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I Flew To France During A Pandemic; Here's What It Was Like

And other personal stories on traveling in the new normal.
PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/DANA.DISCOVERS
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Over the past few months, I've noticed that more people are now open to traveling for leisure. Whether it's a private weekend getaway in Tagaytay or a staycation in Boracay, the reality is it's possible to go on trips again. Although it has risks, it can still be done if you follow certain safety protocols. Cosmopolitan Philippines spoke to three Pinays who recently flew to Bohol, Siargao, and even France. From taking COVID-19 tests, to preparing travel documents, to dealing with different policies along the way, read on to know more about their experiences.

Dianne

Travel destination: Panglao, Bohol

What precautions or research did you do before going there?

"Upon booking my flight, the airline sent me a pre-flight reminder via email, which is also found on their website. It had everything I needed to know for my trip—from travel document requirements, contactless flight guidelines, testing options, and FAQs!"

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If you're traveling to Bohol as a tourist (like me!), make sure you have the following travel requirements:

  1. Confirmed Hotel Booking - It should be accredited by the Department of Tourism and Bohol Tourism! (You can access the list of accredited accommodations in Bohol here.)

  2. Negative RT-PCR test result conducted not earlier than 72 hours before your flight. I recommend that you avail of DOT's 50 percent test subsidy for tourists. It costs as low as P750 at Philippine Children's Medical Center.

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  3. Proof of successful registration via Bohol's tourism website where you’ll get your Certificate of Acceptance and QR code. Make sure to save a digital copy of these since you'll show them at the airport prior to departure. Your QR code will serve as your ID in Bohol, which will be scanned upon arrival at the airport and when you visit establishments and sites.

Travel in the new normal: Dianne at NAIA Airport
COURTESY OF DIANNE
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What's it like traveling in the new normal?

"Before going to the airport, I made sure to bring my valid ID and a digital copy of my travel requirements. I also downloaded the Traze app, which is mandatory for contact tracing at the airport. For a convenient and contactless flight experience, I did the online check-in online and downloaded my digital boarding pass.

At the airport, everyone is required to wear a face mask and face shield at all times. For our airline, self-check-in and self-bag tag kiosks were readily available. There were also floor markers at the check-in counter and boarding gate to observe proper physical distancing. When we entered the aircraft, the cabin crew sprayed alcohol on our hands before we headed to our seats. We were reminded to keep our face mask and face shield on during the entire flight.

At Bohol-Panglao International Airport, we were welcomed by airport staff wearing full PPEs to disinfect our bags, check our temperature, and scan our QR code. After that, we were asked to fill out a health declaration form. We were then directed to the baggage carousel for our luggage, and to the exit to meet up with our designated airport transfer driver who would bring us to our booked hotel."

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Travel in the new normal: Dianne wearing a face shield inside the airplane
COURTESY OF DIANNE

How different was traveling compared to pre-pandemic?

"I think traveling nowadays has forced establishments to increase their safety protocols, which include reduced capacity of operations, proper physical distancing, and contact tracing. As a tourist, my travel essentials were my face mask, face shield, and QR code.

We were advised that the local tour guide to tourist ratio went down from 1:3 to 1:1. Usually in a week, one group lang yung nagtu-tour sa island. For most of the places that we went to, we got the entire place to ourselves. In one restaurant, we were the only guests for that day. Buying food and pasalubong from the local stores can be super helpful to the community. The locals keep telling us that they hope there would be more tourists to visit Bohol soon since their main source of living is tourism.

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As a tourist, my travel essentials were my face mask, face shield, and QR code.

After my trip, I realized that traveling for leisure in the new normal is possible as long as you do it safely and responsibly. I'm looking forward to visiting other local destinations such as Boracay, Cebu, and Siargao to help boost domestic travel and tourism in the country!"

Travel in the new normal: Dianne at Alona Beach, Bohol, Philippines
COURTESY OF DIANNE
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Chrissie

Travel destination: Siargao Island

What precautions or research did you do before going to your travel destination? 

"The flight we booked to Siargao was the first flight into the island since they lifted the lockdown restrictions. Because of this, we assumed that they would require a lot of documents. We booked our flights through Cebu Pacific and they emailed us a list of requirements. To be safe, we also checked the Municipality of General Luna’s Facebook Page for any additional reminders."

What’s it like traveling in the new normal?

"What was initially supposed to be a two-hour flight to Siargao ended up being a 24+ hour travel day for me. First, our tickets directed us to the wrong terminal. We arrived at Terminal 4 just in time for check-in, only to find out that it was closed and that our flight was actually taking off from Terminal 3. We rushed to the correct terminal but as soon as we got there, I was told that my PCR test was invalid because the negative test results had to be no more than 48 hours from the time of arrival, and not date of arrival. We were to arrive in Siargao at 9:55 a.m. on December 4. I took my test at 9:53 a.m. on December 2—my test was only two minutes off but I was denied to fly. My friends had to go on without me. :( 

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Since the next flight was in three days, I decided to take the long route to Siargao. Fortunately, I was able to book a flight to Butuan later that day and the city accepted PCR tests taken within the last 72 hours so my test was still valid. 

Travel time to Butuan took about an hour and a half, while the drive from Butuan to Surigao took about two to three hours. The next day, I rode the 5:30 a.m. ferry from Surigao to Siargao."

Travel in the new normal: ferry ride from Surigao to Siargao
COURTESY OF CHRISSIE
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How different was traveling compared to pre-pandemic? 

"There are much more documents you need to acquire before flying—which takes time and preparation. I traveled with a folder filled with paperwork (itinerary, proof of accommodation, PCR test, barangay certificate, etc.). The airlines would usually check if you had the Traze app, too. Most places in Siargao required us to show our e-Health Pass which was an easy online document we had to fill out.

There are much more documents you need to acquire before flying—which takes time and preparation.

Restaurants and bars that used to be packed with people were now empty—some of them had not even reopened yet. Every sight and island we went to felt like our own private tour. We ended up meeting a lot of the locals and learning about what the island was like during the lockdown. We also got to see how their businesses were doing. It's true what they say: Siargao is a magical place!"

Travel in the new normal: Maamon Island, Siargao
COURTESY OF ANGELA GOMEZ
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Travel in the new normal: Naked Island, Siargao
COURTESY OF CHRISSIE

Travel in the new normal: Corregidor Island, Siargao
COURTESY OF CHRISSIE
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Dana

Travel destination: Paris, France

"Unlike most travelers, I actually booked a one-way ticket since I was going to study in France and the rest of Europe for my master's. With all the uncertainty, I wasn't sure when I'd be able to come back home to visit my family. Luckily, I got to travel with my boyfriend since he's also pursuing his master's in the same country."

What precautions or research did you do before going to your travel destination?

"My first priority was to choose a trusted airline since it was a long-haul flight. When I searched for options, budget was a consideration but in the end, they all cost the same. I looked into the duration of the flights next and I opted for ones with shorter correspondences."

What’s it like traveling in the new normal?

"The first step was to get a COVID-19 test. I went with the cheapest option and actually took my test following the airline's guidelines (72 hours prior to departure). Unfortunately, when I went to the airport, I was rejected from entering and was told to reschedule. Apparently, the airline's policies were different from the country's policies so this is a top priority to check depending on where you're flying to! France required a 48-hour period, not 72 hours. This forced me to reschedule my flight to two days later, and get a more expensive COVID-19 test since I needed it ASAP. Thankfully, there was no fee to rebook the flight. So I prepared my bag and filled out a form given by the French embassy along with my visa. It was an important document to submit upon arrival in France. 

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Travel in the new normal: Airport now has marks on the floor to ensure social distancing
COURTESY OF DANA
Travel in the new normal: seats at the airport now have social distancing signs on them
COURTESY OF DANA
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As for the airport, I arrived four hours before in case there were any additional steps but the process of luggage check-in, immigration, and boarding were pretty much the same as traveling before the pandemic. 

Riding the plane was more strict. The cabin crew was very particular about staying in the area that you were assigned to. Switching seats isn't allowed, either (if ever you would request it). Additionally, the space between individuals was at least two seats apart. In one flight, I had a window seat and the whole row for myself. I had to wear my face mask the entire time, but it wasn't a hassle for me. Also, it was great that the airline gave passengers a container of measures against COVID-19—it had alcohol, a new mask, and more. Maximum capacity of a plane is usually 400 people, but our flight had 140 max. 

The cabin crew was very particular about staying in the area that you were assigned to. Switching seats isn't allowed, either (if ever you would request it).

Travel in the new normal: View from airplane window
COURTESY OF DANA
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Travel in the new normal: Dana's boyfriend, sitting two seats apart from her in the plane
COURTESY OF DANA

When I arrived in France, everything was as expected and immigration wasn't actually strict. There were no physical tests or check-ups conducted upon arrival. There are more machines around to read the temperatures of those passing by, but once I got through immigration (showing the certificate and required visa documents as I mentioned earlier), I could already proceed to the place where I'd be staying. 

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When I traveled to France last year, wearing a face shield was not required and those arriving from the Philippines didn't have to quarantine so I went straight to my apartment. I could freely go out and get whatever I needed. France had less restrictions and within Europe, the safety measures vary per country or border. (It looks like things are different now, though: According to the France Diplomacy website, if you're arriving from outside the country, you're required to submit a sworn declaration stating that you agree to self-isolate for a week upon arrival. For more information, you can check out this link for a list of FAQs.)" 

Travel in the new normal: Dana at The Palace of Versailles (garden)
COURTESY OF DANA
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How different was traveling compared to pre-pandemic?

"There are less people traveling now. You need to take COVID-19 tests, maintain social distancing, and practice safety protocols like wearing a mask. I've never felt more safe nor comfortable in a flight, knowing that everyone in the plane tested negative. Plus, having a row to myself was great! The only hassle was definitely the varying policies between the airline and the country which cost me an extra USD 120 (roughly P5,820). So if you’ll be traveling any time soon, be careful and make sure to do your research!"

Travel in the new normal: Dana at The Palace of Versailles
COURTESY OF DANA
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***Answers have been edited for clarity. 

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