[OPINION] Some tips to remember when we travel again amid the coronavirus pandemic

The author (left) and her husband during a recent airplane ride | Courtesy of the author

COVID-19 has sure disrupted life as we know it for almost two years now. One of the things we miss is our freedom of navigation. For many of us, the pandemic has deprived us of the precious time to be with our family again in the Philippines or elsewhere around the world.

Those who are approaching retirement or are already retired have lost precious time we could never take back. Some have been working so hard all their lives, working two jobs, tirelessly providing for their family’s needs, thinking they would just travel and earn their hard earned money upon retirement, or when all the kids are married, or when the grandkids do not need their lolo or their lola to take care of them as their own parents are both working. Unfortunately for some, that day would never come because of mobility challenges, chronic illness, or even death.

And so for those who have been planning to travel — CARPE DIEM! Seize the day! Seize the moment. But do it the wise and safe way.

Thankfully for me and my husband and many others, we are now in the position to travel again because we are fully vaccinated. Most countries only allow travelers/tourists into their borders if they can prove they have been inoculated with the  full doses of COVID-19 shots approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the country and/or union it belongs to. Having gotten the booster shot would help even better.

However, different countries have their own safety requirements we should be aware of, and I say this for our own safety as well because as travelers, we have to make sure the countries we are planning to visit have diminishing COVID-19 infection and death rate, a high vaccination rate, and a strict public safety policy like mask mandate and social distancing, requiring proof of full vaccination before being allowed admission to public gathering especially in enclosed spaces.

Also take note of the fact that countries change their requirements when it comes to accepting tourists/travelers. Some still require a negative covid test result taken no more than 72 hours before your departure for PCR tests, or no more than 48 hours for rapid antigen test.

But then again, you have to make sure which kind of test is required — is it PCR or antigen? Verify. If in doubt, take the PCR test. While the antigen test is cheaper and the results come out faster, the PCR test is a more reliable test and countries may change their rules while you are just about to check in for your flight or to land in the country you are visiting.

Also, verify if you need to present a negative PCR/antigen test for each of the countries you are visiting, even if you are just transiting or doing a layover. This is an important lesson learned the hard way when my husband and I traveled to Spain mid-September for our Camino de Santiago pilgrimage via British Airways in our trans-Atlantic flights and Iberia Airways for our flights within Europe.

Iberia’s only requirement then was for tourists to present proof of vaccination and of course, a declaration that you are not feeling sick and that you have not been exposed to people infected by COVID-19. Meanwhile, my understanding based on past readings was that if you are only transiting and not really entering the border of the country as your layover for a short period of time and you immediately proceed to gate for your connecting flight, then you do not need to get and present a negative PCR test.

When we were in SFO with our boarding pass we got online, dropping our luggage for check-in, the British Airways staff asked for our negative COVID-19 test results! Of course, I countered with “we are only transiting, not entering UK border,” even showing them a printout of what I got from the internet.

Long story short, we needed to look for a testing site to get our negative test results with our luggage in tow, sweating profusely as re ran, got Lyft to the testing site, and back to the airport and made it to the check-in counter in the nick of time. By the grace of God, our flight was delayed and so we made it to the end of the boarding time!

That brings me to a very important point: QUARANTINE! Even if you make it to your flight, you may be required to quarantine depending on the changing rules and requirements of the country you are visiting, even if you are just transiting. Without a negative covid result for example, your choices if ever you made it to London Heathrow Airport was to go back home to the US (which also requires a negative PCR test result even from U.S. citizens), or, go on quarantine for a week in a designated quarantine place in London, take covid test on the 5th day and then wait for a negative result before you are allowed to board the plane to your destination.

So research on the quarantine requirements of the countries you are visiting. That is what is frustrating about traveling back to the Philippines. Last year, US citizens were allowed into the border so long as you check in a DOH-approved hotel to quarantine for a day or two while waiting for the negative result of the COVID-19 test that had to be taken in the airport  in the Philippines. Once you get the negative result, then you are free to visit with your family. If the result would be positive, you need to quarantine for two more weeks and take another COVID test to present a negative result

Then the rules changed came the last quarter of 2020 in the Philippines when US citizens needed to quarantine for 14 days and then take COVID test and wait for the negative result because the US was classified as being in the “red” list.

Just this October, the US has been reclassified to be in the “yellow” list but, short of being in the “green” list, we are still required to quarantine for one week, take the covid test on the 5th day, then be on a home quarantine for another week to monitor our health. This means being in a hotel for another week if we do not have your own home, lest in principle, we may potentially spread the virus around. So ask yourself —do you have the luxury of time and resources to quarantine?

Yes, we know there is always some stress and delays that goes with traveling but brace yourself with a lot of patience, faith and good cheer because there are even more stressors when traveling in the age of the coronavirus pandemic.

To minimize the stressors, get all of these safety requirements taken care of before you fly. Download the app of the airline or the country or a third party app like Verifly on your phone so you can upload all your documents — vaccination certificate, negative covid test result, and all your personal travel information including locator form when required.

On top of this, PRINT out all your personal and health documents because they will ask for the proof of what you uploaded online. This smoothens and hastens the check-in process our of your departure airport and into the country/countries you are visiting instead of you scrolling and rummaging through your phone that may conk out anytime!

Hope this helps. Let this not daunt you from traveling. We just have to be prepared from our end and leave everything to God to do the rest.

SAFE TRAVELS, everyone!

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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Gel Santos Relos has been in news, talk, public service and educational broadcasting since 1989 with ABS-CBN and is now serving the Filipino audience using different platforms, including digital broadcasting, and print, and is working on a new public service program for the community. You may contact her through email at [email protected], or send her a message via Facebook at Facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos.

Gel Santos Relos

Gel Santos Relos is the anchor of TFC’s “Balitang America.” Views and opinions expressed by the author in this column are solely those of the author and not of Asian Journal and ABS-CBN-TFC. For comments, go to www.TheFil-AmPerspective.com and www.facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos

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