International travel is never easy. But in the time of covid, it’s become a lot more difficult. Our upcoming trip in a few days to Portugal and Spain highlights all these new challenges. No wonder we’ve faced greater anxiety and stress planning this trip than any other we remember.
Foremost is the uncertainty associated with almost every aspect of travel now – uncertainty directly linked to the state of the pandemic at any and all destinations. International roller-coaster Covid surges have created chaos in the travel industry as nations struggle with this unprecedented public health crisis. As a result, travelers confront ever-changing directives, discovering, sometimes painfully, that what is true today may not be true tomorrow.
It’s white knuckle time for us. Covid infections are skyrocketing across America. Just this morning, Germany added the US on its bad-boy list, requiring Americans who visit to be either vaccinated or quarantined. While this is manageable for vaccinated Americans, it does add another layer of uncertainty. What kind of proof does a country need? Will the cards we got when vaccinated suffice? Do we need a QR code from our state or healthcare provider? Is that readable abroad?
Right now, it seems most countries are accepting those CDC Covid-19 Vaccine Record Cards. But some nations are skeptical, and rightfully so, about the ease of counterfeiting these documents. So often there’s the additional requirement for a negative Covid test within a couple of days of departure. Whether you’re vaccinated or not.
You would think the American hospitality industry, in tandem with national leaders, would be forging standards and procedures to make travel during covid safe and easy. Instead, months into the pandemic, with no end in sight, it’s still the wild west out there without any kind of international standards. This is a needless failure of American leadership.
Our solution is to have as many ways as possible to prove we are vaccinated, including carrying our little white cards and a hard copy of the vaccine report from UCSD. We have the QR codes from UCSD and the State of California on our phones too. Backup is a must if only for our own peace of mind.
This brings up another pandemic-produced obstacle. Many countries, including Portugal and Spain, require proof of a recent negative covid test to enter. Again, this should be a straightforward, standardized, and inexpensive procedure. Not. Countries have different requirements for testing, including which type and even brand of test. On top of that, they have time-related requirements which can be difficult, if not impossible, to meet.
For our flight from Newark to Lisbon, we have to abide by Portugal’s testing requirements. “Every passenger must submit a negative SARSCoV-2 lab result of a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT), for example, a PCR test, performed in the last 72 hours or a rapid antigen test (TRAg), performed within 48 hours of boarding.” Huh? Fortunately, we’re flying United and the airline directed us to its Travel Center, where details were spelled out for each leg of our trip.
We needed a test no earlier than Sunday morning, and need the results in hand before boarding our flight Tuesday to Newark and on to Lisbon. Could we get a test on Sunday? Would we have the result back in time? How much would this cost?
We Googled covid testing in San Diego. We were treated to ad after ad for covid testing. We saw costs ranging from under $100 to several hundreds of dollars. Many promised results in 24-48 hours…a big window when you have a plane to catch. Many were closed on weekends, forcing us to opt for a test on Monday. For a flight on Tuesday. (Can you feel our blood pressure rising?)
We decided the safest test for us was the PCR test because it was more accurate and Portugal accepts any PCR-certified test result. And after a lot of research, we made an appointment with US Specialty Labs, a San Diego company with an excellent reputation and fast turnaround in their own lab. We purchased a special international travelers package for $125 that includes a laboratory accreditation certificate and an official lab report. A less expensive antigen test there wasn’t an option because the lab’s test vendor isn’t on the EU’s authorized list. Plus, right now, why risk the entire trip to save a couple of bucks.
So Monday is going to be an E-ticket ride. We arrive at the lab at 7:30 a.m. for the test. We should have results around noon. Our certificates should be ready for pickup by 2 p.m. We’ll get them on the way to San Diego Airport Sheraton, where we will enjoy a nice dinner and spend the night. At 5 a.m. Tuesday we’ll hop on the shuttle for the airport to catch our 7:15 a.m. flight to Newark.
That’s the plan. What possibly could go wrong?