Is It Safe to Travel for Thanksgiving?: Your Guide to a Happy and Safe Thanksgiving

Updated: November 8, 2021
Wondering if it's safe to travel this Thanksgiving? Experts explain how to have a safe Thanksgiving holiday with family.
Thanksgiving Travel

The holiday season is upon us, and first up is Thanksgiving, followed quickly by Hanukkah and then Christmas and Kwanzaa. The recent approval by the CDC of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children 5-11 has many parents sighing with relief, scrambling for appointments, and wondering if it is safe to travel this year for their Thanksgiving meal.

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Understanding Your Family’s Risk of COVID-19

The COVID vaccine for children 5-11 has a similar recommendation to the adult dosage; two injections at 21 days apart, with the fully vaccinated status being 14-days after the second injection. That means even if parents are lucky enough to snag one of the first vaccine appointments available, their children still wouldn’t be considered fully vaccinated by Thanksgiving this year.

That being said, even one dose of Pfizer has proven to be substantially better at predicting individuals from COVID than no vaccine. Various studies have shown that one dose of Pfizer is anywhere from 52% to 85% effective at protecting from COVID after two weeks. Simply having that small cushion of protection is enough to ease the fear of some Americans who are ready to travel and see family and friends once more. If you do decide to do Thanksgiving in person in 2021, it is extra important to mind all hygiene and social distancing precautions around grandparents, older relatives, and any dinner guests that may be immunocompromised.

The Delta variant has thrown a wrench into some people’s holiday travel plans, and the U.S. saw a sharp spike in coronavirus cases this summer and early fall. Thankfully case counts around the country have been steadily dropping. And, even if you get a breakthrough case of COVID while fully vaccinated, all three available vaccines have substantial numbers supporting they reduce the severity and risk of hospitalization drastically over those unvaccinated.

Holiday Travel Safety Tips

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated their “Holiday Travel Tips.” Overall, experts say it is safe to travel this Thanksgiving holiday with some precautions.

From the CDC:

  • All people eligible for a vaccine should be vaccinated
  • Wear masks indoors if unvaccinated or if vaccinated and in a high transmission area
  • Outdoors is safer than indoors
  • Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated places
  • If you are sick or have symptoms, don’t host or attend a gathering
  • Get a COVID-19 test if you feel sick or come in close contact with someone who has COVID-19

The CDC also has a separate page of travel recommendations for regular travel, including avoiding travel when possible until you are fully vaccinated, getting tested 3-5 days after international travel, and wearing a mask over your mouth and nose in all public indoor areas.

If you are using public transportation or traveling far away this holiday season, there are a few things to consider.

  • All individuals over the age of 2 must wear face masks on all modes of public transport, including planes, buses, and trains.
  • The number of travelers always increases, and Thanksgiving week is traditionally the busiest travel week in the U.S.
  • Last-minute air travel tickets may be challenging to obtain as many airlines have been facing staffing shortages.
  • Some areas of the country are considered more high-risk than others. Check out the Mayo Clinic’s tracker. It tracks COVID-19 cases and shows a 14-day forecast of predicted new cases, which could be helpful if deciding to travel to areas with historically higher transmission, such as the southwest or Florida.
  • Some cities and municipalities require proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, bars and attend concerts, etc. For example, New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, and several California cities such as Long Beach and Los Angeles currently have these policies.

Many people missed seeing loved ones last year and hoped Thanksgiving travel could resume as normal this year. Unfortunately, the pandemic has dragged on longer than any of us could have predicted. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for many for the first time in a long while.

Hosting a Virtual Thanksgiving Dinner

Virtual Thanksgiving Dinner

If you are not comfortable hosting or attending an in-person or indoor gathering this year, you can still create fun virtual and social distancing holiday activities. For example, consider having a virtual pie-baking party or playing a Zoom game of Pictionary or charades. You could even have an entire virtual Thanksgiving with everyone logged on for dinner time! While it may not be exactly the same as a real, beautifully decorated Thanksgiving table, having a virtual Thanksgiving dinner can be fun by incorporating silly pilgrim or turkey background displays and can also be a great way to reconnect with faraway relatives who you and your kids haven’t seen for many years.

Opting to Have Thanksgiving Outdoors

Outdoor Thanksgiving Dinner

If you live somewhere where the weather is warm enough, consider hosting an outdoor Thanksgiving dinner for your loved ones and asking people to prepare their own food. This way, everyone can be together on Thanksgiving Day while reducing the risk of transmission.

Ultimately despite what public health experts say and advise, you and your family members will have to decide what is best for you. Knowing my children will be vaccinated in the coming days leaves me with a sigh of relief, and we are ready to visit family and friends. Before you embark on your personal road trip, the best thing you can do is read the expert advice, weigh your options, and make the decisions that you feel are safest for your family.