Here’s What Traveling Internationally Looks Like Now

Here’s What Traveling Internationally Looks Like Now

Around most of the world, there is obviously some trepidation with traveling because of the pandemic. Then you toss in the idea of traveling internationally and the uncertainty is even more intense.

As most of you know, we’ve been living in Panama since August of 2019. When this pandemic initially came around, we decided to stay put living abroad.

That went well for a while, but it got tougher and tougher being stuck in lockdown without family nearby, particularly for my wife, Lisa, and my daughter, Faith.

When they once again extended the suspension of opening the airports for an indefinite amount of time, we made the incredibly difficult decision to head back to the U.S. on a humanitarian flight.

The thought of traveling internationally was not something we took lightly. Not only were we leaving from a location with so few cases in our area to head back to the epicenter of it all, but we were also putting ourselves at a bigger risk in our travels there.

So now you’ll get to see a little bit of what traveling internationally is actually looking like right now.

Our shared drive to Panama City

We hired a driver to take us from our condo in Boquete, Panama to Panama City. Normally, we’d just head to the city of David and take a puddle-jumper plane to Panama City. However, all the airports are closed so we had to make the 8-hour drive across the country instead.

The driver was excellent – he kept us informed from the time we booked him, was early to pick us up, spoke excellent English (bonus!), and handled everything for us. In case you ever need him, keep the name Luis Arce in your back pocket. With the tip, we paid him a total of $240 to get the three of us across the country.

Now, you know that we were very adamant about being extremely careful while traveling internationally on this trip. In fact, here’s a photo of us in the van with our masks on…

Here’s What Traveling Internationally Looks Like Now - Masked in the Van
We had some masks made specifically for this trip… go Browns!

But, unfortunately, it’s not just about what we’re doing. We shared the van with four other passengers. The two other women wore their masks the entire trip while the other two men didn’t.

You might have your own opinion, but I think that’s completely selfish. The mask isn’t to protect you, it’s to protect others. Don’t be the jackass complaining about your freedom being taken away and other preposterous excuses. If you’re in public, wear your mask, and stop acting ridiculous.

Staying in a hotel in Panama City

We arrived in Panama City around 3 pm and our flight wasn’t until 3 am. Because of that, we had booked a room at the Riande Airport Hotel around the corner from the airport.

When we walked in, they had hand sanitizer on a table by the entrance but no one was standing there. Eventually, someone chased after us to take our temperature while we were checking in at the front desk.

We pulled the bedspreads off the beds in the room and spent the beginning of our stay wiping down and disinfecting a lot of the room.

Although we could have gone to the restaurant at the hotel, we didn’t want to expose ourselves to yet another place. We also didn’t want to wait for it to open. So we ordered room service for dinner instead – oh, and a beer…

Other than that, we stayed pretty quiet and kept to our room the whole time. Faith and Lisa fell asleep for a handful of hours while I just rested (I couldn’t fall asleep).

The hotel provided a shuttle from the hotel to the airport at midnight since Copa wanted everyone at the airport three hours before the flight. Don’t ask me why – even though we’re traveling internationally, when you have only one flight at the entire airport, that seems a little excessive.

But it is what it is – we took the shuttle there along with another family and one other passenger. Fortunately, everyone was wearing a mask for this trip.

Traveling internationally from Panama City to Miami

Onto the creepy part of the trip! Panama City reminds me a lot of Miami – very busy, very trendy, and very expensive. Tocumen Airport in Panama City is along those same lines… usually.

In this case, though, the airport was closed. Our humanitarian flight was the only flight there that I’m aware of and it was a little weird.

Checking in was straightforward enough though. Masks were mandatory there and they spaced everyone out in line. I initially thought that our temperatures were not taken there. But I found out later that they’re now using thermal cameras for temperature screening right before you pass through security.

Here’s What Traveling Internationally Looks Like Now - Checking in at Tocumen International Airport in Panama City

We then walked through the normally crazy-busy airport to get to our terminal. So strange…

Most people that were there for the flight seemed to cram around the terminal area… why? The smarter folks seemed to find their own areas a little further out during the long wait time. I’m going to lump us into the group of smarter folks because that’s what we did as well. We found a little area right nearby where no one was hanging out and set up shop there…

We had heard from passengers on prior humanitarian flights out of Panama that nothing was open here, so we had packed some snacks. Although we didn’t really have a desire to eat at 2 am, it was good to have something on-hand just in case.

Hey, look – there’s our plane!

Here’s What Traveling Internationally Looks Like Now

Our plane wasn’t sold out, but when I checked the seat map through the Copa app before the flight, it might as well have been:

Here’s What Traveling Internationally Looks Like Now - Copa Standby List
So much for leaving middle seats open!

We had to go through a second security check, which seems to always be the norm when going from Panama City to Miami. However, everyone seemed to forget about social distancing this time around. People were all crowded up in each other’s business and the security staff was all touchy-feely on everyone’s stuff. I think we basically showered in hand sanitizer after we got through that mess.

Once we boarded the flight, I snuck a photo of one of the flight attendants…

Here’s What Traveling Internationally Looks Like Now - Copa Flight Attendant

I guess this is better than not wearing any protective gear but is the gown and shower cap really helping that much? Seems a bit overkill, but maybe it helped them or other passengers feel a little more at ease (or maybe it did the opposite!).

Masks were mandatory at the airport and on the flight. But get this – I saw one of the same guys who wasn’t wearing a mask on our van from Boquete to Panama City. He wasn’t wearing one in the airport and I saw him walk onto the plane without one.

I heard a couple of people near me on the plane complaining about him as he boarded and I just rolled my eyes when I looked up and saw him. Thank God he was probably about 15 or 20 rows in front of us. I don’t know if anyone said anything to him but I wish they would have just thrown him off… wear a mask!

Sick of seeing photos of us with our masks on yet?!

The flight took off on time at 3 am and headed to Miami. Lisa and Faith slept on the flight but I guess I was still anxious and didn’t sleep again.

They also passed out bags of supplies to everyone. Each bag had a bag of fried plantains (mmm, delicious!), a bottle of water, a mask, and gloves.

That was a nice surprise, but what I thought was a little strange was that it got passed out quite a ways into our flight. Wouldn’t the protective equipment have been more useful to pass out as people were boarding rather than later? Give one of these to the guy who boarded without a mask on!

Anyway, the flight was as close to normal as you get for a red-eye flight while traveling internationally except for seeing people in masks everywhere. The lights were out and most everyone slept.

Miami airport was pretty dead when we arrived around 7 am. Going through customs was a cakewalk. Even without our Global Entry and no line, this would have been an easy one since the regular lines weren’t very long this early in the morning.

Flying first-class from Miami to Akron/Canton

You might already be aware, but due to the pandemic, tons and tons of flights have been cut from the daily schedules. I had heard numbers ranging from 70% up to 95% of flights had been eliminated at one point.

That meant we didn’t have a lot of choices when we booked. And believe it or not, the prices weren’t that impressive. I’m so glad that we’ve racked up some solid frequent flier miles through credit card rewards over the past few years!

We had booked a flight with American Airlines using some frequent flier miles on Lisa’s account. We had a unique experience though in that it was actually cheaper to book first-class than economy. I’m told that’s a pretty rare occurrence, but we gladly ran with it.

There were two downsides to the flight though (not that we had a lot of choices):

  • The flight wouldn’t leave Miami until 3:55 pm. That meant 8 hours or so of hanging at Miami airport.
  • It had a layover. That meant yet another airport and plane to add to our exposure risk.

We figured that we could get day passes to the American Airlines Admirals Club to waste some time. However, when we talked to them, they didn’t have any food other than some pre-packaged foods like trail-mix. We decided it wasn’t worth the $59 each and so just walked around the airport and chilled out serving our time waiting.

We were both surprised by how many folks at the airport were wearing masks. Not everyone, but a lot more than we anticipated seeing.

I believe I’ve only ever flown first-class one other time and that was with Lisa years ago. It was kind of nice to have a little more breathing room. On both the flight to our layover in Charlotte and on the final leg to Akron/Canton, we were in row 1.

Here’s What Traveling Internationally Looks Like Now - Sitting in First Class on American Airlines

Not that we plan to fly first-class much, but we did learn that row 1 has the downside of not having seats in front of you. That only matters because it means you don’t have a place for your carry-on. We had to put our bags in the overheads on both flights. And on the first leg, it all went so fast that we had popped them up there without first grabbing our hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes… ugh.

Regardless, we made it through about a day and a half of traveling. I even finally fell asleep for about 20 minutes on that last leg to Akron/Canton.

We got in around 9:15 pm but had some more good news – it seemed like we were the only flight at Akron-Canton Airport. It’s nice not having crowds.

We got our bags quickly – they came out first because they were tagged from our first-class tickets. Then we called for the hotel shuttle.

Rounding out traveling internationally with another hotel stay

We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Akron-Canton Airport right by the airport. The shuttle driver was wearing a mask and was just one helluva nice guy.

We got to the airport and checked in. There was hand sanitizer at the entrance and the person working the front desk was behind a Plexiglass wall.

We were beat but still hadn’t eaten. Dave, the shuttle driver offered to take us to get fast food and we took him up on it. Taco Bell and a Budweiser I picked up from the gas station never tasted so good!

Here’s What Traveling Internationally Looks Like Now - Faith Eating Taco Bell
Although Faith probably deserved a Budweiser as well, she stuck with water with her Taco Bell

And that’s it – we conked out immediately after eating. I finally fell asleep for a solid 10 hours!

This post is just shy of a week after our fun trip of international traveling and we’re hunkering down in self-quarantine. So far no symptoms. Let’s hope that keeps up for another week!

Traveling internationally isn’t something that we wanted to do (when’s this teleportation stuff going to become real?!). However, it wasn’t as horrible as we anticipated either.

Does the idea of travel right now make you a little squeamish or does that not bother you?

Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

You know you wanna share this!!

32 thoughts on “Here’s What Traveling Internationally Looks Like Now”

  1. Warren Johnson

    Jim – I’ve been wondering about your travels back to the US. I’m glad to learn that you three made it safely. I hope your safety continues. I’ve only flown once in the last 19 years, so figuring out the pre-check and global entry is mind blowing for me. I’ll keep your message and hope to pull this off one day.
    Unbeknownst to me, I was scheduled for a July trip to Panama. However, that was canceled (that’s how I found out about it). Now the wait continues. I hope to visit before the year is over. Then, the final move may have to wait until May in order to get a decent rental rate after the snowbirds leave. I’m trying to be patient.

  2. Realistically, do you expect to return to Panama at all and if so do you think you’ll get back there in 2020?

    1. Tough call on that… I think it’s a longshot. Even if they open up their borders, they may very well restrict citizens of countries like the US from entering. That said, a good chunk of their economy is based on tourism (a lot of which comes from the US) so there will probably be a strong push toward opening that up as well.

      I hope that we’ll get back there in the next couple of months, but not much we can do except continue to listen for their game plan. In the meantime, we packed most of our valuable stuff and brought it here just in case we can’t get back for a long time.

  3. I don’t plan to fly until 2021 – violates all my risk factors of confined spaces, gathering humans, indoors plus my employer has grounded us. Instead, I took a loooong US road trip last month and it was great! Probably not practical for Panama -> US travel, although you can drive over the canal.

    1. I think that’s great, Mary. Not flying right now is a smart move (I’m not that bright).

      I would bet there will be a heckuva lot of road trips this summer. If we can’t get back to Panama, we’ve already started talking about doing that ourselves while we’re here. 🙂

      1. Gosh this makes me sad hearing you say that possibly you might not make it back to Panama (at all, I assume?)! I know that you worked on this plan for years. My wife and I watched the House Hunters International…so we feel like we were right there with you making the decision.

        Stay safe and keep us all posted!

        1. Thanks, Kevin – we do hope to make it back there. Unfortunately, it’s out of our hands. It’s up to Panama to decide when they’re going to open their borders again and up to the U.S. to prove that they can get control of virus cases enough for Panama to allow its citizens back in.

          I hope we get there sooner than later but we’ll make the most of things while here. Being flexible and being able to adapt has always been one of our strong suits. 🙂

          And thanks for watching us on House Hunters International – that was a ton of fun to be a part of!

  4. Thanks for the update Jim! We just travelled from LA to Seattle, well I should say moved there and it is definitely a little odd to be traveling right now. Although we drove since we had stuff to bring up with us in our car. When we stopped, there were always some people wearing masks, but there were also a lot of people not wearing masks. The hotels we stayed at were all pretty good, at least it felt that way. But such as interesting time to say the least.

    1. Congrats on the move, Mrs. Wow! I’m sure that was a little strange moving right now but I’ll bet you’re glad it’s done.

      I’m in the camp of not understanding why masks in public aren’t required right now… particularly here where the numbers are not very pretty. It’s not a lot to ask – it’s not like asking people to go to war for their country. It’s silly not to and it should be mandated. Ok, I’m off my soapbox! 🙂

  5. Thank you for the article. We haven’t done any traveling since the lockdowns started (had two trips cancelled for the year so far, one in June, one in July). Its good to get the info out there, and I appreciate it. Stay healthy!

    1. Sorry to hear about your trips canceled trips. I can only imagine the number of folks’ travel plans that got screwed up because of this pandemic. Hopefully, you find something good to make up for it either now or down the line.

  6. So many ninja’s running around these days… 😉

    Well, that looks like it wasn’t too bad actually. It sounds like you guys were masked-up and hand sanitizing every couple of seconds. You should be OK.

    Welcome to the new normal. That’s what air travel is going to look like for the foreseeable future. Not until this thing is irradiated will people be able to go back to “free range”. Not even the experts can say if it’s possible at this point.

    1. It definitely wasn’t as bad as we had envisioned, but we still had so many places we could have picked up the virus so we’ll still wait it out just in case.

      I agree on this being the new normal for air travel right now – maybe another year or so until we see things relax again… hopefully.

  7. Thanks for the recap! What a long trip, but I’m sure you guys are now happy you made it.

    I’m thinking of going to Hawaii this month b/c it is mango season.. and to visit my parents haha.

    Not sure why I’m no longer afraid. Maybe it’s b/c people are much more hygienic, and maybe I might have had it already given I was sick for 3 months earlier.

    Empty airports sound good to me!

    Welcome home.


  8. Hey Jim,
    Thanks for the update; I’ve been wondering how you guys fared on your journey. It’s great to hear that you took/are taking all of the appropriate precautions and that you are all still symptom-free! What a relief! Enjoy your time back in the U.S. and stay safe and healthy! PS I traveled via air from WA to NYC (home) in mid/late May and it was definitely a nerve-stimulating experience. I am 1000% with you on mask wearing and doing the right thing for others around us. However, based on the lack of concensus or widespread cooperation (and enforcement) on that point, I don’t see us traveling again anytime soon, except MAYBE somewhere via rental car…and only maybe at that. I sincerely hope that you guys will be able to return to Panama when you want. Again, welcome back and best wishes for your continued healthy and safety!

    1. I’m with you on bringing traveling down a notch for the time being. If we get “stuck” here for much longer than anticipated, we were talking about maybe getting a car and road-tripping it across the US. It would give us something fun to do and we’d be able to visit with family and friends we haven’t seen in years. Stay safe, Damon!

  9. Thanks for the recap. I’m thinking about going to Thailand later this year if the school doesn’t open. It’s risky, but probably not much worse than staying in the US. It’s getting out of control again here.

  10. Jim-
    Crazy stuff. Thanks for the insight. We had a trip booked to Spain that we canceled in early March. So we changed our plans to Costa Rica and bought tickets, then Costa Rica closed their borders. It all happened so fast. I have a ton of money in the form of airline vouchers now that I’m just itching to use.

    We’d take an international trip this year if we didn’t have to quarantine afterwards. Both mine and the wife’s company require a 2 week quarantine after crossing the border. Silly, if you ask me, since California, where I live, is one of the hot spots in the world, and I’m more likely to get it here than in another country where they take it seriously and wear masks.

    Have fun road tripping. A cool road trip would be back down to Panama…


    1. Ugh, that sucks on your travel plans. It’s a different world right now for sure!

      Haha, you’re not ever going to catch me doing a road trip to get to Panama. Call me a chicken, but driving all the way through Mexico isn’t something I’m going to do. 🙂

  11. What’s the plan for your Panama condo? We have places in Costa Rica that are getting some domestic tourists but with borders closed we can’t go nor most of the world. We haven’t traveled since the pandemic simply b/c our trips have been cancelled — we had Singapore, Portugal and Spain on the docket, oh well! Road trips have been good. More traffic than expected but still much less than normal. I don’t know when we’ll fly again. There are hot spots popping up all over the US.

    1. Hi Caroline – well, that condo in Panama is not a great situation but not the end of the world either. We paid up our rent before we left through the end of our lease which expires in September. That actually gives us a little flexibility. If we get back before then, no harm no foul – we just continue on as normal.

      If we find out that we’re not going to be able to get back for a long time though (i.e. 2021), we’ll probably just not renew our lease. It’s not something we want to happen, but at least the renewal comes at a time that gives us that choice.

      Sorry you’ve had to cancel your travel plans. This virus plain-out sucks but it is what it is. I’m glad to hear though that you’ve adapted accordingly and have been able to at least do some road trips instead. 🙂

  12. My boss is due to fly back from Denmark this week. It’ll be interesting to hear how his situation compares (if his flight actually happens). I’m due to travel to Vermont for business in August. Looking at rental cars for now if it happens…

    1. Hope it goes well for your boss. Things are a little different, but a lot of it just seems like business as usual. Smart move on going the rental car route if you can. Staying out of any crowded space if you can avoid it just makes sense. We’ve had a flight in place from Cleveland to Austin for mid-August for months now, but we’ll probably cancel it and do the same with a rental car… why chance it?

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