Travel to Maui: Navigating Covid-19 Regulations
The holidays are behind you, and the mid-winter blues are creeping in. You want to escape the cold and visit a tropical paradise because the talk of Covid, combined with the dreary weather, is killing your vibe. You crave Vitamin D, and long to get some sand between your toes; well Maui is a perfect choice, but getting there requires jumping through several hoops that may cause stress for the inadequately prepared. This post will help to ease you into that swimsuit and have a Mai Tai in hand, poolside with the ocean waves serenading that stress away with just a bit of extra effort on the front end. Unpreparedness for a Hawaiian vacation can result in lots of additional costs and possibly a canceled vacation, so here is what you need to know.
We planned a fantastic trip to Maui and Oahu for early December. The weather was starting to get cold, and we were already craving some extra sunshine. We went on the Go Hawaii website, the official site for the Hawaiian Islands, and a great place to start trip planning. We looked into Covid testing, finding testing partners, and all of the different interisland travel requirements. These regulations are frequently changing, so I will not list any here. It is easy to find current rules, and you should check several times before you depart to make sure you aren't missing anything. One of the biggest things to note is that you can bypass quarantine with a negative PCR test. This test needs to be within 72 hours to the day of your travel. For us, this was a sticky point for our first Maui attempt.
Looking at the Hawaii Official Travel Partners for Covid-19 testing led us to Walgreens as an official accepted partner. We planned to get our test at the local pharmacy and then upload everything onto the Hawaii Safe Travels website as required for quarantine exemption. As the departure date approached, our particular Walgreens did not have the rapid PCR that would give us results in 24-hours. In fact, they could not guarantee results in 72-hours, which meant we would be at the airport with nothing to show we were Covid-free, landing us in quarantine for our entire vacation. A quarantine would not work. We looked into every alternative, and the only thing we could find was testing at Walgreens in Rhode Island. That was a 6-hour drive round trip and not something that we were willing to do.
Luckily, most airlines are pretty flexible with travel and adjusting plans, so we rebooked our trip for early January with no real extra fees (Thanks, United). We added a trip to Oahu and extended the trip, because why not? If we were going to go all that way, we might as well see two islands. Plus, interisland travel from any Hawaiian island to Oahu does not require an additional PCR test. This is NOT the case when traveling from Oahu to Maui, or the Big Island, etc. That will cost you an additional $125 to $150 for another Covid test to be taken on the island of departure 72 hours before you travel to the next island. And if you are thinking of not testing because maybe they don't check, they do. They check a lot. People verify your status at every hotel and even before some activities. It is a good idea to have your results from the Safe Travel Hawaii site bookmarked on your phone because many places will ask to see them. Best to visit that link and save it now. You will need it.
We filled out the information on the Safe Travel Hawaii site for the second time, adding our stop in Oahu. We had a running joke about if we thought the trip would happen, "Today, I'm about 50% sure it will happen." This time we made an extra precaution. We would stop in San Francisco, where they have testing in the airport, and use that as a back up if we couldn't get our Covid tests. It seemed like a pretty solid plan. We booked what looked like excellent excursions. One that I was incredibly hopeful for was to the Kualoa Ranch for their raptor adventure in ATVs. When we received our Covid-19 test kits in the mail, this time, we decided to test with United Airlines; we were 80% sure that this trip would happen.
We were scheduled to leave on the Monday after New Year's Day. That was the 4th of January. We were excited. On the Wednesday before, the day before New Year's eve, we received a refund for the Covid test kits. Confused, we called the lab for more information. It turned out that the lab was not processing kits on the weekend. We would not be able to get our tests within the 72-hour time frame. We explored the San Francisco contingency. That now seemed like an option only for California residents. San Francisco had recently clamped down and was now requiring quarantine for travelers. This trip was doomed!
Back to square one, we decided to give it one more shot. I called and canceled everything. Micah worked with United...again. It would cost us an extra $250 per person because of the proximity to the fly date. Ticket prices increased. We would now leave on Thursday the 7th after taking our tests on Monday when the lab reopened. We must have called the lab five times to ensure that everything was in order and that our kits could be re-activated. We had to drop Oahu from the itinerary because we needed time to quarantine when we got home, and we would lose that time of the front end. It was a small price to pay IF the trip actually happened. We also couldn't have contracted the virus, and all of us would have to test negative. I test twice weekly at work, so I was reasonably confident that I would be clear. I took extra precautions at work, such as wearing an N-95 at all times even though it was only required when in quarantined patient's rooms. Besides, there were no positive patients at work, so I felt pretty safe. Micah and our youngest son pretty much quarantined anyway as they are both at home for work and school. The only wild card was Laurel, our oldest daughter, who also works in a hospital with Covid patients. She assured me that she was cautious, so I was feeling optimistic. Not overly positive but, the third time is a charm, as they say.
The day to test came. We had to do a Zoom call, and they monitored us while we did the anterior nasal swab. When doing this type of swab for a trip, the vital thing to remember is to get boogers on the stick. They need to see human DNA to verify that it went into the nares and a specimen was collected. So twirl it around in there, it is not as uncomfortable as a nasopharyngeal swab where the "touch your brain," as they say, but it isn't a picnic. There is something on those swabs that make them stingy a bit. I always sneeze.
They watch you place your sample in the vial, then seal the entire thing in a bio bag, and then insert into the prelabeled envelope for shipping, sealing it on camera maintain integrity. They verify who you are and the kit numbers. Even with this precaution, they got some of our samples mixed up. Two people in our party did not get results, and two people who did, received duplicate results. If this happens, call right away. It was after normal working hours, and the error was still fixed promptly. Everyone soon received their letters saying we were each "NEGATIVE." We uploaded them to the Safe Travels site and printed hard copies to keep just in case. We also had to fill out the 24-hour health attestation on the Safe Travel site. Minors will be under a parent's login, so don't forget to add their info as well. This gave us a QR code for them to scan at the airport. It was getting real now. We had gotten further than we had ever been before, so we felt it was finally safe to pack our bags.
Thursday, the 7th of January, we woke early and drove to the airport. It was finally happening. We were 95% sure we were going to Maui. All we needed to do was get through security and not miss our flight. Easy. We had left plenty of time.
Our first layover was in Denver. We had breakfast. We were 99% sure now. We boarded the plane for the final leg of the journey. And then we sat there. And we sat there. And still, we sat there. It was getting uncomfortable. This was an almost 7-hour flight, and we had just spent an hour in the plane waiting on maintenance. Then the worst thing happened. They said they could not fix the aircraft, and they asked us to exit. They said they did not know if they could fix it, or if they would have us board another plane. They were offering a connection to San Francisco and a later arrival.
At this point, I am beginning to think that this trip is not meant to be. I told Micah, if the flight is canceled, we will just go to Cancun. He looked at me and shook his head, "I didn't bring the passports." (INSERT EXPLATIVES HERE) I was not going to get that sunshine I so desperately needed. Devastated doesn't begin to describe my disappointment at the prospect of not visiting Hawaii. This trip meant more than just a little fun in the sun. It would be checking off one more state and inching closer to a lifelong goal of reaching all fifty. Hawaii, number 49, always seemed elusive. So far away on the complete opposite end of the country, England is closer. My dreams were slipping away, and now I could not see any way forward to accomplishing this goal. I would be teaching again soon, and travel would not be an option for a while.
After about an hour, there was good news. United Airlines had found a plane to get us to Maui. Of course, I was 100% sure at this point that the plane would crash into the sea and I would never reach our destination, but I tentatively boarded with my family, and we were off again. 6 hours and 45 minutes later, we landed in Kahului. Miracles happen. I was so tired and so happy to get there.
We made it through all of the checkpoints, temperature, and safe traveler documentation, picked up our baggage and rental car, and we were off to find a bite to eat. We had made it! It was around 1 am Eastern Standard Time, 8 pm in Hawaii, and we were eating at Jollibee, a first for us. It was not my ideal first meal in Maui, but I couldn't complain. State 49 checked off and I was alive.
There were so many hurdles to jump through when traveling to Maui, but I only remember paradise when I look back. I hope you find yourself in Hawaii real soon, and I hope that my experience gives you some guidance for navigating the challenges of traveling to Hawaii during the Covid-19 pandemic.