Travelling safely in the COVID-19 pandemic

Dr Babak Ashrafi

Medically reviewed by

Dr Babak Ashrafi

With lockdown in England over and most of the adult population vaccinated, travel across the country and abroad is now a lot more accessible. But this does not mean that you can not still catch or spread COVID-19, even if you are vaccinated. So, if you are planning a trip abroad or a staycation, it's essential to take the proper steps to protect yourself and those around you from the virus. Here, we'll provide you with guidance to make sure your travel plans go off without a hitch.

Contents
COVID safe travelling

Prepare to travel

Making travel plans during a pandemic means you need to think about a lot more than where, when and what you're taking. From your vaccination status to face masks and quarantines, there's a lot more to consider and do. And while it can seem daunting or confusing, staying safe and travelling is a lot easier than you think.

So, before you take to the skies or bundle into your car, you need to consider:

  • Your vaccination status

If you're fully vaccinated, you are less likely to become seriously ill if you do catch COVID-19. But being vaccinated does not mean you're entirely protected or that you can not spread the virus, so it's important to make sure you're doing everything you can to prevent this. Moreover, some places have different entry restrictions and quarantine guidelines that will change depending on whether you're vaccinated or not.

  • Whether you are more at risk of getting seriously ill if you catch COVID-19

There are specific health conditions that can put you more at risk of becoming seriously ill if you catch COVID-19. Your age can also affect how at-risk you are, with older people more likely to develop severe illness. If this applies to you, you might want to take precautionary steps to avoid catching COVID-19 while travelling. Or you might choose to change or delay your travel plans until the risk of catching COVID-19 is lower in your destination country.

  • What to do if you live with someone who is in an at-risk group

If you live with someone considered more vulnerable to the virus, you must take extra care when making travel plans. By travelling, you aren't just putting yourself more at risk, but the people around you when you return unless you take the right precautions.

  • The travel restrictions of where you're travelling to

Different countries have different travel rules, and these regulations will affect what you need to do before you travel and when you get back. Different locations may also have different guidelines on what you're allowed to do there. Just because we no longer have laws that mean you need to wear a face covering, it does not mean your travel destination will not require face masks. You may also need different tests when you return or need to quarantine for a different length of time, if at all.

  • Steps you can take to make sure you're protected

By now, you probably know the safety benefits of wearing masks and practising good hygiene. But there are more steps you can take, especially when travelling, to ensure you and the people around you are protected from the virus.

Pack everything you need

As with any trip, packing properly is essential. But, travelling during a pandemic means there are a few more things you'll need compared to what you're used to. We recommend putting together a list of these items and preparing a 'COVID kit' so you can be sure you're ready for anything.

Face masks

Face masks protect you and the people around you from catching and spreading the virus. And, while they may not be required by law in England, there are many places abroad where they are. So it's better to make sure you have some face masks with you in case you need them. There are also many cultures around the world where wearing a face mask when you feel unwell is considered the norm to stop spreading illness.

Tissues

Tissues are handy on any vacation, but even more so during a pandemic. While the virus is most transmittable through the air, it's still a good idea to make sure you're wiping down unclean surfaces just in case. This is also good practice whether you're concerned about COVID-19 or not as there are other illnesses you can pick up from unclean surfaces.

Alcohol-based hand sanitiser (at least 60% alcohol)

Hand sanitiser is another essential for any trip. It can be used to quickly and thoroughly clean your hands if you can not access soap and water and can double up as a cleaning agent for wiping down surfaces. Just remember to choose a hand sanitiser with high alcohol content. This way, you can be sure it's doing its job effectively. Finally, if you are going somewhere hot, do not expose your hands to the sun after applying sanitiser as this can lead to burning.

Disinfectant wipes (at least 70% alcohol) for surfaces

With disinfectant wipes, you'll be prepared for wiping down any unclean surfaces. Whether that's cutlery, cups or anything you need it for. They can also be used to clean your hands if you're in a position where you do not have access to anything more suitable.

Thermometer

One of the main symptoms of COVID-19 is a high temperature. The fastest way to check yours or that of anyone you're travelling with is with a thermometer. We recommend taking a thermometer in case anyone gets symptoms similar to those of COVID-19. This way, you can build a clearer picture of what's going on and also take steps to isolate at the appropriate time if you need to.

Check local requirements and restrictions

Different countries, regions and states, all have different rules and restrictions when it comes to COVID-19. Moreover, many countries also have different entry requirements surrounding pre-departure and post-arrival testing and quarantine. Before booking any travel, we strongly recommend reviewing the rules and regulations of where you're travelling to. But you should not stop at the entry requirements of where you're going. You should investigate thoroughly what the rules will be once you arrive and during your stay. You need to know where and when you'll need to wear a face mask, what the procedures are if you fall ill with COVID-19, and any other regulations they may have around things like social distancing.

Remember, not knowing the rules when travelling somewhere new does not make you exempt from following them, so the safest and best course of action is to make sure you're prepared.

Make sure you have the right tests

Currently, anyone leaving England requires a COVID-19 test beforehand as proof of a recent negative result. Some countries also require testing on arrival and more testing before departure. You will also need to make sure you have the right tests for when you return to England, as you will need them regardless of your health or vaccination status. This might sound daunting, but with the right planning and preparation, you do not have to worry.

Simply review the rules of where you're going and order all the tests you need beforehand from a government-approved and licensed provider (like ZAVA). We can provide every test you need for departure and for coming home. We'll also be on hand to answer any questions you might have about travel testing to help make sure you have the right tests for yourself and everyone travelling with you.

Below, we explain what tests you'll need for leaving and coming home. We understand that travel testing can feel confusing or even intimidating, so we want to make it as straightforward and easy for you as possible. This way, we can worry about making sure you have your tests and results in time, and you can focus on your hard-earned vacation.

Travel testing if you're fully vaccinated with 2 doses of an NHS administered vaccine or a vaccine approved by the US or EU

Leaving the UK:

Entering England:

If you are travelling from a red list country, you must follow government guidelines and book a quarantine hotel.

Travel testing if you're not fully vaccinated with 2 doses of an NHS administered vaccine or a vaccine approved by the US or EU

Leaving the UK:

Entering England:

You can also order a Test to Release if you want to leave quarantine after day 5 with a negative result.

If you are travelling from a red list country, you must follow government guidelines and book a quarantine hotel.

Leaving England FAQ

Leaving the UK FAQ

Going abroad? Order your COVID-19 travel tests
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Staying safe while you travel

Staying safe during a pandemic isn't confined to what you do before you leave and what you do while you're away. It is also vital to think about your safety while you're travelling. A majority of modes of transport for foreign travel involve being in enclosed spaces with many other people, which is a perfect environment for the virus to spread. So it's important you understand how to stay safe in these situations to reduce your likelihood of catching or spreading COVID-19. Here are some general guidelines to follow:

  • Always try to maintain a safe social distance (minimum 1 metre) between yourself and others.
  • Do not make contact with anyone who is unwell (unless you need to).
  • Avoid touching surfaces that are regularly used, such as buttons on an elevator, handrails, door handles, etc. If you do need to touch any surfaces that you're worried may be contaminated, make sure you sanitise or wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
  • Wear a face mask indoors and outdoors wherever possible, especially if you are in a crowded area.
  • Stop touching your eyes, nose and mouth, especially if your hands aren't clean.
  • Make sure you always cough into a tissue or your elbow.
  • Wash your hands regularly. You should be doing this after going to the bathroom, before eating, after eating, after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose, and after touching any regularly used surfaces.
  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 30 seconds.
  • Try to avoid eating or drinking on public transport. You will have to remove your mask to do this, which can put you more at risk.

Aeroplane travel

Aeroplanes are cleaned thoroughly before you board, and the way cabins are pressurised and disinfected makes it very difficult for viruses to spread. However, airports themselves involve long waits in large crowds and queues, which will bring you into close contact with many people for prolonged periods of time. This is when you are most at risk of catching or transmitting the virus. Due to this, you will be required to wear a mask for the duration of your time at the airport and during your flight (when you're not eating meals). We also recommend checking the rules and regulations for when you're at the airport, as these may have changed since you last travelled.

As a simple rule, remember to always keep your social distance where possible, thoroughly clean your hands after touching any surfaces, and make sure you're wearing a safe and appropriate face covering whenever required.

Car travel

The primary safety precautions you need to follow while travelling by car will depend on who you're travelling with. While you're far less likely to come into contact with any crowds or be in close proximity with strangers, you could be closely exposed to the people in your car for a very long time. However, you will have a lot more control over your environment. You can easily ventilate the space by keeping your windows open, and you can quickly and swiftly clean any surfaces yourself. You also have complete control of any food or materials you come into contact with, so you can make sure everything is prepared correctly and hygienically.

If you are planning to travel by car, we recommend planning any pit stops well in advance. You will be most at risk of catching or transmitting the virus during these stops. Rest stops can be exceedingly busy, so we recommend always travelling with masks and sanitary products. This will make it easier to clean anything you buy or any regularly used surfaces in bathrooms and beyond.

Public transport

Wherever you are, you should follow the same rules with public transport. You should make sure you're always wearing a mask if required and avoid eating or drinking unless you need to, as that will involve removing your mask. This is because public transport usually consists of being in an enclosed space for a long time. If you can, try to make sure the space is as ventilated as possible and sit near a window. You should avoid touching any frequently used surfaces such as handrails, but if you do, clean your hands thoroughly. Do not forget to wash your hands after reaching your destination as well.

Different locations may also have different rules for social distancing and face coverings when you use public transport. So you should make sure you know what they are so you do not break them.

Staying safe in hotels and other accommodation

Hotels and other forms of accommodation have been issued strict guidelines to follow to make sure they're putting your safety first. Due to this, wherever you stay is likely to have measures in place so that you can relax, knowing you're not being put at any unnecessary risk. You can usually check the hotel's website for more information on how they're protecting their guests and staff. These practices usually include:

  • New and enhanced cleaning procedures
  • Strict social distancing measures
  • Staff and guest mask requirements
  • Contactless payment
  • A clear protocol of what to do if there is a COVID-19 case on the premises

If you feel your accommodation has not met these standards or is not in line with the guidelines of where you're travelling to, you should report this and seek more suitable accommodation if required.

It's also important to remember that you can do things to make sure you're staying safe at your accommodation and protecting yourself and the people around you. You should always maintain good hygiene and wash your hands thoroughly after touching any regularly used surfaces. You should also follow any guidelines laid out by the hotel around wearing masks and social distancing. Finally, you should communicate with the staff if you have any concerns or worries. By ignoring something you think is unsafe, you may be putting yourself and others at risk of catching the virus.

Coming home

After your trip, there are still a few precautions you need to take and guidelines to follow. Firstly, you need to make sure you're adhering to all government guidelines on returning to England for testing and quarantine. What you need to do will depend on your vaccination status and where you've travelled to. We can make sure you have every test you need quickly and easily.

Secondly, you need to plan your quarantine (if you need to) as you will not be able to leave it until you receive your test results. You may also need to extend it if you test positive for the virus. We recommend stocking up on plenty of non-perishable goods beforehand and informing anyone who may need to support you with shopping if you do not have access to another way of doing so without leaving your home.

Finally, if you are returning to a household where someone more vulnerable to the virus lives, you might want to consider quarantining elsewhere or making sure you can quarantine safely without risking exposing them.

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Medically reviewed by:
Dr Babak Ashrafi Clinical Lead for Service Expansion

Babak studied medicine at King’s College London and graduated in 2003, having also gained a bachelor’s degree in Physiology during his time there. He completed his general practice (GP) training in East London, where he worked for a number of years as a partner at a large inner-city GP practice. He completed the Royal College of GPs membership exam in 2007.

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