Considerations for Booking International Travel

How to stay healthy and still have a good time on your trip.

Sam Johnston
Passenger holding passport

February 2023: You can find a free testing site near you using the CDC’s No-Cost COVID-19 Testing locator. Tests at these sites may be rapid or PCR tests.

International travel ground to a halt early in the pandemic. Then countries re-opened their borders, but with a patchwork of complicated rules about pre-entry testing policies, vaccine requirements, and which countries people could enter from. Now, many countries are scaling back these rules or dropping them altogether.

But just because you can go international more easily now, should you go? And where? As someone perpetually suffering from the travel bug, this is a question I’ve been grappling with since I received my vaccinations. Here’s how I think about it.

COVID Situation at the Destination

I don’t want to get sick on my vacation — with COVID, food poisoning, or any other disease. It’s no fun to be confined to a hotel room trying to recover. So for me, I want to reduce the chances of catching COVID as much as I can.

The first thing I look at is how much COVID is there at my destination. To do this, I first consult CDC’s COVID-19 Travel Recommendations, which shows the COVID risk level in each country. I also look at the New York Times’ Coronavirus World Map. The map shows the average daily cases per 100,000 people by country. The higher the number, the more COVID there is. I want to look for countries that have lower relative COVID rates to reduce my risk of catching COVID while abroad.

Entry Requirements

Even with many countries loosening requirements for international travelers, travel restrictions are still common. Some countries require proof of a negative COVID test and/or proof of vaccination to enter. Some may even still require a traveler to quarantine on arrival. Finally, others may still restrict which nationalities may enter.

I don’t mind showing my vaccine card, but showing proof of a negative COVID test is more of a challenge. If the destination requires a PCR test taken within 48-72 hours of travel, I’ll need to find a lab that will turn around my sample in time, or my trip will be at risk. I also don’t want to quarantine upon arrival – that would eat up some valuable vacation time I’d rather spend exploring.

To find out the requirements for my desired destination, I check out the information page of the local US embassy. Another good resource is this tool from Sherpa, which provides an easy-to-understand overview of the requirements for each country. But before booking my non-refundable plane ticket, I double-check the website of the destination country’s responsible authority so I am 100 percent sure that I can enter.

When in doubt, do your research

Travelers will need to get comfortable with some other hurdles, too. First, they may be required to wear a mask on international flights. If you’re going from the US to Europe, that can mean at least seven hours with a mask on - probably longer, accounting for the time in airports and any public transportation to and from those airports. For me, it was hard to sleep on a recent overnight flight to Europe with a well-fitted KN95 strapped to my face. But a sleepless night was a small price to pay for a chance to travel.

Second, travelers should be comfortable with the COVID mitigation measures in place in the country they’re visiting. Some countries require proof of vaccination or a negative test to enter restaurants, bars, and other public venues. On a trip to Italy, I had to show my vaccine card in order to eat at a nice restaurant. Meanwhile, certain tourist attractions such as museums and theaters may have a limit on the number of people allowed in, so that social distancing can be maintained. I’d make sure to research the requirements of any attractions.

Destinations around the world are welcoming visitors back, and there are countless places to explore. Even though COVID is still around, with some additional planning, travelers can have fun and fulfilling trips.