My employer has this benefit where I get a sabbatical every five years. I somehow made it to my second sabbatical, which I’m currently still on for another three weeks. Due to being a parent, I decided that I would do solo travel when my kid was still in School, and I started my trip to Iceland in June 2022. This was my first international trip anywhere since March 2020 when the pandemic shutdowns started, and I decided to do Iceland instead of a day trip to Blaine, WA because I thought that a longer trip would be better in case I got COVID.
I was right.
I got COVID the day before I was supposed to leave Iceland, and here’s a timeline of what happened, and from my understanding, the steps that you’re supposed to take that nobody will tell you. So, buckle up, here’s the summary of the trip starting with when I suspect I got COVID:
June 24-June 27th – Laugavegur – Where I got the COVID
I started Laugavegur planning to camp. That said, I greatly underesitmated the snow and the wind, and since I had huts in my package, I decided to use huts. This meant that I was sleeping in a hut with 20 other people, and when hiking, my COVID caution goes out the window. The logic behind it is this, “If these people had COVID, they wouldn’t be able to hike in the first place”. This logic is more sound when everyone is hiking a similar hike as you where they’re hauling gear. This logic is complete bullshit when they’re getting their food driven up to the hut for them by a giant truck with monster truck tires. I’m pretty sure I got the COVID from one of the people in the Hut in Day 3 (June 26th) of the hike from an older person. The thing is that I had no reason to stay in this hut other than laziness, and I should have setup my tent down below in the tent village.
June 29 – Symptoms and a Negative Test
The primary symptom of my COVID was a scratchy throat. I had snorkeling in Silfra scheduled that day, and I decided to use a Cue Health test that I brought with me to determine whether to do this or not. These tests, which are NAAT tests, are supposed to be 99.6% accurate and are basically a Home PCR test. Unfortuantely, the design of the swab as well as the instructional video means that I had a FALSE NEGATIVE test and I foolishly trusted it and went snorkeling. I regret this, but I thought I was making an informed decision by using what I thought was a BETTER test than a Rapid Antigen test.
June 30 – The Westman Island Boat Ride
I was scheduled to fly out July 1st, and I was all out of COVID tests. My throat was getting worse, but I thought it was my only symptom.
Then I got on the ferry and had a very rough ferry ride. The ferry to the Westman Islands is VERY much like taking a BC Ferries ride to Victoria, and that was when I realized that I very likely had COVID-19. I immediately walked from the Ferry to the nearest pharmacy and bought a RAT, and that’s when I got my first positive test.
I changed my return boat ride to the first possible one back, and I made a bunch of wild phone calls back home to notify everyone about what happened, since I treated it like a medical emergency. That’s when I realized that the Canadian Embassy in Reyjkavik sucks ass and is closed most of the time. I literally had no idea what the process was for COVID. Worse yet, my accomodation was my fancy splurge accomodation at the Silica Hotel, which was at the Blue Lagoon. I had to go to the Blue Lagoon to isolate, and I couldn’t swim at the Blue Lagoon, go to the fancy restaurant. I basically watched $1200 being lit on fire by COVID. That sucked pretty hard, but that wasn’t the worst of it.
After I got to the hotel, I hunted for any Canadian Government number to figure out what I had to do. I eventually called the ArriveCAN technical support line in Ottawa, and that’s when I was able to figure out what you do when you get COVID overseas.
What to do when you get COVID:
- Reschedule flights to 11 days after your first positive test
- Isolate for 10 days
- Go Home
Now, this isn’t 100% accurate, but at least I was able to get that. Unfortunately, Icelandair does not have a direct flight back to Vancouver 11 days after my positive RAT. That’s fine, because that would have been wrong anyway after poking around in the website a bit more, and talking to the Icelandic government. RATs don’t matter, PCRs matter.
So, here’s what I determined that I had to do:
- Reschedue a flight 15 days after first positive PCR
- Book a PCR test
- Isolate for 10 days, or until RATs go negative, doing one RAT per day
- Kill remaining time by travelling Iceland
- Go Home
So, I had to book a hotel for 10 days, unfortuately this is impossible, so I booked one for 7 days and one for 2 days. I already had COVID for two days at this point, so I should be past COVID by the weekend, but I decided to hang around Reyjkavik anyway in case I wasn’t. I also rented a car for that week so I had private transportation and wasn’t spreading COVID on public transit. This isn’t required, but it was a good idea for Iceland, since I didn’t want to rely on finding a Hopp scooter to get to and from the PCR testing site.
I had 5 hours to kill, so I literally drove to the testing site and used the opportunity to mask up and buy groceries at the grocery store next to the PCR clinic for what I estimated were 8 days of isolation (I had 2 days of COVID symptoms at this point). When I got in the PCR clinic, I was told there’s diagnosis PCRs and Travel PCRs. I realized that I needed to book a travel PCR, BUT I wasn’t sure because there’s NO INFORMATION ON THE HEALTH CANADA WEBSITE ABOUT THIS.
I got my PCR, I then isolated on the weekend and attempted to call the Government again on Monday. Unfortunately, it’s actually impossible to get a hold of Health Canada to figure out what the appropriate process is, so I gave up and just booked my Travel PCR anyway. This was a very good move on my part, and I will explain a bit later.
That night I had the worst of my COVID symptoms, which were alternating Fever and Chills, sore muscles, coughing and massive amount of sweating. It was more mild than my first COVID shot of Astrazeneca, just to put this all into perspective.
I went back to the PCR testing site and got what I knew would be a Travel PCR. I also noticed that I didn’t get my first PCR test result back. I also topped up groceries, because it was the only opportunity to do so in the same trip. I know that’s not strictly isolating, but I needed to make sure I had enough Ibuprofen, Juice and Soup to plow through this. Most of the symptoms were gone at this point and according to the Icelandic government, I didn’t need to isolate anymore.
However, we’re not going by those standards, because we know better given that BC’s piss poor standards are the same. We’re going by the WHO and Health Canada standards and papers that say to isolate until the RATs go negative. But I’ll totally use the wiggle room to allow myself to buy Groceries and basic life necessities, because nobody is going to send me a gift basket to get through this.
I get my Travel PCR back and a e-mail from the Chief Epidimiologist in Iceland recommending that I isolate for 5 days. I’ve already isolated for 5 days at this point, where getting PCRs and food were my only times going out. Uh, thanks I guess? I call the COVID testing line and it turns out they screwed up my e-mail and sent my original result to the wrong address. I get copies of both tests at this point, which I want for my records.
I keep isolating and catch up on Obi Wan Kenobi and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. I read through some books on Kindle.
I did try to go for a Hopp ride outside while masked to see sights, which I determined was extremely low risk being outside, and that didn’t last very long becauase I got tired.
I got my first Negative COVID test that day. It’s also the same day that I have to check out of the first isolation hotel, so this is conveient. I get back on my masking bullshit, and I go see some sights in Reyjkavik.
I travel through Westfjords. This is a time kill until the July 15th flight, since I can’t even travel out of Iceland until the 15th to anywhere.
I receive an e-mail from the Icelandic Government declaring that I have fully recovered from COVID-19 providing me with a QR Code. This is actually very important for getting access to other countries and being exempt from the PCR testing requirements for the next six months. Now that I’m triple vaxxed AND have recovered from COVID, I can go to any country.
At this point, I use ArriveCAN and go back to Canada. They don’t bother checking my PCR tests, and they’re just happy that I stayed in Iceland and isolated. It’s very likely that people are travelling with COVID, which the Canadian Government insists shouldn’t happen because carriers aren’t letting people on board. Now, while I think this is a shitty thing to do, I undertstand why people do it, since it’s cheaper. However, given that I would have had to isolate for 10 days in Canada under the Quarantine Act, and that AirBNBs in Metro Vancouver are more expensive than changing my flight and hanging out in Reyjkavik, I feel like I made the right choice.
When you travel and come back to Canada, you’re expected to isolate and not be in a shared residence. That means you can’t go home with your family, or your roommates, or anything like that. You have to book a room by yourself for self-isolation. For Reyjkavik, this cost me $4500. For Vancouver, this can cost up to $5000, since we’re dealing with last minute costs. I haven’t gone through the Claims process for my COVID-19 insurance yet, and I will be doing that on Monday, but it only covers $2500 of the costs, so I’m going to be eating the remainder out of pocket.
I recommend buying insurance that covers the cost where you’re going and reading the fine print before going to save money. Assume that when you travel, you WILL get COVID-19.
So, here’s what I recommend you do when you get COVID while travelling:
Get a Travel PCR right away
The reason for this is three-fold.
- PCR is more accurate than a RAT
- PCR is an official COVID result for travel. You can use the recovery certificate with your vaccination records to gain entry into the US and the EU. This MIGHT be overkill, but if the country has random PCR testing like Canada, you want to avoid it because you WILL test positive for months afterwards on a PCR.
- Insurance Claim – You need this to use your COVID-19 insurance.
Reschedue a flight 15 days after first positive RAT
Unforunately for me, my COVID results were during Canada Day long weekend. If you need to get something done involving the Government, this is the worst possible time. Shit can happen and you may not be able to break isolation after 10 days, or even get a PCR the day you get your RAT. Give yourself some buffer time to get this done.
Isolate for 10 days, or until RATs go negative, doing one RAT per day
Enjoy the extra time on your trip if you can
I went to Westfjords for my extra time. Look, here’s the thing, you just beat COVID-19, a disease that’s killed millions of people. Sure, you probably will have some post-COVID bullshit, and you’ll never be quite the same after, but people are never quite the same after a bunch of shit. Life goes on and you should enjoy the time that you have.
Actually, this is optional. You can go anywhere you want, but after 10 days in isolation in a foreign country, even a good foreign country like Iceland, you’re going to want to go home and eat something that’s not Pasta or Soup in a Cup.
For me, other than the obvious guilt of getting COVID, being away from family and having my kid lose out on her epic camping trip that I planned for her to make up for missing out on Father’s Day, I had other reasons to go home, or at least to North America.
I really wanted hamburgers with pickles in them, because those don’t really exist in Iceland. Iceland has some weird aversion to putting Dill Pickles in Hamburgers. Now, I generally I want to eat traditional food when I travel, BUT Meat and FIsh Soups, Fish and Happy Marriage Cake is going to get old really quick. Also, a Hamburger is cheaper than Lamb.
And don’t get me started on the Mexican Food fad. If you think Canadian Tacos and Burritos are bad, let me introduce you to the sad wraps sold in Icelandic Craft Beer restaurants. I get that travel is expensive, but I feel like there needs to be a way for people to meet and cook for other people, because I could make a Burger and a Taco that would be far better than anything that you could find in all of Iceland.
Hopefully this helps people who are looking to travel. I know that COVID is a serious illness, but the reality is that you have to live your life at some point, and there’s tons of things that are dehabilitating, like getting hit by a car, or falling when climbing. Life is about taking risks and making mistakes, and the fact is that your risk tolerance is your own. That said, you need to be able to take informed risks, and hopefully this information helps with that.