As you may know, I truly love traveling. I hope to visit every country eventually- the goal was initially to visit each continent and I quickly realized I want to see way more. I really think my biggest passion in life is exploring and experiencing new cultures and food and seeing new landscapes. With Covid hitting hard last year, all my travel plans came to a screeching halt. I had a trip to Colombia planned in March of 2020, right when the pandemic hint. I was so stoked for this adventure, and gutted when I was told by my school that I couldn’t go. I also had a big cruise planned (my first cruise ever) planned with my parents to several stunning countries in the Mediterranean. Obviously a cruise ship is the last place you want to be during a pandemic, so that trip was shut down. The first time I left Saudi in 2020 was to go home to Hawaii, and boy did I need that break. I had such an amazing trip home and got to stay with my sister in California and get some quality time in before going to Hawaii. I am so thankful that my family stayed healthy during the first big waves of the pandemic. I know Kylie got COVID, maybe a few times, so now I am hoping she is super immune.
Finally, 2021 came with the optimistic news of the vaccine. Unfortunately, access to this vaccine was so different based off what country you live in. I still have friends in Malaysia who are patiently waiting to get fully vaccinated. Saudi was super weird, since they started off strong giving the vaccine to the whole KAUST community in March, with the promise of a second jab in a few months, since we had AstraZeneca. Months passed and we had no word from the government or KAUST about when we would have access, but apparently things in the country changed and they decided to hold off the second dose until everyone got the first. That means my second dose had to wait until the end of July! Anyways, now I am finally fully vaccinated and decided it is time to go on a trip. David went home to France in July, and as much as I wanted to go timing didn’t work out since I have so much field work to get done, as I am really trying to finish up my PhD as soon as possible. So I stayed at KAUST, did lots of turtle nesting work, and watched many KAUST friends and community members leave for the summer as I sat jealously watching. My friends and lab mates Mili and Ali went to the Maldives for a live aboard, and their trip looked out of this world. Their pictures were stunning and I thought to myself that I would probably never live closer to the Maldives than I currently do and I should make the most out of life and just go. I have saved quite a bit of my salary during Covid since I can’t travel, and we get free housing at KAUST so I spend money on food (and also payed off my student loans last year- woo!). So I bought the ticket and started planning the trip. No quarantine was required just a negative PCR test. Things are a bit complicated with different islands on quarantine, with the list changing every week, but I decided to take the chance and just go. I want to sit my bum on a beach and read a book, I want to snorkel and frolic in the sea, and I have never needed a vacation more than I do now.
I have always had a bit of travel anxiety, airports are stressful and it is so easy for things to be delayed. But I am trying to constantly remind myself that worrying over things will not make a difference. I was so relieved to get my negative Covid test, as that is another huge stress (with false positives and a symptomatic cases) and nope. I also made sure to get insurance that covers quarantine in the emergency case that I get Covid while I am here. I flew with Qatar air and thankfully they have a super flexible booking policy so I can always change the dates if I need to.
My biggest advice for those who choose to travel during the pandemic is to invest in a good mask, get vaccinated, print out all your travel documents and make sure to do all the correct research on what the requirements are, and make sure to arrive at the airport very very early. Traveling to the Maldives was pretty straight forward, I needed to book my hotels in advance as well as a return ticket. I needed to get a negative PCR test which had to be uploaded to an online system 24 hours before arrival to the Maldives. The link to get the QR code is here. This QR code also needed to be filled 24 hours before departure out of the country.
I also opted to stay at local islands instead of resorts in the Maldives, and I am very happy with this decision. No further PCR tests were needed changing islands, which made it much easier and cost effective. Although you do need to keep an eye on the Maldives quarantine list to ensure the local island you plan on visiting is not currently in quarantine. I traveled to the local islands with both fast boats and domestic flights, and again neither required a PCR test.
When leaving the Maldives I got to the airport 4 hours early and I kid you not I still almost missed my flight since the lines were so long. Since traveling is so complicated right now Qatar Airlines required different paperwork for each person depending on where they are traveling. For me I needed a Saudi exit-reentry visa, negative PCR test, proof of vaccination, and also to register to travel on a Saudi website (which I didn’t know about and had to do in the airport which was stressful since I didn’t have internet). So as I said, arrive to the airports early to save you some stress.
Lastly, If you are choosing to travel and want to make the most out of your budget, make sure to check out 12Go to find great prices on transportation tickets. Especially if you are traveling in Asia