Traveling to Hawaii During COVID

Does anybody else’s eye start to twitch when they recall the rolling lockdown measures in March of 2020? I know I do. A year later, we are in a much better place; we are distributing vaccines (to those who qualify), masks are now a regular part of our everyday wardrobe, and bars and restaurants are opening in a limited capacity. Life is inching towards becoming normal again.  

After a year of canceled plans, Aaron and I decided to embark on a vacation to Hawaii. Why Hawaii, you ask? It’s a bucket list destination for both of us, and Aaron has friends currently living in Oahu. Win-Win for us! Booking flights and places to stay was the easy part. Navigating the COVID requirements… well, that was a different story. 

Using the proper test within the 72-Hour window

When planning the trip, we booked the flights, rental cars, and hotels/airbnbs first. Making all of the bookings was a gamble since some of these were nonrefundable. Once committed, we started investigating the COVID travel requirements. Going from site to site reading all the rules is when my anxiety kicked in. Finding a place to get a test was the easy part. Hawaii’s state guidance has a comprehensive list of all its accepted testing partners (Link to Hawaii testing partners HERE). While picking a testing site was easy, I was overly worried about receiving a negative test result. I allowed my mind to run wild with the thoughts of being an asymptomatic carrier. I was checking my temperature and wiping down surfaces as if we were at the height of the COVID crises all over again. My stress over finding and taking a test was curbed once we decided on two options that would deliver the test within the needed time frame. 

Initially, we purchased the Costco/Azova testing kit with video observation. The testing kit shipped overnight, and we scheduled to take our test within what we thought was the 72-hour window; we were wrong. When we calculated the 72-hours from the final leg’s departure, we forgot that we were leaving from the Pacific Time Zone in California. You think two pilots would have thought of that. As fate would have it, we were two hours outside of the 72-hour window when we logged on for the video observation. Time was of the essence. For the lab to receive the test and have time to process it, we needed to take the test on our initially planned testing day. When we rescheduled for two hours from the original testing time, the testing proctor said they would be closed. Panic started to well up inside my chest. There were two options: reschedule for the next day and pay an additional $100 to same-day ship the test or find a different testing facility. 

Walgreens for the win! I don’t know why this wasn’t our first choice. It was so simple and easy. I scheduled my appointment for the drive-thru test the following day. Note: if you are scheduling an appointment yourself make sure you choose the Rapid Diagnostic Test (ID Now). Results should be emailed in less than 24 hours, and this is the only accepted rapid test from Walgreens the State of Hawaii accepts. I was a bit nervous about the test being self-administered. Was I capable of sticking that swab up my nose? The answer is yes, especially if that’s all that stands between me and a Hawaiian vacation; I will power through it. To my surprise, I prefer self-administrating the COVID test. A nurse administrated my only other COVID test. Let me warn you now; when someone else is swabbing your nose, they go much further up the nasal cavity, leaving your nose burning like you jumped into the deep end of a swimming pool and water was sent rushing up your nose. The self-administrated test, while uncomfortable, was not as dramatic. 

Hawaii Safe Travel – QR Code

Once I received my negative COVID test, I uploaded the test results to the Hawaii Safe Travel account. Registering on the site is required for everyone traveling into the state. I provided the state with my full travel itinerary; when I would be arriving and departing and where I was staying. I was also required to provide a copy of my driver’s license and negative COVID test result. 24-hours before departure, the Hawaii Safe Travel website required us to complete the health questionnaire. Once everything was uploaded and double-checked, The system emailed me a QR Code to show the screeners at the airport. 

The screening process at the airport is a well-oiled machine. They scanned the QR code, checked my profile for all the formal requirements, and I was done! If you are planning on renting a car or staying at a hotel, they will ask you to log into your Safe Travel account to prove you cleared the checkpoint at the airport as well. 

To prove you cleared the screening process, you will need to log into your Safe Travel account and click trips.  A drop-down will open listing all of your trips. Select the appropriate trip, and under the QR-code, two green checks and the word “yes” will appear on your profile, proving you were screened and exempted from the 10-day quarantine. 

Traveling within the Islands 

Traveling to one island in Hawaii is an ambitious trip in and of itself. We traveled 18-hours from Tampa, FL to Oahu. While we could have stayed and discovered all this island had to offer; we went a step further. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is located on Hawai’i Island (the Big Island), and we didn’t come all this way not to check this National Park off our list. Determined to squeeze this stop into our trip, we needed to find an additional testing facility in Honolulu. 

Not wanting to leave anything to question, I called the Kona Health department to clarify travel between islands. Since we were staying in Honolulu for a day and then traveling to Kona, we needed to retest and receive a negative test result 72-hours before departure to Kona. If we were traveling through the Honolulu airport and did not leave the terminal, this second test wouldn’t be necessary. 

The Kona Health Department told me our best bet for a quick test was to schedule an appointment with the National Kidney Foundation of Hawaii. They had two testing locations: the Honolulu Airport and the Hawaiian Monarch Hotel. We chose the Hotel because it was the closest option. Wanting to get this out of the way first thing in the morning, we arrived around 9:00 am to take our test. It was a slow process. From the time we parked, waited in line, and self-swabbed our noses (again), an hour and a half had passed.  Our test results were emailed to us later that evening. Following the same 24-hour health questionnaire and document upload process as before, we were all set for travel to Kona. 

It was the same check-in procedure when we arrived at the Kona Airport as it was in Honolulu. The screeners scanned our QR code, and we were on our way. I read Kona airport was randomly selecting 25% of passengers for an additional COVID test (at no cost). Thankfully, we did not get chosen, and passing through the screening process was a breeze. 

Arriving back in Honolulu from Kona did not require a COVID test.  There wasn’t a checkpoint for flights arriving from within the other islands. We were free to exit and continue with our vacation. 

Looking back on the whole process, it wasn’t as overwhelming as I thought it would be. The majority of our confusion stemmed from navigating the procedure for traveling from one island to another. Asking for clarification from the health department was immensely helpful. The Safe Travels website is user-friendly, and the reminder text messages and emails ensure you will not miss your health screening check-in. 

If Hawaii is on your bucket list of places to visit, now is a great time! The popular attractions are not overly crowded and many of the activities are outside, which naturally keeps people spread out. Knowing there is an additional cost involved with required COVID testing is a bummer, but I did feel safe traveling throughout the state knowing how serious everyone was about following the heath requirements. 

Knowing the protocol for travel to Hawaii, is it on your list of places to travel? As destinations begin to open, where would you like to travel first? 

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