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What Happens if You Test Positive for COVID-19 While on Vacation?

Ronnie Stokes’ 12-day vacation in the Dominican Republic unexpectedly turned into a 21-day trip—10 of which were spent entirely in a hotel room. The YouTube travel blogger from North Carolina ended up getting stuck quarantining in a resort in Punta Cana in June after his wife Alma tested positive for COVID-19 during the required test for air travel back to the U.S. The Stokes are both vaccinated, and luckily, Alma’s symptoms were mild, including a stuffy nose and slight cough.

There was nothing to do but wait, Stokes tells SmarterTravel. “We just had to sit there and be bored,” he says. It sometimes took hours for meals to be delivered, their room was barely cleaned during their stay, and the television even stopped working at one point. Then when Alma tested negative at the end of the quarantine, they rushed to rebook their flight, and finally made it back to Asheville to discover that their car battery was dead. “The whole trip was like it was doomed,” Stokes jokes.

The Stokes didn’t expect to test positive during their vacation, and they aren’t alone. Cincinnati-based travel agent Louisa Gehring says that while none of her clients have had to quarantine abroad, she’s heard stories from her colleagues of vaccinated travelers testing positive all over the globe. Gehring is the owner of Gehring Travel, an independent affiliate of Brownell Travel, a Virtuoso Agency, and she is working with clients on preparing for the complexity of international travel during the COVID-19 pandemic

Here are tips from the perspective of both a traveler and a travel agent when it comes to the possibility of being quarantined in a hotel room abroad for up to 14 days, spanning everything from packing lists to a medevac service.

Before You Leave on an International Trip

Invest in travel insurance

“My tip: get travel insurance. You never know what’s going to happen,” Stokes says. “It’s one thing to quarantine at a place where they are offering you room and board and are going to feed you, but what if you actually need medical assistance?”

A quarantine is also where “trip delay” travel insurance would come in handy. Trip delay travel insurance will reimburse you for a predetermined amount each day that you are stuck away from home.  “It doesn’t help being stuck in a foreign country,” Gehring says, “but it does help just knowing that you’re not just bleeding money.”

Find out Your Hotel’s Quarantine Policy

In addition to researching the CDC’s policies and your destination country’s quarantine procedures, Gehring is reaching out to the last property her clients will be staying at before they board their flight home to ask what happens if a guest tests positive for COVID-19. So far, the answers are all over the map. 

“Some places are really great and they say for a flat rate of $1000 we will let you stay in our lowest entry level room for 14 nights. Some places say no, you have to stay in your room and pay full rate, which at a Virtuoso level property you might be paying $2k a night for 14 days. That’s not affordable to a lot of people,” she says. The only other option might involve going to a government-sponsored quarantine facility.

In Stokes’s case, he chose his resort in Punta Cana because a quarantine stay with food was included without an extra fee, in the event that guests tested positive.

Consider Medical Evacuation

Just can’t imagine quarantining for 14 days abroad? One medical evacuation service Gehring is suggesting her clients take a look at is Covac Global, a pandemic evacuation and repatriation membership program. Unlike other medevac companies, Covac Global doesn’t require hospitalization. All you need is a positive COVID test and a self-reported symptom and you could then be eligible to be medevac-ed back to the U.S. to do your quarantine in your own home instead of being stuck abroad. Obviously, this option is pricey (starting at $675 per person) but could provide peace of mind. 

Bring Extra Medication

Pack enough supplies to last you well beyond your vacation and into quarantine. Stokes had more blood pressure medicine than he needed, but not enough to cover all 10 days.

Bring a Travel Laundry Kit

Slip a travel laundry kit into your bag, just in case. The Stokes found themselves washing clothes in the sink with bar soap, which is not ideal. 

Pack What You Might Need for Remote Work and Entertainment

A couple of books and a laptop stocked with movies might become invaluable. The Stokes had a computer but not a charging cord, so they were limited to the three English language channels on the hotel television. “If ‘Friends’ trivia comes up, I might win, because I watched ‘Friends’ every day,” he jokes.

Carry an International Calling Card

Stokes racked up a $56 phone bill at the hotel trying to arrange a new flight home. 

Try to Game out Possible Scenarios

Get comfortable with the possibility of quarantining before you leave. “And if you can’t fathom yourself doing this, then it’s probably not the time to travel,” Gehring says.

She suggests thinking through all the possibilities in advance so you’re not making decisions on the fly. What will you do if your spouse tests positive but you don’t? What if one of the kids tests positive? Will only one parent stay with the child or will the whole family stay? She’s even heard anecdotally of a couple honeymooning in Greece where the wife tested positive and the husband stayed with her to keep her company—then on day 10 of the quarantine, he tested positive and they ended up staying in the country for 26 days. 

What to Do If You Test Positive on Vacation Abroad and Need to Quarantine

Be Proactive About Your Own Health

Fortunately, Alma’s symptoms were mild, but Ronnie Stokes was surprised that the resort never checked on their well-being throughout the quarantine. “You would think the hotel doctors would call at least once a day,” he says.

Get Your Travel Documents to Leave Quarantine

Once Alma had a negative test, the Stokes needed to get their clearances from the resort together quickly so they could rebook their flight with documentation of recovery and fly home ASAP.

Remember the Good Memories of the Trip

 For Gehring’s clients who are traveling abroad right now, they’ve weighed the possibility of quarantine and decided that a trip is worth it. “If you think [quarantine] would be painful but a cool story to tell in hindsight, then great, become comfortable with the what ifs and be safe on your trip and have fun,” she says.

And the Stokes aren’t going to let this experience slow them down: an Alaskan cruise is up next. “We’re still going to travel, we’ll take our precautions,” Stokes says.

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