Updated on January 20th, 2023
To state the obvious, the world of travel has changed. It is now even more of a privilege than ever. Navigating the new world of travel is an exercise in research, flexibility and overcoming obstacles. I have now been on several overseas trips, some seamless, others fraught with early returns, changes in policies and of course, last-minute cancellations. As a result, I have created this post to share the lessons I have learned along the way in a hope that your next journey is a little smoother.”
The USA, Antigua (or not!), Iceland, Barbados & UK
Travel has changed. Leaving home for warmer climes & adventures is now fraught with so many extra obstacles, it’s easier to just stay at home, right?
And yes, it is! I have explored some gorgeous parts of the UK over the last two years that I may never have discovered otherwise. However, I am a traveller. It’s in my blood. Therefore, if I can’t offer some advice for anyone who is trying to navigate the system & decide whether to travel or not, then why am I writing a travel blog?
MAJOR DISCLAIMER! This is not official advice. I am in no way saying that you should use this as a resource before you travel. Please contact your local government website & the website of your desired destination. Expect things to change just before you go, or while you are away. There is also a great article HERE from Lonely Planet which I think is essential reading for anyone considering travelling (especially from the US).
When the pandemic hit, I was in the USA & had to cut my trip short. I raced from Memphis to New Orleans to find an empty French Quarter on St Patricks Day.”
I had to cancel my Christmas plans to Antigua in 2020 (while I was packing) as the rules changed at home. Successfully, I went to Iceland for my first overseas trip & was overwhelmed by the emotion of regaining my freedom but overcame a lot of anxiety to get there. I organised a short notice trip to Barbados & while I was there, Omicron appeared & all the rules changed for getting back home. So, I have a few stories to share & a few lessons that I have learned along the way.
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Tests, Jabs & Quarantine – Navigating the New World of Travel
Back in March 2020, the world was relatively normal. We had heard of this virus, but it seemed to be a long way away. I had a music road trip around the Americana Music Triangle with a friend planned, which had been on my Bucket List for a while. My friend was already there for work, & I was due to fly to meet her in Nashville. The morning I was leaving, the President announced that all tourists were no longer welcome on American soil. The exception was the UK (so I was OK) & Ireland (where my friend lives). This was ominous. If I had been travelling alone, I would probably have cancelled. But I was meeting my friend. I knew she was excited & didn’t want to let her down. So, I went.
However, things got worse; they banned our countries just days after we arrived. I had booked the journey through an agent.
Thankfully, when the news was filled with pandemic drama & stories of impossible waits for airline changes, I got a call from them to ask if I wanted to change my flight. I of course said a resounding “YES PLEASE!”
Lesson 1 – Booking through an agent helps when things go wrong
We fast-forwarded our trip & you can read all about it in my blog post. I was one of the last Brits out of the US before things got much worse. I had to pay more for my flight ticket home, they were no longer flying out of New Orleans so I had to go via Dallas. It took me much longer but at least I made it back in one piece.
Lesson 2 – Prepare for things to change & it to cost you more.
Antigua (December 2020)
I struggled through the first 6 months of a pandemic, & we went into a second lockdown. I was living alone in a flat in the UK & I was starting to feel like I was losing myself. My family were (& still are) inaccessible to me in Australia. Up until that point we had spent every Christmas together. There was a frenzy at home about everyone being separated from their family for the festive season. I felt very alone so I decided to take control & booked a flight to Antigua.
I thought I was ready for anything. My negative test was in my sweaty palm & I had been isolated since I got it. If they wanted to test me when I arrived, I was prepared. I understood that they may want to quarantine me when I did. If this meant isolating myself at the apartment, I was also comfortable. And, ready if they said I had to go into a government hotel & pay for it myself.
I had considered every option & understood that if I wanted the privilege of travelling, then I also had to accept the consequences.”
Lesson 3 – Be prepared for everything & anything.
I was packing & getting excited while I listened to the radio. They announced that the Prime Minister was about to make a statement. I tuned in to the TV to hear, to my distress, that the area I live in was moving into Tier 4, the highest designated level of risk. Nobody who lived in the area was allowed to travel, inside or outside the UK.
Christmas was cancelled. I was devastated.
Lesson 4 – There will always be circumstances you have no control over
Having learned Lesson 1, I contacted my agent the next day to find out what my options were. Basically, there were none. I had to stay home. I considered going anyway, only to be told that my travel insurance would be void.
Iceland (August 2021)
Already rearranged & postponed twice, I have written a lot about this trip. You will not be surprised to hear that I did finally make it out of the country & to Iceland! In doing so, I learned a lot! The first takes me back to Lesson 1 again. Although my flights were arranged using vouchers & the rest of my trip was organised independently, I was there initially to attend a yoga retreat. This meant that I had someone on hand to talk me through all the requirements, hoops & challenges of negotiating my way there.
I have to say that if you want your freedom nowadays, having your vaccinations is the best & easiest way to do it. Through all the travels I have done, in over 30 years of exploring, I have happily taken every vaccine required to make my adventures possible. Occasionally, some are deemed ineffective but if my destination requires it, I will take it. No question. I recognise it is a personal choice, however, I believe that vaccination is not just about protecting yourself, but also those around you. This includes the heroes who work in the health service. If you are not vaccinated, then you are adding extra strain where it is not needed.
Lesson 6 – Get vaccinated
For Iceland, I also needed a PCR test & in the UK we have a list of government-approved providers. For the test, I needed to perform it in front of a healthcare professional. However, I was told that it could be taken on Zoom. It was much easier than I thought (& not to say cheaper too!). They emailed the certificate immediately afterwards.
Lesson 7 – Be clear on which test is needed & by when
In addition to a negative test & a vaccination certificate, I also needed to fill out a pre-registration form. Once complete, I was in possession of a scannable bar code which was the all-important thing I needed to enter the country. To enter most countries, you will need to complete some kind of form. In my experience, you can only complete the forms once you have a negative test. This means that you always have to make time 24 hours before you leave to ensure you have everything in place.
Lesson 8 – Complete all your paperwork accurately.
When I arrived in Iceland, I booked the test I required to return to the UK. British Airways (American Airlines & several others) recommend the Verifly app & I totally endorse its use. I am also sure that whichever airline you are flying, they probably use something similar.
On the app, you select the trip you’re doing, and it tells you what you need, provides all the links & you upload all the documentation before you fly. This gives you a big green tick in the app.”
When I left Iceland, that’s all they needed to see. It also meant that all the documentation was in one place. Trust me, there can be paper flying everywhere during flight check-in, so if you can, have it all easily accessible on your phone. In addition, there may be an app that you need to download based on the Track & Trace requirements of your destination. If there is, make sure you have it before you leave home.
My trip to Iceland was amazing for many reasons but mainly because it marked my return to a life of Freedom. Life of a lot of paperwork, jabs & testing, but Freedom nonetheless! And Freedom is very important to me.
Once I had that Freedom, I had an offer I couldn’t refuse from another friend to meet her in Barbados. It was short notice but with 3 weeks to go, I booked my flights & got excited.
Finally, I was going to the Caribbean! And as I was planning the trip, it was again a process of research, paperwork & tests. However, it turned out that the type of test this time was all-important. I was told that the test required by Barbados (Japan & Turks & Caicos also apparently) was in some way “deeper & more thorough”. In addition, it is not all testing centres that are licenced to provide them. It sounded painful. But I braced myself & headed to a local pharmacy for them to swab my nose, deeply.
Lesson 10 – Not all tests are equal. Make sure you double-check that you are having the correct one.
I had a fantastic time reintroducing my body to the concept of sunshine but after a week, something happened. Omicron had arrived! And I learned another important lesson. I kept abreast of the news back home as the new variant took hold. First, they changed the type of test required on my return. In the UK you must test within the first 2 days of returning home. You can order that test before you leave home as you need to add the order confirmation onto your Passenger Locator Form (the arrivals documentation) before you start your journey back. I had done what was required at the time & had a Lateral Flow Test eagerly awaiting me in my flat.
We arranged our day around her test & enjoyed a lovely resort lunch & an afternoon at the nearby beach. And of course, by the time we arrived back at our accommodation, the UK government had changed the rules! If you returned after 4am on Tuesday morning, you needed to take a test before boarding the plane. I flew back in at 5.50am on Tuesday. So, that meant me!
I arranged the test. It was no drama. I was glad I had stayed informed, especially when I arrived to check in & many were sent away to get tested before they were allowed to fly.”
This brings me to…
And so, to conclude, travel is still possible. I certainly now have no intention of stopping. You can even still take short notice trips. But it is more complicated. Get vaccinated, get tested, fill out the forms, get the apps, stay informed, be flexible & enjoy what the world has to offer again. But never lose sight of what a privilege it is, after all, now we know how quickly this freedom can be taken away. Appreciate everything!
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