As the pandemic has ebbed and flowed and ebbed and flowed some more, we’ve all had to gauge our comfort level with regard to travel. For some, staying put has felt like the safest course, fears of infection or passing the virus on to others overriding an otherwise irrepressible wanderlust. For others, it’s been, “Pandemic? What pandemic?”, the lure of cheap flights and empty city centers—where once there had been wallet-busting, shoulder-to-shoulder tourism—just too tempting to pass up. Initially of the former persuasion, over time I’ve shifted to a position somewhere in the middle.
Like practically everyone I know, I cancelled trips, both domestic and international, when the viral menace was new and terrifyingly unknown. Like some, after attending to the news, combing through articles, and studying the reported facts, I eventually concluded that certain forms of travel—first road-tripping and then, once vaccinated, domestic air travel—could be undertaken relatively safely as long as we were vigilant with masking and distancing.
International travel, however, has remained well outside my comfort zone. As Europe opened up to vaccinated Americans, I beat my breast and gritted my teeth, simultaneously green with jealousy and a little bit judgmental of anyone willing to take the risk of traveling abroad, grudgingly unwilling to do so myself. It wasn’t so much the long flights or the in-country travel that concerned me. Not really. My biggest worry has always been the CDC’s requirement of a negative COVID test to board a return flight home.
With bills and a mortgage to pay, students to teach, a bunny that needs weekly haircuts, and various other commitments that are at odds with overlong absences, I felt uncomfortable with even the remotest chance of getting stuck in another country. News articles of people going through this very predicament only served to intensify my fears. Then came the stories of people continuing to test positive long after their symptoms cleared.
My daughter is a nurse who was hospitalized with COVID-19 but has fully recovered. She’s been tested several times since getting out of the hospital, but she is still testing positive after being symptom free for more than two weeks.https://medical.mit.edu/
Not wanting to be the next cautionary human interest story on our local news, I set my travel sights on the vast American landscape and informed the husband that foreign travel would have to wait.
That was fine for a while, until tragedy struck.
A year into the pandemic, a beloved family member in England passed away tragically, unexpectedly, and way too young. This brought about our first (and hopefully last) Zoom funeral and left us with a deep yearning to get back to grieve with loved ones. Completely prohibited from going to the UK at the time this was all happening, we reluctantly concluded that summer might be our best chance. So we waited . . .
We crossed our fingers, monitored the news, and typed “US UK travel corridor” into our computer’s search engine a half dozen times a day. June’s G7 summit was widely reported to be the catalyst for some sort of travel relief, but the good news never came. Eventually, England put in place a traffic light system, which enabled us to go there, but the US never relaxed its rules about the negative COVID test needed for reentry.
Contrary to the popular adage, time has not healed the wound of our loss. Rather, it’s magnified our urgency to reunite with family. So when summer came and went without any joy, we looked at our school calendars and simultaneously concluded, “Screw it. We’re going at Christmas.”
But what of that sticking point—the worrisome return requirement, you may be wondering. So glad you asked. What’s made me agree to international travel just as COVID is peaking (yet again) here and in the UK is a little something known as evacuation insurance.
For the cost of an additional plane ticket (gulp), Covac Global®—the poster child for the phrase “necessity is the mother of invention”— will air lift you back home from pretty much any country in the world if you get COVID abroad. (For my money, I’ll expect a dramatic rescue à la the Ride of the Valkyries in Apocalypse Now, though I could do without Colonel Kilgore and the bombing raid.)
As reassuring as that is, the exorbitant cost makes it a hard pill to swallow. And that’s not the only cost. Consider these other protective measures we are having to take:
- Beefed up, COVID-friendly, rated-highly-by-Forbes®, cancel-for-any-rea$on travel insurance: $700 (ouch)
- PCR tests before boarding the flight to England: $400 (for freakin’ real?)
- PCR tests on our second day in England: $200 (eek)
- PCR tests to return to America: $400 (sigh)
Together with the $1300 evacuation insurance (groan), that’s $3000 extra dollars just because of the damn virus.
And if that doesn’t churn your stomach, here are all the things that could quite easily upend this trip:
- England putting the US on their red list or enacting new measures that prevent our arrival
- Testing positive before leaving the US
- Testing positive on day 2 in England
- Mu or some other variant exploding into a Category 5 surge that is so contagious, deadly, or vaccine-evading that we don’t feel comfortable traveling
- Other deterrents or circumstances that I haven’t even thought of yet
The travel requirements are ever-evolving, so our bywords are going to have to be “vigilance” and “flexibility,” while hoping any changes are in our favor.
So yeah, not the most fun I’ve had travel planning. And if prepping for our prepandemic Christmastime trip to Southeast Asia was stressful, this is travel anxiety on a whole ‘nother level.
So how do I cope with the costs and the rules and the uncertainty? I try not to think about it, actually. What I do think about is reuniting with family and how when we go back, there will be a lot of tears, but also hugs, and hopefully a lot of laughter, too.
“There is only one thing more precious than our time and that’s who we spend it on.” Leo Christopher
“Family is the life jacket in the stormy sea of life.” J.K. Rowling
“What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” Mother Teresa
And a few more because they’re funny and oh so true:
“Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.” George Burns
“A dysfunctional family is any family with more than one person in it.” Mary Karr
“Families are like fudge—mostly sweet with a few nuts.” Lee Dawson