In this post: Have you been thinking about when you can travel again? Is it safe to fly? Read on for my recent experience and how I felt traveling out of the country.⇒
Are you feeling like you can use a vacation right about now?
Like that year indoors was restful, yes, but if you don’t go somewhere soon you’re going to lose your mind?
I hear you. I felt it too. And let me tell you, I’ve been one of the super careful people. I was feeling like I could sit on that couch forever, working from home and taking care to stay safe and healthy.
I organized my house, I decorated some too, I did projects that kept me busy. I started a diet and lost weight, then gained some of it back, then laughed about the fact that I was in the house long enough to go through several sizes up and down!
So what gave me the courage to get on an international flight and how safe did I feel doing it?
It started when we got vaccinated.
In fact, it started when we got the first appointment. All of a sudden, I started to think about what might be possible. I REALLY wanted to relax on a beach. If ever I needed a vacation this was the time. But we were still 6 weeks away from being free and clear after the second shot.
I did some travel research, got excited, did some more research and started to get nervous about the idea. I was particularly worried about being on a plane, and I didn’t love the complexities of all the testing and paperwork that was required.
I decided not to book anything and put it out of my head. Four weeks went by and we got our second vaccine. By that point I was simply looking forward to eating in a restaurant. We still had 2 weeks to go before we were fully protected.
I made a reservation at a local restaurant for when the two weeks were up. We hadn’t been inside a restaurant in over a year.
I picked a place that was well spread out and still worried about going, even though I knew we’d been vaccinated and the tables were socially distant.
But when the night came, I couldn’t wait to go. We went with another couple who were also vaccinated and had a great time. It felt REALLY great to be out.
The next day I started thinking about traveling again. Then I sat down at the computer and discovered it was incredibly easy to book anything we wanted.
The ‘where’ was easy. In recent years we’d spent most of our travel time visiting Europe and the Mediterranean, so we hadn’t been to the Caribbean in quite some time.
I wanted easy.
I wanted relaxed.
I wanted safe. Or at least as safe as possible.
I wanted the best chance of good weather and I wanted to limit the travel time. For us that pointed to one simple answer…
We’d never been there but heard only good things. Familiar, convenient and nearly guaranteed weather. But when would we go? We had holidays on the horizon and things coming up in April that we wanted to be back for.
Remarkably, we decided to go the following week!
The beauty of booking a vacation when very few people are traveling is the ability to book anything you want on short notice, and spend almost half of what you would’ve spent at any time in the past.
We picked an ocean view room at the Hyatt Regency and booked a flight that would be leaving exactly one week from the day booked.
The next step was figuring out the logistics of meeting the requirements needed for international travel. This was the thing that discouraged me the first time I’d looked into it, but in fact it turned out to be quite easy.
All we needed for Aruba was a PCR COVID test taken within 72 hours of our departure (but with results that would be returned quickly, in time for our flight) and to fill out an ED-Card for entry into Aruba. I found a local testing site through a recommendation in an Aruba Facebook group and the entry paperwork was done simply online. We were tested on a Thursday for a Sunday flight and got our results back on Friday, the very next day.
As the days ticked by, it began to sink in that we were really going. I packed super casually and scheduled my blog posts for the following week so I wouldn’t have to work while vacationing. I made dinner reservations for the whole week, choosing places with outdoor seating. Even though we’re vaccinated, I didn’t want to take any chances.
Considering I’d booked this trip a mere 7 days in advance, when Sunday rolled around, I was pumped and ready to go!
We took an Uber to the airport and getting out of the car at the terminal felt so strange. This thing I had been doing my whole life, and generally looked forward to, suddenly seemed like a new experience.
But this is when I started to relax. As soon as I realized how well things were set up to accommodate the new reality, I understood this was no different than going anywhere in public with a mask on.
For one thing, we had made the commitment to make the process easier and safer by traveling first class. Given how much cheaper the airfare and hotels were than they’ve been in the past, as well as how much money we’ve saved by staying indoors for a year, we chose to pay the extra fee for the upgrade in cabin.
This afforded us several benefits. In addition to the easy check-in, we could wait for the flight in the lounge. Seating was well spaced out and all the food was individually wrapped. Indeed every single apple, cookie or egg came in its own plastic pouch. It made me marvel at the adaptability I’ve seen in people this past year.
It also meant we could sit as a couple on the plane without worry of a third person being cramped between us. Fewer people in the cabin and more space between them were the primary reasons I suggested flying this way in the first place (and I was kind of shocked to not get push back from the hubby when I did so).
We were handed a plastic wrapped sandwich during the flight, ate it quickly slipped underneath the mask, and enjoyed an uneventful journey the rest of the way there.
If I had any concerns that the restrictions in Aruba would be more lax and that we would feel unsafe, boy were those concerns quickly abated.
Quite the contrary, from the minute we landed and felt that delicious first blast of Caribbean air, I could see this tiny country that is so dependent on tourism was perfectly set up to welcome visitors.
From the paperwork and testing that was required for entry, to the adherence to mask wearing and the hand sanitizer that was provided everywhere, I knew this was a place we would be well protected.
We got our bags and a cab and were on our way, one more step closer to the beach.
By the time we arrived at the hotel, I was starting to feel like life was normal again. It was easy to see how one could all but forget about the pandemic and the past year spent almost entirely at home.
I was brought back to reality for a brief moment when we arrived and were told only one person could approach the desk for check in. But as I was escorted to a nearby seating area overlooking the tropical grounds and was handed a glass of champagne, pandemic-amnesia set right back in.
We were soon shown to our room, quickly unpacked and walked outside to the view below!
Like most hotels in Aruba, and I suspect in most places, our hotel was at less than 50% capacity. This was due both to restrictions and reduced demand. I have to admit, it was a pleasure! No waiting in line for anything. No pressure to get a lounge chair or palapa early in the morning. Paradise was there for the asking.
We settled into the rhythm of vacation quickly. We were there to relax and those early moments of digging our toes into the sand were almost too glorious to express. I found myself staring at the clear blue sky and thinking, ‘this was a REALLY good idea’.
As far as safety, I can’t say enough about how well the hotel was set up. Lounge chairs were sprayed with sanitizer before they laid out your towels. Everyone wore a mask anywhere they went other than sitting on a socially distant lounge chair or eatery table. Elevators were limited to a maximum of three people and guests graciously let one go to wait for the next. There were 6′ distance markings on the floor anywhere where people might cluster. In the spa, which I happily used for a long-awaited massage, accommodations were made for safety at every turn, from outdoor check in to full mask policy and more.
Restaurants were equally as compliant. We ate every single meal outdoors, including breakfast and lunch. Tables were well spaced, masks worn by all workers, as well as guests walking to tables.
There was a general spirit of consent and amenability with respect to following the rules. Everyone appeared grateful to be afforded this privilege of vacationing much like they have in the past and if obeying a few rules made everyone safer, that was just fine.
The entire time we were away, I did not see one person display arrogance or disrespect when it came to accepting restrictions. Instead there was a communal attitude that seemed to say, ‘we’re in this together and we are a lucky lot. Let’s not mess it up.’
Toward the end of our trip, we got the tests required for our return flight. A testing site was set up conveniently in our hotel, where we waited in our bathing suits and returned to the beach after the brief interruption.
The return trip was equally uneventful but I found myself to be very much changed. Gone was the stress, yes, but also the timidity and fear that I’d been carrying for the past year.
I could now look forward to living my life again, making plans and seeing friends outside our bubble.
Would I have done this without the vaccine? No, definitely not. But with it and with precautions, the world is once again my oyster.
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