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

mom disinfecting tv screen for child on an airplane

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Key Takeaways

  • Parents are wondering where to take their kids for vacation this summer. Experts say outdoor activities help you maintain distance and limit exposure.
  • When it comes to transportation, driving is safer than flying.
  • Wearing masks and washing hands are still key safety measures, even if all caretakers have been vaccinated.

For many people, COVID-19 vaccinations mean possibly gaining freedom to socialize and travel. Family travel gets tricky, however, since children younger than 16 years old are not able to get vaccinated.

That being said, if you are willing to think ahead, plan wisely, and take appropriate precautions, your family can safely venture out to enjoy a summer vacation.

Where Can You Go?

Keeping your kids as protected as possible starts with picking the right destination. While many countries are opening their borders hoping to attract foreigners and boost their economies, it's probably best to leave the European vacations to the couples without kids.

“I would say international travel really should, at the moment, be avoided with children. Domestic travel within the United States is much safer,” 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.

Avoiding crowds minimizes a child’s chance of exposure to COVID. The fewer people 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 visiting a botanical garden or something like that where you can maintain distance outside is probably optimal,” says Shane.

Many zoos are open for business, with masks encouraged for general admission and required for indoor activities for ages 2 and above. Other outdoor destinations, like national parks, provide opportunities for exploration.

Andi Shane, MD, MPH, MSc

I would say international travel really should, at the moment, be avoided with children. Domestic travel within the United States is much safer.

— Andi Shane, MD, MPH, MSc

The National Park Service requires face masks when physical distancing can't be maintained. While theme parks can typically draw crowds, Disney and Six Flags are taking specific measures, including masks and limited capacity, to create safe environments.

And if you feel tropical weather calling, Hawaii is a much-heralded domestic destination. Still, a negative COVID test or submitting to a 10-day quarantine is required, and not everyone has that kind of time.

What about staying at hotels with big family-friendly pools? The key thing to remember before heading to a public pool is the importance of maintaining distance with the other swimmers.

How Will You Get There?

Using a mode of transportation that gives you the most control allows you to set the safety standards. “Driving in a car is least risky, taking into consideration that you’ll have to stop,” Shane notes. Most airlines require wearing a mask, but the airport, with travelers congregating from all over, can be a potential exposure hotspot. Buses and trains also involve their own sets of risks.

How Can You Keep Kids Safe?

No matter where you go or what you do, the number one priority is to keep your children safe while it’s happening. You want to take appropriate precautions wherever you go.

Lainey Conroy, Hospital Dietary Nutrition Supervisor

The number one thing that I feel is important is the three W’s: Wear your mask. Watch your distance. Wash your hands.

— Lainey Conroy, Hospital Dietary Nutrition Supervisor

Lainey Conroy, dietary nutrition supervisor at Piedmont Fayette Hospital explains, "The number one thing that I feel is important is the three W’s: Wear your mask. Watch your distance. Wash your hands."

  • Wear your mask. It needs to be worn properly, completely covering your mouth and nose.
  • Watch your distance. Stay six feet away from other families as best
    you can.
  • Wash your hands. Take 20 seconds to do it—tell your kids to sing the alphabet song in their head while they scrub.

Conroy’s recommendations align with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. She notes that referencing the three W’s makes it easy for kids to remember.

“Everyone should wear a mask, unless they’re 2 or under or are physically unable to wear a mask,” echoes Shane. “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.”

Health inside is just as important as precautions outside. “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 your vitamins and getting appropriate rest also help fight against sickness.

Travel Is Good for Your Child's Mental Health

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 numbers spiking for people experiencing depression, anxiety, and loneliness.

Children are also susceptible. “This whole pandemic has been about balancing physical health and mental health,” Shane acknowledges. A summer vacation can provide just the needed escape and even a sense of normalcy. The key is a proper sense of perspective and balance.

Andi Shane, MD, MPH, MSc

This whole pandemic has been balancing physical health and mental health.

— Andi Shane, MD, MPH, MSc

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

She concludes, “The challenge is once we mix with other people, that increases the risk of transmission.”

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, and the plans on your horizon? Forcing someone to go along with the program when they are uneasy can do more harm than good.

“Be an honest, communicative family and keep it positive,” Conroy advises. Instead of cloaking the children in fear, help them see the proactive actions as a way to stay healthy and happy and to have fun."

Conroy plans small driving trips with her children this summer. Shane also plans to take her child on a trip by car where they can safely enjoy outdoor activities. Both are taking their own advice to enjoy their time wisely.

"One thing that’s really important is that 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,” states Shane. She notes that vaccinations for children ages 12 to 15 years old may be available this summer. “Everybody who’s eligible to get vaccinated should do so as soon as possible.”

What This Means For You

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.

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