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Covid Journal: Traveling during Covid (yes, you can)

By Nicolaus Schmandt

COVID has decimated the travel industry unlike any other event in memory. While tragic, it can also be a huge opportunity for those who are still willing to travel, as destinations that are open are offering once-in-a-lifetime deals to lure people out of the lockdowns and get revenue coming in again. The many people in the travel industry would love for you to take advantage of them, too. And though nothing is stopping you from traveling, you do have to pay close attention to any special rules and testing requirements, and not everywhere is open.

The rules and restrictions you face will depend on where you are going (and of course, don’t forget to check for any rules and requirements to get back home). Not surprisingly, red states tend to have fewer restrictions than blue states. My own trips to Florida and Texas had no problems whatsoever. Wear a mask, and you’re good. When I came home to Boston, though, I faced a mandatory quarantine as a result of traveling out of the state. I think New York is similar. 

For other destinations, it can get tricky. I took advantage of incredibly cheap airfare to go to Hawaii over the Christmas break, and they required a negative COVID test to enter the state. And not just any negative COVID test, only one from specific, approved vendors. It’s not too selective, CVS and Walgreens are both on the list, but the NYU test won’t cut it, nor will most hospitals’ or employer-sponsored tests. I had to pay extra for a special test that was mail-ordered, and then conducted on Zoom. But once we had the proper paperwork, my friends and I were able to get into Hawaii without incident, at least initially.

However, Hawaii had additional restrictions for each island that were much less clearly advertised. I had noticed an earlier quarantine order on the island of Kauai (a 10-day quarantine regardless of test status or any other factors, effectively closing the island to tourists) and had to adjust the trip so that we went back to the big island instead of Kauai, after a few days in Oahu. Rebooking was easy and I got full refunds on everything I had arranged in Kauai without any problems. 

Unfortunately, I was caught flat-footed about another restriction for reentry to the big island: we needed another negative test to get back in. To my defense, Oahu did not have this requirement; no one checked or warned me before boarding the plane to the big island, and the requirement was not on the state of Hawaii website that normally listed other travel restrictions. It was kind of scary to be held up at the airport and not know what might happen (especially since I had organized everything), but ultimately our Airbnb host agreed to “allow us to quarantine at the location” and they let us through under the premise we would be heading to a quarantine location. A few days later, we got negative test results and were legally free to explore the island again. 

Despite all the COVID issues, it was really an incredible trip. The beaches on Oahu, normally some of the most popular destinations in America, were nearly empty, except for a few locals playing in the waves. All our food was takeout, but was still great even without the restaurant atmosphere. Everything you could want to do on the big island was open and with minimal traffic, including plenty of hiking paths around the island. The black sand beaches, full of sunbathing turtles, were nearly empty. And the Kilauea volcano began erupting again while we were there, which was probably the only time we had to deal with crowds as a bunch of locals also came out to see the glow of the lava again for the first time in about two years. The rest of the volcano park is also open, with lots of options for hiking in old volcanoes and camping on the barren landscape that was recently flowing lava. Everything felt relatively normal. It was a wonderful way to experience Hawaii.

Getting back to cold and locked-down Boston was not easy though, and before long I decided to try and make another escape, hoping to be able to work somewhere warmer for a while. I originally wanted to go to the island of Martinique, but it’s not currently accepting flights from the United States. Nearby, though, was the island of St. Lucia, somewhere I had never been before. On Eastern time, this seemed like a more interesting destination than a Miami condo, so I decided to try working from a resort there for a few weeks. An expensive zoom background, essentially.

To get into St.Lucia, you just need a negative COVID test, and the NYU test was sufficient. For a moment I wasn’t going to be allowed to board because I only had a copy of my negative COVID test on my phone (not printed), but somehow they saw the light and let me through. St. Lucia also had the additional restriction that I could only be in a “COVID bubble,” which meant staying within certain resorts, and I couldn’t leave to do anything else on the island. This was fine for me, since I was planning on mostly working anyway.

The resort was beautiful, nestled in a cove with restaurants and nice beaches. It was also very empty: there were only a few tourists, which left the place well below capacity. They upgraded my room for free, the restaurants never had any wait, and I had the beaches to myself many times. As much as I enjoyed the perks, they were a reminder of how hard these times were on the locals working there, all of them were working greatly reduced hours and dealing with much lower income. As far as I know, they didn’t get the stimulus checks and unemployment that many Americans did, and there was a real sense of suffering there that I did not feel in Hawaii. I wish I could have done more, but taking advantage of the deals they are offering is the best anyone can do to help. If you are reading this, resorts on St. Lucia are open and safe and they would love to have you. There probably aren’t going to be many times in your life when you can truly help someone in need by taking a discounted vacation for yourself.

The only issue this time came from my company, which, as it turns out, did not allow employees to work from abroad during COVID. None of the people I spoke with about my trip knew this, apparently, except for someone in HR who watches IP addresses and noticed when I didn’t connect from a US-based IP address. I ended up having to take PTO, which left me with plenty of time to avoid failing accounting and writing articles for The Oppy. It would have been truly perfect if I could have continued working. If you are planning on trying this, though, you might want to check with your company about any restrictions against working internationally, or get a portable VPN router.

Overall, traveling during COVID is stressful and you will have to jump through a few additional hurdles to do it, but there are some amazing travel opportunities that probably won’t happen again for a long time. And, you’d be helping out economies and people that are really struggling. Do your homework beforehand, be safe and follow the rules, but it is well worth it.

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