Making up for the travel drought of 2020, a four month summer escape in the midst of pandemic pandemonium was just what the doctor ordered. Flying in the face of highly touted CDC warnings and after 12 flight segments, 6 cruises, 7 hotels, 15 different beds and 15 negative COVID tests, I’m surprisingly upbeat about the future of travel.
The ballyhooed new normal is far from anything resembling normalcy and if there is one thing consistent about new travel protocols, it’s that there is no consistency. Evolving regulations change in the blink of an eye and require diligent research for compliance. It’s as if the COVID gods are playing games with our intrepid travel dreams.
Playing By The Rules
Secluded away at home during the bummer of the summer in 2020, patience paid off in the fall when Mexico announced it sorely missed us and opened the gates to travel with a rather simple procedure. Produce a negative COVID test, hop on a reduced capacity plane and adios! Celebrate your good fortune south of the border in flip flops, a margarita in hand relaxing on a sunny beach. Hotels were half empty facilitating social distancing and locals and guests were responsibly wearing masks. To enter a hotel, shops and restaurants required temperature checks with many places seemingly obsessed with potential foot transmission of the virus. Stepping on a mat of disinfectant was strangely commonplace to enter buildings. Getting back home to the US was straightforward with no restrictions.
Fast forward to 2021 and jumping through bureaucratic hoops became a small price to pay for travel freedom. Jetting home in January from Cabo San Lucas required a negative test result provided compliments of the hotel. With vaccinations now available and the FOMO, several destinations declared they too were open for business, albeit with a hodgepodge of regulations.
Wading into the COVID tinged waters of the Caribbean, three trips to the US Virgin Islands required negative test results and filling out a health declaration form that would prompt a semi automated online ‘permission to enter’ response. On arrival, documents were checked and visitors were subjected to temperature checks at the airport. Returning back to the US required no further testing or restrictions. On the other hand, travel to St. Maarten required a negative test to enter, forms to fill in and a negative test to re-enter the US. Unlike Mexico, the cost of the test from the hotel was $65 per person but was reimbursed as a credit for hotel purchases. A rather clever way to generate spending onsite!
Mo’ Rules, Mo’ Rules & No Rules
By the summer of 2021, Europe, the land of travel dreams, had entered the fray and despite the fluctuating infection rates, the EU devised divergent travel protocols that seem to be effective. Our summer travel tour begins in June with a flight to Athens. Greece rolled out the welcome mat provided you could produce a negative test result and fill out a PLF (Personal Locator Form) prior to arrival. Once approved an online QR code was generated that permitted entry. Other than normal immigration procedures a quick glance at the code and our vaccination card and we were in. Four days in a hotel offered an opportunity to chance to explore Athens minus the normal tourist crowds.
Boarding the Celebrity Apex in Athens required a negative test conducted in the embarkation hall. A quick nasal swab, waiting for 20 minutes in a comfortable lounge for clearance and we were onboard the 3000+ passenger vessel, but sailing with only 330 guests. Enjoying the sweet life onboard unmasked, guests are free to venture ashore independently but to disembark after the cruise another test is conducted onboard at no cost.
Rinse And Repeat
From here it becomes standard procedure for a summer of cruises and destinations. Croatia, Italy, Malta, Hungary and Iceland each require the negative test result and filling out the PLF with well organized entry procedures, albeit slow at times.
Flying back to Mallorca from the US through Barcelona in early September was similar to the first flight back in June, however this time we took advantage of a program called Verifly which is available on select American Airlines flights. By filing in advance what is essentially an application to fly, travelers have access to a priority check in line, avoiding the otherwise long and slow moving queues.
RELATED: Steve Leland’s 2020 Travel Recap
In an instance that lacks understanding, to enter the UK we were required to have a negative test result and obligated to purchase a COVID test kit ($80 per person) prior to entry. To enter the country you had to show proof of this purchase. Two days after entering you were required to swab your nose yourself, put the swab in a box and mail it to a lab. As we only stayed three days our result came back two days after we had left for Spain. Had we stayed over eight days we would have been required to do another test. This procedure has since been eliminated. Good call!
All in all, the EU seems to have an advanced system verifying vaccinations. They issue a formal Green Passport to their citizens with an official QR code that is easily verified for those vaccinated. In spite of the debate over vaccination passports, US citizens are required to carry around a dog eared CDC index card with scribbled signatures. Possibly better than nothing but seems primitive compared to an online hi-tech alternative.
Time will tell how travel restrictions and regulations develop. For now the good news is that we can travel, provided we are willing to take a few minor steps to comply with international regulations. If you prefer to object to vaccinations enjoy your time at home. For me the advantage of resuming travel far outweighs any political or moral statement.