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Travel in a time of COVID-19

As the world tries to get back to normal with people travelling again, know it won’t be easy. The past two years have taught me that time, resilience, and planning for the unexpected are crucial when travelling in and out of Canada. 

I grew up in Maryland, a U.S. state on the East Coast, a mere 1000 kilometres away from Nova Scotia. On a direct flight, it would take 2 hours — around the same distance as Halifax to Toronto — to travel the distance. 

On a day when nothing goes wrong, and with a short layover, I can get home in under six hours. However, changing restrictions, testing requirements and delayed and cancelled flights are making travel nightmarish. 

Getting to Dalhousie

Almost every time I’ve crossed the border, I’ve faced a different issue. 

In August 2020, international study was deemed discretionary and only a handful of international students were allowed to come to Canada to study. Students had to prove without a doubt they needed to be in Canada to enter the country and online synchronous classes at Dalhousie University were not enough proof.

Worried I wouldn’t be able to enter the country, I got a folder and stuffed it with every grade report, accommodations form and rental agreement I could find. My dad, a Canadian citizen, also travelled with me when I left for school. As I was nineteen, I was still considered his dependent, and therefore automatically allowed to enter Canada. Phew, crisis averted…or was it?

Going home

When I came home for summer break, I faced another hurdle. This time it wasn’t Canada’s restrictions worrying me, but ones blossoming in the U.S. While Canada slowly eased COVID protocols, the U.S. began announcing the need for a negative test taken within three days or less to enter the country.

During this time, Nova Scotia was in its third wave, so travel testing was scarce. My test did not come back quick enough, and I had to beg the travel agents at Stanfield to let me through to my connection to Montreal. 

Once in Montreal, I ran to the rapid testing clinic and got my results back in under fifteen minutes, but there wasn’t enough time. The travel agents back in Halifax hadn’t checked my luggage through in case I ended up testing positive. As my flight to the U.S. was the last one that day, I had to spend the night in Montreal.

Worse than the delays, Air Canada would only allow flights to Newark, N.J., and Chicago due to the rising cases that month. The next morning, after my one-hour flight to Newark, my dad picked me up and drove me three hours back home. A journey that should have taken seven to eight hours took me 26.

It goes on and on and on

Even this past month, I faced more uncertainty when I entered Canada after Dal’s winter break. After crossing the border, I was guided to arrival testing where I was told to quarantine until I received my results. 

At first, I didn’t mind until I realized the nurse had given me incorrect information. According to the federal website, travellers coming from the U.S. do not need to quarantine while awaiting results. 

Confused, I called the public health helpline, who directed me to an email address, as they couldn’t tell me if I needed to quarantine or not. After emailing public health and getting no response, I called the Dalhousie International Centre, who told me to follow the federal website. 

We need some travel consistencies 

Ever-changing restrictions and delays are not the only issues international travellers need to be aware of right now. It’s also important to make sure you have time set aside to update non-pandemic travel documents. And when I say time, I mean months.

Lengthy passport delays cause havoc. In May 2021, while in the U.S., I renewed my passport, expecting it to arrive in one to two months. By August, I still had no passport, and I was about to drive with my family to Nova Scotia. 

I had to plead with my congressional representative to be allowed to go to the emergency passport centre. My representative tried to persuade the National Passport Agency to give me a passport. Since my family and I were crossing the border by land this time, the Agency did not allow it. I had to travel by plane for them to even give me an appointment. 

Reluctantly, I booked a flight and met my family, who drove without me, in Nova Scotia. Although passport delays may fluctuate depending on the severity of the pandemic and the country, be sure to organize enough time in case of any extreme delays.

Let’s face it, travel right now is hectic. It takes more time, money, and causes more stress than ever before. Travellers must constantly be up to date on current restrictions and ensure they have everything they need to travel. 

My advice to international travellers coming and going from Dal? Know the restrictions and possible delays inside and out before you go anywhere. Even the minuscule ones can cause instant stress and confusion. So, if you’re travelling to other countries, be prepared.

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