Traveling During the COVID-19 Pandemic
It goes without saying that 2020 was a tough one. Due to the COVID-19 virus, we all had to lockdown and stay put in our own countries. Obviously this put a damper on literally everything and of course, everyone’s travel plans.
I don’t know about you, but I didn’t travel for 8 months (not even locally). Certainly a shorter travel hiatus than others, but it was almost unbearable for me being the avid traveler I am. I was one of the lucky ones that managed to travel right before the world shut down and oh boy, will I ever remember that trip. My last pre-COVID trip was to Las Vegas, returning on March 9th 2020. I reminisced about this trip for months, not only about how I wish I partied a little bit harder lol but also how lucky I was to have come out unscathed from the virus in likely one of the number one places it could easily spread without control.
That said, as the 8 months passed, I was dreaming of my next trip. When I began to hear about borders beginning to open in late 2020, I decided I would enter into this new era of ‘COVID Travel’.
Instead of detailing this in a story format, I thought it might be best to highlight some of the most common questions I was asked during my travels. As a preface, we traveled late November 2020 for 6 weeks returning January 2021. I traveled with my husband and 15 month old daughter and our destination of choice, Costa Rica. I am also happy to report we came back from 6 weeks away COVID FREE!
Why Costa Rica?
Costa Rica opened their borders to international travelers on November 1, 2020. At the time we left (late November), no COVID test was required for entry. However, that may have changed by the time you’re reading this.
For my husband and I, it was a simple choice. Having been to Costa Rica several times in the past and being familiar with the country and their healthcare system, we felt like this would be a comfortable option for our family. With COVID cases relatively low outside of the main city of San Jose and knowing just how spread out and remote the resorts/beaches are there, we felt our risk of coming into contact with COVID, would be very low. Especially lower than our chances of contracting it at home during flu season.
Other reasons include, their incredible healthcare system with highly qualified doctors (they won’t turn anyone away), the fresh food and drinkable water and lastly the low crime rates. Overall Costa Rica is a very safe and peaceful country and has everything to offer for an enjoyable vacation.
Last but not least, we wanted to go back to support the re-opening of one of our favorite hotels, Four Seasons Costa Rica. (I have several posts on this property but I have linked my most recent on their COVID-19 protocol).
If you’re thinking of visiting Costa Rica, I have also linked a helpful resource to help you navigate your plans. As of January 1, 2021, the requirements for entry is proof of travel insurance and a completed health pass, declaring you’re in good health.
How was the airport experience?
This was definitely the most uncomfortable part of the entire journey. For context, I flew out of Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ).
To my surprise, the airport was packed! Having arrived at 6am for our flight, the airport was swarming with people. Not only was that uncomfortable enough, it seemed that COVID safety was in the hands of the passenger. This was especially worrying knowing that everyone has their own opinion when it comes to mask-wearing and cleanliness. Most people were wearing masks but there were several people who either had them pulled down or had a mask on that literally did nothing (think a fishnet around the nose and mouth). In addition to that, there were no sanitizing or hand washing stations as I had heard had been put up at other airports around the world.
Before the security gate, there was a quick temperature check at the same time they checked tickets. Again, uncomfortably busy and social distancing seemed ‘optional’ as everyone crams in a line. I know what you’re thinking “well what did you expect when traveling during a pandemic?”. My answer is simple, I had faith in other travelers to respect my space lol. Yes, silly me.
I think its important to note that the airport in Liberia, Costa Rica (LIB) provided a much different experience than that in Toronto. Sanitization stations were found around the airport, including a handwashing station for mandatory hand washing before entering the airport. There were also stricter measure for social distancing and sanitized bins in the security gate.
How was the flight?
The second most uncomfortable part of the journey. Not that our choice airline, Air Canada, didn’t do their duty as an airline but more for the fact of being crammed with a full flight of people you know nothing about. We decided to purchase business class tickets for this trip and thought the extra cost was prudent for our health and safety, especially with our little one. Sitting at the front of the aircraft with just the 3 of us definitely gave more peace of mind during the flight. If you have the means to do this, I definitely recommend. They way we looked at it is that we hadn’t spent any money on travel for quite a while so it was worth it to pay a bit extra for comfortability on our first, post-COVID outbreak, flight.
Overall the flight was business as usual – the only difference being the mandatory wearing of your mask. In business class, hot meals were still being offered. The meal unfortunately comes wrapped in a ton of plastic, I think to give an stronger impression of food handling safety. However, in my opinion, the additional plastic wrapping was unnecessary. In economy, I believe regular meal service was halted but I believe you are given a bottle of water upon boarding. That being said, be sure to bring snacks if you typically need to eat during a flight.
Did you feel safe overall?
Obviously we all know a mask is a preventative measure and will not provide 100% protection against the virus. That said, there will always be a risk. In general we felt safe, especially with Four Seasons Costa Rica. Our comfortability level definitely changed when we left the property. If you followed my stories, you would have seen that we extended our original 2 week trip to 6 weeks. This was following news back home of stricter lockdown measures for the holiday seasons. With an extended stay, we did decide to leave the resort and travel south down the coast.
Our first stop was Nosara. In Nosara, we secured an Airbnb for 2.5 weeks but unfortunately we didn’t feel 100% safe. Masks were not mandatory and the area was fairly busy with tourists, who we knew did not require a negative COVID test for entry. We felt we could socially distance appropriately, of course, but after hearing from several locals that COVID was rampant in the area, we decided to leave early. Throughout out short time in Nosara, we encountered some non-COVID related issues as well, that made the decision to leave a bit easier.
We left for Santa Teresa, another beach town further south down the coast where masks were mandatory and COVID cases low. Our stay in Santa Teresa was a bit challenging, as it was such a last minute booking. We stayed for as long as we could find accomodations for in both an Airbnb and hotel. Both generally felt safe and comfortable. We went out for dinners and into shops and with masks being mandatory, we had a greater sense of comfort.
The Safest Bet? Stay Put Instead of Traveling around
Ultimately we ended back at the Four Seasons where we stayed for the remaining 2 weeks of our trip. Nowhere felt quite as safe as the resort and through leaving the resort we realized that we could not put a price on our health and safety. Overall, it was a good lesson leaving the resort to get a sense of travel elsewhere in the country but we were glad to be back at the Four Seasons. Nothing else compared.
If you are thinking of traveling during these times and unsure which accommodations will meet all your concerns around COVID, I highly suggest considering Four Seasons Costa Rica. Their COVID protocol is top notch, including a doctor on site. We felt a strong sense of comfort and they truly go the extra mile to make sure their guests feel, and are, 100% safe.
Sure looks like a lovely time away with your family
I’m thinking of going to Costa Rica for the coming winter months. Is there a specific area you would recommend I stay?
I really enjoy the Papagayo Peninsula area. It is mostly resorts and feels most safe if you have concerns over covid. The smaller beach towns may be more susceptible to covid spreading, as there are less rules around prevention. Also the Arenal Volcano area is stunning as well. I hope you make it to Costa Rica! Its wonderful!