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Grounded last year and thinking of traveling again? Your questions answered

The word on whether to travel in the pandemic is changing as more Americans get vaccinated. Some things to know if you plan to go.
Craig Camara, of San Diego, California, fetches his bag at the baggage claim area after arriving at Tampa International Airport on Wednesday, April 14, 2021, in Tampa.
Craig Camara, of San Diego, California, fetches his bag at the baggage claim area after arriving at Tampa International Airport on Wednesday, April 14, 2021, in Tampa. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published May 2
Updated May 2

After more than a year of being grounded by the coronavirus pandemic, and with millions of Americans getting vaccinated, some are considering hitting the open road and open skies again.

So is traveling safe in the time of coronavirus? Is it right? If so, where should you go?

Some tips if you’re considering a trip.

Is it safe to travel right now?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says fully-vaccinated people can travel at low risk to themselves. Travelers who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are less likely to get or spread the virus.

The CDC recommends delaying trips until you are fully vaccinated.

Fully vaccinated, by the way, means two weeks after the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines and two weeks after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Just because I can travel, should I? Is it ethical?

It’s a balancing act, said Marcus Arvan, a professor and chairperson of the department of philosophy and religion at the University of Tampa.

“When conflicts like these arise, the ethical thing to do is negotiate a fair compromise between the opposing values,” Arvan said, “in this case, a compromise between liberty and public health.”

Arvan views that compromise like this: If the law allows you to travel at will, as long as you respect and adhere to all required public safety measures, you’re probably in the ethical clear.

What are the risks if I’m going somewhere with lower vaccination rates?

“If you’re fully vaccinated, the risks are lower,” said Dr. Michael Teng, virologist and associate professor at the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine.

If vaccination coverage is lower where you’re headed, be especially careful to follow the coronavirus guidelines on avoiding crowds, masking, socially distancing and washing your hands.

“When you’re in a situation where you don’t know if people are vaccinated or not, it’s always good to be careful,” he said.

A Southwest Airlines passenger plane departs from Tampa International Airport.
A Southwest Airlines passenger plane departs from Tampa International Airport. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

How can I find out what’s required, restricted or allowed where I’m headed?

Do your research. Google your destination and “travel restrictions.” Check with local health departments where you’re headed and along the way for any requirements.

If you’re traveling internationally, you can check with the U.S. Department of State-Bureau of Consular Affairs at travel.state.gov. If you’re flying, check with the airline to see if you need to bring health or testing information.

Here in Florida, there’s been controversy over so-called vaccine passports, or requiring proof that someone has had their shots.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is against such requirements, and the Florida Legislature just passed a bill barring businesses, schools and government entities from asking anyone to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccination.

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Still, if you’re traveling, your vaccine card and the information it contains may be important to have. Make sure to leave copies of both the front and back of your card safely at home, and take pictures of your card on your phone as a back-up.

Also, remember that attractions, parks, museums and other places you want to visit may have limited capacity or hours or other restrictions. Call ahead or check websites for a smoother trip.

Any tips for staying safe?

Health experts say it’s safer to have close contact only with members of your household and with fully-vaccinated people.

And though the CDC recently said it can be okay to go maskless outside away from others, masks should always be worn on planes, trains, buses and other public transportation and in airports and bus and train stations.

If you drive, plan fewer stops to avoid contact with strangers. Consider a destination with fewer crowds and lots to do outdoors.

In general, if you hit the road, don’t ease up on those pandemic safety standards we’ve come to know so well: Wear your mask, stay 6 feet apart, avoid crowds, wash your hands and use your hand sanitizer often.

I’m not ready to get on a plane yet. Where’s a good place to go?

You’re basically already there.

TripAdvisor’s list of most popular destinations for summer 2021 includes three Florida cities — Orlando, Miami and Key West — in the top five. At VacationRenter.com, a portal for home rentals, Florida claims seven of the top 10 growing rental markets, including Sarasota and Siesta Key.

Here are three drivable Florida destinations to consider this summer:

Cape San Blas: Airbnb picked this Panhandle hamlet, located in an area hard-hit by 2018′s Hurricane Michael, as one of its most popular 2021 destinations based on search data. It’s surrounded by wildlife and water, making it a good place to stay away from crowds.

Grayton Beach State Park: Steven Leatherman, a.k.a. Dr. Beach, listed this Panhandle park No. 1 on his most recent annual list of America’s best beaches for its “sugar-white sand and emerald green water.” Nearby towns like Seaside and Miramar Beach offer places to stay and more creature comforts.

St. Augustine Beach: Ranked No. 8 in last year’s 25 Best Beaches in America According To You! list in Southern Living, this Atlantic-coast town features a wide beach with sunrise views that allows leashed dogs. It’s a quick drive to charming St. Augustine, including the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument and other historic sites.

When can I cruise again?

Depends on whom you ask. Cruise travel in the United States has been dry-docked for more than a year. The latest federal guidance, from April, outlined how cruise companies can begin resuming operations, but no timetable for when passengers can go back on the water.

But USA Today recently reported that the CDC has told cruise lines they might be able to launch some ships by July, if they meet certain testing and vaccination thresholds.

Travelers want to know when cruises are coming back.
Travelers want to know when cruises are coming back.

Until then, companies are turning outside the United States, planning cruises in Europe or the Caribbean. In June, Royal Caribbean will set sail from the Bahamas and Bermuda, while its sub-line Celebrity Cruises will sail from St. Maarten. Viking and Crystal will both sail from the Bahamas. Norwegian is sailing from Jamaica and the Dominican Republic starting in August.

Getting to these ports is another matter. Tampa International Airport has direct flights to Nassau, Bahamas, on Silver Airways, and Orlando International Airport can get you to some other islands. Otherwise, your flight will have to route you through another city.

If you do travel abroad, be sure to review the latest guidelines for your ship (you’ll likely need a negative test and proof of vaccination) and U.S. re-entry (a negative test within three days of travel.)

What else do I need to watch out for?

Airbnb has instituted a global ban on parties and set up a 24-hour hotline for neighbors to report gatherings. And holiday weekend alert: Guests who don’t have a history of positive reviews won’t be allowed to make one-night reservations for homes during the July 4th weekend in the U.S.

Wherever you’re staying, call or go online to find out the rules before you book.

Also, know that scammers are ready to take advantage of your cabin fever. Double check websites and customer care service numbers offering cheap flights. If you aren’t familiar with a site, research it. The Better Business Bureau has reviews from previous customers at BBB.org. Always pay with a credit card for online purchases, which makes it easier to dispute charges.