International Travel in the Time of Covid

Two weeks ago I wrote a blog post about getting ready for an international trip in the time of Covid. My group had a wonderful time in Costa Rica so now it’s time for a recap.

Here’s what it’s like to traveling internationally in the time of Covid.

We flew out of Houston’s IAH airport on United. Everyone in the airport was masked and things moved efficiently from check-in to arriving at the gate. A few more precautions but nothing unusual that we haven’t experienced in 2020.

Photographers on the Strabo Photo Tours Collection trip to Costa Rica in March 2021. (Front left to right: Joan Wilson, Ruby Pecot, Kathy Adams Clark, Ed Barrios. Rear left to right: Will Hamilton and Barbara Hamilton.

On the plane, United personnel greeted us and gave us a nice, big alcohol wipe. The United wipes are the best I’ve seen! They are huge and wet enough to clean the entire area around your seat.

United personnel no long open your drink for you and pour into a small cup. That’s a “touch point” that’s been eliminated. We get the entire can of soft drink! Love it!

Once we landed in Costa Rica, we had to follow all local Covid protocols. Masks in pubic and hand washing before entering any public building.

This last one was different for us as Americans. There’s a handwashing station outside every public building — every store, shop, lobby entrance, restaurant, etc. Each handwashing station has a foot operated water dispenser, soap, paper towels, and trash can. We never found one of these handwashing stations that wasn’t working and fully equipped.

Restaurant menus were emailed to our Costa Rican guide or we accessed it through a QR code.

QR codes were used several times. There was a QR code we had to present to the agent in Houston to prove we had Costa Rican travel insurance that would cover us in the event of Covid. We even had a QR code to access our Covid test at departure.

The US requires a negative Covid test within three days of departure for all people flying into the United States. That meant we had to be tested while we were in Costa Rica. Our tour company arranged for lab technicians to arrive at our lodge at an appointed time and administer the tests. The major hotels are offering this service now since all departing tourists need the test.

After our tests, we had to wait 24 hours for the results. Results were emailed to each person. Those results had to be uploaded to the United app for verification.

A person has to have a smartphone to travel today. This is my biggest takeaway from traveling in the time of Covid. QR code at departure, QR code to get a menu, ability to receive an email with an attachment, ability to upload that attachment to an app, ability to have an app on your phone, etc. All this sounds easy in the US but international travel complicates things. It’s interesting how many travelers can’t get emails away from home on their phone or can’t download an app away from home. Traveling with a flip phone is out!

Everyone in my group had been vaccinated. That meant we could take off our masks when it was just us. Around waiters, hotel staff, our guide, or driver we did wear our masks. It became pretty routine.

In conclusion, travel in the time of Covid is pretty easy. The usual complications are still there but only a few minor things added here and there to keep people safe. We followed the established rules and had a great time.

One of the Joys of Going on a Photo Tour . . .

One of the joys of going on a photo tour is you’re with photographers all the time. There’s no one saying it’s time to go — except when the bus is leaving — no one to ask how many times you’re going to photograph the same thing.

During our recent photo tour to Costa Rica, the group noticed a nesting pair of s great kiskadees in the parking area. The birds built their nest in a palm tree right in the main parking area of the lodge. We walked below the nest to meals and returning from meals.

Great kiskadee nesting in a palm tree near the Rincón de la Vieja Volcano in northern Costa Rica.

The nesting kiskadee pair was just part of our day. The pair carried grass and fibers into the nest throughout the day. One bird could spend four or five minutes inside the nest packing the grass in just the right spot. Then that bird would fly out and the other member of the pair would fly in with a beak-full of fibers. That bird would pack their fibers in place, round and round inside the nest, then rest in the opening for a bit, and fly out.

Great kiskadee with a beak-full of nesting material.

Over and over again we watched this pair of birds perfect their messy nest.

Great kiskadee with another load of nesting material.

Finally when the light was lovely on the nest, I suggested we stop and photograph the kiskadees building their nest.

For the next hour, we stood together and photographed the kiskadees.

We compared shutter speeds to see if we stopped the wings of the bird as it left the nest that time. Slight blurring — raise the ISO, get a faster shutter speed and give it a try next time.

Someone got the crown pattern on the top of the kiskadee’s head. It looks like a bulls-eye if you’ve never seen it. “Wow! I need to get that next time!” someone in the group said. And off we’d go again. Waiting for the bird to fly out of the nest and show us its head pattern.

Over and over and over we photographed two birds as they built their nest. Those birds gave us such joy. We learned so much about our cameras and photography thanks to them.

My thoughts go out to that pair of determined birds in Guanacaste Costa Rica. I hope they are sitting on a clutch of heathy eggs that will mature into a nestful of great kiskadees.

My photographer friends at the great kiskadee nest in Costa Rica.

International Travel in the Time of Covid

“My bags are packed and I’m ready to go . . . ” that old song is rolling through my head. My bags are packed and I’m ready to go. Yet, this time is different.

Like many of you, this is my first airline trip since the Covid lockdown. A year ago, my husband and I were leading a photo/birding tour through Costa Rica. When we left the United States there were only one or two cases in our city. The cases increased and big events started to be cancelled. On March 15, 2020 when we flew back to the US, grocery store shelves were empty and people were scared.

A year later we are masked, used to social distancing, and many of us vaccinated. Costa Rica, Mexico, and a few other countries are opening to travelers.

What does it take to travel in March 2021?

Covid testing to re-enter the United States — the rule at this time is that travelers to the US have to show negative on a Covid administered “no more than three days” from the return flight. That means Strabo Tours, the company coordinating all my international trips, had to arrange to have a laboratory technician meet us at our hotel. Many hotels now offer this as a service to their guests.

Negative Covid test to check-in for return flight — The results of our Covid test will be emailed to us. Those emailed test results are entered into the United Airlines app. Yes, there’s now a place for that on the app. People without a smart phone or the United app will show the results to the airline agents.

Certification on the United check-in app that I have no symptoms — The United Airlines app has a place where I have to certify I’m symptom free. That information goes into my travel records. No smart phone? You’d have to verbally do this at the check-in desk.

Acknowledgment of the federal mask mandate — This is also on the United Airlines app. The questions include acknowledging that my mask isn’t a bandana or gater, that my mask doesn’t have any gaps, and that I’ll wear it all the time. I am allowed to lower or raise the mask while sipping liquid or taking a bit of food.

All our paperwork has to be shown to the agent at check-in. That means we can’t get our boarding passes in advance.

Getting Into The Host Country?

My trip is to Costa Rica so that’s the only experience I have right now.

Costa Rica Trip Insurance — Each person has to buy trip insurance from an approved Costa Rican company. We bought the trip insurance months ago. The questions and request for documents were quick and easy. Price was $216 for two people for 10 days. It’s a bit more for seniors and there are family packages.

The insurance provides us with 10-days in a hotel if we test positive for Covid while in the country. The insurance company takes care of getting us to a hotel, etc. Two negative Covid tests in 10-days are needed to get out of quarantine and back on a flight home.

We have to show that insurance certificate when we enter Costa Rica.

Costa Rican Health Pass — 48 hours before departure we have to log-on to a Costa Rican Health Department site and complete a questionnaire. That included the basic questions we are used to — coughing, fever, contact with anyone with Covid, vaccinated, etc. Then we have to add our trip insurance ID number. That gives us a health pass that we present when we leave the US and when we enter Costa Rica.

Is that song rolling through your head?

Did my opening line get that song stuck in your head. “Leaving on a Jet Plane” was written by John Denver. Click the link to hear his version.

Peter, Paul, and Mary sang a lovely version. Click this link to hear their rendition.

I’ll post more as the trip progresses to keep you up-to-date on traveling in the time of Covid.

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