I Tested Positive for Covid-19 While Traveling and Here’s What Happened
I don’t want to say the worst thing happened. I’ve seen the movie Taken. Obviously, there are worse things that can happen while traveling. But this felt like the worst at the time.
As of April 21st, 2022 (when I’m typing this), most countries have opened their borders to US citizens for travel after Covid-19. However, there’s one huge risk if you do decide to travel internationally from the US: if you test positive, you can’t go home. At least, not immediately. I, along with many others, know this risk and choose to travel regardless. I thought, “if I get stuck in Europe….umm…I’m in EUROPE. I’ll be fine.”
Until it happened.
I left for Greece on April 9, 2022. I first felt symptoms on the morning of April 13th. The tricky part is that my friend and I had gone out the night before and had way too much to drink, so I assumed what I was feeling was a bad hangover. I hate to say it, but at 28, two day hangovers are a thing. So, when I still felt icky the next day, I didn’t question it.
Our flight back to the US was on April 16th, meaning we were required to get a Covid-19 test at some point April 15th. When I woke up on the 15th still not feeling quite right, I started to get worried. I had never experienced a 3-day hangover and I was kind of pissed that my first time had to be in Santorini.
I wanted to get the Covid test done and over with so I didn’t have to worry about it for the rest of the day.
IT WAS POSITIVE.
I remember thinking one million thoughts all at once.
“I can’t believe I actually got it.”
“So this wasn’t a 3-day hangover?”
“I probably spread it to more people. I hope they were vaccinated.” – a lot of guilt came from this one.
“HOLY SHIT I CAN’T GO HOME”
I never thought this would happen to ME. Me, the careful planner, the avid traveler, the one who rarely gets sick. But it did. And I panicked. A lot.
What to do First After Testing Positive
After reading the email that seemed to scream in big, bold, red letters: POSITIVE, I immediately felt like a pariah. I didn’t want to get to close to anyone, I felt like everyone was staring at me, and I just wanted to curl up into a ball in the middle of Santorini.
My friend went to talk to the pharmacist where we took the test and he told her that the line on my test said I had a heavy viral load (cool cool) and that I’d probably had it for 6-8 days since symptoms don’t hit right away. This means I got it on my way to Greece or before which only added to the guilt of potentially spreading it around.
He also told my friend that he was required to “alert the authorities” and had already done so. I’ve racked my brain since then, but I still don’t really know what that means. I had to give them my passport number when I took the test, so the only thing I could think of was that they might flag my passport if I try to get on a flight. Remember, I could have technically gone anywhere in Europe – the US is the only place that was requiring a test.
If you’re in this situation, I highly recommend talking to whomever administered the test and understanding what you need to do next. Some countries have quarantine hotels that you have to go to. Some don’t make you quarantine at all.
If you took an at-home test, you can call the American Embassy or look online to see what you have to do if you test positive.
Rules After Testing Positive for Covid-19 in Greece
Every country is different, but Greece is very much like the US. After testing positive, you are required to quarantine for 5 days. There are Covid hotels, but you don’t NEED to stay in one (I didn’t).
No one from the “authorities” reached out to me to see what I was doing which made me feel like I could really be doing anything except flying back to the US. However, I wanted to be as safe as possible, so I did actually quarantine for the full 5 days, only leaving my hotel room to get some fresh air and food.
How to Get Through Quarantine Abroad Without Losing Your Sanity
The first thing that crossed my mind was “how am I just going to sit in this hotel room and not go crazy – especially when I’m in SANTORINI?” I’m going to be completely honest here. The first couple of days were rough. I was still feeling the symptoms, so I kind of had to stay in bed either way. My friend who I was traveling with left to go back to the US after testing negative initially (totally understandable).
A lot of responses I got were, “okay, but you’re in Greece! What an amazing place to be stuck!”
And while…sure…Greece is an amazing place, it doesn’t feel good to be stuck anywhere.
Being stuck in a country is a lot different than vacationing in that country. All I wanted to do was go home and see Austin and Misha, but I wasn’t allowed to do that.
What helped me the most was talking to people. I shared what was happening with my Instagram followers and I chatted with a bunch of them. I called my mom and Austin every day. My friends were always there to talk to. This helped me feel like I wasn’t truly alone.
The second thing that helped was that I found a bingeable show on Netflix that had a LOT of seasons. For me, it was Superstore – kind of like The Office, but for people that work in a store that resembles Walmart. It was on Netflix in Greece, but I believe it’s on Hulu in the US.
If you’re in this situation, I know exactly what you’re feeling. You will get through it. I know it’s all consuming right now, but in a few weeks, it’ll feel like a blip of time. Feel free to reach out on Instagram if you want to talk (@sarahearnstein).
Options for Getting back to America After Testing Positive
As it stands, a negative Covid test is the easiest way to get back to America after traveling internationally. You need to take one within 24 hours of your flight home. This varies per country, but these can mostly be found in pharmacies. Some hotels will be able to get someone to come to your hotel room to do it. Alternatively, you can take an at-home test as long as there is a live, authorized person on a video call watching you do it.
However, there is one other option.
And I’m hesitating with how to share it because I don’t want this option to be exploited. So, the rest of this section is just facts on what I did and what I noticed. None of this is advice!
The second option is to have a positive test (taken within the last 30 days) and a doctor’s letter of recovery.
The letter of recovery can be a PDF emailed to you on your phone and it doesn’t have to be from a local doctor. Ideally, you’d contact your primary care physician and they can see how you’re feeling and understand when symptoms started/stopped via telehealth. From that information, they can either clear you for travel, or suggest you sit tight for a few more days.
This was a bit tricky for me because I don’t currently have a primary care physician. I called around to a few urgent care centers near my house in Washington, but they all said I needed the original positive test to be with them in order for them to issue the letter of recovery. Obviously, this wasn’t an option.
So, I did some Googling and found a company called QuickMD.
I believe they specialize in quick telehealth visits via phone or video and they’ll issue doctors notes if needed. They also issue Covid letters of recovery.
It seemed way too simple to me, but I was able to make an appointment with a doctor and she asked when my symptoms started, when they stopped, when I tested positive, and when I was looking to travel. She cleared me to travel and sent the letter of recovery to my email.
Since I wasn’t showing the typical negative test at the airport on my way home, a supervisor had to be called over, but everything was fine and I was able to come home to the US.
I hesitate sharing this because I could have easily lied about when my symptoms started/stopped and therefore gotten the letter before I should have been allowed to travel. However, I want to explain this route to anyone who might be in my shoes (without a trusted PCP). I just urge you to be completely transparent with the doctor you talk to. We don’t need this thing spreading even more than it already is.
How to Travel Prepared for Anything
I am an over-preparer by nature. After this experience, here’s what I’ll be doing when traveling internationally at least until the negative test requirement is lifted:
- Checking and double checking the requirements for testing positive in the country I’m going to before I leave. It was incredibly stressful to do this on the spot.
- Traveling with my work laptop. Luckily, I was able to work on my personal laptop while I was there, but it just doesn’t feel right.
- Budget an emergency fund for each trip in case something happens and I have to stay longer.
- Book everything with a refundable (or at least changeable) fare.
I sincerely hope you’re never in this situation, but doing these things will help make life a little easier if you are. And like I said before, if you’re going through this right now, you’re not alone and you will get through this. I promise!