Everything you need for the return of travel

As restrictions lift and Americans rapidly get vaccinated, travel feels possible once again. By The Way can help you navigate planning a trip this year.

(Illustration by Caitlin Keegan for The Washington Post)
Updated May 5 at 11:47 a.m.Originally published May 4, 2021

We knew the return of travel would come with complications in a pandemic. But exactly what those complications would be were impossible to predict.

Now that hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccine have been distributed in the United States, Americans are leaving home by plane, train and car again. They are reentering an industry still reeling from a historic shutdown and navigating a world of hurdles such as vaccine requirements, border restrictions and new safety protocols.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it is safe for fully vaccinated people to travel, the agency is also advising people to stay home since much of the population is unvaccinated and variant risks remain high. Those who do travel still need to mask up and practice social distancing, even once inoculated.

Whether you’re ready to reunite with family, vacation at the beach or tackle a bucket-list dream, we have pulled together our best tips to help you navigate this next phase of travel.

Before you go, here’s everything you need to know.

Vaccinations and testing

When coronavirus tests became more accessible, they also became the key to travel. Not only does a negative test result ease your own worries when traveling and interacting with others, it is required to cross borders in many cases, including reentering the United States by air.

Now as vaccination campaigns roll out around the globe, some countries are considering vaccine passports in place of testing requirements, while others have already implemented them — and not always without pushback.

Before you start planning, make sure to check the testing and vaccination requirements of your destination.

Logistics

So you’ve decided to set out on a trip. Before the pandemic, that may have meant simply finding your passport and deciding between a checked bag or carry-on before you were on your way. But these days, there’s much more to it. Are there local covid-19 restrictions at your destination? Do you need travel insurance? Is snagging an affordable rental car even possible anymore? The logistics can be dizzying, but they’re not impossible to navigate.

Safety

Even vaccinated travelers should take certain steps to keep themselves and those around them safe during the pandemic. If you’re on the road, there are still scenarios where masks should be worn outdoors. And if you take a flight, you have crowded airports, layovers and in-flight eating and drinking breaks to consider in the potential spread of covid-19.

Trip planning

Now for the fun part. Despite international travel feeling more accessible by the day, 2021 is still shaping up to be another Year of the Road Trip. The outdoorsy among us are heading to national parks or making reservations for RVs and campsites. Others are hoping that cruises can sail again from the United States this year. And if you were eyeing a beach getaway this summer, move quickly on a rental. Regardless of where you’re headed, there are things to consider before you do.

Destinations

Perhaps the most exciting part of planning a trip again after so long is deciding where to go. Hawaii has been a popular domestic destination throughout the pandemic, and the state recently shared a plan for both inter-island and mainland travelers. While many international destinations are still considered off limits, there are places in Europe and the Caribbean that are welcoming American tourists. Wherever travel takes you, make sure you’re mindful of the local experience.