The Covid-19 pandemic is not over, but as we pass the two-year anniversary of when SARS-CoV-2 reached the US, we've learned how to manage the risks better and are slowly reopening the country to travelers and returning to a semblance of normal life. We have vaccinations and booster shots, greater access to quality masks, and much more robust testing widely available in 2022.
While the rapidly changing list of rules and stipulations over the past two years has been enough to make a traveler’s head spin more than in-flight booze, we've put together a guide on how to refamiliarize yourself with this big, beautiful country, whether you want to fly to a tropical beach or take a train to a city in the mountains. Just remember to secure all baggage—we recommend several great carry-ons—in the overhead compartment.
Updated March 2022: We've revamped this guide to focus more on domestic travel in the US and removed some sections of the international advice, which is now in its own, separate article. We added information on downloading and using digital proof-of-vaccination apps, as well as alternatives to rental cars, and we've updated quarantine information and required proof of vaccination and Covid-19 test results for travelers to Hawaii and overseas US territories and possessions.
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Step 1: Figure Out Where to Go
You can go everywhere in the US, with a few exceptions that we highlight in a section below. States in the contiguous US won't stop you from crossing over a state border, make you submit to testing, or check your vaccination card if you're traveling domestically. Earlier in the pandemic, some states, such as Rhode Island and Kansas, had particular stipulations and requirements for domestic travelers, but they've since done away with them.
You can seamlessly get on a plane, on a train, or in a car and slip across a state's border without any more drama than there was in 2019. Native American nations, many of which are sovereign nations, have their own entry requirements. If you plan to visit or pass through one, check official tribal websites for guidance.
The overseas states, territories, and possessions of the US can have stricter entry rules. As of March 26, Hawaii won't require Covid tests for travelers, but until then domestic travelers will have to present proof of vaccination or take a Covid-19 test and receive a negative result before hopping on a flight. When you're arriving from an international destination, you have to show proof of a negative result on a Covid-19 test received no more than one day before your flight.
Travelers who've recently recovered from a Covid-19 infection may be exempt as well, under certain circumstances. If you don't follow these requirements for Hawaii, get ready for a five-day quarantine upon arrival, although that's also going by the wayside on March 26.
Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the US Virgin Islands, and the Northern Marianas Islands also have their own entry screening and requirements. Alaska has no entry requirements regarding Covid-19; if you're unvaccinated, you even have the option of receiving a free Covid-19 vaccine at the airport. Take a look at the CDC's guidelines for domestic travel before you plan your trip.
Step 2: Prepare Your Proof of Vaccination
Take a photograph of your vaccination card on your phone. In case you lose the card, you'll still have the important information at hand. Then put the card in a plastic baggie that seals and store it somewhere safe at home in a location you'll easily remember. Don't laminate it; your vaccine provider won't be able to add future booster shot information to your card if it's laminated.
We recommend keeping an official vaccination pass on your smartphone rather than carrying that precious vaccination card where it can get soaked in Coke, torn, lost, run through the wash, or have all its ink rubbed off from the friction in your pocket.
The Smart Health Card has rolled out and is available in 21 states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico. It's the closest thing yet to a national digital pass that can take the place of a physical vaccination card when you're required to show proof of vaccination. Use one or download a state or local smartphone app, such as the New York Excelsior Pass, or another officially accepted digital proof of vaccination, such as California's Digital Covid-19 Vaccine Record. You'll have to use one from the state where you reside.
Step 3: Choose a Type of Transportation
US federal law currently requires people to wear a mask at all times on public transportation, including on airplanes and trains, and in public transportation hubs, such as airports and train stations. We have face mask recommendations here.
Commercial airplanes have powerful air filtration systems that scrub and exchange all the air in the cabin two or three times per minute. That's far more often than in a typical commercial building or your home. All major US airlines are now booking middle seats—they had been cordoning them off during the thick of the pandemic to create space between passengers, but no longer. For more information about what to expect when flying, visit your airline's Covid-19 portal:
Trains are an option if driving would take too long and you want to avoid flying. Amtrak—the only passenger train operator in most of the US—has been upgrading its trains for Covid-19 precautions. You can book a private room or roomette if you want to be separated from other passengers entirely.
If you don't want to wear a mask or are still worried about being in a crowded space with a bunch of strangers, your best option is to travel by car. Rental car prices are through the roof in a lot of locations, and it's hard to find cars available these days. If you can't find one or it's too expensive, consider an alternative: car-sharing services. Like Airbnb for cars, these let you rent cars from individuals. In my experience throughout the pandemic, you can often book them for less than a traditional rental car company would charge. Turo is the best-known, but there’s also Zipcar and Getaround.
If you're driving, read WIRED reviewer Medea Giordano's guide on road-tripping safely during a pandemic.
Step 4: Get a Good Mask
You can reduce your risk of infection by making sure it's been more than two weeks since your final vaccination and by wearing a face mask in the airport, train station, roadside rest steps, and on planes and trains whenever possible (as in, when you’re not eating or drinking). The CDC has updated its guidance on indoor masks.
Even if your home state in the US doesn't require them, some local governments and private companies require patrons to use masks, so bring them with you on your trip. WIRED senior associate reviews editor Adrienne So has tested a lot of masks and offers her recommendations in this guide.
Step 5: Be a Considerate Traveler
Think about where you're going and what kind of an impact you're going to have if you're there. Many countries, particularly those dependent on tourism, are open to vaccinated tourists even as their own citizens don't have access to vaccines. In some areas, that can create a situation where tourists are visibly freer to enjoy those places than the people who live there.
And yet some people who depend on tourism may want visitors to help alleviate the ruinous economic conditions that came from previously closed borders. It's an ethical dilemma you'll have to figure out for yourself, but do spend some time thinking about it and researching your destination before you book your trip.
Step … Wait, Can I Travel If I’m Unvaccinated?
If you’re unvaccinated, you're free to travel to most US states, but you may run afoul of state and local requirements that people be vaccinated in order to enjoy certain events, attractions, indoor bars, and restaurants. You wouldn't want to plan the trip of a lifetime, travel all the way there, and find out you're unable to do most of the fun things the place has to offer.
Plus, you’re putting yourself (and others) at a higher risk of catching Covid-19. Wearing a mask can reduce some risk, but there's a dearth of good data on how much—and it won't reduce it as much as vaccination.
Seriously, vaccines are safe, they don't magnetize your blood, and they don't contain human fetal cells. The WIRED office is filled with people, myself included, who got the jab. Among us, we've had all three brands of vaccines. We wouldn't tell you to do anything we haven't already done ourselves. There are minuscule chances for serious side effects, and former WIRED senior correspondent Adam Rogers talks frankly about them here.
Where Can I Go Internationally?
Check the country list. Entry rules are all over the place, and they change constantly. They differ so much from country to country, region to region, and state to state that it's impossible to give specific advice that applies to much of the world. Depending on the country:
You might only be eligible if you've had a certain vaccine approved by the country you're traveling to. Most countries recognize the three vaccines available in the US: Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Johnson & Johnson's Janssen.You might need to quarantine in a hotel at your own expense before you're allowed to travel freely in the country.You might need to take a Covid-19 diagnostic test and receive a negative result before you're allowed to travel around the country. It could be required immediately upon arrival, within a short time frame after arrival, or within a short time frame before you get on the plane and leave your home country (or a test before you leave and again when you land).You might not be allowed to enter if you've been to certain other countries recently.The International Air Transport Association has developed an app, the IATA Travel Pass, to function as proof of vaccination and a vaccine passport accepted by several international airlines, but there's no guarantee that border agents will accept them in lieu of your official paper document. Bring your physical vaccination card even if you also have a WHO yellow card or use an app.You can get a World Health Organization yellow card, an official proof-of-vaccination document recognized in most places internationally. A WHO yellow card is not required to travel, but if you want one, you can purchase it from the US Government Bookstore for $25. Take your blank yellow card to your vaccine provider and ask them to add your vaccination information to it.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a map that breaks down which countries have the highest Covid risk. We recommend frequently checking the official travel website for the country you're planning on flying to for up-to-date information. Aim yourself toward our guide on How to Navigate International Travel for more tips on traveling outside the US.
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