As coronavirus vaccines become more accessible in the U.S., a growing number of Americans report feeling comfortable traveling overseas again.
While the U.S. is a leader in the vaccine rollout, many of the destinations Americans often travel to, including several Spanish-speaking countries, have much lower vaccination rates. Some health professionals say it is important for travelers to research their destinations ahead of time, and to adhere to public health guidelines, such as masking and social distancing, when traveling to protect themselves and the communities they are visiting.
Forty-three percent of Americans say they would not feel guilty about traveling right now, according to data from Destination Analysts. About 1 in 10 people have plans in place to travel overseas this summer.
“There’s a lot of optimism with the vaccines,” said Jeannette Ceja, a California based travel journalist and travel adviser. “There’s a lot of hope and people are looking to plan international trips and weddings and to go see their relatives who they have not seen.”
This comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said people who are fully vaccinated make for low risk international travelers. However, the agency also issued advisories for certain countries still grappling with the virus.
“If you’re vaccinated you have protection from acquiring or transmitting COVID, but you want to be very careful especially now because we’re not entirely sure how the vaccine protects against variants,” said Aresha Martinez-Cardoso, a public health researcher and associate professor at the University of Chicago. “My recommendation would be that folks try to go to a country that has a lower-level risk based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.”
Everyone traveling should be vaccinated, and families with children should be particularly careful since they aren’t eligible for the vaccine, Martinez-Cardoso said.
“That’s the bare minimum we can do to be mindful travelers,” she said.
About 30% of American adults are fully vaccinated, with about 43% having received their first dose, according to NPR’s COVID vaccine tracker. However, other countries are much further behind. For instance, in Mexico, about 4.8% of the population is fully vaccinated and about 9.5% of the population has received the first dose, according to The New York Times vaccine tracker.
“There is always a small risk of transmission even if you’re vaccinated, so just being extra, extra careful to protect those who are taking care of you and serving you is important,” Martinez-Cardoso said.
She called traveling abroad a “double-edged sword” because many destinations depend on tourism but are still significantly impacted by the pandemic.
“Everybody that’s traveling globally, but at this time now more than ever, just respecting the communities that you are encountering is super important,” Martinez-Cardoso said. This includes shopping local and staying in locally owned hotels, she said.
“We all love to haggle, but maybe this time respecting the prices, tipping a little bit extra and making that part of your travel budget, because if you are going to take advantage of international travel, you should do it in a way that is mindful of the communities that we’re entering,” Martinez-Cardoso said.
Health professionals recommend travelers research the communities they plan on traveling to before booking a trip. Travelers can look into how the country’s health care systems are being impacted by the pandemic, along with the transmission and vaccination rates.
“There are certain communities, even with Mexico or Brazil, where there are communities where there is no oxygen… If that community does not have resources at this time, it’s probably not the best time to go ahead and go visit those communities. It’s probably best to maybe think about trying to find ways to support those communities,” said Dr. Susan Lopez, a primary care physician at Rush University Medical Center. She’s provided guidance to patients visiting family in Mexico during the pandemic.
“You wouldn’t necessarily want to be in a position where you do fall sick yourself and you end up having to use the community and the resources that are already very strained,” Lopez said.