After not boarding a plane for nearly two years, I’ve visited five countries in the past six weeks and bopped around the U.S. quite a bit.
What I’ve seen and learned can be summed up easily: Travel now takes forethought, planning, an eye to detail, organization, flexibility and patience.
Is it worth it? Absolutely. It’s been soul-healing to be back out experiencing the world.
If you’re looking forward to or planning a trip, here are some basic tips to help you make the new world of travel a bit less challenging.
Be it on a plane, train or in a car, for now, you need not provide proof of vaccination or a recent COVID test to travel within the United States.
But that does not mean you should not be ready.
First off, airports are back to being busy, and travelers — from what I can see (and to be honest I felt this a bit myself at first) — are a bit out of practice. If you were not an airport time padder before, be one now. Better to get through security and relax with a coffee or cocktail than to find a slower process than you planned for.
Another important step within the U.S. is to call ahead to your destination, as well as look on line, for what kind of rules they have there.
I’d also suggest packing masks in jacket pockets, purses or whatever you may carry around while on vacation. You might get a surprise — like the time my daughter and I drove for hours to shop without bringing masks only to find they were required, and none were for sale in that area. Don’t be us. Be prepared.
I flew to Quebec recently and crossing that border seems to have a few more steps — and a focus on keeping things tamped down — than some other nations.
Canada requires (other than a few rare instances) that visitors from the United States have had at least two vaccine shots (one in the case of Johnson and Johnson).
Even if you’ve had COVID, two doses are required, and you will be asked — sometimes multiple times — to show proof.
Canada does make it easier with their ArriveCAN app, downloaded onto your phone and available for you to show when needed.
There, you’ll share pictures of both sides of your vaccine card, proof of a negative COVID test (more on that in a moment) and a quarantine plan should you end up needing to quarantine from any exposure.
Testing prior to arrival is required, and unlike other countries that accept antigen tests, Canada requires it be a PCR test. While some states have a high availability of PCR tests that turn around in a few hours — making it all a bit less stressful since your test must be no more than 72 hours old — some states, such as Massachusetts, struggle with that.
I was unable to find any spot within an hour’s drive of my South Shore home that did them. I opted for a test that told me they “should” have results within one to three days. Had it not come within three days? Yikes. It was stressful, but I’m happy to report my test from Quest Diagnostics came back in a day and a half.
Note here: Yes, you can get this testing done quickly at Logan Airport in Boston, but in my week of travel, I went online and found the soonest I could book a test there for my flight day was two hours after my plane was to take off. So if you want an airport back up, book that early as well.
Another heads up for Canada: They randomly choose visitors upon arrival for another COVID test (if your results come back positive they follow up to be sure you are quarantining; the test takes just a few minutes in the airport and they text you results), and also quizzes. I was required to explain what I would do if I had to quarantine. So be ready for possible extra steps.
Once in Canada, there were strict rules — check your destination for details. I had to wear a mask at all times indoors other than when actively eating or drinking — and any time I forgot I was called out immediately. In addition, many restaurants required I show proof of vaccination to enter. So have your card at the ready at all times.
Heading home was easier. The Club Med Quebec Charlevoix offered on site and quick testing for my return flight. I did need to again upload proof of vaccination and a negative COVID test to come back to the U.S.
The key here is doing your homework because, it seems, every nation has its own way of doing things.
Most countries allow antigen tests, which are quicker than PCR (but simple at-home tests are in almost every case not accepted), and most nations have some kind of pre-arrival forms to fill out.
In each case — I’ve been to Iceland, St. Bart’s and St. Maarten so far — I found testing for return to the U.S. easier than the testing in the U.S. to get there.
Each country had its own masking rules. Best bet: Check ahead, and just get in the habit of carrying both your vax card and a mask with you at all time.
Have some kind of folder or carrier that holds your passport, vax card and any other paperwork, and keep it with you at all times.
Be tech savvy. You’re going to need to show scanning codes on a cell phone, and use apps.
Print backups of all your paperwork, including scans you are given for entry to countries. I do two things: print them all out and carry them, and take pictures of them to be stored in my phone.