5 Ways to Prepare Yourself Mentally for Pandemic Travel.

Afraid of pandemic travel? While some aspects of life may feel more familiar, COVID-19 virus variants are spreading across the country, including the delta variant, which is much more contagious than the original virus. Given this, it’s understandable that even with three COVID-19 vaccines, you might be unsure about whether pandemic travel is safe or whether you’re mentally prepared.

With COVID-19 cases on the rise in the US and abroad, it’s vital that anyone traveling now does so responsibly. The CDC advises only traveling within the country if fully vaccinated. Even then, the CDC recommends wearing a mask on public transit and in crowded areas. International travel ethics are much more complex. When traveling abroad, you must consider the vaccination rates, the health care system, and the rate of COVID-19 cases. In either case, you should weigh your travel plans against the risk of spreading a new COVID-19 during and after your trip.

5 Ways to Prepare Yourself Mentally for Pandemic Travel. - Photo by The Burtons/Getty Images
5 Ways to Prepare Yourself Mentally for Pandemic Travel. – Photo by The Burtons/Getty Images

This is a lot to consider, an expert in mental health and an infectious disease specialist discussing the safest ways to travel and how to manage travel-related anxiety right now. Having the necessary information can assist you in determining whether you can take a trip responsibly and safely.

1. Understand your risk of contracting and spreading the coronavirus.

Again, getting fully vaccinated is the best precaution. “Getting vaccinated is the single best thing people can do to stay safe and not spread the virus,” says Scott Weisenberg, M.D., clinical associate professor of infectious diseases at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and medical director of NYU Langone Health’s travel medicine program. Vaccination doesn’t prevent infection, but it can help you avoid serious illness.

Remember that all travel can impact public health, says Dr. Weisenberg. So, when traveling, you risk not only getting sick but also spreading the virus to others in your party, bringing it with you to your destination, or bringing it home with you. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t travel if you’ve been vaccinated (or that you can’t take a safe road trip with your unvaccinated kids), but you should think about it.

If you have any of the risk factors for COVID-19, Dr. Weisenberg advises you to travel with caution. The CDC 2 states that it is still unknown how vaccinated people with certain health conditions or immunocompromised people may be affected if they contract COVID-19.

The CDC3 lists the following risk factors for COVID-19 infection:

  • Anyone with chronic lung diseases, diabetes type 1 and 2, or heart conditions.
  • 65 or older
  • Immunocompromised people

If you are vaccinated but have one or more risk factors for getting sick from COVID-19, discuss travel with your doctor. Your doctor can provide more specific advice based on your medical history. Consider taking a road trip, visiting a destination with lots of outdoor activities, or getting a COVID-19 vaccine booster if you qualify. Or you decide to limit your activities before your trip to avoid contact with people who may have COVID-19.

As of now, the CDC advises against unvaccinated travelers. If you or someone you travel with isn’t fully vaccinated, the CDC4 recommends getting tested three days before your trip. Unvaccinated travelers should wear a mask and keep their distance. Unvaccinated travelers should retest for COVID-19 three to five days after returning home, and self-isolate for seven days. Although it is best for your own and public health to only travel when fully vaccinated, following these steps is critical if you or someone in your group is not.

2. Look up COVID-19 case numbers and safety guidelines.

Knowing the rates of transmission and vaccination in an area can help you choose a destination (if you’re flexible) or set safety boundaries for yourself. Dr. Weisenberg advises against traveling to areas with higher virus activity than where you are now.

The CDC has an interactive map where you can look up these statistics by county. (High transmission areas have 100 or more new cases per 100,000 people per day.) The CDC also has a color-coded map that compares vaccination rates to cases per 100,000 people.

Getting this information may be difficult if you plan to travel abroad, depending on how closely the local government tracks COVID-19 and shares its data. Check the CDC’s list of high-risk COVID-19 countries before traveling.

Remember that even if an area has a low transmission rate, you may interact with travelers from all over the country, if not the world. If you’re visiting a popular tourist destination like Los Angeles, you should take the same COVID-19 precautions the CDC has advised throughout the pandemic, like social distancing, masking, and good hand hygiene. Or you could visit popular tourist attractions at off-peak times and wear a mask even if local laws don’t require it.

3. Identify the outcomes that worry you the most.

It’s normal to be nervous about going somewhere, even if you really want to go and are committed to doing so safely for yourself and others. To overcome your fear of traveling again, you must first identify your fear, says Soo Jeong Youn, Ph.D., clinical psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School.

Consider the travel scenarios or aspects that most concern you. For example, are you worried about catching COVID-19 while traveling and spreading it to an immunocompromised loved one when you return? If you can’t safely self-isolate from them when you return, you may decide not to travel at all. Take a COVID-19 test before seeing this person (in addition to precautions like wearing a mask and meeting outside, if you don’t live with this loved one) to put your mind at ease. It’s reassuring to know you have a plan to address your fears.

4. Concentrate on what you can control.

Anxiety, says Dr. Youn, is often rooted in the unknown. Fear of the unknown can easily lead to worrying about the worst-case scenarios, which can be terrifying. That explains why some people are worried about the pandemic. Traveling can also cause anxiety because even with careful planning, nothing can be predicted.

Dr. Youn says that planning for a few things you can control can help reduce anxiety. If you must travel and cannot avoid flying, try to travel on a slower day and bring plenty of masks, hand sanitizer, and antimicrobial wipes. If you’re going on vacation, avoid indoor activities and dining.

Dr. Young advises bringing something from home on your trip. Writing in your journal or stretching before bedtime can help. Until then, Dr. Youn says, don’t worry about your life.

If you’re worried that the people you’ll be traveling with will have different ideas about how to travel safely, try to be open when discussing the details. You can explain your preferences and why, and work out a solution that works for everyone. “It’s important to know where you stand and have as much of a conversation with the other person as possible,” Dr. Youn said. In the event that your travel companion chooses to do activities that you are uncomfortable with, you may decide to do your own thing.

5. Reconnect with yourself before and during your trip.

Even with all your preparation, you may be concerned about pandemic travel. After a year of being told to keep six feet apart and avoid crowds, being around strangers who may not be vaccinated or follow CDC COVID-19 safety guidelines can be overwhelming. Practicing grounding techniques can help you stay present. Dr. Youn says doing these before a trip can help you do them when you’re anxious. This way, if you get panicky during your trip, you can hopefully calm yourself down. “Your mind starts racing towards the future, coming up with what-ifs and worst-case scenarios,” says Dr. Youn.

The best grounding technique for you may require experimenting with a few. Deep breathing, muscle relaxation exercises, and even simple body movement are examples. Using your senses to focus on your surroundings or an object is one way to practice grounding techniques. Your thoughts can be influenced by your senses. Using your senses to bring your mind back to the present helps you avoid worrying about the future. Examine the brushstrokes, textures, and colors of a painting in your room.

It’s normal to be nervous about travel right now. You can make the choices that feel right for you by assessing your concerns and knowing how to travel safely.


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