I started writing this post just one day before we started traveling to Ohio from Panama. By the time you read this, we’ll be in the dead of winter in Northeast Ohio.
We’ve left the 75°F daily temps of Boquete to head toward the Akron/Cleveland area where the high has been hovering in the teens lately. It’s snowing off and on as well, but that’s par for the course in February in Ohio.
We might be the worst snowbirds ever – I think we’ve got this whole thing flipped around!
It’ll be great to (carefully) spend some time with family and friends again, but traveling to Ohio in February? Not our best move.
Today, I’ll fill you in as to why we’re here during what’s generally the worst weather month each winter and what we’ve got going on.
Our normal plan – summer and the holidays
When we first moved to Panama in 2019, we knew as tourists we’d have to leave every 6 months for 30 days. If we obtained residency here, this would be a non-issue.
The Visa that would make sense for us to get would be the Friendly Nations Visa. That would solve the problem of needing to leave twice a year for long periods.
But there are two problems with that:
- We still want to go back a couple of times a year to see friends and family. We don’t mind traveling to Ohio and actually kind of enjoy the whole “adventure” of the trip (we’re weird like that!).
- We didn’t want to spend the money unless we were sure we were going to live here for the long haul. I’m ball-parking it would run us around $7,500 for us as a family to get the Friendly Nations Visa… that’s a big chunk of change! Considering we decided that we’ll be moving back to the U.S. in May of 2022, I think we made a good decision.
So for the time being, we’re perpetual tourists living in Panama and that’s worked out well. We first came to Panama in the summer of 2019 and then went back to Ohio in time for Thanksgiving. We got back to Panama before it was crazy cold in Ohio.
We then went back to Ohio on July 1, 2020… and that’s when our nice little schedule headed straight down the toilet.
The wrench in the works leads to traveling to Ohio in the dead of winter
Traveling to Ohio or wherever we want when we leave from Panama each time isn’t so bad.
The problem though is that you only get so much flexibility in defining when you’re going to leave. Sure, we have some room to choose the day and maybe even the week we want to head out. But if we want to head out in the spring but our time’s up in the winter… sorry, Charlie – you’re leaving anyway!
And that’s kind of how we got into the position we’re in right now.
When the pandemic hit, we had some stressful months of trying to figure out a plan. Should we stay in Panama or head back to the U.S.?
In the long run, we headed back to the U.S. in July of 2020. That in and of itself would have been just fine. We would have gotten back to Panama in August and then could have headed back to the U.S. again for the holidays.
However, Panama had closed its borders and wasn’t allowing non-residents back in. That was a tough one to deal with – we thought we were going to have to just throw in the towel and not be able to get back to Boquete.
Fortunately, they opened up the borders again on October 12. We didn’t waste any time and got back on October 14. But that still threw off our schedule.
Now, could we have gone back to the States for the holidays? Of course. But I’ll tell you this – going from Ohio to Boquete or vice versa is a long day or two of travel. It’s draining.
We weren’t ready to jump right back into this exhausting travel in November or even December and that leads us to where we are now. Technically, we have until mid-April to get out of Panama to comply with the tourist rules here, but that would still throw off our schedule.
So, we decided to go back in February. We’ll get back to Boquete again in March to restart the clock. At that point, we’re going to make another trip in July and then we’ll be back on track. We’ll make our last round-trip around the holidays. And finally, we’ll be calling it for a while and leaving in May 2022.
In the meantime, that’s why we’re traveling to Ohio during the winter.
The “actual” traveling to Ohio
The U.S. is now requiring a negative PCR or antigen test taken no more than 72 hours priors to departure to enter the country. We found a place here in Boquete called Laboratorio Biomedica that provided walk-in antigen testing for $40 each with results within an hour. So three days out from our flight from Panama City to the U.S., we made a day out of it.
First the always-fun antigen test…
While we waited for the results, we decided to treat ourselves to some gelato. Faith went with a unique pineapple/basil flavor even after tasting it… not my cup of tea, but she loved it! Lisa and I were boring. She went with salted caramel and I chose Oreo cookie.
Then we stopped off at Panadería y Dulceria Lidia (a local bakery) and picked up a loaf of cheese bread. Awesome and at $1/loaf, it’s hard to go wrong!
We still had some time so we stopped off at Mar De Grau Boquete for a cerveza (Faith opted out on the beer!).
Then we headed back to the lab to pick up our results… no “VID” here! It was pretty easy to upload a photo of the results into the United app where they verified the results and gave us the Ok.
It was like a small sigh of relief to know that the one thing possibly stopping us from traveling to Ohio was not a problem. The negative results meant we were good to finish packing and wrapping things up. I’m impressed by how well we timed the wrapping up of food in the fridge, too. Knowing we’d be gone for a month, here’s what things were looking like before we left…
On the morning of Monday, February 8, an awesome friend of ours picked us up and dropped us off at the airport in David (about an hour away). I love this airport. It’s an international airport but it’s the tiniest airport I’ve ever seen. You go through security and it leads to one single room with two terminals. But really the two terminals are just two doors to the outside where you go and walk to your plane. Love it!
We try to be very careful with the pandemic still rearing its ugly head. So it makes it a little easier when the airlines do too. We took it a step further this time around and wore face shields as well while at the airport and for the flight. We flew Copa Airlines to Panama City and they gave each of us a bag as we walked onto the plane that contained a bottle of water and a bag of plantain chips (I love those!).
This was just a short flight to Panama City (about an hour flight). A lot of flights throughout Central America flow through Panama City as the hub so that’s normally where we end up before flying to the U.S.
Unfortunately, there still aren’t a ton of flights going on anywhere so we couldn’t make our schedule work very easily for same-day travel. Instead, we stayed a night at the Crowne Plaza in Panama City near the airport. I was pretty proud of myself for chasing a deal down where I got it for $79 for the night. That’s the total for the night with taxes already in the price and this offer also included free breakfast. BOOM – frugal win!
The next morning, we enjoyed our free breakfast and then took an Uber back to the Panama City airport ($2.81). It was relatively quiet in the airports (Panama City, Houston, and Cleveland) and the trip seemed to go by a lot quicker than usual…
We got to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport around 8 PM (a half-hour earlier than expected!), picked up our luggage, and jumped on the Park ‘N Fly shuttle. If you remember, we bought a 2012 Honda Pilot last summer when we decided to make our 40-day road trip. We had left that at my parents’ house and they were nice enough to drop the car off at Park ‘N Fly for us.
We headed to my in-laws’ house where we’ll be spending the next few weeks living in their basement… it’s become our home away from home! We sure have some great parents, don’t we?!
Enjoying our time here
Ok, we’re here in Ohio… so now what?
Well, we’re starting with a good ol’ self-quarantine – who doesn’t love one of those nowadays?! We’ve just spent the past week living like hermits in the basement.
Soon, we’ll start to carefully visit with family and friends. We’ll even try to do a couple of extremely small belated makeshift Christmas get-togethers. We’ll see how that goes! It’ll be great to see everyone again for sure, even if it’s at a distance.
Considering that we have to stay out of Panama for at least a month, we’re now talking about visiting my brother and sister-in-law in Texas as well. We could fly in for next to nothing during the middle of a week in March using our coveted Southwest Companion Pass and then get an antigen test before even getting to their house. As Texas residents, we should be able to get the tests for free.
We’re thinking we’ll stay with them for a week and then get tested (again!) right before flying back to Panama to meet their requirements. The nice thing about stopping in Texas first is that we’ll already be a few hours closer to Panama – that’ll make the trip back a little easier!
Although traveling to Ohio in the winter doesn’t rank as one of my favorite times of the year to be there, it’ll still be great to see everyone. The hassle of going back and forth isn’t too bad either. Regardless, taking advantage of travel rewards makes all this awesome traveling either free or close to it. And let’s face it, free travel just feels so much better than paying big bucks for it!
Plan well, take action, and live your best life!
Thanks for reading!!