Are you considering coronavirus travel? In a few short months, the virus has dramatically changed the way we live, so few of us are traveling these days. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reminds us that staying home is the best thing we can do to stay safe and keep others safe.
But there may be times when you have no choice. In case you find that you absolutely need to travel, I’ve rounded up some must-have information to lower your risk. Read on for guidance from the CDC, the State Department, and other experts.
A little pre-travel planning can make your trip safer. Here are a few tips:
- Masks are now mandatory in most indoor spaces and strongly recommended in most others. Be sure to pack several and to use them.
- Pack hand sanitizer. You want one that’s at least 60% alcohol.
- If you take chronic medication or supplements, bring enough to last the entire trip. If you’re flying, check your airline’s policies on how to carry them.
- If you’re an allergy sufferer, research common seasonal allergy triggers in your destination region and bring any appropriate medications.
- Pack plenty of healthy snacks and non-perishable food. Stores and restaurants may be closed at your destination.
- If you’re going to need lodging, follow the CDC’s guidance for booking accommodations or planning an overnight stay.
- Check state or local health department travel advisories for any restrictions that apply to your planned trip. Keep in mind that travel restrictions, shelter-in-place orders, quarantines, and border closures can be instituted at any time while you’re away from home. You’ll need to check for updates the entire time you’re traveling.
“Because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes, most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights.”
Traveling by Air
If you’re flying, checking for updates is even more critical. TSA security guidelines that tightened up after 9/11 are even tighter now. Be sure you know up-to-date coronavirus regulations so you won’t be turned away from your flight.
While airline flight is still considered risky by many, the CDC says, “Because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes, most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights.”
Still, airlines have been taking extra precautions to protect passengers. Many are flying at less-than-full capacity and have made changes in how they filter air. Most (if not all) are boarding the plane row by row (back-to-front for loading, front-to-back for unloading). Planes are disinfected regularly, and all airlines require mask use.
To judge the risk for yourself, learn everything a specific airline is doing to protect passenger safety by visiting airlines.org for information about individual airlines.
When Traveling Internationally
If you need to fly outside of the U.S., your trip will be more complicated. At the time of this writing, a U.S. State Department Global Level 4 Health Advisory is in effect. Level 4 means the Bureau of Consular Affairs advises U.S. citizens to avoid international travel.
If you must travel, check with the State Department’s country-specific information page for guidelines specific to the country you plan to visit. Some countries have temporarily closed their borders to American travelers, so don’t skip this step!
The State Department also suggests that you visit the relevant U.S. embassy or consulate’s website ahead of time for emergency health and quarantine policies.
They also recommend registering your trip with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). You will then receive travel alerts about safety conditions in your destination country. Registration will also help the U.S. Embassy to notify you of urgent situations and make it easier for your family to contact you in an emergency.
Renting a Car
If you’re planning to rent a car during your trip, experts say that it’s probably low-risk as long as you’re not sharing the vehicle with people who don’t live with you.
Where COVID-19 is spread mostly through respiration, the most significant risk comes from breathing in the air that someone else breathes out. We now know that the virus doesn’t live long on surfaces, so a rental car is likely to be safer than public transportation.
If you’re planning to use another form of transportation, such as rideshare, taxi, or public transit, see the CDC’s guidance on how to lower your risk (and your anxiety) in those situations.
Managing Pain While Traveling
Because that anxiety can exacerbate pain, it’s a good idea to have an arsenal of stress-busting strategies before leaving home. Meditation and yoga breathing are easy ways to reduce anxiety wherever you may be (unless you’re driving, of course).
Travel is hard on our bodies as well, and even more so for people with chronic pain. Common complaints are back pain, neck pain, and peripheral neuropathy (a pins-and-needle sensation in arms and wrists, legs and feet) from prolonged sitting.
Whatever your symptoms, you will want to have a plan to deal with them while you’re away from home.
- Remember to pack medications or pain relief patches so they’re easily accessible.
- If you suffer from migraines, take special precautions to avoid triggers.
- If you experience back pain from sitting too long in the car or an airplane seat, be attentive to your posture and check out our tips for other ways to manage back pain.
- Stay occupied. Sometimes distraction can make pain more bearable. Download some audiobooks or podcasts to listen to. Or check out the top travel websites and apps for ideas that can enhance or simplify your trip.
For more information about preventing travel aches and strains, visit the American Chiropractic Association.
“call a local emergency department and get some guidance,”
If You Develop COVID-19 Symptoms While Traveling
If you are having suspicious symptoms that are not related to chronic issues and you’re afraid it may be COVID-19, you could try to connect with your provider at home by phone (or video if they offer telehealth visits). They will help you determine if you should seek medical attention locally.
If that’s not possible, “call a local emergency department and get some guidance,” writes Abinash Virk, M.D, of Mayo Clinic.
Dr. Virk adds that patients shouldn’t walk into clinics or emergency departments, where they can infect others if it turns out they have COVID-19. “If their symptoms are more severe and there’s shortness of breath, dizziness, or high fever, then the best thing is to call 911.”
If you are traveling internationally, things get more complicated. See guidance from Johns Hopkins University & Medicine for advice on what to do if you should fall ill while abroad.
The Bottom Line
Traveling can be challenging for people with chronic pain. Traveling during a pandemic adds a whole new level of concern.
There’s no way to eliminate travel-related risk entirely in a pandemic, so again, if you can avoid travel, it’s best to stay home. But if that’s not possible, preparation, planning, and following expert guidance will be the keys to lowering the risk for yourself and others until you arrive safely home again.
Do you have any tips for traveling during the pandemic we may have missed?
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