Travel in the Time of COVID
June, 2021...Skip the first paragraph of background if you only want the Covid testing and tracing info. This does get rather long and involved. Bottom line: do everything early, and try to have backups. But it is doable, just expect some stress along the way.
Well, it all looked doable on paper (on internet, of course.) And it was, but I wanted to add some caveats, for those of you looking to travel during the epidemic. We are in York, England on our way by rental car to Edinburgh and then to London where we have rented a small apartment until the end of August, with hopes to spend September and October in Paris. We live in our 24 foot RV in the US and, though not cooped up after the first three months of lock down last year, we were still anxious to get back to Europe. We have spent 3 to 9 months there nearly every year since we retired in 2008, living in two different Rvs. We managed to sell our 2001 19 ft Class C RV stored in Edinburgh to a California couple last August. They are planning to get to it finally this September. So we wanted to remove our clothes and such and also start traveling via city apartments, which was our plan. This year was to be London, and we found a lovely (hopefully) apartment just blocks from the British Museum for a Covid special of $90 a day. The owner lives near Seattle and we could cancel with only 30 days notice. We kept moving the start date from May until now July 6. When UK still hadn't put the US on their green list in early June we had to make a decision—we could gamble and hope England would open by June 28 (so we could get to Edinburgh first) or just keep moving our start date and airline reservations. And what to do in the meantime in the US with no real place to go without traveling thousands of miles? Iceland was on UK's green list, however, and Iceland was allowing US vaccinated people in with only 1 free test at the airport. Quarantining in England for ten days would have been very expensive for the rental, with home delivered food, and 3 Covid tests each for $700. But we had never been to Iceland, so we could travel and quarantine for England at the same time. So off we went and I will write up the good and bad of our Iceland camping van trip next month. (If you plan on visiting Iceland this season, drop we a note and I will send our write up to you early.)
We did not need any paperwork or testing to get to Iceland, only our passports and vaccine cards. Iceland administers their arrival test at the airport. It was free, quick, and quite painful. They plan to stop July 1, but with the Delta variant circulating that may change. There were only 33 active Covid cases in the country while we were there so hardly anyone wore a mask outside of the airport. After the test you were supposed to self quarantine until you got the results which you could do at your hotel and even take public transportation to get there. Since we were picking up a small camper van, they asked if it had a toilet, I said no, the officer said well you are not allowed to use a public toilet. That confounded me, but we just hung around the camper rental office and used theirs until our negative tests results were in. Since we landed at 6 am, we had the results about 1. To go to the UK there were 3 requirements: a Covid test within 72 hours of boarding the plane, a paid in advance appointment for a covid test in UK on or before day 2, and a passenger locator form filled out on line 48 hours or less before boarding. Now the problems started. Both Iceland and UK have free national health care systems, and travel Covid tests had to be done at traveler's expense and outside the regular system. After much searching we found it impossible to schedule our test outside of Reykavik. The time lag and logistics wouldn't work. So we were fortunate that we had planned to visit the capital at the end of our 11 days. We scheduled the test for Saturday afternoon for our Monday early am flight. An antigen test was allowed by UK, the cost was $32 each and results would take about an hour. We showed up, there was lots of parking, the line moved quickly, the nose stab was again painful, and off we went to the campground. Hours later, still no results, next morning, no results.No contact numbers, so we drove over to the testing site and while waiting in line our results came through—21 hours late. While we were at the testing site, it closed down because they ran out of tests! Remember, everyone had a booked in advance appointment. They were told to return later. Our advice, if you can take your test 72 hours in advance, do it then.
Step two. Book and pay for UK arrival test. At the UK government website is a list of test providers for each area of the country. We wanted a test in York where we would be staying 2 nights. Turns out, outside of London, the providers mail you a test kit and you take it to a drop off point. The providers who answered my emails had no idea if they could send a kit to a hotel. Okay, we will just test at Heathrow when we arrive. In the meantime I came across an article in the London Times where they had investigated complaints about the goverment's testing list. Turns out, none of the places were vetted and several didn't really exist. You send them your money and never hear from them again. Great. Definitely, we would go through the two providers at Heathrow—both vetted by the airport. So I try the drive through one. We would get our rental car and then get the test--$130 each. But I couldn't schedule it for our arrival day—only a day later. Then we would have to change our hotel reservations and stay a night near the airport. So I tried the in terminal testing company. Yes, even more expensive at $140 each, but I found a discount code through British Airways (it worked even though we were flying Icelandair). Scheduled, paid, though I made the appointment time 3 hours after landing. Promptly, I received our codes that had to be entered into the government passenger locator form.
Step three. Fill out government locator form but only within 48 hours of flight. They wanted tons of info. Flight, seat number, all the places you would be staying (they accepted that I only could list 5 nights of hotel--I was worried I would have to book 10 nights,) the reservation number of your covid test—I duly typed it in. Didn't work, I copied and pasted it from the company's email, also didn't work. I left off the letters and just did the numbers, I put a space between the letters and numbers, I captilized all the letters, etc. etc. nothing worked. I went through the whole proces with Mark's; didn't work. I am now truly worried. I go to test companies website—no phone number only able to chat. I am on hold for an hour and disconnected. I am on hold for an hour—disconnected. I try again later, same, but I entered all the information about our non working numbers. I still don't actually get to chat with someone, but when I went back to try again, my old chat was somehow still open and displayed a single message—drop the last number. Are you kidding me?!!!!!!!!!!!! It worked! I\t worked! We have two passenger locator forms submitted and accepted by the UK. Okay, guard your phones with your life, keep them charged.
So everything was done. Getting on the plane, check in—good. Icelandair had two agents at each window as they had to verify your negative test and your passenger locator form. Arrived at Heathrow early. Every passport control window was open and the line was over two hours long because they again have to verify everything. Go to the bathroom on the plane so you can beat at least a few passengers to the line. Get luggage, find the covid testing station—no signs, but hay, these people speak English and after 3 asks we get there even a bit early. The test itself not nearly as painful as Iceland. Results will be in 1-2 days as it is a PCR. Our Ace rental car is to be picked up at Holiday Inn so we go to hotel shuttle station—two differest buses and they cost $7.50 each? Wait, wait, bus 1 never comes. Finally talk to bus 2 driver—oh, bus 1 was discontinued (no signage though), you need to take a taxi. Cripes, I actually had 2 different cars reserved, as the Ace rental was $100 cheaper but had some bad reviews. What the heck, at this point we just decided to cancel the Ace and take the Hertz shuttle. Lovely, brand new 1500 miles, Toyota hybrid Trek, so off we go to York on the wrong side of the road.