Keeping Track of Travel Restrictions During the COVID Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic changed every aspect of daily life. Quarantine-era travel is very different than before; keeping up with travel restrictions alone can feel like a full-time job. If you are planning to travel by airplane or car for the holidays and wonder what vaccination and testing you’ll need, here are some tricks to keep track of travel restrictions during the COVID pandemic.

Relevant travel restrictions can be local, federal, or private

A car on an empty quarantine highways because of travel restrictions | Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
A car on an empty quarantine highways | Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

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If you are preparing for an upcoming trip, it is tempting to just check for any changes to Federal travel restrictions. Unfortunately, things are not that simple.

The United States federal government certainly maintains COVID-related travel restrictions. That said, most of the federal government’s regulations and restrictions focus on travel in and out of the United States. When it comes to interstate travel, individual states make their own rules. Remember, if you are making a round trip you will have to research entry into both the state or country you are traveling to and the state or country you are returning to.

To make things more complicated, local cities and towns often establish their own COVID-19 quarantine and travel regulations. Finally, any private parties transporting you (think airlines or taxi services) may have their own restrictions. For example, airlines are responsible for checking vaccination status and COVID testing results for international travelers. Businesses may require masks or even proof of vaccination to enter the premises. 

The USA.gov website is a hub of state and local travel restrictions

Masked travelers on an airplane must keep track of COVID-19 travel restrictions | Raul Sifuentes via Getty Images
Masked travelers on an airplane | Raul Sifuentes via Getty Images

Do travel regulations at the federal, state, and local level sound like too much to keep track of? During my holiday travel planning, I was relieved to find the federal government has a sort of hub page with links to local information. The website is USA.gov, and the hub page is the “Passports and Travel during the pandemic” section, found here.

The federal government’s website is the go-to place for information on traveling into the U.S. or returning to the U.S. But it also has links to travel restrictions, state by state. It even offers recent CDC guidelines and other tips for travel. 

Remember, if you are road tripping you can fully sanitize your car before and after carrying passengers. Keep in mind that driving wearing an N95 mask for extended periods of time can be dangerous.

Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone

Traveler holding her passport waiting in line for a Corona Virus vaccine | EVA MARIE UZCATEGUI/AFP via Getty Images
Traveler holding her passport | EVA MARIE UZCATEGUI/AFP via Getty Images

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While planning recent trips I have been frustrated by contradictory information. Sometimes an airline and the government’s websites will contradict one another. Other times, the federal government and a state government website may say different things.

The Corona Virus is adapting quickly, and so must our travel restrictions. But when the available information does not adapt, it is tough to know who to believe. I have had a lot of luck getting on the phone and asking for clarification.

Here’s an example: when I planned on driving across the border, into the U.S., I could not find a clear answer online for what documents I would need. So first, I mapped out my trip. Then, I called the port of entry where I planned to cross. I got a friendly U.S. border guard on the phone who agreed that travel restrictions were changing quickly enough to give you whiplash. My new friend then read me the list of documents they were required to ask for at the border.

In another instance, an airline’s automated text alerts seemed to contradict the federal requirements for airline travel. Again, I called an airline representative and explained my confusion. The capable operator quickly gave me all the information I needed to board my flight.

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