Out of Home Range: Thoughts on International Travel

Not an Owl. This is Viria, the Benfica bald eagle

Last week, the Owl family went to Portugal. It was a short trip, and one important to the family given the Portuguese heritage on the Brazilian side of the family. Originally scheduled for the end of summer, it got moved due to the Owlets’ wanting to be around for soccer practices and games. The trip got shortened for Thanksgiving break. It was not the best-planned trip we’ve taken, but we had a great time in a country I never knew and we loved many parts of it, including a private tour of the Benfica soccer stadium, complete with three mascot eagles posing for us, and an evening visit to the second largest aquarium in Europe. And yet, if I knew then (when planning the trip) what I know now, I wouldn’t do it again–the actual flights that is, because Portugal will definitely be seeing us again. If you care to hear our learnings, and get a couple of bonus photos of wonderful, clean, beautiful Lisbon, well, stay with me.

Here are my learnings:

First, the US is worse than other countries on ease of and cost for testing. We are, so don’t get all patriotic crazy on me. The free PCR testing at Walgreens was not good and not helpful–they send all samples overnight to an out-of-state lab which cannot, during peak times (ummm, Thanksgiving), get the results to you in 72 hours. It was the first time we had tried Walgreens–I will not again leave the happy quick care of the Stop the Spread sites run by Project Beacon which never took more than 24 hours. Our test results were sent to us an hour after our flight had left Boston. We ended up having to pay $150/person at an AFC Urgent Care site for the antigen test (back in an hour and a half).

In Lisbon, going back to the US, we paid 25 euros/each (around $28/each) for the antigen test that came back in an hour and a half. We waited in a 15 minute line–no appointment necessary. The US needs to do better on availability of testing. I read today that the CDC is going to require international travelers now to have a test (and result!) within 24 hours of flight. How? Only by paying the big bucks I would imagine.

Second, do not, under any circumstance, take a connecting flight through a second country. The paperwork will kill you. I spent at least two hours to fill out all the documentation for Spain for all four of us–a country we saw only through the transit lounge. England was worse. Don’t fly through England. Maybe don’t even go to England. I like the Brits but wow, they make it hard. We had cheaper flights by connecting but it’s not worth it. Trust me. If you are going to do it, download the app called VeriFly to guide you through it.

Third, the joy of being Europe again was strong, but tempered by the stress and uncertainty of “what if?” The rules are changing all the time. While we were there, further restrictions were put into place on masking indoors (frankly, everyone was already masked up there) but I worried that our flights would suddenly be canceled and we would be stuck in the home of bacalhau forever. Well, Mr. Owl would have been happy but I would suffer. Or not. Portugal has entered the top-five list for possible retirement places. Crazy Portuguese though…I thought I spoke the language and yet, no.

The day after we got back to the US, Portugal identified the first 13 cases of omicron in the country. Turns out they were all soccer players for Belensense, the team that Benfica played on Saturday after we had met their stadium. No, we are not at all at risk on that one–it was the other team, and they played in the Belensense stadium. It was, however, a reminder that circumstances change quickly, and we could have been stranded in Portugal or been locked down.

I will treasure this trip with the Owl family for a long time. When things get better, do not rule out Portugal–with its palm trees, cool castle, amazing food, walkable capital city, and a stadium-buzzing eagle. Stay at the Alegria Hotel on Alegria Plaza (Alegria is Portuguese for Happiness) and enjoy.

The view from the castle

Leave a Reply