What It Is Like Travelling During COVID

Travelling during COVID is rough but stay within the recommended travel guidelines and you can have fun while staying healthy.

One of the most stressful, but also fascinating, experiences in 2021 was traveling amidst the pandemic.  I know I might get a lot of hate for this post, but I wanted to share what some of my experiences have been like.  I also know that while avoiding travel is highly recommended at this time, there are still some people who have booked tickets beforehand or, if you’re like me, have airline credits about to expire before year end, so you might want to know my experiences.  But please note that these are purely my own experiences and may not be exactly what everyone will face.  It is highly dependent on the country you’re visiting and where you’re venturing.

My story started about 1.5 years ago when I pre-booked a ticket to see my aging grandmother in Shanghai, China.  Her health was deteriorating, and I planned a summer trip that was, of course, canceled without notice.  I had my credits returned to me for the airline that I had booked, but one and a half years later, the airline called me saying that the credits would not be transferable to the following year.  Hearing that nearly a thousand dollars’ worth of credits was going to waste, I quickly booked a ticket to the United States.  This was before the omicron variant and, at the time, COVID looked as if it was waning and people were slowly returning to the office and to normal life.  The border rules were also growing more lenient.  I only booked to the U.S. because I feared traveling further than our adjacent country given the complexities overseas and in other non-English speaking regions.

So, a few weeks before Christmas, I packed my suitcase and was ready for a one-week adventure in Los Angeles and San Diego.

This adventure started in Calgary, where I had to get my rapid antigen test for travel.  The rapid antigen test involved a nasal swab in which my nose was intensely swabbed in circles multiple times.  For those of you who have tried the take home antigen kits, this is very similar.

My partner and I stuck to outdoor activities to reduce contact with people.

However, when it comes to swabbing my nose, having another human being swabbing the nose was a lot more painful and stressful than swabbing myself at home.  I would say this is one of the most uncomfortable and irritating parts of my travel.  Furthermore, I knew that before I left the U.S. I would have to undergo another round of antigen testing.

The antigen test was not excessively expensive, but it was not cheap either.  This is a common consideration that travelers during COVID should be aware of.  Funnily enough, however, when I passed the U.S. border, I was not asked to present my negative test results.  In fact, nobody questioned me about symptoms or test results.  So despite having paid for my antigen tests and following the travel advice, I was never asked to present this information.

My experience in Los Angeles and San Diego was strange, to say the least.  From a COVID perspective, it felt like the pandemic was over in America.  Not everyone was masked indoors. Even when signs were prevalent in elevators and indoor spaces, many people were seen unmasked.  Costco gave out food samples, and many shoppers were unmasked and rolled their eyes when I reminded them to put on a mask.  Perhaps in other countries, this may be different but from my experience, it felt like a crime to wear a mask when everyone around you was not.

After a relaxing vacation in California, I had to book for a rapid antigen test prior to departure.  So 72 hours before departure, I found a pharmacy that would test foreign travelers free of charge.  Unfortunately, their services were poor and slow, but I could have faced a $2,000 penalty for not presenting a negative antigen test to the Canadian customs officials.  So 24 hours before departure, I paid for a private lab to swab me and their test results were returned in less than two hours, with a very hefty cost associated with the swab, of course.  Luckily, I was able to arrive safely in Canada free of symptoms and positive test results.  Compared to the U.S. customs that never questioned my test results, the Canadian customs had multiple check points for negative antigen test results.

At the end of the day, my vacation was a much-needed break from my one and a half years of nearly total isolation.  However, it did come with its own headaches and challenges.  For anyone traveling during the pandemic, always check on Travel.gc.ca for guidance for your destination of choice. 

Despite some of the influences from others, I stayed true to indoor masking policies.