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Published on November 11, 2021

Traveling during the holidays? How to do so safely, according to experts

Tips for before, during and after you travel to protect you and your loved ones this holiday season

Cambridge, Mass. – If you’re planning on going over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house this holiday season, you’ll need to take some extra COVID precautions to keep your family safe. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has issued new guidelines for the holiday season. The most important one? Get vaccinated before you go. For children who can’t get vaccinated right now, the best way to protect them is to vaccinate the rest of the family. The CDC recommends adults who are unvaccinated stay home.

Before you go:

Ten days before you leave, avoid large gatherings and always wear a mask indoors when away from home, such as at the grocery store or drugstore, recommends Lin Chen, MD, director of travel medicine at Mount Auburn Hospital and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Three days before, take a COVID test if you plan to get together in a large family group. Budget extra money to buy COVID tests, which can run $25-$35 at a pharmacy, should you or a family member feel sick once you’re at your destination. Pack plenty of masks for the entire family.

During your trip:

Last holiday season, about 84 million people travelled during the holidays, according to AAA, a decrease from the previous year. With more people vaccinated against COVID 19, holiday travel could increase this year. If you are taking a bus, train or a ride share, wear a mask the entire time. If you are traveling by car with the family, Chen says always wear a mask at rest stops where you use the restroom or visit the restaurant. Once at your destination, gather outdoors rather than indoors.

For those who opt to fly, there is additional guidance to consider. “Airplanes are still a safe way to travel with the proper precautions,” said Mark Gendreau, MD, chief medical officer at Beverly Hospital. But Gendreau suggests using an alcohol-based sanitizer for your hands as well as to wipe down the tray and seat arm rests aboard the airplane. Increase the ventilation at your seat by turning the overhead air vent above your seat to medium flow and position it so that the air current is directed just slightly in front of your face. Keep in mind that the humidity aboard commercial aircraft is greatly diminished so staying well hydrated helps support a healthy immune system. Avoid crowding the aisle on deplaning as studies show this is a time of high risk transmission of things like COVID-19 or flu. Lastly, stay home if you are ill and consider travel insurance for those last minutes situations that arise.

After your trip:

No states have instituted testing requirements after travel. If you are vaccinated, you don’t have to get tested unless you feel unwell.

Even with these precautions, Chen says it’s not foolproof. “I have had patients who are fully vaccinated test positive after attending large outdoor gatherings where everyone else is also vaccinated,” explained Chen. “Nothing we do guarantees no transmission. Everything together — vaccinations, masks, avoiding any questionable exposure — helps mitigate the risk.”

About Mount Auburn Hospital

Mount Auburn Hospital was founded in 1886. A teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, its mission is to provide clinically excellent care with compassion and to teach students of medicine and the health professions.

Mount Auburn Hospital is a part of Beth Israel Lahey Health, a health care system that brings together academic medical centers and teaching hospitals, community and specialty hospitals, more than 4,800 physicians and 36,000 employees in a shared mission to expand access to great care and advance the science and practice of medicine through groundbreaking research and education. For more information about Beth Israel Lahey Health, please visit

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Kristina Murray

Jennifer Rosenberg

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