How to Navigate Travel While Immunocompromised

The view out my airplane window, streaks of rain blocking some of the view. I'm sat on the wing, southwest planes docked across from the window with a stormy sky above fading to vibrant pink on the horizon.

We’re rapidly heading towards another long and cold winter here, and the third winter where folks with chronic illnesses and compromised immune systems will be continuing to be taking pandemic precautions.

Despite how prolonged this has been, so many of us have been cooped up in our homes with only a few outings – if any – and I wanted to offer some much needed respite. Traveling in and of itself has become far more complicated, but there’s a handful of ways to make your travels safer.

Admittedly, I have traveled alone and a lot of folks don’t necessarily see a whole lot of value in taking time away from the confines of your house and setting up camp in the confines of someplace else, but it has truly been refreshing for me.

If you’re someone who gets caught up on the idea of “what on earth can I do?” when traditional travel filled with trying new restaurants and exploring cities and often going to very busy venues is something off the table from you I’ve got a few ideas.

Head someplace warm with private beach access. Stay on a lake, maybe rent a boat. Check out what kind of fishing trips exist, maybe you it’s something you can rent a place on that lake or river and spend time fishing. Head to outdoor places during offseason – there’s plenty of trails to be hiked and views to be taken in even if more popular things have shut down for the season.

Speaking of off season, maybe you can head to a city you’ve always wanted to explore and check it out when the crowds have lessened.

Turn your adventures into an adventure, book the quirkiest local listings you can find.

Maybe you enjoy photography (day time or lunar), plan a trip that’ll allow you to explore new subjects from new angles.

Perhaps you won’t be celebrating the holidays with family or friends, maybe book yourself some time away to unplug and do silly cliches like sipping hot cocoa by a fireplace, watching old holiday movies, draw yourself a long bath, and watch the snow fall out a picturesque window. Dare I say you might try your hand at roasting some chestnuts?

None of it might be your perfect idea of travel or normal but maybe trying things you wouldn’t normally give a second thought could help recenter you and make you feel like you’ve gotten to *do* something for the first time in a while.

I was fortunate enough to take a trip back home this last Spring while mask mandates were still in effect for air travel, so I’ll start my tips off here for anyone who may still be entertaining flying – or for whom air travel is the most accessible option – but want to find safer options to navigate the airport while reducing risk of exposure.

Feel free to jump ahead for tips on picking a place to stay, tips on making sure your place is properly ventilated, and tips on alternative travel and safety ideas.

Tips for Navigating the Airport

My biggest concern for going through the airport was actually going through security. I’d heard from multiple sources that you are asked to remove your mask while security confirms your identity. This has been framed as a very quick thing with low risk, but for my personal risk assessment it was actual make or break for going on my trip home.

My solution: a clear mask.

If my face could be visible to security, then there was no real reason I’d have to remove my mask at this checkpoint. At the time, this was a location where everyone was pulling down their mask, so the likelihood of their being a concentration of airborne particles in the realm of security was a lot higher. Now with masks being optional, you will simply have a higher concentration of people standing in line, slowed down as themselves and their baggage wait to go through security.

I ordered a Jelli Mask which is available for $25 here and comes in a few different colors.

Before even heading to the airport, I did a fit test at home. Admittedly, the plastic ear loops that come with the mask didn’t provide a very tight fit and were not adjustable. They also did this thing where they flung off like stray rubber bands… not ideal for the airport.

To fix this, used a hair-tie on each affixation point and tied it in a knot with two loops going towards the back of the mask and one loop tightly connected to the affixation point. I then went with a two strap head gear design that would go behind my neck and over the top of my head for maximum comfort and stability. I used elastic that I cut and then tied while on my head to ensure it was a good seal to make these straps.

For visuals of this process, see below:

In actually navigating the airport, I had success in 2 of the 3 security checkpoints I had to go through. The only one that shrugged and said I still had to take my mask off was in a small local airport. Both O’hare and Charleston International Airport allowed me to keep my mask on while moving through security.

The second concern I had with airport travel was due to the amount of time I’d be in the airport. I had three total travel days, two of which were 6+ hours long where I would absolutely need to eat during my layover.

I could have scheduled more direct flights but I can’t manage early morning flights without getting ill, so you may be able to have direct flights where this is a non-issue or you may be more comfortable just going without food for a prolonged period of time.

My food plan was two pronged: clean the air around where I would be eating and find a location with low foot traffic to eat.

When it comes to cleaning the air, studies have shown that purified air with HEPA filters vastly reduces the chances of catching COVID. There were dozens of personal air purifiers and ionizers that I looked through. Personal Ionizers I found didn’t have substantial evidence for reducing fine particles and might even be counterintuitive. I went with the Pure personal air purifier which you can find here.

I chose this because it has a HEPA filter and reviews said it was relatively quiet and therefore I could have it on while on the plane if I chose to as well. Check with your airline’s policy regarding personal air purifiers, I flew Southwest, American, and Delta and was allowed to use it in flight so long as it didn’t make too much noise.

In addition to the air purifier, I sought out information on lounges.

Military dependents have access to some lounges like the USO, while various credit card holders or flight tickets also come with lounge access. Some airport lounges allow you to purchase day passes. These lounges naturally have slightly less foot traffic, especially if they are more exclusive lounges.

On the three instances where I had to eat, I ate in an empty seating area with no one within 50 feet of me, I ate in a USO lounge that had one other person present, and I ate in a quiet corner where they were storing some luggage carts. For this process I made myself comfortable, turned on my air purifier for 15 minutes before taking off my mask to quickly consume my food. I also took this opportunity to switch out of my clear Jelli mask and into an N95 which was mostly a matter of comfort as the Jelli mask was really tight and bruised the bridge of my nose.

I don’t have much in terms of data for how effective my methods of reducing exposure really were, but I did not get sick during my trip.

Tips on Picking The Right Place To Stay

When it comes to sleeping accommodations and where you’ll be staying while you travel you’re going to have your own personal list of things that accommodate your chronic illness or disability that I won’t be covering here.

For traveling during the pandemic, you may be looking to travel alone or with a friend or spouse and spend a good bit of time in your rental. You may also be looking to see some friends or family in the location you’re traveling too.

For me, I knew I wanted to see friends and the best advice for reducing risk is to stay outside. This meant I wanted a space that included outdoor space like a patio or seating in the yard.

I also knew I wouldn’t be going out to any restaurants while on my trip so having a place with a kitchen that allowed me to cook my own meals was critical. This is also a general need of mine when I travel because I’ve got a few diet restrictions and ordering groceries is usually the easiest route to go. With these in mind, I narrowed down rental options to ones that had a kitchen, had more than a mini fridge/hot plate, and had pots and pans/dishes with a bonus for having some spices/oils stocked.

In tandem with this, I plugged the locations in to my grocery delivery apps and food delivery apps to get a feel for what was available to me. I personally didn’t have a car where I could drive to pick things up, so it was good to know these things ahead of time.

If you’re driving to your location, you have the option to buy your food ahead of time and bring it with you, which is also a great option if you’re going to a scenic lake or cabin where delivery may not be available at all.

As far as things to look for in your listings, some renters advertise the presence of air purifiers throughout the home, fans, and various cleaning standards that they are engaging in. Sometimes they may not specifically be listed but scan over the photos and reviews left by other guests, folks mention all kinds of useful stuff.

You may also want to narrow your results to standalone properties so you have more control over the space. Some places rent apartments or condos where there will be various shared facilities or hallways, and some places rent out by the room so common spaces may be shared with people who aren’t taking similar precautions.

Shared amenities can vary widely depending on where you’re going. A shared dock during the off-season is likely going to be much less busy than a shared pool or shared laundry facilities at a property with a dozen rentals.

You can also look towards the reviews to really get a feel for the space. Things that mention cleanliness are going to be really important.

If you’re traveling with other people another thing worth considering is the layout of the place you’re renting. If someone happens to get sick during the trip, a place with multiple bedrooms and multiple bathrooms gives more flexibility for them to isolate.

Tips for Good Ventilation When You Arrive and When People Visit

Chances are you have no idea who has just been where you’re staying and you may not know when they left. Some guidelines have said that air in a hallway may still be infectious five hours later, so these are the best practices you can follow upon arrival to your rental.

If you have your own air purifier, bring it with!

You’re going to want to enter your rental space masked. After exploring, take some time to open up windows and get some cross ventilation going through the space – even if it’s cold getting some fresh air moving through the space is critical. Turn on any fans and air purifiers. If the air conditioner isn’t on, turn it on (even just on the fan settings) as this will also help circulate air.

Then take a bit to go outside if there’s outside space and take off your mask and unwind for an hour or so while fresh air does it’s job inside.

If you didn’t opt for a rental with outdoor space, you can hang out in your car. This is also a great time to run and pick up a grocery order, or perhaps dinner.

If you don’t have any place you can go, you can remain masked for an amount of time you feel comfortable with, I would opt for a minimum of 15 minutes but would personally wait for 30 minutes.

When it comes to air purification, there’s a lot of factors. If windows are open and it’s a breezy day or if windows are open and fans are blowing the refresh rate of the air in the space is going to be much quicker than if windows are open and air isn’t moving.

Now that you’ve got fresh air in your space, lets take a look at some best practices for any visitors you might choose to have.

When I visited home, I had a lovely cottage on the marsh with a good sized patio space. The first thing I did was provide a plastic baggy full of new N95 masks with a note that prompted anyone arriving to wear one prior to entering.

This worked less seamlessly as I my friends hadn’t ever seen these kinds of masks and needed some assistance in getting a good fit. I had my mask on so I felt comfortable in demonstrating how to put it on and how to adjust the nose piece to give a good fit. But, I felt it was really important that I brought the extra masks myself as I didn’t want to assume people would have the quality of masks I expected.

For much of my visits, we sat outside distanced on the porch, still masked.

At the time of my trip Omicron was just beginning to be dominant and anecdotes I’d seen showed people were being infected outside during visits they thought had been safe. This informed my decision to keep masks on outside.

We did share a few meals in which we opted to sit outside and take turns eating so that one person was always masked.

For one visit, it was too late to sit outside so we sat inside. I opened windows that allowed for cross ventilation, turned the fan that was above us on, had my portable air purifier on positioned between us, had a small humidifier going, and we sat relatively distanced and masked. For this instance after they left I opened another window and turned on the fans and wall AC unit on full blast for another 20 minutes or so before I removed my mask.

These same general ideas also apply for getting picked up and sharing a vehicle with someone you aren’t traveling with. Choosing to mask while in the car and having the windows rolled down will give you better protection.

Alternate Travel and Safety Tips

Some other things to consider while traveling and taking in to consideration the various viruses you may encounter are to consider how much of your accommodations you can reduce to things that are within your control.

Monkeypox is currently a bit up in the air as far as transmission risk goes, but it is certainly worth considering in your travels since you don’t know who has necessarily traveled before you. Some things that can easily be adjusted here are your linens. You can bring your own towels and sheets and simply choose not to use the ones provided to you.

Places like KOA Campground’s offer a variety of different cabins and one of their cabin options that is on the cheaper end actually requires you to bring all of your own linens.

KOA Campgrounds also offer a wonderful affordable option for traveling and I’ve found my stays in them to always be comfortable.

If Monkeypox is something you’re worried about while traveling to your destination, a few things you can do include wearing clothes that cover your skin especially places like your neck, arms or the small of your back that come in contact with seating that may not easily be wiped clean. Hand sanitizer has also been mentioned as effective and would be worth carrying with you to use after touching high touch surfaces.

Some other travel options that allow you even more control over your environment include campers, travel trailers, and good old fashion camping. Depending on where you live, there may be services that allow you to rent these out on a weekly basis.

These in my opinion give you the most flexibility for traveling during the pandemic while giving you the most control over your environment. To me, one of the main perks is that while driving to perhaps a nice scenic destination where you’ll park for a while, you don’t have to stop at various gas stations and food places to use the bathroom eliminating that exposure potential altogether.

A less glamorous option for avoiding public bathrooms on your travels is a nice little combo of a travel toilet + a privacy tent if the old fashioned pee on the side of the road hiding behind your car door is a little too out in the open for you.

Camping will be the most stripped down version of safe travel, but also can be done almost anywhere. You don’t typically have to travel very far to go camping. And depending on your personality and general ability to tolerate weather conditions, some folks even camp in the winter. shudders.

Although I find camping to be the least comfortable way to travel and nearly impossible to accommodate my chronic conditions, things like air mattresses, foam mattress toppers, or a fold up cot can at least get you off the ground while sleeping.

Air mattresses can be inflated more easily if you stay at a campground with electricity, but options like car battery chargers, battery operated chargers, and even small air compressors can help you inflate your mattress.

Conclusions on Traveling During the Pandemic

I’ve been really fortunate to be able to take advantage of mask mandates while they were still in effect, but as they slowly went away I also found ways to travel more locally and simply have a change of scenery that is desperately needed after years of being trapped in the same house.

An in focus beige coffee mug sitting on a black patio table with the sun shining and the lake shimmering in the distance.

My last trip I took was to the lake.

What I really wanted to take advantage of was being on the water and taking some time to unplug. I took a good book with me to read, some tall boots to wear while walking through the grass down to the lake (because y’all know I am absolutely terrified of grass out here in Lyme country), and a swimsuit so I could lay out on the dock and soak up the sun.

I did choose a place with kayaks, though it was too windy for me to even attempt taking them out, and I learned after I checked in that I could also have a boat delivered to my dock if I felt so inclined. Being alone, I didn’t think that was the safest choice.

I spent my days cooking up some yummy meals, reading outside, spending extra long during the mornings sipping my coffee outside, and taking in the beautiful sunsets.

It was a quiet trip only an hour from where I live, but it would definitely be something I do again to switch things up.

Maybe next time I’ll look into a farm stay where I can interact with some farm animals. Or look into something even further up north where I could go hiking to explore the ice caves and maybe catch a glimpse of aura borealis. Or even better, maybe something with a hot tub for mid winter so I can hate the cold a little less.

At the end of the day, you don’t even have to go all that far. For some of us, the process of actually getting to the destination makes travel uncomfortable, but maybe you’d be surprised what kind of places are nearby.

I am of course incredibly lucky that I can afford to travel and purchase supplies that make precautions more accessible. I am also very lucky that the friends I did see were all very respectful of the precautions I was taking and I didn’t have to deal with any controversy or arguments in asking them to also follow said guidelines. I’m grateful for my people.

This piece was developed on request from a few people who wanted to know what precautions I’ve taken and to see if any of what I’ve done may be an accessible way for them to do something safely, I hope it’s offered some insight for you and maybe given you some ideas for getting out of the house.

There’s a lot of tips out there on highly specific precautions that I didn’t touch on in this post. Advice on when to test before travel. Advice on staying up to date on booster shots. If those are things you want guidance on, or you’ll be traveling with folks outside of your home I’d definitely seek them out, but I don’t personally have advice or knowledge on best practices.


This piece is not scientific in nature and many of the precautions I’ve mentioned are based on my own personal risk assessment. For information on covid transmission some resources are linked below:

Rate of transmission for variable masks updated for omicron:

A study on HEPA filters and benefits of cleaning indoor air. Wiley Indoor Library

Cleaning agents for Monkeypox. EPA Interactive Disinfectant Tool

My tool for evaluating risk, please note it hasn’t been updated since Jan 4 2022: microCOVID Project

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