After three COVID tests and hours of mask-wearing, I’m home from my trip to Eastern Europe.
I didn’t get evicted from the riverboat or quarantined in a hotel room in Romania, but I certainly discovered the compromises and inconveniences tourists must make when going abroad during this coronavirus epidemic.
To begin with, only days before my group was scheduled to depart, we got an email informing us that our tour of Budapest would not happen. With COVID cases rising, the Hungarian government had decided that international travelers landing in Budapest had to keep moving. We were advised to go straight from the airport to the riverboat, where we would basically be quarantined for a day until everyone arrived and the ship could leave.
Not only were we disappointed that exploring Budapest, one of the highlights of the tour, had been canceled with a third day in Serbia substituted, but we also had a problem. Our group had planned to arrive a day early, not a bad idea when traveling internationally, and we had booked hotel rooms in Budapest.
In a mad scramble, we canceled our Budapest reservations and re-booked for Vienna, making this our final flying destination. Vienna was to have been our last layover before a short final flight to Budapest, so we figured the airline could simply drop the last leg of our journey and unload our luggage in Vienna.
Maybe we could even get a small refund since we weren’t flying as far, a refund that would help offset the cost of the two drivers we had to pay the next day to take us on the almost three-hour trip from Vienna to the riverboat. Oh, no. We were rebooked, but half of our group was charged more for the flight, even though as far as we could tell, we were on the very same flight minus the last leg. The others paid the same.
As expected, we were required to wear masks while sitting in airports as well as on planes, which can add up to a lot of hours of continuous masking. I’m not arguing that this isn’t for everyone’s safety, but if the airlines are so concerned about not spreading the virus, why were we on full flights?
There were no vacant middle seats. In rows of three, we sat shoulder to shoulder with fellow passengers of unknown vaccine status. Evidently, the burden of adhering to coronavirus safety protocol was on the consumer, not the airline.
Boarding the ship, we were immediately given the saliva test, and again, we took this version the day before we were to fly home. Before entering Serbia, we were all required to have a nasal swab test, an unpleasant experience I’d dodged before this trip. Fortunately, all tests were negative for everyone in our group, and, as far as I know, on the ship.
Despite the testing and mask-wearing, I enjoyed my European trip. It was enlightening to see Eastern European countries that were behind the Iron Curtain and thus inaccessible for so many years. My husband took lots of pictures and I’m showing highlights at www.patsypridgen.com.
Still, I learned international travel during COVID requires flexibility and fortitude to deal with the compromises and inconveniences.