“There’s no place like home.” That’s an old cliché but one full of wisdom that only a miserable travel experience can make abundantly clear.
My wife and I like to travel. We especially enjoy Viking river and ocean cruises and have sailed with them to many parts of Europe and even Australia – New Zealand. But the Covid pandemic has changed international travel in many ways, possibly forever. The problem is not so much the disease, but the government-imposed travel restrictions that now accompany anyone traveling outside these United States.
Just getting on an airplane bound for a foreign country presents a whole new array of required testing and documentation. First, there’s the need for a negative Covid test before you travel – a PCR test within 72 hours of departure or a rapid antigen test within 24 hours.
You’ll need an appointment to get tested and you’ve got to be sure the test is done within the proper time frame. And it can’t be too late or you won’t have the test results to produce at the airport. There are many ways this process can get complicated, and I won’t bore you with the details, but I had to go to the pharmacy four times in 24 hours to actually get the results on time to travel.
Second, you’ve also got to upload all your Covid testing information, including your vaccination documents, to a travel app along with your passport information. This can be a challenge if you’re not comfortable with a computer. Then there’s probably going to be a “locator form” required by the country you’re traveling to so they can track you if you’re exposed to Covid. You’ll probably be directed to the country’s website, which may be in a foreign language. Your computer may have a translating feature to get you through this step.
Once you’ve got all these documents completed, you’re ready to travel. My wife and I recently traveled to Portugal to join a Viking river cruise. We spent two days in Lisbon enjoying this beautiful city, then traveled to Porto where we boarded our ship for a cruise on the Douro River. Viking requires proof of vaccination and a negative Covid test before you even join the trip; then they continue to test you daily for Covid with a PCR saliva test. Everything was going fine for the first six days of the trip. We traveled up the river observing more vineyards than you can imagine on slopes of mountains that looked too steep for a goat, let alone a vine grower.
Then my wife began to feel ill. She developed a cough and severe fatigue. She continued to test negative for Covid for two more days – and then she turned positive. At that point our world was turned upside down. We were quarantined in our cabin for the next two days until the ship returned to Porto. My wife’s condition got worse and I had to take her to the hospital at 1:00 AM. That turned out to be a good decision since she had developed pneumonia, but antibiotics, steroids, and fluids quickly turned her condition around. After five hours we were able to return to the ship. Later that day we were taken off the ship and sent to a local hotel. There we were quarantined in our room for the next seven days.
Let me take this opportunity to say Viking did a splendid job of taking care of us. They got an ambulance quickly in the middle of the night when my wife’s condition deteriorated and helped us get her into the ambulance. When it was time to move us to a hotel, they made all the arrangements, paid for the taxicab to get us to the hotel, and gave us the name and number of a local contact for any issues that came up. That person called us every day and made the arrangements for our Covid testing and rearranged flight schedule when it was time to go home. Viking did a great job of making a terrible situation tolerable.
Which brings me to my advice about international travel in the era of Covid. Don’t go unless you have Viking, or some other reliable travel service, to lean on when things get difficult. Unless you’re married to a travel agent, like my brother, you need a professional travel company to be there when you need help. Don’t try managing on your own. In fact, maybe it’s a good time to explore all that our own country has to offer. Have you been to any of our national parks lately?