2021 Travel Warnings: What to Watch for as You Plan Your Next Trip

Over the past year, the coronavirus pandemic placed unprecedented domestic and international travel restrictions on Americans. With the roll out of a promising new COVID-19 vaccine, travelers are optimistic about planning and re-booking the trips they were forced to put on hold. But, as we’ve learned, health and safety priorities can change at any time.

In the last 12 months, we’ve been encouraged to avoid non-essential travel. Airports boosted their safety and sanitation standards for essential travel while new flights to unexpected destinations sprouted at airports across the country. So, what’s next?

Here, let’s look at travel warnings you might see from the U.S. State Department, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and World Health Organization (WHO) in 2021. Learn more about what you should expect and where to look for the most up-to-date information about restrictions, bans, and recommendations for trips within and outside of the U.S.

What Kind of Travel Warnings are You Likely to Find?

If you plan to travel across state or country lines in 2021, you’re likely to find continued and extended travel warnings. Reducing potential exposure to COVID-19 should be one of your many considerations if you are planning to travel by airplane, cruise ship, or even by car for an extended road trip in the coming year. Consider the warnings and best practice recommendations issued by the major domestic and global health, safety, and travel organization before booking your trip. Most of these key institutions issued tier-based warnings by destination.

The U.S. State Department split international travel warnings into four tiers:

  1. Exercise normal precautions - There is some risk with travel to destinations in this category, as is the case with any international travel. Conditions in other countries change all the time and are not in alignment with what’s going on in the U.S.
  2. Exercise increased caution - Risks with travel to destinations in this category are heightened. Further safety recommendations will be provided and conditions could change at any time.
  3. Reconsider travel - Travel to destinations in this tier comes with serious risks to security and safety. More extreme safety recommendations will be provided and conditions could change at any time.
  4. Do not travel - Destinations in this final tier pose a serious risk to your life. During an emergency, the U.S. government will have limited ability to help you. Travel to these destinations should be avoided. Americans already at these destinations are advised to return home as soon as they can do so safely. Conditions could change at any time.

The CDC has a similar system in place, with three tiers to keep in mind:
  1. Watch: Practice usual precautions - Pay close attention to current events at your destination, stay up-to-date on vaccines, and practice appropriate mosquito avoidance.
  2. Alert: Practice enhanced precautions - In addition to the usual precautions, the CDC may list additional precautions for travelers to take or define an at-risk demographic that shouldn’t travel to the area.
  3. Warning: Avoid nonessential travel - Travelers are at high-risk with no identified precautions to protect them from the threat. These destinations should be avoided whenever possible.

Keep in mind that these warnings aren’t based on coronavirus-related risks alone. The U.S. State Department customarily bases their travel warnings on other risk indicators like civil unrest, natural disaster, kidnapping, and more.

Domestic travelers can find more information from the local health department at their destination. For example, Hawaii has mandated strict rules for all arrivals. Travelers must now carry proof of a negative COVID-19 test from a trusted partner facility, taken within 72 hours of arrival at any Hawaiian island. Otherwise, visitors and residents who arrive from another state or country are subject to a 10-day, mandatory self-quarantine. If you plan to travel or return to Hawaii and hope to avoid restrictions, register with the SafeTravels Hawaii program to apply for exemption and find a trusted coronavirus testing facility near you.

What if You Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?

A common assumption is that travel options will open up for people who opt for a coronavirus immunization. While this may be mostly true, you won’t simply be able to walk into your doctor’s office, ask for a shot, and walk out ready to hit the airport. Instead, most vaccines require more than one dose, and in some instances, you may be required to present proof that you’ve been immunized before it is presumed safe to travel to a high-risk location.

According to the CDC, the COVID-19 vaccine will help protect you against the disease. The vaccines currently available require two doses with three to four weeks between each shot. Since vaccine supplies are limited, certain pre-designated groups qualify to receive the vaccine ahead of others. It’s important to understand where you fall in the scale and plan about a month between doses before you commit to any post-vaccine travel.

As for proof of immunizations, some destinations could initiate mandatory vaccinations prior to arrival. Though nothing is confirmed, there has been talk of future mandated coronavirus vaccine passports for international travel. Though it might seem shocking, the requirement of vaccination proof is not completely unheard of, even now. For example, before you travel to Ghana, you must prove you’ve received a yellow fever vaccine.

While experts are by-in-large recommending that most people get a COVID-19 vaccine, the reality of vaccine availability and timing could be a bit more complicated.

Where to Find Current Travel Warnings

There are at least five places you can look for reliable travel warnings:

  1. U.S. State Department
  2. Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)
  3. World Health Organization (WHO)
  4. Your state’s health department
  5. The local health agency at your destination

First, the U.S. State Department publishes travel advisories for Americans who travel abroad. Before you leave, search the database for your intended destination to get current warnings. You can also check out the color-coded map to see a visual representation of traveler safety across the world. The State Department recommends you sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) for real-time updates and alerts if you leave the country.

Next, the CDC updates their recommendations for domestic and international travel often. Search by destination and read about new findings at home before you plan a trip. They provide information to help you understand your risk, how and when to get tested for COVID-19 and other diseases, and what to do before and after you take a trip.

Then, the WHO can be helpful, though most of the information they share is in alignment with the CDC’s recommendations. They regularly update travel advice including general precautions and public health considerations that can help you plan.

As a safeguard, look into local warnings in both your area and at your final destination.

Final Thoughts

If you plan to travel in 2021, check with the U.S. State Department, CDC, WHO, and local health authorities to get a good understanding of the health and safety issues at play before you plan your trip. For your safety, follow their guidelines closely. If a coronavirus vaccine is recommended for you, remember that it could take up to a month to be fully immunized and that you might need to provide proof of vaccination.

To learn more about The Parking Spot’s shifts to ensure the safety of our patrons and staff during this time, see our response to COVID-19.


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