An entire year. That’s how much time went by between stepping off an airplane and back onto one. A very, very long time for someone who loves traveling as much as I do. Needless to say, it was refreshing to get back on an airplane in 2021. And though a bit different, my COVID-19 travel experience was, for the most part, seamless—with some anxiety to go with it!
February 2021—Minneapolis, MN to Aruba
My family travels to Aruba every February. We got there before the shutdown in 2020 and made it work for 2021. Tasks and to-do’s were different but with the world nearly a year into the pandemic, there were plenty of systems in place to keep everyone safe. Here is everything that went down before and during my COVID travel experience:
Disclaimer: make sure to visit your destination’s website for full travel details. This is all in relation to my own experience traveling to Aruba and only takes their requirements into account.
Nearly all of the traveling during COVID-19 stress came in the weeks leading up to departure. The anticipation of the trip was really overshadowed by anxiety. The unknown. The consequence of NOT getting to go if you didn’t receive a negative test. And the constantly second-guessing yourself on the new process and forms to fill out. Not to mention, any tickle of the throat or cough sent your mind into oblivion. That said, the Aruba site and our hotel Facebook group were a huge help in checking everything off the list.
Due to COVID-19, pre-travel anticipation has completely shifted to pre-travel anxiety!
I chose to do a self-quarantine and go no where 2.5 weeks before my trip to Aruba. I work from home, grocery shopped for 3 weeks in advance (ha—thank goodness for frozen vegetables), didn’t see friends, and walks were the only thing I did outside of the house! It got very long and extremely boring but ya gotta do what ya gotta do. Couple things I did throughout quarantine to make sure I stayed healthy:
- Drank a ton of water and ginger tea with honey
- Took a daily elderberry pill
- Worked out nearly every day and ate healthy
- Walks outside to get that vitamin D
- Good sleep
Did all of this help? Would I have gotten COVID-19 if I didn’t do these things? Probably not. But it’s peace of mind. And you can’t tell me it didn’t help!
UNITED STATES: My least favorite part of the COVID travel experience. Probably because I had never gotten tested previous to this trip. And also because there are so many options and only certain one’s were accepted (PCR) to be allowed entry. Our (PCR) COVID-19 test had to be within 72 hours of our flight time. Given how quickly test results are being distributed, we chose to get a free test with results in 72 hours or less. We turned in our test around 12:30PM on a Wednesday (flight was Saturday morning) and woke up the next morning to our negative results in our inbox.
We registered online and got our PCR saliva tests in Bloomington at the Creekside Community Center. Great experience. Received a test tube. Took it to our car to fill it with spit. Brought it back to turn in. Received emails when our test got to the lab and again with our results.
- You can find free tests that guarantee results within 48 hours.
- I would strongly discourage paying for a rapid test. They are around $130 and very rarely is a free test going to take multiple days to come back.
- It was also an easy decision for us because if you were not tested in the United State pre-boarding (not a requirement), you could immediately test in Aruba at the airport instead. If you tested positive there though, it was an immediate quarantine.
- Results information below.
ARUBA: We did have to get tested again in order to return to the U.S. You could choose to do this at the hospital ($75 – cheapest) or at different testing sites across the island. For convenience, we did it at our hotel. It was $130 (womp) but went pretty smoothly (nasal swab) and we had results in 24 hours.
UNITED STATES: After we received our negative results in our inbox, we had to upload the document, enter answers to health questions and personal information, and pay for COVID-19 insurance ($30 per person.) Everything was instantly reviewed electronically and upon accurate completion, we received a “green check mark” that ultimately meant we were free to enter Aruba! We printed out our checkmarks and negative results because we would be required to show proof at the Aruba airport.
ARUBA: For our return to the states, we printed our negative results from the hotel printer just to have them on hand. Showing results from your phone was acceptable as well.
Though much was the same, there were some differences in the airport experience, both in the United States and Aruba.
LEAVING THE UNITED STATES: We walked right up to the front of the check-in line. The machines were still an option to print boarding passes but there was no line to talk to a person and make sure we were thorough so we opted for that. The employee was obviously wearing a mask (as were we) and there was plexiglass in between us as she checked passports and printed our tickets. Easy-peasy.
LEAVING ARUBA: This was pretty crazy. The Aruba airport experience is (typically) a long one. It starts with a long line to check-in, the line wrapping around numerous times, and it can take the better part of an hour. This year, we showed our passports and negative results, and had our boarding passes in less than 10 minutes since there were far fewer travelers.
UNITED STATES: Everything was the same at security outside of it taking all of 3 minutes vs. 30 and having your mask on through the process.
ARUBA: You need to go through two sets of customs at the Aruba airport so typically this can tack on another hour+ to your airport experience. This year, it took about 20 minutes. We basically walked right through. Length of time and masks were the only differences.
UNITED STATES: Definitely less people in the airport during my COVID travel experience. This allowed for everyone at the gate to be spaced out and I didn’t see any issues with people not wearing their mask.
ARUBA: The airport here is pretty small (there are only 8 gates) so it did seem pretty normal with quite a few people. That said, in order to get that far you had to have a negative COVID-19 test, so there weren’t many concerns.
Restaurants/Bars in the Airport
UNITED STATES: Easily the most packed area of the airport. Ha. Go figure. But it was typical restaurant rules where you are required to wear a mask upon entering and walking to your table. From there, you can take it off to eat and drink. Tables were 6 ft. apart.
ARUBA: Same as above.
Sun Country Airlines
Honestly, two of the best flights I have ever been on—and the cheapest I ever paid to fly to Aruba. From 2016-2020, flight prices ranged between $630-$725. This year, in November of 2021, I paid $450. Tough to beat that!
As far as the experience, our flight was (I’m guessing) about 25% full and once we were 30,000 feet in the air, people spread out and had their own row.
- Masks were required throughout the duration of the flight.
- We were not given any snacks but you could bring your own and they did hand out mini water bottles and/or cups of coffee.
- Everything was in tip-top shape as far as cleanliness is concerned.
Opinion: Delta airlines is doing an incredible job marketing that they are not filling the middle seat. I think this is a major benefit for people and makes them feel the most comfortable. That said, because of this, I think most people are flying Delta which is leaving many other airlines 50% or less full. This allows for a good chance of a middle seat open and even a whole row to yourself on airlines like Sun Country.
On Vacation in Aruba in 2021
Our experience was at La Cabana, a place I have now stayed at for 6 years in a row. They did an AMAZING job with COVID-19 protocols. Everything was extremely clean (as always), there was hand sanitizer throughout the lobby and common area, masks were required whenever in indoor common spaces, and there was a safe distance between tables and beach palapas. As mentioned, everyone had to test negative so that made for way less concern when walking around or interacting with others.
Of course, masks were required to enter and move about the restaurant. And at most places you were asked to write your name/phone number down for tracing. Not one restaurant required a reservation and few were ever at capacity.
Aruba Beaches During COVID-19
The beaches were far less packed than in years past. The experience at Eagle Beach used to require you waking up before 5AM in order to stand in line to grab a palapa. This year, most were in use, but you could arrive as late as 8:30-9:00AM to get one.
Another spot, Palm Beach, is located near major hotels like the Marriott and the Hilton. This area is always busy and full of tourists partying, playing volleyball, running, and enjoying all sorts of beach and water activities. This year, it was an absolute dead zone. A little bit eerie actually. Though things were weird in places, we did our best to enjoy the more “private” feel of the vacation. It may never happen again!
Overall COVID-19 Travel Experience
Like I said, pre-travel definitely brought the most anxiety and concern. The additional tasks to complete got overwhelming with the constant feeling of forgetting something. I did feel robbed of “vacation anticipation” and really hope that returns in the near future. Being excited about a trip is half the fun! But at the end of the day, it was of course worth every single minute of apprehension. The week spent in Aruba was much needed and I’m so grateful to have taken this trip. And the Aruba locals were definitely appreciative to host us!
If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment!