Making the decision to travel internationally during COVID-19 can come down to a lot of different individual factors. Sometimes travel is necessary, sometimes we need to weigh in all the factors and decide if it’s a worthwhile pursuit. However you decide, international travel COVID safety should be top of mind.
If you’ve checked out our Pros and Cons of Traveling Internationally in 2021, and have decided to embark on your foreign adventure, then what you’ll need next is a super useful COVID-19 Traveling Kit.
What is a COVID-19 travel kit?
Your basic travel first aid kit will have bandaids, ointments, and more, but your new kit should be optimized for protection against COVID-19.
Taking some time before your trip to assemble a COVID-ready kit will make the rest of your trip run a lot smoother, especially if you run into some health problems when in a foreign country where you might not speak the language.
Bringing a first aid kit is always a good idea- it helps you save money, time, and hassle at the onset of the injury. The key is to pack the important things while finding travel-friendly ways to do it. We’ll break down all the must-have COVID-19 health kit items, and then also suggest some additional methods of protection that you can consider incorporating.
We’ve included a checklist to download as well, that you can print and use as you’re packing for your upcoming adventure.
Before your trip
Before we get started on what specifically should go into your first-aid kit, let’s take a moment to look at some safety best practices that you can do before heading off. These are highly recommended before your travel for protecting your own health as well as the communities that you are visiting.
Getting a COVID-19 vaccination reduces your chance of getting COVID and reduces severe health impacts (including hospitalization or death) if you do become infected. Get both shots of the vaccine, and give it two weeks before you travel for it to fully kick in for sufficient protection.
Even if you are vaccinated, the CDC still recommends you to take a viral test within 3-5 days of arriving home. You can find a local testing site, or order an at-home COVID test like CityHealth’s RapidReturn Rapid Antigen test. Bonus: The RapidReturn test includes a travel-approved Digital Health Certificate confirming your results, which will be necessary for coming back to the US after international travel.
Prepare your documents
Prepare a safety list where you can easily access or share important information. Compile copies of your passport, contact information, health insurance information, and any medications, allergies, or important health information. You can email digital copies to yourself, store copies on a USB, and print copies for your international COVID travel safety kit.
Things you’ll want to bring include:
-Copies of your passport
-Copy of your recent negative COVID test, or proof you’ve recovered from infection
-Copies of your itinerary (including hotel confirmation and return tickets)
-Health insurance information
-List medications, allergies, conditions, or other important health information
-Emergency contact numbers, including your healthcare provider
-COVID Vaccine card
-COVID-related documents required by your destination, like a Health Affidavit or Traveler Form
Some destinations expect visitors to download and use a contact tracing app or testing or vaccination passport. To save trouble at the airport, make sure to find out what your destination requires, and download and register for any apps or digital services before you leave.
Also take some time before your trip to research healthcare services and facilities in the area that you’ll be visiting, in case you need to call or deal with an emergency or illness while you are there.
Pick an airport travel outfit
Pre-pandemic, you see people wearing anything from professional wear to airplane sweatpants. During the pandemic, the rule of thumb is to cover as much of your body as possible (and absolutely be able to cover your nose, mouth, and chin).
Light and natural fabrics like cotton are a good bet. Look for durable, washable materials, whether it’s for your daily travel bag, your laundry bag, or toiletries case.
Having all these preliminary things prepared before your trip will definitely give you some ease of mind. Next, let’s move on to preparing your travel safety kit.
What to pack for travel in 2021
Let’s go through all the things you should pack in a first aid kit for international traveling.
You’ll need to pack face masks as most places require face masks for entry or service. You will definitely need one at the airport and while on your plane. Masks don’t take up a lot of space but are extremely important in the pandemic travel age.
What are the best face masks for traveling internationally?
The fit of the mask is important. It must cover your nose, mouth, and chin.
Look for masks that are more than two layers, and don’t restrict your airflow while still solidly covering both your nose and mouth. Nonstretch fabrics better restrict the passage of airborne droplets and are a better choice for masks.
Bring more masks than you think you’ll need. It’s good practice to “double mask” (wear two masks at the same time) for extra protection. If you use reusable face masks, bring some travel detergent to wash out your reusable masks.
When wearing, taking off, or adjusting your mask, make sure to hold it by the ear straps, instead of the piece that covers your nose and mouth. Make sure you wash your hands before and after touching your mask.
You want to be careful to not cross-contaminate used masks with clean ones. You can consider getting a mask case for your unused, new masks (you can also put them in a Ziploc bag or something similar).
Masks are known to be effective, whereas gaiters and bandanas allow more airflow, and are less effective. Plus, many airlines don’t allow them anyway.
If you are traveling with children, having kids pick out their own mask will increase the likelihood of them wearing it. You will also want to look into masks that are made for children, as they will have a better fit and offer better protection.
Hand sanitizer is another important thing to have with you when traveling, especially during a pandemic. Washing your hands frequently and having your own hand sanitizer with you for times when you can’t access water and soap can definitely minimize your chances of catching COVID, or other viruses.
There are many different brands and types of hand sanitizers on the market now. The FDA maintains a list of do-not-use hand sanitizers that may contain toxic chemicals. Look for an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that’s made with at least 60% alcohol.
You can also buy single-use prepackaged hand sanitizer wipes, which are great for cleaning your phone or other surfaces in a pinch.
Make sure you use hand sanitizer before eating, touching your face, and after going to crowded places. Keep in mind that it’s still better to
use antibacterial soap and wash your hands for at least 20 seconds when possible, but hand sanitizer is a good solution in the meantime.
TSA is currently allowing one liquid hand sanitizer container, up to 12 ounces per passenger, in carry-on bags. The typical liquid standard is 3.4 ounces, so hand sanitizer will need to be taken out and screened separately at checkpoints.
Disinfecting wipes and sprays
You don’t have to arrive in Europe with a full-size bottle of Clorox wipes, but it’s definitely a good idea to have some handy and get into the habit of wiping things down in crowded places. You may be less likely to catch COVID from surfaces, but there is still a possibility.
Look for disinfectant wipes that are at least 70% alcohol to disinfect surfaces. This is good for public transportation, dining out, and wiping down your hotel rooms and bathrooms before you settle in. Make sure that any liquid sprays you pack are TSA-compliant.
Phone screen wipes/ screen cleansing towelettes
There are a lot of germs, bacteria, and viruses that stick to your phone screen. Your phone is often kept next to you, and will frequently touch your face as well. Health officials recommend sanitizing your phone often for protection, so it’s a good idea to pack screen cleansing towelettes or alcohol wipes for cleaning your device.
It’s a good idea to bring eye drops, especially if you have sensitive eyes, wear contacts, or are traveling to somewhere with a dry or harsh climate.
When our eyes feel irritated, it’s almost automatic to touch or rub them. Eye drops will help you avoid touching your eyes, which will help you reduce your risk of catching COVID.
Allergies can also cause itchy eyes, and the last thing you want to do is be rubbing your eyes throughout your day. You can eliminate the itchiness or dryness by using eye drops. There are different eye drops for different purposes, so look for one that will be the most useful for you (make sure to follow the instructions for use).
This is good practice to bring COVID tests with you, especially if you plan to attend events or crowded places while traveling. Molecular PCR tests typically need to be sent to a lab for analysis, but there are many over-the-counter Rapid Antigen tests that produce reliable results in just a few minutes.
Some COVID tests, like the RapidReturn kit, include formal documentation for your return back to the United States, which is required by the CDC for passengers going through all airlines. Finding a local testing site or appointment for testing is not only a time and energy-consuming hassle, it can also increase your chances of catching viruses by putting you in proximity with people who might be sick.
Although it might seem a little extra to be wearing face shields around the airport or airplane, this is actually a recommended extra layer of protection. Some airlines will even provide face shields and complimentary protective kits.
Wearing a protective face shield over a properly fitted face mask will give you maximum protection for minimal effort. It’s not always easy or possible to maintain six feet of distance between yourself and others, especially in crowded public spaces, but wearing a face shield adds another layer of separation. Faceshields can also serve as a physical reminder to refrain from touching parts of your face or face mask.
Disposable gloves can be helpful for high-traffic public places, like public busses. But they can also create a false sense of security if not used or taken off properly. For example, if you touch your mouth or eyes while wearing gloves, you could catch a virus.
Make sure you look into proper usage and disposal of gloves if you’re planning on wearing gloves during your vacation, and remember that it’s critical to wash your hands before and after wearing them.
Other disposable safety options include disposable seat covers for your plane ride or disposable travel pillows. You can also use these on public transportation like trains, buses, and taxis.
There are tons of bacteria-reducing air sanitizers on the market. Most of them are fairly large and made for home use, but there are several smaller air sanitizers on the market now. You can bring something like this with you on your travels for additional peace of mind, but it is not a substitute for mask-wearing and handwashing.
Extra things to pack for international COVID travel safety
That was the basic COVID stuff to keep you safer while you travel. Here are a few more things to add to the packing list that can help make your trip a little more comfortable. And safer. Some are nice to have, like hydration enhancers and extra bags, and a few are travel necessities, like extra medications, but all of them are usually in the carry-on luggage of safety savvy travelers worldwide.
You can use cotton swabs to press public buttons, like elevators or keypads.
If you want something more low-key and inconspicuous, you can buy a keychain or tool specifically for this kind of function. There are also some tools for this on the market like Sani-Key. A pen can also double as a tool for pushing buttons, too.
Portable Phone Charger
Do you want to spend your time away finding public ports to charge your phone throughout the day? Not likely. Packing a spare means you can power up your phone whenever you need to, even if you’re away from your hotel or Airbnb.
Unexpected delays, last-minute booking changes, layovers, etc. are even more stressful as your battery life dwindles. Having your own personal portable phone charger will save you the hassle of trying to find places in your immediate area to charge your phone, as well as reduce your contact with high-touch surfaces (like outlets) in public spaces.
These are popularly used for smartphones, but they can also fit your credit cards, keys, and more.
Tip: Look for a travel-sized UV sanitizer that doubles as a phone charging power bank for maximum utility and space savings.
You’ll never regret bringing these with you. If you need to blow your nose, handle something questionable, or use a public washroom without toilet paper, it’s important to always have tissues on hand.
Allergies can run especially high while traveling, and you don’t want to be stuck in a situation without tissues.
Experienced travelers often carry around a digital thermometer in case of sudden fevers or other emergencies. You can find a reliable and portable thermometer for a good price that can travel around with you.
During COVID, it’s also helpful to have a thermometer with you as a first step health check. A thermometer can help you gauge the urgency of your state- can you give it a bit more time, or are you running a fever and need to go to the hospital immediately?
If you’ve tested positive for COVID while traveling, you might need to monitor your symptoms for a few weeks and keep track of your symptoms. Having access to a thermometer can help you stay on top of your symptoms and when you can re-test, which can help get you home sooner.
Bring any medications that you need, and copies of your prescriptions. Keep medications in the original pharmacy bottle with your name on it.
We also recommend taking an additional few weeks of medications with you on your international travels in preparation for worst-case scenarios, if your pharmacist allows it.
If there are sudden changes to your travel plans, like if you need to quarantine or extend your stay, it will be important to have all your regular medications. This also includes epi-pens and auto-injectors, plus useful over-the-counter medications like allergy medicine, pain relievers, and fever reducers such as acetaminophen.
You will want to bring sunscreen with you on your travels, whether you’re going to a tropical beach or rural mountains across the world. Sunscreen protects your skin from UV damage, and helps minimize your chances of skin cancer (and painful, vacation-ruining sunburns!).
Spray-on sunscreen is a smart product to consider during pandemic times, as it will limit your hand-to-face contact when re-applying sunscreen to your face. Remember to re-apply throughout the day, especially after swimming or sweating.
Small day bag
You probably don’t need to bring everything in your COVID travel safety kit on your daily adventures and excursions, but you should keep the basics like extra face masks, hand sanitizer, and tissues and disinfectant wipes handy with you at all times.
You can prepare a smaller case filled with these daily basics, and bring this with you in your bag while you leave your safety kit in the hotel.
You can bring roomy and washable tote bags as you go about your travels. These are easy to rotate and throw into the wash after a long day out and are a safe hack used by healthcare professionals.
Nylon and cotton are two low maintenance, versatile, and easily washable fabrics, and can fold up nice and small to fit into your carry-on. They’re great for local shopping, packing extra clothing, swimsuits, or towels, and can be a life-saver if you buy too many souvenirs on the way home.
We’re so used to the digital era and everything being done through mobile. However, when you travel internationally, you’ll most likely still need a pen for signing receipts and filling out forms.
Although most facilities will disinfect their pens and have a basket for unused, clean pens, and a basket of used pens, it can be hard to disinfect pens properly. It’s also easy to accidentally grab one from the wrong pile. To minimize your risk of catching COVID from sharing pens, bring your own pen with you.
You can also use the end of your pen to press public keypads or elevator buttons instead of using your fingers directly, as it is much less likely to transmit COVID through surfaces.
A reusable water bottle is important for traveling in general, not just during a pandemic. Staying hydrated is important for your general health and can save you some money (and some waste) on your travels.
A smart choice is a reusable water bottle with a filter, which can help you purify the water that you are drinking.
Reuseable straws aren’t just good for the environment, they’re a good choice if you’re worried about hygiene at restaurants.
You can use a straw to drink out of any bottles or cups during your travels, and a reusable straw can even be slipped under your mask if in a public space. This can be used as an alternate to your water bottle, or in conjunction with it.
You can bring your own set of dining utensils if you want to be extra cautious when dining out. You can bring your own lunch bowls, napkins, and multipurpose items like food wrap and dishcloths if you’re worried.
Boosting your hydration will keep you more healthy overall and help you enjoy your travel more. If you often run into the problem of not drinking enough water daily, this will probably get worse on your travels, where there’s a lot to do and see.
Combat dehydration and encourage yourself to drink more water by packing some delicious, flavored “hydration enhancers” – either powdered or liquid electrolyte mixes that you can add to your regular water.
Resealable bags for used or dirty things
You might not have immediate access to trash cans depending on where you’re traveling, so you can keep a makeshift air-tight trash bag with you for used tissues, gloves, and any other disposables. Having separate bags or pouches can help prevent cross-contamination between your new safety gear (think: unused masks and gloves) and your used wipes and old masks.
Savvy international travelers recognize the importance of packing a well-stocked first aid kit with medications and supplies that can forestall visits to the local clinic. Traveling prepared also helps minimize unnecessary trips to pharmacies, where inventories of popular items may be in short supply, cost more than you expect, or where retail hours may be curtailed.
Packing for traveling in a world still in the grips of a global pandemic presents its own unique challenges. But with thoughtful planning and smart packing, you can increase your odds of avoiding travel nightmares like being sick in a foreign country and unable to get home.
If you’re planning a trip, take the first step towards a bon voyage by grabbing our handy international COVID travel safety infographic!