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TRAVEL DURING COVID: WHAT CAN I EXPECT?



Before boarding the plane to Macedonia this June, I had put off traveling for a long time. I was worried that traveling internationally during this pandemic would be such a hassle. During the latter months of 2020 and early months of 2021, I would begin planning a trip only to get frustrated by roadblocks in the form of closures, curfews, and mandatory quarantines. When I finally arrived in Skopje in early June, I was pleasantly surprised. Everything was easy. Customs agents briefly looked at my test results or vaccine card, stamped my passport, and sent me on my way.


As I crossed the borders of Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, and Bosnia, there also weren’t any major inconveniences. Those with negative COVID test results or vaccine cards had no problem entering and the process didn’t take much longer. COVID test sites in these countries were streamlined, and it was a breeze navigating the process before boarding the plane back to the U.S.


If you’ve been worried about how you’ll get yourself in and out of the U.S. to see the world, you can have a bit more peace of mind. Here’s what you can expect so you can worry less and enjoy getting out there again:


MANY COUNTRIES ARE WELCOMING TOURISTS


I’ve been to Mexico, Germany, and Turkey before, and when I went back recently during the pandemic, these countries were allowing travelers to move through their borders with relative ease. While these three may not be on your next must-see list, what is encouraging is that there are a few countries you can visit that have no restrictions at all. Others require a negative COVID test while some simply accept a vaccine card. Depending on the country’s COVID status, you can discover new places to visit or reunite with old favorites.

STAY UP TO DATE ON INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS WITH ONLINE TOOLS

Official country websites and top travel websites are providing the most current information so that travelers can maximize their planning. The most reliable information can be found on country embassy sites for entry and exit requirements. While you can find some information in the recent news, most embassy websites are updated every few days or every few weeks, depending upon developments.


When I wanted to find out if Albania was open for U.S. tourists, I used Google. The embassy website appeared first in my search. It had the most up-to-date information and specific guidelines for U.S. citizens traveling to Albania (check out https://al.usembassy.gov/updates_covid19 as an example of what to look for).


Not a U.S. citizen? No problem. You can just modify your Google search to indicate your country of origin.


While it’s not updated as often as embassy websites, kayak.com has a helpful color-coded map: https://www.kayak.com/travel-restrictions.


A few countries remain completely closed to tourism, but that number decreases every day. There are also a few countries that require a 14-day quarantine. These situations are based on your country of origin and what the number of new COVID cases is like. Keep track of country websites to see if restrictions have eased.


GOT VAXXED? HAVE PROOF


Whether you got Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson (AKA Janssen), or AstraZeneca, many countries accept all four. But, it’s still a good idea to verify before you go.


You must bring your original vaccine card. Photos or photocopies are NOT accepted. Some people opt to laminate the vaccine card so it doesn’t wear out as quickly during travel. Keep in mind that laminating the card can be an issue if a booster shot is needed at a later date. A new card can usually be issued in those cases, but if you want to avoid laminating it, you can put the card in a plastic sleeve to protect it. Additionally, some vaccine centers send an email with an electronic copy or through a phone app. Many countries are okay with those as well.


RE-ENTERING THE U.S. AFTER TRAVEL: COVID TEST OPTIONS


Two of the most available COVID tests are the PCR test and the Rapid Antigen Test.


Between the two, the PCR test is typically more uncomfortable. It has the reputation of going so deep in your sinuses that it tickles your brain. I haven’t taken this test myself as the stories I heard from friends steered me to the Rapid Antigen Test. The PCR test typically costs $50-$75 outside of the U.S.


The Rapid Antigen Test is really easy and results come through in about 20-30 minutes. Taking this test is cheaper in countries outside the U.S. and is readily available at most foreign airports and even at some hotels. The Rapid Antigen Test generally costs $20-$30 outside of the U.S.


If you plan to get tested in the U.S. before your trip, you can expect the Rapid Antigen Test to be much more expensive than the PCR test. Many U.S. airports have test sites, so look up the official airport website to factor the test into your scheduling.


Whether or not you’re vaccinated, U.S. citizens must get a COVID test before boarding a plane home. Here’s the exact language from the U.S. Embassy:


*** Effective January 26, all airline passengers to the United States ages two years and older must provide a negative COVID-19 viral test taken within three calendar days of travel.


Consider factoring the COVID test result into your travel planning. Since most countries allow a test that is up to 48-72 hours old, it may be more convenient to take the test the day or two before you depart in case the test comes up positive. This will give you time to rebook your trip the day before rather than taking the COVID test at the last minute at the airport. You’ll avoid incurring travel time and expense to get to the airport and then having to incur an additional expense to return home in the event of a positive test result.


Traveling during COVID may involve a little more planning than you’re used to. But, having an idea of what’s ahead of you will get you back to your love of traveling the world. Despite the added steps, anticipating the changes that have come because of the pandemic can make planning your next adventure a bit easier.


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