The past year has been an incredibly difficult one for all of, but especially those who love to travel. The onset of the coronavirus brought closed border, strictly regulated lockdowns, and serious health issue for anyone who ventured outside of their personal bubble. As a result, many of us have been stuck at home for the past 12 months, patiently waiting for the world to open up again.
Now, with several different vaccines becoming more widely available to the public, there is clearly a light at the end of the COVID tunnel. As more of us get vaccinated—and the infection numbers begin to drop—there is hope that we can resume our globetrotting adventures. But as we enter a second year with the shadow of the virus looming over us, many have started to ask when will it be safe to travel internationally again? Unsurprisingly, the answer is both encouraging and complicated all at the same time.
Vaccinations on the Rise
In the U.S. the various versions of the vaccine—from Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson–have become much more widely available over the past few weeks. In fact, more than 4 million people are now getting vaccinated each day, bring the number to above 170 million in total. This brings hope that many Americans will have received the necessary doses by the end of May to begin transitioning back to some kind of normalcy.
Once fully vaccinated, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that we can begin gathering with friends and family who have also been vaccinated in indoor spaces without wearing masks. We won’t even have to maintain the recommended six feet (two meters) distance that has been routinely enforced over the past year. And should you come in contact with someone who has COVID, you won’t have to stay away from others unless you begin to display symptoms. You should continue to wear a mask while in public however, as it will still help to prevent the spread of the virus until herd immunity is achieved.
The CDC also says that if you are an American and travel within the country, you will no longer need to get tested before or after your journey. At this time, masks are still required on all flights, buses, trains, and other types of public transportation. But beyond that, provided you have been vaccinated, you should be safe to start traveling once again.
COVID Numbers on the Rise Too
Although it is highly encouraging that more and more people are getting vaccinated, the number of daily infections in the U.S. has been on the rise over the past few weeks. Some of that my be fueled by recent spring break travels, which saw crowded beaches, restaurants, and clubs in some parts of the country. This is a sharp reminder that we are not out of the woods yet and that we must stay vigilant for a little longer.
It is also important to keep in mind that the U.S. is ahead of much of the rest of the world when it comes to vaccinations and vaccine distribution. Part of Europe, for example, are now back in lockdown due to increased COVID outbreaks. Some parts of South America and Africa have been in lockdown for months now and don’t appear to be opening up soon.
Those nations will probably be amongst the last to generate a good vaccination strategy or see large enough numbers of doses to begin turning things around. If your future travel plans include visits to those parts of the world, you’ll definitely want to keep a close eye on how well specific destinations are managing the virus.
Vaccine Passports and Verifications
Beyond getting vaccinated and monitoring how prevalent the virus is in a certain location, there are still some other hurdles to clear as well. For instance, various governments, airlines, and other international organizations are discussing the best ways to verify whether or not someone has been vaccinated and whether or not that makes them eligible to receive an entry visa.
One idea is to create a so called a “vaccine passport” that will server as proof as to whether or not an individual has been vaccinated. Creating something that is accurate, hard to reproduce, and easy to carry takes some time however, so it is currently unclear when we will see such a document. Getting all of the countries on the planet to agree to a universal document is a completely different challenge, which is likely to meet some resistance and prevent borders from fully opening.
Many international travelers are already accustomed to carrying their yellow vaccine card inside their passport already. This car shows inoculations against things like yellow fever, typhoid, and hepatitis. Ultimately, the COVID vaccine passport will probably be something similar, but how long it takes to develop and become accepted remains to be seen.
When Will it be Safe to Travel Internationally Again?
All of this brings us back to our original question—when will it be safe to travel Internationally again? The answer is: it’s complicated.
It seems increasingly clear that domestic travel will start to become more routine—at least for Americans and many Europeans— by the end of 2021. Other parts of the world will likely take a bit more time, with vaccine distribution being the biggest hurdle to overcome.
In 2022, international travel should start a slow return to normal, with more nations opening their borders as the year goes on. The emphasis here is on the slow part, as every nation and ever region is likely to recover at a different rate. Once again, travelers will need to monitor conditions closely and watch to see how local areas are handling vaccinations and ongoing outbreaks of the virus. Even after you’ve been vaccinated yourself, it may be prudent to avoid places where COVID is running rampant.
Be Patient and Vigilant
If you’re looking for a timeline for when the world will be completely open once again, it now seems like it could be 2023 before that happens. Yes, there will be more chances for travel throughout this year and next, but considering the challenges ahead for developing countries to deal with vaccine distribution and stamping out pockets of the virus, a two year ramp up time seems like a realistic expectation.
In the meantime, get vaccinated, continue to wear a mask, and stay patient. Satisfy your wanderlust with a few domestic trips and short journeys close to home. Be content to be able to go out in public again to restaurants, theaters, and bars. That alone will feel like a refreshing change.
And as things continue to improve—and they will improve—take the time to plan your ultimate international adventure. Your opportunity to embark on that journey will be here before you know it.
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