Is a vacation still a vacation when it’s mandatory?
It’s a scenario that David Beahm, 60, says he couldn’t imagine ever being in just a couple months. The prolific event planner and Chelsea resident flew to Nassau, the Bahamas, on Dec. 15 for a two-day trip, negative COVID test in hand.
But Beahm — who is fully vaccinated — also needed proof that he was COVID-free to return to the US (currently travelers must test negative within 24 hours of their entry into the country) and retested the day after he arrived.
This time, luck wasn’t on his side.
“I was positive and went into shock. I was convinced that it couldn’t be true,” he said — a second test, however, confirmed the results.
Forget going back home: Beahm was immediately escorted to his hotel (he declined to name the property) for a 10-day quarantine in his room and had his key taken away. The staff left his meals at his door in a paper bag and dropped off sheets and towels since housekeeping wasn’t an option.
“Thankfully, I had a balcony facing the ocean, and it was my escape from the four walls I was confined to,” said Beahm.
COVID left him fatigued, and he passed his time sleeping, meditating and catching up with family and friends. Instead of celebrating Christmas in his new country home in Connecticut, Beahm marked the holiday alone by eating a traditional Bahamian meal of ham, bread pudding, rice and beans.
In the end, he spent $6,000 — although the travel insurance that the local government requires international visitors to buy is reimbursing the costs. He says that he also embraced the situation.
“I haven’t ever spent 10 days by myself, and it was nice to be alone,” he said. “I was forced to stop, and I am a person who never stops.”
Welcome to the risk of international travel in the midst of Omicron, Delta and the virus in general. Cases are spiking across the globe, and the chances of testing positive on a trip abroad for vaccinated travelers, leading to a forced quarantine, is a reality now more than ever before.
“Having to quarantine in another country, regardless of if you’re vaccinated with a booster, is something you hear about often now when COVID is everywhere,” said Jack Ezon, the founder of the New York-based luxury travel company Embark Beyond. “There are so many stories out there.”
One happens to be about an Embark Beyond travel advisor, Josh Geller, 36, who was on a Caribbean vacation with his extended family over the December holidays.
“We were going to St. Lucia and the Grenadines on a trip that I had planned,” said Geller. But when his group of 10 took the COVID tests they needed to get into the Grenadines from St. Lucia, his came back positive.
“We decided that it would be the safest for me to isolate alone so everyone continued with the trip,” he said. “The first few days were a nightmare because I couldn’t be with my family, especially my wife and baby, but I was fortunate enough to be at a luxury resort (Sugar Beach, A Viceroy Resort) in gorgeous one-bedroom villa with a plunge pool.”
The highlight of Geller’s quarantine was the delicious meals that he ordered from the property’s several restaurants. His extended stay put him out a few thousand dollars and has taught him to be hyper vigilant about advising his clients on the potential downfall to that fabulous-sounding cross-border trip.
Aimee Monihan’s isolation was decidedly less glamorous. The 51-year-old destination event planner and Denver resident got stuck at a Holiday Inn in San Jose, Costa Rica, last year with her 15-year-old son when both tested positive on a getaway with a large group of friends.
“It was an 11-day prison cell where our window didn’t even open,” she said. “I was crying and a mess. It was my son’s positive attitude that kept me going.”
A handful of travelers who test positive on international trips have better outcomes than a quarantine. Bernice Schnall, 75, of Rockland County, NY, is an example. The retiree vacationed at the swanky Baha Mar resort, in the Bahamas, last December with her husband and daughter.
When her COVID test for her return trip came back positive, the property’s “Travel with Confidence” guarantee came into play. It’s an offer stating that guests with positive results have the option to fly to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., on a private jet, family members in tow. Or, they can stay put in their rooms and have their accommodations and meals covered.
“Knowing that there was a possibility that one of us could get COVID, we chose to stay at Baha Mar because of their policy,” said Schnall. “We saved ourselves thousands of dollars and endless stress.”
Would-be globetrotters need to go into any trip aware of the circumstances, says Ezon of Embark Beyond, who’s constantly educating his clients on the same topic. For starters, know that country’s protocol for visitors who test positive.
“In some countries, you can quarantine in your hotel room, but in others, you’re taken to a government facility,” he said.
A well-versed travel advisor like Ezon can keep you up to date on the latest information, which changes week to week.
Also, know if your property offers reduced room rates or cover any meals if you need to quarantine there — places like Baha Mar are few and far between.
In addition, Ezon strongly recommends travel insurance. Some policies will reimburse you for a part of your accommodations and meals during quarantine. COVAC is a policy that flies you home on a private jet from anywhere in the world if you test positive. At around $700 per person per week-long trip, it’s pricey but may be worth it.
If you do get stuck, contact your airline so that you don’t lose your flight home. Ezon says that most airlines will do a free change when you know the date of your return if you tell them in advance that you may not make your original flight.
Most importantly, the quarantine set should use their time to relax.
“The majority of the people we are hearing from figured out how to turn a nightmare into a nice couple of days to reevaluate their life priorities and goals,” said Ezon. “I encourage everyone to do the same.”