Updated: Sep 24
That was my son Cameron's one-word advice about traveling internationally during a once-in-a-century worldwide pandemic, uttered vehemently on the third day of our trip to Europe in early August 2021.
This was after 1 flight that was canceled altogether, 1 flight that was delayed for 5 hours, 1 flight that was rescheduled, and 2 more countries that tightened restrictions on incoming vaccinated travelers, requiring covid tests within 3 days of entry or transit and requiring personal locator forms or registrations for each traveler. Still, I hung on to the one thing left on the bright side of our trip that may still salvage our trip to Ireland and Iceland, that vaccinated travelers don't have to be quarantined for 2 weeks after entry, and that vaccinated travelers, even when infected with the Delta variant, don't get as sick or required hospitalization like with the unvaccinated patients. We had so many complications arising throughout our trip that I would recommend international travels only for the very experienced and very nimble. Or someone with a very good travel agent to deal with the tumultuous travel ecosystem, and to help with the constantly changing travel requirements and restrictions that happen daily.
On the bright side, by the end of the trip, when I turned to Cameron and asked him if Ireland and Iceland werecrossing worth the hassle, he grudging admitted that Iceland was incredible and that the castle hotel we stayed in Ireland was, in Gen Z speak, "just sick" (which means awesome)
Iceland was a trip that was promised to my son Eric upon his high school graduation and college enrollment in 2020 that did not work out due to the worldwide shutdown and travel restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. When I graduated at the top of my college class in 1986, my parents took me on a trip to Holland, Belgium, Germany, and France. I liked it so much, I traveled to England, France, Italy, Greece, Mexico, Nepal, Thailand, and Singapore throughout my medical school summers; which I financed by running a summer camp for handicapped children in West Los Angeles. I thought that an international trip was a good graduation present for my kids to help them start on their world citizenship education. In addition, our family completed the quest to travel to all 50 states of the USA the summer after my son Cameron graduated from high school. Thus for his graduation gift, I asked him to choose an international destination; and he requested Japan. Our 2-week road trip through Japan was truly a wonderful experience in 2017.
In April of 2021 after the kids were vaccinated against Covid and case numbers were dropping in the United States and across Europe, I decided that it was time to get started on our summer travel plans. We would try out a national flight with Hawaii first in June and if things worked out, I could initiate Eric's trip to Iceland. Hawaii, as it turned out, was very nice despite being overrun by tourists and overbooked for everything. Looking at the map, I thought a side trip to Ireland may be worthwhile and it was just the next island over from Iceland. Ireland was beautiful and green; and I could stay in a castle hotel, which was one of the things on my bucket list. Little did I know how complicated that one idea would make our trip due to flight restrictions and international border crossing requirements.
Unfortunately, after I had already bought the roundtrip airline tickets, booked our car rentals, and all the hotels for our itinerary from LA to Dublin and from Dublin to Reykjavik, the Delta variant surge hit Europe and America. Everything in the world and the travel industry tightened up again.
Icelandair canceled all direct flights from Ireland and the only way for us to get from Ireland to Iceland was to fly to another country that does have flights to Reykjavik. It took about a week to learn that Europe has about 40 small airlines that fly from specific airports within specific countries to specific cities in another country. London, for example, has 3 different airports far apart that different airlines would use and that would take at least 3 hours to connect through. If I wasn't careful, we may not have had adequate time to make our connecting flight. But neither did I want an 8-12 hour layover for what should have been a 2-hour flight.
I found that American travel websites were not as helpful in inter-Europe travels; Expedia, for example, or their European counterpart Roma travels, did not allow me to book more than 5 tickets at a time, which was annoying for my 6 person family. I eventually found Kiwi.com which was a pretty good website to book European flights despite having to work with varying check-in requirements and luggage requirements from multiple different airlines. I also learned that many European airlines restrict carry-on luggage to a backpack or purse only and that sometimes, baggage cost may be as expensive as the airline ticket itself.
I also learned that each time you transit through a country, even if you don't leave the airport, you would still have to satisfy the country's requirements in regards to Covid vaccinations, advanced covid testing, and/or contact tracing paperwork. In most cases, you can not check in to your flight without showing that you have met all requirements. In some cases, you have to show your passports, vaccination card, your covid tests, and personal locator registration to get through the airport. And in some cases, you have to download an app that has all your documents uploaded and verified.
In the case of American Airlines, that app was Verifly. In Copenhagen, I had to remind the airline personnel that since we were vaccinated, we only need the rapid antigen test and not the PCR test to fly to Iceland. In London, the passport control people actually separated and passed the kids through while making Bruce and me go through additional screenings to prove that we were just passing through their airport, and indeed Ireland, on the way back to the United States. London Security checks were so onerous that they make TSA look like mall cops. They singled Bruce out so many times in our 1-hour transit through Luton airport that I swear they must have been profiling him, and all my children had their backpacks turned inside out due to some deodorant sticks or jar of caviar. Fiona, my normally even-tempered child, posted a scathing meme of Britain on her social media before we cleared the security line.
Within the United States, things were no less turbulent. Our flight from Los Angeles to Philadelphia was delayed by 1 hour, then 2, then 5 hours so we missed our connecting flight to Dublin and had to be rescheduled for the following day. I should have known our flight would be delayed because we overheard a family next to us at the gate yelling on the phone complaining to the airline about having their flights to New York delayed and canceled twice in the same trip. From all indications, it was not any single airline but all of them were having difficulty finding enough crew members to staff the demand in travels that the reopening caused. This was the case at many hotels and restaurants as well.
Anyway, our airline put us up in a hotel in downtown Philadelphia and we had so much time the next day that we played accidental tourists, making the best of the situation. We walked through City Hall to the Reading Terminal Street Market, trying out scrapple at an Amish lunch counter, then toured the Masonic temple before heading back to the airport for the overnight flight to Dublin. [Scrapple is a type of pork, buckwheat, and cornmeal meatloaf that is usually eaten for breakfast by the Amish in Pennsylvania. The Reading Terminal Street Market is the oldest and biggest public market in America. And the Masonic temple was just gorgeous.] This somewhat made up for the loss of Kilkenny castle and the Blarney castle tour that I had planned for the first day in Ireland.
Then there was the matter of car rentals.
We knew the car rental industry was in disarray from our trip to Hawaii in June when prices jumped 2-3 times from that of normal rates. But we had booked our vans in Ireland and Iceland early enough that we thought we got a reasonable rate. Unfortunately, with the changes in travel plans brought on by all the flight cancellations and delays, we ended up paying twice the rate of what we booked and were told to count ourselves lucky that we got any 7-seater vehicle at all.
As it were, Bruce had to drive a 6-gear manual stick shift van on the left side of the street, through some very narrow roads in Ireland. Fortunately, after the initial grumble and once he got used to it, my husband rather enjoyed the chance to drive the manual car through the Ring of Kerry and the Ring of Beara on Ireland's wild Atlantic way. Which is the subject of another travel blog.
And the same goes for all of us travelers through these unsettling times. Once we've adjusted our expectations, and once we get used to the new layer of precautions and bureaucracy, we can enjoy our life and our travels again.