How do I travel when the world is in a crazy lockdown mode?

travel COVID-19
Well, the easy answer is – same as before. What does it mean though? We are going to cover the basics of international travel, preparations to it and dealing with being abroad. While this isn’t something you haven’t done before, most haven’t done it during recent months. I am checking what this feels and looks like for you and am happy to share my insights.

In my previous blog – Travel Guide for holidaying in Israel during COVID-19 – I stated that I am anxious to understand better how the Covid-19 virus affected the travel and tourism industry.

To do that, I started by experiencing tourism in my own country, Israel. After experiencing guided activities, dining out and even hotels, I came to the conclusion that those can be dealt with easily and most establishments are actually doing so in a great way.

However, my biggest issue was the fact that I was already in Israel and my clients (travelers like you) needed to arrive here by international flights. So… I had to get creative 🙂

Flight preparations

Guidance for Air Travel through the COVID-19 Health Crisis

What are the travel restrictions?

First, every country creates its own travel restrictions.
Both for incoming tourists as well as for its residing citizens.
For most of you, that means that you cannot yet come and visit Israel (unless you have an Israeli citizenship and are living abroad or you are a desired and needed worker of some sort).

For me though, it means that the state of Israel can decide if I am allowed to leave the country at all and where I can go to if I can.
So, before planning any trip, make sure to understand your country’s restrictions and to get a list of approved places to travel to and from.
In my case, the list was rather short and included Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia and a few others.
Those were a few weeks ago still “Green” countries and returning from them did not entail a mandatory 14-day quarantine period.

COVID-19 Travel Medical Insurance

Second, no one in their right mind travels without medical insurance in this unique situation.
Will insurance companies cover us at all?
Will they cover against Covid-19 complications?
Well, after a bit of research I discovered that a few would and one (Harel) would cover me for flight cancellations, changes, additional hotel and expenses and even hospitalizations and so forth if I get the virus while abroad and cannot travel back due to it.

I strongly advise anyone travelling to look for the available options in your own area and make sure to get coverage. My total insurance cost for 10 days and 9 nights came to 73 USD and covered Covid-19 complications as well as a bunch of additional potential issues.
As this was about to be a mountain climbing and hiking trip, search and rescue was one of those.

Tourism group restrictions

Third, as this was something I was setting to do in order to be able to write about it and share my experience, I wanted this to be as part of a group. Surprisingly, a lone traveler or a nuclear family have a lot of freedoms even now. However, a tourism group is subjected to additional restrictions and that is what I wanted to understand better.

Luckily, a friend of mine decided to be the first to launch such an expedition during these times out of Israel and once I heard about it I was quick to join.
As I am a licensed guide both in Israel and abroad this (happy surprise) ended up being a deductible expense which was great for me.
From your perspective, you can choose to travel alone (serious research is to be done ahead of time) or to travel as part of a group.
My experiences from now on cover what it feels like when doing it as part of an organized group though.

Covid PCR test

Covid PCR test for travelling abroad

The biggest issue now became the Covid-19 tests.
You cannot board a plane if you haven’t been tested for Covid-19 beforehand. Be sure to check if the destination you are travelling to demands it 48 or 72 hours before arrival.

In Israel, the public healthcare refused to allow these tests for people travelling abroad and we had to get it done privately. The cost is 100-300 USD per test and that’s not the real issue.

Does a COVID-19 Test Hurt?

This is a rather non pleasant test. They stick a long swab down your throat all the way to the very back and then another one up your nose.

It is truly unpleasant and feels as if it’s gone too deep.
In my case it also caused a minor irritation of the throat and some bleeding.
However, once you get that NEGATIVE answer by email (7 hours later in my case) and can print it in English, it’s worth it.

Make sure they get your name exactly as it appears on your passport.
Oh, there is also a health declaration form that needs to be filled within 24 hours of any flight and they are seriously checking for it.

What else should you prepare before traveling?

Out of all the preparations, packing was the easiest. There are no restrictions on what you may carry so except adding a few masks and some hand sanitizer, packing was normal and included my regular hiking & climbing gear.

Arriving at the airport

was fun as usual and the only difference was that they checked that we filled the health declaration, had the Covid-19 test results and took our temperatures.
With the exception of having to wear a mask at the airport and flight, it felt almost “normal”.
The biggest difference was that the Duty-Free area was almost completely closed, bummer.

The flight

Finally, I got to what I came to experience, the flight itself.
We were assigned sits that were at least one seat apart from another and were asked to leave the masks on.
We were given a personal sealed water bottle but no food whatsoever and took off. 2 and a half hours later we landed in Bulgaria and after a quick run through the Sofia international airport were able to get out and remove our masks. You are not required to wear masks on the streets there or outside and that was a blessing.

Arriving to Bulgaria

After meeting out local guides and driver (who were also maskless) we drove to the beginning point of our trail.
From here on we were dealt with as a “capsule” and we were not required to wear masks unless meeting other people or going into shops and businesses.
As this trip was mostly outdoors in the Pirin mountain range, very little of that took place. The pics here as well as on my Facebook posts will tell a much better story of the hiking and climbing and are not the focus here at all.
Needless to say, it was AMAZING and my personal favorite was climbing to the top of Mt. Vichren (2,976 Meters) in the fog with icy patches and strong winds.

We spent most nights in mountain huts sleeping together in the same room but during a few nights we slept in small hotels in the villages.
The hotel staff wore masks but everything else was as usual.
The meals were not brought to the rooms and there was no demand for masks or gloves from us (read my previous post about Israeli hotels to understand the difference).

The return flight

was much the same with the following exceptions:

  1. The Duty-Free area in Bulgaria works as usual and I ended up (thankfully) with gifts for my wife and daughters.
  2. There were many more travelers on the return flight and every seat was taken. Apparently, there is no demand for distance in flights and it is observed on some airlines, on others not at all.
  3. Arrival to Israel was interesting and we were questioned as to our destination, activities and released rather quickly.

My conclusion? International travel is very possible and actually very fun even (and perhaps, especially) now.
If you ignore the preparations and Covid-19 tests, it’s not a big deal.
I feel that you may not accept my conclusion as it is based on only one experience and so… I feel that I must try at least one more time.

I will therefore, for you, travel to Greece in a few weeks for a 8 day hiking trip. I do this reluctantly (yeah, right) but I feel I must try one more time and check if the experience is the same or different.

I promise to keep you posted on my pages so consider logging on and following me.
Find me on Facebook or on Instagram .

See you soon 🙂

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