Planning and Preparation for Travel to Alaska during COVID Pandemic
It was becoming more and more evident that the most ideal time to travel was not going to appear but with enough planning and preparation, perhaps we could pull off a bigger trip in 2020. After previously venturing to Acadia National Park and the Finger Lakes, we learned the COVID measures that made us feel safest as well as keeping others around us safe. I had made a rough draft itinerary for Alaska and had done even more research to make a one week ready to go trip – just in case. And after a ton of planning and preparation (read all about that in this post – coming soon!), we pulled the trigger just nine days before the trip in hopes of taking back a little of what 2020 stole – adventure.
Alaska has been a destination hiding in the wings and I had a feeling there were some factors working in the favor of it being a good choice during COVID. 1) It is a destination of outdoor activities 2) There are no cruise ships going there so the number of tourists are way down 3) It is not easy to get to 4) It is way less populated 5) Summertime is ideal time to travel. Obviously, the biggest two factors that added risk was 1) You have to fly there and for us it would be two flights with a layover 2) If the weather is bad, there is not much to do outdoors.I referred back to my post on Planning and Preparation for Travel during COVID Pandemic and Alaska seemed to meet many of the factors I had been looking for.
We kept a very close eye on the COVID situation in Alaska and the trend seemed to be the cities combined with indoor dining / bars are where the outbreaks occurred. So we made two decisions: 1) We would avoid downtown Anchorage 2) We would not eat out and instead cook our own food (read about that here – coming soon!).
I had planned a two week rough draft itinerary so I had the framework for a trip already done. I was a bit apprehensive to commit to a full two weeks since things are changing so rapidly and a week trip felt like a safer bet. It was also easy to remove the places that were not open, such as Denali National Park (the bus was not operational to take visitors through the park) and Katmai National Park where the lodge was closed. After making cuts from the 12 day itinerary and taking it down to 8 days, I researched excursions and Airbnbs that we would potentially book. I had the entire trip planned and on standby.
Nervous to commit to anything, it took us awhile to actually pull the trigger and pay for things. The flight and excursions all required money upon booking and each had a variety of terms and conditions for canceling and refunding. We picked excursions that created flexible cancellation policies for 2020, most of which included full refunds within 24 hours. So if catastrophe ensued, we could at least get a travel credit for the flight and the money back on the excursions. After cancelling numerous trips earlier in 2020, it was hard to trust that this could actually work.
We booked the flights nine days before we were scheduled to depart to Alaska. After we booked the flights, I immediately booked the Airbnbs and all excursions. While Airbnbs were not plentiful, we loved the ones we ended up staying in. And it was amazing that a week and a half out we were able to book all the excursions with no issue (spoiler: we ended up being the only ones on some of the excursions !). Once we were locked in, it was time to follow Alaska’s travel requirements.
Up until August 11th, travelers could arrive to Alaska with a few difference scenarios.
- COVID tested within 72 hours of travel and results are negative
- COVID tested within 72 hours of travel and results are pending – required quarantining until results were back and submitted to the state
- COVID tested within 5 days of travel and results are negative – required repeat COVID test at the airport (free!)
- No COVID test – required COVID test at the airport (free!) and quarantining until results were back and submitted to the state
- Repeat COVID test was required if stay exceeded 7-14 days
- Quarantine for 14 days
Once COVID numbers continued to rise and resources began to be more difficult to procure, on August 11th, the following changes occurred:
- COVID tested within 72 hours of travel and results are negative
- Otherwise, you have to quarantine for 14 days or pay $250 dollars for an at airport COVID test
So we had to get COVID tests within 72 hours of our flight and have the results back before we arrived. PCR tests were specifically required by Alaska. Check out this page on the FDA website comparing the different types of tests. The online travel portal required a declaration as well as uploading of the negative test results. Our flight was Friday afternoon so our testing window began Tuesday afternoon. Nervous that one test would not be fast enough, we had three options:
- We used Project Baseline through RiteAid (PCR test) and got tested on Tuesday evening (results came back on Saturday)
- We used Pixel through Labcorp at home test (PCR test) and tested on Tuesday afternoon (results came back Thursday)
- As a last resort, I found an urgent care a half hour away that performed rapid antigen test. I had an appoint on Thursday evening but canceled once we got the results for the Pixel test.
I will say, this was a bit stressful because 72 hours turnaround time is pretty aggressive at a time where increased testing and shortage of swabs is creating long delays in testing results. Once we got the results on Thursday, the weight of the world lifted and I felt I could finally get excited about this trip. We completed the travel portal and declaration as we prepped to leave.
Coming from New Jersey, my home state had a long list of states that required quarantine when arriving back to the state. Alaska was added to the NJ list on 7.21 and was removed on 8.11 and added back again 8.18, then removed again 8.25 – it has gone off and on the list every week! We had plans to quarantine and COVID test when we got back home anyway but it was confusing to have this state go off and on this list each week. The number of cases and deaths in Alaska still minimal in comparison to most states so we were not concerned. We knew we would not be participating in “risky” activities when we arrived.
Other preparations included packing new COVID fighting items in our carry on such as masks, cleaning supplies, and hand sanitizer. Make sure to check out the Planning and Preparation for Travel during COVID Pandemic post with more information on traveling during the COVID pandemic even if it is a road trip or somewhere nearby.
One thing we have learned so far is if you are traveling in 2020, you have to be flexible and ready to change plans. State COVID websites are constantly being updated with changes and it is important to stay on top of them to ensure some sort of smooth travel. Being from NJ, states are regularly coming on and off the quarantine list. Check ahead of time for anything you may want to do as many companies have chosen to close for the 2020 season. If you are going somewhere that you may leave disappointed because things got canceled or are unavailable, 2020 may not be the best time to travel. But if you are willing to be flexible and take advantage of the things you can, then it can be a great, memorable trip.