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Published: March 13th 2022
The worldwide pandemic has turned our world upside down in so many ways. Some are severe like death, illness, lingering symptoms and families being separated from each other. Some have been more of mere hassles, like product shortages or wearing a mask. For those of us who love to travel, the pain has come in the form of being confined, being locked out of countries and being forced to put our adventures on hold for a little or rather a long while.
Saudi Arabia was not immune to these complications and restrictions. A trip for me that was supposed to happen in 2020, was pushed to 2021 and then ultimately did not happen until 2022. Frustrating? Absolutely. But once the thrill of actually traveling strikes us again, it seems to be all we can think about and feel.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was one of those countries who took the threat of Covid seriously and they have a government that has funding and a desire to keep their citizens alive and healthy. It is quite the refreshing outlook and it still shows in how their country is healing from the pandemic.
What was it like traveling in Saudi with the threat of Covid? Actually easier than one might expect.
As of right now, many of the restrictions seem to be lifting, but when I was there Omicron was the threat on the horizon.
In order to enter the country, a traveler needed to be vaccinated with at least two shots and needed to do the high level testing to provide proof you were not positive. Those requirements seem pretty standard and easy to meet at this stage in the game. If you are planning to globetrot, these are requirements you might as well accept.
I spent a lot of time outside in the desert, so the mask wearing was easy to manage. However, when driving you had to be aware of checkpoints that reminded me of speed traps on the highway. If you were driving with a group in the car and not wearing your mask, the car could be pulled over and ticketed for violating the mask mandates.
Most everyone needs to conduct a Covid test in order to leave the country due to airline policies and other
countries’ policies, so Saudi airports have on-sight clinics where you can walk in, complete a test and then get the results in the form of a QR code sent to your phone. This is sufficient for airlines and border crossings. If you would like your results in paper form, you simple walk up to one of the ATM looking machines stationed around the airport, hold your phone up to the screen of the machine so it can read your QR code and instantly a paper is produced with your information and your test results. The printing was free.
The on-sight clinic is very convenient and accessible to travelers, but there are a few things to consider with the process. Getting the results of your test can take 1.5 to 2 hours. This isn’t a big deal, but does add a bit of time you must allow at the airport. Without the test results, you are unable to enter the main terminals because you do not have your boarding pass and you cannot get your boarding pass until you have your confirmation of a negative test result. So you arrive at the airport, take your test and then
you wait…and wait…and wait all the while being saddled with your luggage in a part of the airport that is not flush with amenities. It is just one of the travel complications created by Covid.
One plus that I have witnessed on my last two international trips: upon arriving in the United States, as travelers are gathering their luggage to enter US Customs, they are given free at-home Covid tests. This was particularly handy when it seemed no one could find the at home test at your local drugstore. I used the free test days after arriving home, but before being around anyone just to make sure I did not bring home the unsavory souvenir of Covid.
The tests are quite sophisticated as they require you to download an app and Bluetooth the test to your phone. It provides a tutorial on how to use it, counts down the time needed for the test to provide results and then gives you an emailed version of your test results and offers to send the results elsewhere if you need it. This sort of technology also has a way of tracking your results because you must
enter your name and location, so if those sort of things bother you it might not be the great free gift you had hoped.
The too often used phrase “hoping we just get back to normal”, is probably more of a dream and less of a reality. I don’t see a lot of these restrictions lifting anytime soon, like wearing masks on airplanes and in airports, having to provide proof of vaccination or needing tests results to travel. They are a hassle, can be an added cost and are downright uncomfortable, but if it means I can fly around the world and experience adventures, I will comply.
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