What to pack in case you test positive abroad for COVID-19 and can’t return to the US

Dec 28, 2021

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.


As the world continues to adjust following a holiday travel boom and the onset of the COVID-19 omicron variant, destinations are still limited. In many cases, even vaccinated people must show proof of a negative test before crossing borders.

Travelers returning to the United States from abroad have to provide a negative COVID-19 test result before boarding their flight. That means if you visit family in a reopened country in Europe, see friends in the Caribbean or plan a vacation to a resort in Cancun, and you test positive for COVID-19, you won’t be allowed to come home right away.

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Instead, you’ll have to quarantine in the country where you’re currently staying. In some places, you might be able to stay at your hotel or a family member’s house. Some hotels and resorts even offer discount packages for those who have to quarantine and can’t return home. But other countries might require you to stay in a government-run quarantine facility.

The omicron variant has recently led to a spike in cases, even among vaccinated people. So, travelers should be more prepared than ever to quarantine at their destination if needed.

In this article, I’ve cultivated a list of essentials you may want to pack for your next trip. These items could become extremely useful if you end up needing to quarantine away from home.

More: How omicron is affecting cruise travel

In This Post

My personal picks

For me, the biggest thing is my work laptop. At the start of the pandemic, I was in South Africa with just my iPad Pro, increasingly worried about being stranded. (We managed to get on a flight home before things totally shut down.) Although the iPad with a keyboard case is suitable for writing a story, managing email or doing light multimedia work, I don’t think I could effectively use it for two straight weeks. Even though that’s usually all I take with me during personal travel, my laptop will accompany me on all trips for the foreseeable future.

Related: How COVID-19 is affecting air travel

Another major thing isn’t a physical one: travel insurance. Some destinations require travelers to have insurance for medical care and transportation if they get COVID-19 during their trips, so this one is a no-brainer.

While many hotels and resorts offer on-site COVID-19 tests for travelers getting ready to return home, you shouldn’t count on it. Instead, pack some CDC-approved at-home COVID-19 tests. However, plan to account for shipping times if you’re ordering these tests online.

Related: 10 unexpected items I won’t cruise without — including a roll of duct tape

To me, those are the essentials. The things I would bring on vacation anyway — my iPad, magazines, headphones, some extras of prescription medications — should tide me over otherwise. I’ll bring a few extra sets of clothing, but I plan to rely largely on hotel or other local laundry services.

TPG staff picks

When I polled other members of the TPG team, they also had some creative suggestions. Here are a few other things staffers would bring on an international trip in case they test positive on the way home and have to quarantine before returning to the U.S.:

  • N95 or KN95 masks to use while in public indoor areas
  • Phone chargers/power banks
  • Extra medication, including cold meds and a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug like Ibuprofen
  • Thermometer, pulse oximeter and electrolyte tablets
  • Extra underwear
  • Backpacker’s laundry detergent
  • A deck of cards
  • Pre-downloaded movies or episodes of shows you’d like to binge
  • A pillow in case you get stranded at the airport overnight
  • If traveling with children, anything they’ll need, including activities, clothes and standard over-the-counter medications
  • Snacks and drinks if you’re quarantining in a hotel, to avoid high resort prices (You can get these at a local shop at the start of your trip or just before taking your test.)

In the end, think of what you’d want for both comfort and work if you were stranded unexpectedly in a hotel room. By doing so, you’ll set yourself up for success if you need to quarantine at your destination.

Additional reporting by Ashley Kosciolek and Katie Genter.

Featured photo by Aimur Kytt/Getty Images.

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