International Travel as an American During COVID Isn’t Easy

I was supposed to go to southern Portugal for a week and southern Spain for a week during June of 2020. When the pandemic started I thought surely I would be able to go later that summer and postponed the trip until August. When I saw the pandemic wasn’t going to be over any time soon I postponed the trip indefinitely.

Finally after vaccinations were available and countries started opening up for Americans I changed my travel plans to include a week in southern Portugal in April of 2022. This was in July of 2021. I knew I was taking a chance things might change again and borders could shut down before April but I also knew I could cancel my airline and Airbnb reservations with no change fees.

As spring was approaching I started checking the Portuguese travel website weekly along with the CDC guidelines for international travel. Many European countries dropped their requirements for COVID tests for Europeans but the United States held steadfast. Because there are often reciprocal agreements between countries, since the US required testing before entry, other countries also required Americans to be tested before entry. For Portugal that meant I would have to get a COVID PCR test within 48 hours of arrival.

I scheduled a PCR test at a small pharmacy a friend of mine had gone to for his test when he went to India the month prior. He said he got his results back in around 30 hours. Because I would be arriving in Portugal on a Sunday morning that meant I had to get my test results back sometime between Friday morning and Saturday evening. My insurance paid for the test so at least I didn’t have to pay for it. Still, I began to get nervous that my results wouldn’t come back in time. Although I was arriving in Portugal Sunday morning I was flying to New York Saturday morning and flying from there to Portugal that evening, meaning I really needed my test back by Friday evening for my peace of mind.

After obsessing about what I would do if I didn’t get my PCR test results back in time I scheduled another test with the county where I live and spoke to someone who told me on the phone the PCR tests were free (no insurance cards were even asked for) and I would get my result back within 4 hours. It turns out I got the pharmacy test result back much quicker than I thought I would so I ended up with both test results that Friday. I breathed a sigh of relief.

One step done, I now had to figure out what to do about the testing requirement for Americans upon arrival from another country. After much research I determined I would “only” need an antigen test, which usually costs around $25-$30, compared to the much more costly PCR test, which I’ve seen can cost anywhere from $100 to $150 and I didn’t think my insurance would pay it if I was in another country. Big difference. Even though I was able to get free PCR tests in the US, I knew that wouldn’t be the case in Portugal and I would have to pay for the tests out-of-pocket. I found a great Portuguese website that listed every place in the Algarve (where I would be) that did COVID testing and included the name, address, phone number, email address, cost, and hours. I did all of this before I even flew to Portugal so I would be prepared once I got there.

The only photo I had from an actual COVID test, although not one from this trip

Since there were literally dozens of places in the Algarve that did COVID testing, I felt confident it wouldn’t be a problem finding a place for that on the day before I would be flying back to the US. But then while I was in Portugal it hit me that I would be there on Good Friday and Easter weekend and I was flying back on Easter Sunday. That meant some places would likely be closed over the holiday weekend. Shit. I started to panic. I should have brought some test kits with me, I thought. What am I going to do if I can’t find a place that’s open on Saturday, the day before Easter?

I started scrolling down the list from the Portuguese travel website I had found earlier and saw many of them were not only closed on Good Friday but were closed the entire weekend. Shit. Hands shaking, I began going to website after website for each company (usually pharmacies) until I finally found one that stated they had openings for reservations that Saturday. Yes! Even better they had openings for late that morning, which would be perfect since I was flying out early Sunday morning. Not only that but they were only 15 minutes away.

The antigen tests were $30 each and within thirty minutes I had an email with both my daughter’s and my test result- negative. Yay! Now I could finally breath a sigh of relief. Not only had I managed to get our PCR tests before our trip to Portugal in time, we had also managed to get the required COVID tests in time before we flew home.

I have to say, the whole process was nerve-wracking. The fact that I was not only vaccinated but double-boosted didn’t mean a thing to anyone. I wished I could have just shown my vaccine card and skipped the whole testing process entirely, like so many other people in other countries can do, or even better, skip any requirements at all, like many countries are now dropping all requirements at all when it comes to COVID, thanks to the drop in hospitalizations and good treatment options.

Do you know, too, after all of my fretting and worrying about finding a place to get tested in Portugal before I flew home the airline I was flying home with (British Airways) never once asked for my COVID test result? Basically I did all of that for nothing. I’m glad I did it and would have done it again because I guess you never know if someone will ask for the result. Had I not had the test done and they asked to see the results they could have denied boarding to me.

So, was it worth all of it? Absolutely, 100% resoundingly YES! Would I do it again? Yes, especially now that I’ve gone through it and am a bit more educated about the process. That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t still be nerve-wracking, with all of the timelines in place but it would be worth it.

Have you travelled internationally lately? If so, where did you go and what were the requirements for travel? Have you been waiting for the restrictions to drop before you travel out of the US again? If so, I can’t blame you, as it’s certainly not an easy process!

Happy travels!

Donna

How My Motivation for Running Has Changed Over the Years

I started thinking about this some time back when I was listening to a podcast and they were talking about how their motivation for athletic activities they do has changed over the years. For example, one person was talking about their motivation for doing triathlons and the other person was talking about their motivation for running. When I started running what I would call in a more regular way in my late 20’s (I phrase it this way because prior to this point I would just run whenever and wherever with no real plan or intention and no races), my motivation was simply for the sheer joy of running, truthfully.

I didn’t need to lose weight or get healthier nor did a friend talk me into running with them. In fact, my boyfriend at the time was motivated by me to run and we would often run together. He ended up doing a sprint triathlon but shortly after that he ran less and less. His heart just wasn’t in it and it was obvious he was just doing it to spend time with me but he had no real motivation to run.

No longer with a running partner, I ran by myself and eventually trained for and ran my first 5k and gradually built up to a half marathon then eventually I ran a marathon. I enjoyed the solitude of being alone with nature and I liked how I felt after a run- accomplished and satisfied. My motivation to continue to run eventually became seeking out more half marathons. It was about more than just running the race, however; all of those training miles became my new normal and a part of who I was.

One thing that helps with motivating me to run is having beautiful places like this to run

Many years ago after I had run a half marathon in several states and I made the decision to run a half marathon in every state, that became my goal and my motivation. Never once did I doubt if I could make it happen. I knew I would eventually get there, no matter how long it took me.

It was definitely always about the journey for me and just enjoying myself along the way. I always made it a priority to spend at least several days in a state, usually more, preferably after the race and take in as much as I possibly could. With only a couple of rare exceptions did I not care for a place I visited. Some places were just OK, as well, but the majority of places I went to far exceeded any expectations I might have had.

Speaking of expectations, one thing I’ve learned over the years but still have to work on is to have zero expectations. This can be about a place I’m going to, about a race, about a person, or about anything coming up in my life. I’m a realist and optimist by nature so it doesn’t work for me to have really low expectations for a place or person but I’ve found if I go into something with no expectations at all, that usually works out well for me. But back to my original topic.

Now that I’ve finished my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, my motivation has once again changed. After my final race in November 2021, I was asked by many people, “What’s your next big goal? A marathon in all 50 states?” or other similar questions. I always just laughed and said, “No. For now I’m just soaking it all in and trying to enjoy the moment.”

After my half marathon in November 2021, I needed a break from running so I took two weeks off from running completely and only went on walks and hikes. Historically when I was still in the midst of my 50 states quest I would almost always take two weeks off from running after a half marathon to let my body heal completely so that wasn’t unusual for me. What has been unusual is for the first time in a couple of decades, I don’t have a half marathon in sight and I’m perfectly OK with that.

I’ve found myself going back to my roots, if you will, when I ran for the sheer joy of running. There is zero pressure for me to find another race to train for, at least in the near future. I had signed up for a local race in February that would have involved something entirely different for me but it was made into a virtual race with the option to defer to 2023, which I did. I ran the Cherry Blossom 10-Mile Run in Washington, D.C. in April, (Cherry Blossom 10 Mile┬áRun) and loved it. For now, I’m just seeing what races seem interesting and going with that.

What’s your motivation to run/cycle/hike/swim/multi-sport/other? Has it changed over the years?

Happy running!

Donna

The International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.- Is It Worth Going To?

Although I have been to Washington, D.C. many times over the years, I had never been to the International Spy Museum, which opened in 2002, until recently. To give you a little background on me, I was a huge James Bond fan as a kid and have seen every Bond movie multiple times. I’ve seen all of the other popular spy-related movies and have always loved them. In fact, at one point in my life I wanted to either be an FBI or CIA agent.

I knew when I was going to be in Washington, D.C. in the spring I wanted to finally go to the International Spy Museum. In fact that was really the only other thing I wanted to do besides check out the cherry blossoms. The real reason I was going to D.C. in the first place was to run the Cherry Blossom 10-Mile Run so I thought it would be a good way to spend the rest of the day after the race.

If I’ve learned anything when it comes to visiting museums during the pandemic, it’s check the website first to see what the requirements are. I also knew most museums prefer people to buy admission online and some don’t admit you without a pre-purchased ticket. The International Spy Museum was no different and had openings for days and times for tickets to purchase online.

I’ve also learned the hard way that sometimes museums (and art galleries and other places that now require you to purchase tickets in advance that didn’t used to have that policy) often sell out, especially if it’s during a busy time of year (Cherry Blossom Season is hugely busy). I checked the International Spy Museum’s ticket status online weeks before I flew to Washington, D.C. (still during Cherry Blossom Season, though) and it didn’t seem to be too terribly busy so I felt confident I could still get a ticket the weekend I would be there for that Sunday. Since the tickets are non-refundable I waited until that Friday and I had arrived in the city to buy my ticket, just to be sure.

So what is the museum like, you may be asking? Is it worth the admission of $30.57 for adults? How much time should I allow when I go?

First, a brief word about the price of admission. I paid $30.57 but when you go to the website, it lists admission for adults as $26.95. What’s the discrepancy? Well, there’s a $2.00 online fee and sales tax of $1.62, so when you add all of that together you come up with $30.57. That all adds up and for a family of four if you have two young children, for example, you’ll be paying almost $100. This isn’t exactly a cheap place to visit, especially if you will be buying multiple tickets.

Back to my first question- what’s the museum like? I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you. If you got that joke, you’re probably a good candidate to go to the museum. But seriously, the museum experiences are on the 4th and 5th floors of the building, with the gift shop on the ground floor. When your ticket is scanned, you’ll go up the elevator to the 5th floor for “briefing.” The museum is immersive so the idea is to pretend like you’re a spy that has been given an identity and a mission. When you see certain kiosks relating to the spy mission, you scan the badge you were given at the beginning, answer some questions, and see if you pass the test so you can move on to the next step of the mission. There are hints along the way and reminders if you forget your spy name or information given to you at briefing. This part is also optional so if you’re just not into that you don’t have to do it and can still walk around and look at the displays.

Also on the 5th floor, there are displays on different spies from around the world, some of the gadgets used over the years, different codes used by spies, and covert missions. I found the information on this floor extremely interesting since I’ve always been intrigued by spies and I enjoyed seeing all of the gadgets that were used along with the background information behind how they were made. Reading about all of the covert operations, both the successful ones and the ones that failed was also interesting.

The 4th floor includes displays on spies from the American Revolution all the way up to modern spying methods including cyber spies. There are displays with spy information before the Berlin Wall was removed and other historical information. One of the more controversial subjects of spying is also on this floor, torture methods and there is information about how the laws for this have changed since September 11. You can also watch a video on how to decide if spies have gone too far. Finally, there’s a debriefing center with hands-on kiosks where you answer questions and find out if you completed your mission or not (I did, in case any of you are on the edge of your seat wondering).

Like I mentioned in the beginning, I’ve always been intrigued by spies and international espionage so I loved this museum. If you’re not a big fan, you likely won’t enjoy it nearly as much. I had 2 1/2 hours with my ticket to explore the museum and I spent that entire time doing just that. If you just skim the displays and don’t engage in the hands-on kiosks and skip the mission you could potentially only spend an hour or less here.

Display with spy-related toys and other items

I saw many young children here, which honestly surprised me since a decent amount of the material might be considered inappropriate for children under 12. I’m sure they also wouldn’t grasp many of the more complicated concepts at the displays and videos at a young age. Perhaps parents see the lure of the mission and think that will entertain them but I would think parents with children under 12 might want their children to skip this museum, in my opinion. This is no “Disney” Epcot Center adventure game, in other words, but to each his own.

If you can’t tell by now, the answer to my question of is it worth going to, my answer is yes if you’re a fan of spies and spy-related information but probably not if you could take it or leave it. You likely would be bored with all of the displays if you don’t care about the information. It would be like when I went to the Football Hall of Fame in Ohio despite having zero interest in football- it bored me to tears and I only went because I was with someone else who wanted to go there.

For tickets and more information, go to their website: https://www.spymuseum.org/

Have you been to the International Spy Museum or have you wanted to go but haven’t made it there yet? If you’ve been, tell me what your experience was like.

Happy travels!

Donna

What Can Happen In a Decade- Part 2

In case you missed it, I began this travel down memory lane with my 40th birthday in 2012 (What Can Happen In a Decade? Part 1). I’ll pick back up here beginning with February of 2018. As before, I’ll focus on the races I ran and places I traveled to during the latter part of the decade I’m going over.

As had been the case for several of my previous birthdays, my birthday in 2018 was also spent while on vacation, this time in the Canary Islands. That vacation began with Carnival in Gran Canaria, where we spent a few days before taking a ferry to Tenerife for a week. Shortly after getting home from the Canary Islands, we took a quick trip to Williamsburg, Virginia for some time at Busch Gardens, ax throwing, and touring the historical grounds of Colonial Williamsburg. Then we were off to my first half marathon of the year in beautiful Boise, Idaho in May. I was blown away by the beauty in Idaho and would love to explore more of the state, especially Coeur ‘d Alene.

June of 2018 included a long weekend in Charleston, South Carolina, one of few places I’ve returned to many times over the years. In August, I ran my second half marathon of the year in Anchorage, Alaska. We also spent time in Denali National Park, saw glaciers, dog sleds, bears, puffins, and some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. That November we went to a tiny town in Arkansas where I ran my fastest half marathon at the time and from there went to Hot Springs National Park. We finished off November with a week in Grand Cayman Island where we saw iguanas, caves, swam with sting rays, and relaxed at some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Finally, we went to Asheville, North Carolina to tour the Biltmore House, all decorated to the hilt for Christmas.

Denali National Park after the half marathon in Anchorage

In February of 2019, I got to spend my birthday week in Hawaii where I went to Oahu for the first time and back to Kauai. I did plenty of hiking on both islands, went ziplining, ran, spent time on the beaches, and discovered standup paddle boarding. That May, I ran a half marathon in Delaware where I finished second in my age group and my daughter finished first in hers. I also went to my first float tank and found it worked wonders for my post-race recovery. Two months later I was off to Peru where I acclimated to the high elevation in Cusco for a few days before doing a multi-day hiking and camping trek to Machu Picchu, followed by a day hike to famed Rainbow Mountain, and several days in Arequipa. This trip was truly a trip of a lifetime and one I’m glad I did when I was young and healthy enough to easily handle the difficult hikes and elevation.

Machu PIcchu!!!

With the year only half over, in July of 2019 I was able to spend time in yet another wondrous area of our country, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. But first, I ran my fastest half marathon to date in tiny little Thayne, Wyoming. I’m not sure which I liked better, Grand Teton or Yellowstone but they were both undeniably beautiful. The summer of 2019 was filled with as much standup paddle boarding as possible at home (and I also did some in Grand Teton NP) plus a bonus long weekend in Hilton Head, South Carolina. That October I spent some time in Omaha, Nebraska for a half marathon and exploring the city.

Little did I know what hell would soon be unleashed when I took a vacation in St. Petersburg, Florida in February of 2020. It’s a good thing that was such a fun trip, full of standup paddle boarding, museums, running, and of course beaches. In March shutdowns related to the pandemic started happening and we still had no clue when this whole Coronavirus pandemic would be over nor did we have any clue how to protect ourselves, at least not in an educated way; everyone was merely guessing what the “right” thing to do was then.

I was supposed to run my final three half marathons from my 50 states quest, beginning with New Mexico in April then Minnesota in June and Iowa in September. All three races were postponed or cancelled and my planned vacation to southern Spain and Portugal in June was pushed back to August before being completely cancelled. After being stuck at home for so many months I felt safe enough to plan a trip to Greenville, South Carolina in June for a long weekend, knowing the vast majority of that time would be spent outdoors. This was a place I could drive to and like I mentioned, we spent our time in parks hiking, running, and walking along the waterfalls there.

Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

My daughter and I went hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in July of 2020. We saw several bears, one up-close, and put in some major hiking miles on the many trails there. Later that month we took another road trip and went to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, specifically Kill Devil Hills. It was right before my daughter started her junior year of high school and was a nice break for her and me as well. We ended the year going to Christmas Town USA in quaint little McAdenville, North Carolina, a suburb of Charlotte. The entire town is decorated for Christmas and you can stroll around looking at the lights while you sip hot chocolate. I tacked on a trip to see the Tanglewood Festival of Lights in nearby Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It’s in a large park with more than a million lights and almost 100 displays that you drive though slowly.

Hopeful that 2021 would be better than the previous year and being vaccinated against COVID-19, that March my daughter and I flew to Tampa, Florida for her spring break. Tampa is right beside St. Petersburg, which was ironically the last place I had flown to before the pandemic began. We swam with manatees, saw dolphins spontaneously splashing around in the water by a park one morning, came across peacocks in someone’s front yard, went running many days, and spent as much time as possible outside.

In June 2021, I ran my first half marathon since the race in Omaha in October 2019. That was my half marathon for Minnesota and I also had my first blogger meet-up for lunch with The Travel Architect and her husband. My daughter and I spent a day in St. Paul and Minneapolis, a few days in tiny Lake City where the race was, then after the race drove to Duluth for several days where we went to state parks and did plenty of hiking. The weekend of July 4th was spent in Atlanta, Georgia to run in the Peach Tree Road Race, the largest 10k in the world. My daughter and I both got in through the lottery system for the race and it was one of my favorite races ever. We also went to the botanical gardens and went hiking at Stone Mountain.

Hiking and backpacking in beautiful Yosemite National Park was incredible

My daughter’s Girl Scout troop had been saving up money for a backpacking trip to Yosemite National Park for a couple of years and thanks to the pandemic we had to push it back from 2020 to 2021 but we were finally able to go in August. We carried everything we needed for the next five days on our backs and with the help of the outstanding guides at Lasting Adventures we all had the adventure of a lifetime hiking and sleeping under the stars.

I had my first solo vacation in October 2021 when I flew to Des Moines, Iowa for a half marathon in my 49th state. This was also my fastest half marathon to date and one of my favorite races ever. Just a few weeks later I flew by myself to Albuquerque, New Mexico for a half marathon in state number 50. Compared to the race in Iowa, this was a bit of a letdown, which is a shame considering it was my grand finale. Still, I was happy to have the experience as a whole, not just the race in New Mexico but the experience of running a half marathon in all 50 states. I topped off that race with some time in Santa Fe (mostly hiking), a place which I absolutely loved. When I got home, I was greeted with helium balloons galore throughout the house, homemade cupcakes, and a nice card from my daughter congratulating me on completing my 50 states quest.

January of 2022 began with some good news, that I had been selected for the Cherry Blossom 10-miler in Washington, D.C. through the lottery. That was followed by some bad news that the Krispy Kreme Challenge I was supposed to run in February had been changed to a virtual run. I opted to defer to 2023 instead. My 50th birthday in February was a special one that I spent with friends and my daughter, with celebrations and gifts spread out over the week. Turning 50 bumped me into the next age group for races and I’m curious to see how that fares for me.

Well, that’s it! A decade full mostly of running, travel, and hiking! I’ve had so many once in a lifetime experiences during the last decade of my life it’s been incredible and I’m looking forward to seeing what the next decade of life brings me!

Happy running and travels!

Donna

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