Is this the end of the international weekend trip?
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As we’ve continually seen throughout the pandemic, things can change at the drop of a hat.
And that’s exactly what just happened with the Center for Disease Control’s recent announcement that all travelers to the U.S., including returning citizens, will be required to present a negative COVID test within three days before departure.
Right before the holidays, I took my first international weekend trip, a quick three-day jaunt to the Bahamas, where I parked myself on a chaise lounger to thaw out from the New York winter. When it (sadly) came time to leave, my departure was far more seamless than my arrival — there were no pre-travel test requirements to return to the U.S.
Yet now that’s changed, and so has the calculus on whether it’s worth spending a long weekend in a foreign country.
For some, the idea of getting COVID tested while on vacation might be too much of an inconvenience. For others, myself included, this is just another of the many ever-changing precautions involving pandemic-era travel.
When I was in the Bahamas, I stayed at The Ocean Club, a Four Seasons resort. Even before Tuesday’s CDC announcement, the resort has been offering on-site COVID testing since the Bahamas requires a second negative test for travelers spending five or more days on the islands. (One was required before arrival as well).
Now, the resort has immediately pivoted to offering pre-departure testing for all returning U.S. travelers, making it incredibly convenient for travelers to get tested. The Ocean Club is just one of many resorts offering an on-site COVID testing option.
If at-resort testing isn’t an option, I’ll try to fly into airports with testing facilities to ensure that I satisfy the requirement on day one of a long weekend. That way, I’ll be able to relax knowing that my pre-departure test is complete well before hitting the beach.
Personally, the new requirement isn’t enough to make me throw in the towel on international weekend trips just yet. (The rise in COVID cases nationwide, however, is a whole different story.)
Of course, if you’re traveling with a family, the cost of paying for pre-departure COVID tests could far outweigh the benefit of choosing an international destination over a domestic one. Territories like Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands aren’t subject to the new CDC rules.
Another alternative that I’ll consider, especially if traveling to non-resort destinations, is to schedule my last stop at a major metropolitan center with readily available testing options.
Earlier in December, I flew the inaugural El Al flight from Tel Aviv to Dubai, and spent some time there before returning home via Qatar’s inaugural to San Francisco. My first step upon arrival in the Gulf mega-city was a PCR test. The drive-through clinic offered tests for just about $35, more affordable than many testing centers in the U.S.
Additionally, results were promised within six hours, plenty of time for me to get my results before flying home. Note that rapid viral tests are also accepted for the new testing order, so the turnaround time shouldn’t pose much of an issue for most travelers.
Adding in a Dubai stopover could be a great way to ensure you get a reliable COVID test if you’re traveling to the select destinations open to U.S. citizens in Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.
Nonetheless, at this point, we still have more questions than answers.
When the U.K. announced a similar policy earlier in January, the order exempted travelers returning from countries that lacked sufficient testing capabilities, including Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia and Barbados. The CDC’s announcement also notes that some countries could be exempted, but it stops short of naming which ones might qualify.
Additionally, despite the initial rollout of coronavirus vaccines, the new testing order still applies to those who’ve been inoculated. Only travelers who’ve recently contracted the virus and have since recovered are exempted from the requirement (upon presentation of a positive test result within 90 days of departure).
While policies will inevitably change, the new pre-travel testing requirement is just the latest of the many changes to the pandemic-era travel experience. For me, it alone isn’t enough to hinder a weekend Caribbean escape.
With under two weeks until the new order takes hold, now we wait to see how travelers react.
Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy
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