC medical education, 18(1), 189.
  4. Yun-yun Li, Ji-Xiang Wang and Xi Chen. Can a toilet promote virus transmission? From a fluid dynamics perspective. Physics of Fluids 32, 065107 (2020).
  5. Behaviors, movements, and transmission of droplet-mediated respiratory diseases during transcontinental airline flights. Vicki Stover Hertzberg, Howard Weiss, Lisa Elon, Wenpei Si, Sharon L. Norris, the FlyHealthy Research Team. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Apr 2018, 115 (14) 3623 – 3627.

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