Here’s a riddle:
What has two feet, carries a backpack full of documents, and cries constantly?
Answer: Me, travelling during a pandemic.
For the past two summers, my two kids and I have travelled from our home in Las Vegas back to Ontario, Canada, where we’re from. Each trip ended the same way: with me swearing I will never, EVER, travel during a pandemic again. From cancelled flights and pricey rental cars to the multiple covid tests, grumpy customs officers, and mandatory quarantine, pretty much every step was a nightmare. Oh, and did I mention we were travelling with a dog?
Pandemic Gods willing, this will not be our reality this summer because – fingers crossed – there’s no new variant on the horizon and restrictions are easing. But that’s not to say travel will return to its pre-pandemic state anytime soon (when everything was just a major inconvenience and not a full-blown dystopian nightmare. Under his eye.)
It’s been forever since most of us went anywhere more exotic than the grocery store but with March break approaching, Easter weekend after that and summer vacation hot on its heels, more and more families are cautiously considering travel beyond their city limits. If this is you, keep reading for eight essential tips that will help you deal with the unpredictable, ever-changing, (possibly character-building?) ordeal, that is traveling with children during a pandemic.
1. Know the Testing, Mask and Vaccine Requirements in Your Area:
If you need a negative test, remember that not all tests are the same, and not every testing location offers every type of test. Furthermore, not every test is accepted by every airline or country. Therefore, you need to know exactly what type of test you need, what the testing window is (ie. when to get it so it’s still valid when you need it to be), and how long results will take. Then make sure you have the correct version of the negative test on hand, as some airlines or agents will insist on seeing the lab report, not just a cover page with your name and NEGATIVE stamped on it. Also review vaccine mandates and mask requirements for all ages, and be aware that these could change quickly and without notice.
2. Check and Double Check Your Information:
Be sure the identifying information on your covid test matches your travel documents. Last summer after CVS reversed the month and day of my daughter’s birthday, we spent an extra hour at the border trying prove her negative test was legit. What may not seem like a big deal to you can be a very big deal to a customs agent so before you leave the pharmacy or testing centre, make sure everything is accurate.
3. Be Flexible.
Expect things to go wrong. Not because you’re a pessimist, but because that seems to be the way of the world these days. If you’re going to travel in a global pandemic, even if things seem to be improving, it’s reasonable and prudent to expect changes, delays, and just more hassles in general. Being mentally and logistically prepared to go with the flow will help you stay calm and organized.
4. Know Your Cancellation Policies.
Whether you’re booking air travel, train tickets, car rentals or accommodations, make sure you know the cancellation or change policy. Some airlines are still offering one free change but that’s not as simple or as inexpensive as it sounds. For example, some third-party travel sites like Expedia require you to contact the airline directly in the event you need to change or cancel a flight. This takes time and patience. And of course, you’re on the hook in the likely event the fare price has increased since you booked. Be aware of other associated / hidden fees (change fees, service fees, if applicable) and how much of your payment or deposit you’ll be entitled to if you cancel.
5. Read the Fine Print, or Better Yet Call.
If you’re reserving activities and accommodations online, be aware that not all listings have updated their features and amenities lists to reflect Covid-era changes. For example, on a recent trip to the Grand Canyon, my kids were disappointed to find certain observation points closed, and I was disappointed to find the hotel bar hadn’t been open since 2020. Changing guidelines, capacity limits and nationwide staffing shortages mean not everything is operating at usual. If certain amenities are important to you, call to make sure they’re actually available before you book.
6. Keep all your documents together, and close at hand.
Trying to find important information in the height of panic or frustration will only add to your angst, so have it at your fingertips. Test results, proof of vaccine, confirmation numbers, passports, copies of cancellation policies … keep it all together in one folder and consider making copies and scanning and emailing them to yourself for back up.
7. Prepare the kids.
Don’t exclude the littles from your conversations about how travel might look different than it did last time. Pack extra activities and snacks and let them know to expect things like longer wait times and the possibility of Covid tests upon arrival. Assume everything will take longer than it did the last time you made this trip.
8. Be Chill Enough to Convince Your Family You’ve Been Body-Snatched.
There are things you can control (your attitude, how you react) and things you can’t (a global pandemic, the price of gas). When plans alter, as they inevitably will, you’re going to have to decide what’s a minor annoyance that can be dealt with and overcome, and what is cause for stowing away on a flight to Yemen. Your kids are watching, and every setback and frustration is an opportunity to model effective problem-solving and a positive attitude in the face of adversity.
You’ve got this!