January 13, 2021
Travel planning excites me; I’ve had a knack for it since I was little. Early on I realized that the tingle of eager anticipation when making travel preparations extended and enriched the joy of travel itself when the time came. Some days, though, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry as I make “plans” that might come to nothing in this pandemic pandemonium.
Determined to return again to South Africa’s Kruger National Park, for instance, I stubbornly persist against the odds to rebook and refine my trip scheduled for early May, meeting the challenges that continue to pop up in the chaos of today’s travel environment. Last week I cut the 12 days I’d confirmed in the Kruger back to just a week in order to get home in time to attend our son’s college graduation. His school had suddenly moved commencement up seven days to account for canceling Spring Break, that action in order to keep students on campus and thus reduce the spread of Covid.
That entailed changing my international flights returning from Johannesburg to leave five days earlier (thanks to Delta and Air France, I was able to do it without a fee); canceling the last five nights in the Kruger Park (I now have a credit for future use with South African National Parks); notifying Avis that I’ll be returning the car five days sooner than I expected; and rebooking my puddle jumper RJ flight on SA Airlink between Skukuza Airport and Johannesburg to connect to my international flights home. I was lucky in that it only cost me $55 in additional airfare on SA Airlink. In fact, I was lucky to get those changes made at all and still have the trip nailed down, albeit shortened.
In an associated action this week, I made reservations on Delta from Raleigh to Minneapolis and back for me, my wife, and our daughter in May to attend our son’s graduation. Also bought a one way ticket for our son to fly home with us after commencement. That was more complicated that it sounds because I wanted to use e-credits we all four have accumulated from canceled 2020 flights. Applying e-credits on Delta necessitates booking individual records from each person’s SkyMiles account, which meant four separate and tedious online transactions.
Of course that means the records are not associated, which negates Delta’s visibility to us as a unified family itinerary should delays or disruptions occur en route. No seats together, either. Screw that, I decided, and booked us all in the lowest first class fares I could find. I had e-credit money, which by now feels like “free” money, even though it sure isn’t. At least we’d be in the same cabin, I figured. Not to mention the bonus of being able to check 2 bags up to 70 lbs each per person flying in first class, and our son will be carting a lot of stuff home now that his college days are ending. That gives him 6 checked bags totaling 420 pounds, plus whatever we take in carryon luggage. If that’s not enough, then it’ll get shipped or ditched.
Next, I reserved a car through Costco Travel, which has the lowest rental car rates. Booking an Alamo minivan ensures getting all our son’s college stuff to MSP airport to check using our first class ticket privileges. Lastly, thanks to kind friends who are retired professors, we are privileged to have a beautiful and spacious Airbnb accommodation reserved directly across from the Luther College campus in Decorah, Iowa for graduation weekend.
What other coronavirus chaos do I have yet to surf? Let’s see, hmm, OH YES, a real big one: Covid testing requirements for international travel, both going to South Africa and returning. Now that the United States government has announced testing requirements for overseas travelers coming to America, I’ll have to figure out how to get tested twice.
Where will I be able to get tested? I wonder. Going to South Africa, I think I can figure that one out here in Raleigh to satisfy Delta, the Atlanta Airport (where I embark overseas), and South African authorities upon arrival to Johannesburg.
But what about returning from the African wilderness that is the Kruger National Park? Where and how will I be able to get tested before my short flight (50 minutes) from Skukuza to Jo’burg to connect to Air France to Paris (JNB/CDG)? I will have a few hours in the Johannesburg airport connecting, but can I get tested there and get results back in time to satisfy South African immigration and Air France to board the flight?
And in Paris I connect to a Delta flight to RDU the following morning. Will French authorities and Delta accept my South African test results to allow me on the flight home?
And what kind of test will each airline, airport, and country authority require, a PCR (take 1-3 days for results) or a quick test (a 60-90 minute wait)?
And what kind of test result documentation is acceptable?
And will every airline employee I encounter hither and yon accept it? Because it doesn’t feel standardized at all. No universal acceptance like passports.
And how much will it cost? Research so far shows a wide range of costs, with PCR tests the cheapest at $50 or so per person and “quick tests” (assuming they are acceptable) up to $250 per person. That’s a lot of money, especially twice (once paid going, a second time returning). $250 is as much as the roundtrip airfare between Johannesburg and Skukuza. And $250 is for ONE test. I’ll need at at least two tests.
I don’t have reliable answers to any of those questions yet, though I’m doggedly looking into it. Definitely all a moving target. But I am still planning on going to the Kruger in May.
Sir Winston Churchill suffered bouts of what he called the “black dog” of depression. I’ve known that melancholy, but I strive to keep my head above the waves of travel uncertainty that Covid has wrought. Keeping my spirits high whether I get tossed or successfully ride the surf to realize a trip in these bizarre times. Thus I take deep breaths and paddle forward.