NEWS

Yes, You Can Travel With Unvaccinated Children—Here's How

mom disinfecting tv screen for child on an airplane

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UPDATE: JULY 7, 2022

Just about everyone is now eligible to get vaccinated for COVID-19 as both the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines have been approved for adults and children ages 6 months and older. COVID-19 vaccines are also now widely available. They continue to be free and can be found at local pharmacies, doctor offices, and pop-up vaccination clinics.

Key Takeaways

  • Choose a destination where COVID-19 is not rampant.
  • Drive rather than fly, if possible, to reduce possible COVID-19 exposure.
  • Vaccinate all members of your family who are eligible. This includes everyone ages 6 months and older.
  • Follow safety measures like wearing masks in indoor public spaces and washing hands, regardless of vaccination status.
  • Masks are still recommended (but no longer required) in indoor public transportation settings.
  • Do not travel if you have COVID-19, are waiting on test results and have COVID-19-like symptoms, or have recently been exposed and were advised to quarantine.

The increasing availability of COVID-19 vaccinations may inspire you to finally book a family vacation. Now, kids aged 6 months and older are all eligible for vaccination. But travel is still tricky, especially if you have babies under 6 months old or older children who have not been able to get the vaccine yet.

If anyone in your family over the age of 6 months old hasn't been vaccinated yet, schedule their shots sooner than later. Even if their entire series isn't completed, they will still have some immunity to the coronavirus from their initial shots.

If you think ahead, plan wisely, and take appropriate precautions, your family can safely venture out to enjoy a long-awaited getaway.

Where Can You Go?

Keeping your kids protected during a family vacation starts with picking the right destination. Leaving the U.S. may still feel too risky for some families, but others are taking advantage of the fact that masks are no longer required on planes and in airports. Pre-flight COVID-19 testing is no longer needed for most destinations or for returning to the United States, making travel a bit less complicated and stressful than mid-pandemic.

International Destinations

International travel is still relatively risky, particularly for the unvaccinated. While many countries have open borders, some have high COVID-19 rates and so-so safety policies. In other countries, you'll need to follow complex entry rules requiring vaccination, testing, and/or quarantining requirements that may end up being quite cumbersome. However, these no longer apply upon returning to the U.S.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) studies travel risk factors and provides guidance about where it's safest to travel. The agency regularly updates its COVID-19 Travel Recommendations page with a color-coded map to show which destinations are Level 4, or red (very high COVID levels); Level 3, or dark orange (high COVID levels); Level 2, or light orange (moderate COVID levels); and Level 1, or yellow (low COVID levels).

Rates of transmission ebb and flow. For example, at the end of 2021, many countries were at the higher risk red and orange levels. Those in the yellow or low COVID levels included the British Virgin Islands, China, India, Morocco, Paraguay, and Japan. The CDC does not recommend against traveling to these low-risk level countries for vacation. But it does advise against any recreational travel to Level 4 countries.

The CDC recommends against international travel until you are fully vaccinated. So, your safest bet is for anyone eligible to receive the vaccine and/or booster before taking a trip abroad. Additionally, aim to avoid COVID-19 exposure before your trip. If you have a confirmed active infection or have symptoms at the time of your trip, you won't be able to travel.

Note, however, that in some cases, particularly in large countries, outbreaks move quickly and may be limited to specific areas. For example, in 2021, when the United States was routinely designated a level 4 risk, only parts of the country were experiencing surges at various times. So, it's worth looking at the case counts in the local area you are considering traveling in when making your plans.

Regardless of where you're headed, the CDC recommends that everyone who is eligible for the vaccine get it before traveling. Everyone aged 6 months and up can (and according to the CDC, should) get the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. If your child is younger than 6 months old, you may want to hold off on international travel until they can get their shots.

As of April 18, 2022, masks are no longer required (but the CDC still recommends them) for air travel in the United States. Additionally, as of June 12, 2022, travelers entering the U.S. from a foreign country no longer need to show proof of a negative COVID test before boarding their flights.

Domestic Destinations

Domestic travel is safer than international travel, advises Andi Shane, MD, MPH, MSc, system medical director for infectious disease at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and professor of pediatrics at Emory University.

Official requirements aside, the CDC does recommend that all people taking an out-of-state vacation get fully vaccinated if they are eligible to do so. If you or your child is unvaccinated, you should have a COVID test one to three days before traveling (or attending a large gathering), five days after any confirmed COVID-19 exposure, and three to five days after returning.

How Will You Get There?

Using a mode of transportation that gives you the most privacy and control allows you to set the safety rules. “Driving in your own car is least risky, taking into consideration that you’ll have to stop,” says Dr. Shane. Try to avoid crowded rest stops and be sure your kids are masked up, wash their hands, and don't linger when they use a public bathroom or are in any inside space with numerous other people.

If you are using any sort of public transportation—airplane, train, or, bus—consider wearing masks. They are recommended by the CDC in airports and transit stations, too.

What Vacation Activities Are Safe?

Avoiding crowds and large indoor gatherings minimizes your child’s chance of exposure to COVID. The fewer people (particularly those that are unvaccinated) that you interact with, the better.

Activities that are outdoors like camping, the beach, and playing outside are less risky than those that involve large groups of people being indoors. Visiting a zoo or a botanical garden or something like that where you can maintain distance outside is probably optimal,” says Dr. Shane.

National parks can be a great choice, but they've gotten very popular during the pandemic and some now require reservations for entry. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Zion National Park were the three most visited national parks in 2020, the first year of the pandemic. When COVID numbers remain high, it's a good idea to choose a park that's off the beaten path.

Theme parks have reopened for the most part. If you go, be sure to read up on and follow specific safety measures. Disney no longer requires masks but recommends them, particularly for unvaccinated people. Likewise, Six Flags has also made masks optional for their visitors.

When staying at hotels with pools or hot tubs, it's recommended to remind kids to keep a safe distance from other swimmers. There is no evidence that COVID-19 spreads via water. Breathing in the virus exhaled by fellow swimmers is the biggest threat. So, outdoor and less crowded pools are safer. That means waiting to take turns on the water slide until the line trickles down or taking kids to the pool on the early or late side when crowds are smaller.

How Else Can You Keep Kids Safe When Traveling?

No matter where you go or what you do, there are things you can do to make your family vacation safer and less stressful.

In crowded public areas, particularly indoors, it's a good idea to wear a mask, whether vaccinated or not. "Often children mimic their parents, so if you’re in a situation where you don’t need to wear a mask but you want your child to wear a mask, then modeling is optimal," says Dr. Shane.

Pair masking with good hygiene. explains Lainey Conroy, a dietary nutrition supervisor at Piedmont Fayette Hospital. "The number one thing that I feel is important to communicate with kids is the 'three W’s': Wear your mask. Watch your distance. Wash your hands," says Conroy.

Additionally, even though it's tempting on vacation, try not to relax your own and your kids' nutrition standards completely. “You need to stay super hydrated, and drink a lot of water,” Conroy notes. “All of your veggies, all of your fruits, things like that need to be constantly taken into your system.” She adds that taking any doctor-recommended vitamins and getting appropriate rest also help fight against sickness.

How Comfortable Are You?

Ultimately, the decision to travel with your children is a personal one. What is your comfort level with the precautions you are taking? Consider if waiting to travel until everyone in your family can be vaccinated would make everyone less stressed and more ready for fun.

Forcing someone to go along with the program when they are uneasy might do more harm than good, However, feeling overwhelmed with worry about COVID-19 also causes stress.

Vacations can have big mental health benefits for you and your kids. Shelter-in-place orders were designed to curtail the spread of COVID-19 and keep us physically healthy. But isolation and social distancing came at a cost, with spiking numbers of people experiencing depression, anxiety, and loneliness.

“Everything is a risk and a benefit,” Dr. Shane notes. That can mean weighing a child’s need to get out with reasonable safety measures. “A parent knows their child best. Maybe there is a less risky outdoor activity nearby that would at least get everybody out of the house to explore.”

Finally, if your child can be vaccinated, doing so can help lower risk and make everyone more comfortable about a getaway. "Vaccination is a tremendous tool, and it’s the way we’re going to get this virus under control and try to get us out of this pandemic,” says Dr. Shane. “Everybody who’s eligible to get vaccinated should do so as soon as possible.”

What This Means For You

Travel is not off the table at this point of the pandemic, but it's important to make smart choices to keep your family safe. This means choosing a destination where COVID-19 rates are manageable, following federal and local safety measures, and making sure that every family member who is eligible for vaccination gets their full set of shots well before your trip.

Balancing the desire for some sense of normalcy while taking precautions is key. Help your children to understand why it's important to still abide by safety measures, without instilling fear in them. Often, when children know that a reward of fun or adventure is waiting, it's easier to do what is necessary. And you can all enjoy a healthy, happy trip full of memories.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

15 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By LaKeisha Fleming
LaKeisha Fleming is a prolific writer with over 20 years of experience writing for a variety of formats, from film and television scripts, to magazines articles and digital content. She has written for CNN, Tyler Perry Studios, Motherly, Atlanta Parent Magazine, Fayette Woman Magazine, and numerous others. She is passionate about parenting and family, as well as destigmatizing mental health issues. Her book, There Is No Heartbeat: From Miscarriage to Depression to Hope, is authentic, transparent, and providing hope to many.Visit her website at www.lakeishafleming.com.