As the world begins to open back up and lift the COVID-19-related travel restrictions, do you know what you need before you begin traveling again? In part one of our Know Before You Go series for “On the Horizon”, Marketing Director Sara Kramer speaks with our experts Tiffany Dunn and MJ Eraci about how they prepared and what they are doing to stay safe during their upcoming trips to Rwanda, Kenya, and South Africa.
SPOILER ALERT – They both received their Covid tests on time.
You can watch the recording below, or skip down to the transcript if you prefer to read their conversation.
Sara Kramer: Hello and welcome to “On the Horizon.” I’m your host Sara Kramer with my co-host Tiffany Dunn. We are joined by a familiar voice today – MJ Eraci. We are going to be talking about something a little bit different. They are both traveling to Africa in the next – Mj, is leaving tomorrow and Tiffany is leaving the day after that on separate trips. So we are catching up with them before they leave to sort of answer those questions and really understand what the process has been like before they travel internationally.
So, hi Tiffany and MJ, how are y’all doing and feeling?
MJ Eraci: Good
SK: Typically this is where ask, “Tell us a little more about yourself,” but I feel like we really know y’all so well. So tell us who you are traveling with and where you are going. Tiffany?
SK: That’s fun. MJ, what about you?
MJ: I am heading off, returning to South Africa.
SK: Oh, how many times have you been to South Africa?
MJ: This will be my fourth.
SK: Oh my gosh. That’s amazing. Ok, so Tiffany tell us a little about your itinerary and how you came about deciding your itinerary. I know your’s is more of a personal trip and MJ will talk about her’s in a little bit. Her’s is more of a business trip. So speak to us a little bit about where you’re going and what you’re itinerary looks like.
TD: Yeah so, we actually, my husband and I had talked about – well I had talked about going to Rwanda for a while now. It’s actually a country I haven’t been to in Africa. And we were planning to go in March and that’s of course when international travel kind of fell apart. So we thought this whole year it wasn’t going to be possible and then you know, as the year progressed and countries started opening up we thought, hey why not, let’s give it a try again. So we starting putting the trip together for Rwanda, obviously wanting to include gorilla trekking and seeing the chimps at Nyungwe. And this is actually my husband’s first safari so that’s the inspiration to add on Kenya as well and do the Masai Mara so he can have that quintessential safari experience in East Africa.
SK: Yeah, I did the same thing for my husband. He hadn’t been on safari so I combined Rwanda and Tanzania when we went and it worked out really great. So MJ, where are you staying and what are you doing?
MJ: So as mentioned this is more of a FAM trip so we’ll be going to certain locations and lodges. One of our partners has put together this trip. It will be a small group of about six. Even though I have been to South Africa before, all the lodges I am staying at, I actually haven’t. So I’m beyond excited. I am going to be in Johannesburg for two days, which I’ve been – and then Tswalu and Sabi Sabi and then to Ellerman House which I’ve seen but haven’t had the opportunity to stay so I’m very excited, and then to Grootbos, which has always been a place I’ve wanted to go. I haven’t had the opportunity to stay there.
SK: That sounds like an amazing itinerary. Oh my goodness.
MJ: It is, it is.
SK: And Tiffany what are some of the properties you are staying at?
TD: So we are staying at Singita in Volcanoes National Park. We’ll also be staying at One&Only Nyungwe and seeing One&Only Gorilla’s Nest in Volcanoes and also Bishop’s House in Volcanoes National Park. So lot’s to see there. We’ll be staying in Kigali on arrival. At the Serena, they have this wonderful program worked out for Covid testing on arrival so that will be fun. And then in Kenya, I’m super excited because it’s very rare to get space at Giraffe Manor but we actually got a night at Giraffe Manor thanks to not a lot of people traveling at the moment so we’ll be staying at Giraffe Manor and then Sala’s Camp in the Mara and also Angama Mara.
SK: Both of your trips sound amazing. I am so excited for y’all. So tell us also when you will be gone. So this is the first couple of days of December so when are you leaving and when will you return?
TD: So, I’m leaving on Friday and we’ll be back on the 19th. So the 4th through the 19th. So about two weeks.
SK: And MJ what about you?
MJ: I leave tomorrow which is the 3rd and then I fly back home on the 15th so I get home on the 16th.
SK: Ok, so speak to us a little about – from when you booked the trip – I know I had spoken to Tiffany the day she booked the trip and there was just a lot of feelings about booking. And as a seasoned traveler, I think that she was shocked, correct me if I’m wrong, that she had these sorts of feelings because travel has never been a source of anxiety at all for her. So speak to us Tiffany, a little about how you were feeling once you booked your tickets for your flights and then finally got your itinerary together.
TD: I definitely experienced more emotions outside of just excitement than I usually do when booking a trip. I’m obviously a seasoned traveler working in the travel business. But I – yeah, it’s a different time to travel now with all the restrictions in place. And so once we actually booked our flights – we booked our flights with miles – just being able to get flights with miles at the last minute was really exciting, for one. But also, I don’t think I mentioned this but we just booked our trip a couple of weeks ago. I’m still kind of finalizing last pieces to it so it was all very last-minute booking.
But I booked those flights and the next day I just felt, obviously excited about the trip, but honestly overwhelmed. I felt overwhelmed by all of the things I had to figure out – when I had to get tested, how I was going to get tested. And we’ve talked some too about kind of focusing on one country itineraries and how that simplifies a lot of the procedures in place currently, and of course, I had to choose a more complicated route and combine two countries so that offered its own set of challenges to figure out. And of course, that’s what we do for other people but I think when you’re doing it for yourself the pressure is on. And it’s funny. I always joke that working in the travel business I am the most terrible travel planner when it comes to my own trips. I am totally comfortable with showing up somewhere with no plans, no idea what I’m doing and that’s just really not possible right now. So I had to be my own travel planner for once and actually be sure I was organized for this one.
MJ: Or those times where you’re like, ‘do I have a flight?’ I’ve done that domestically a few times. I don’t know about you…did I ever book that?
SK: Haha, yeah. I totally get it. So MJ, when you found out that you were getting to go on this trip, what were you feeling? I know there’s excitement in there but I know it’s a different time so speak to us a little about how you felt?
MJ: So mine – I think it was just kind of final…I think I just booked my…I think I found out about a week ago and finalized, haha…
SK: Yeah, haha.
MJ: I don’t even know what day it is anymore. And then I was trying to get flights and looks at flights and all that. I will say the flights were very cheap. I’m flying United Lufthansa. I don’t think there’s going to be that many people on the Lufthansa plane from what I can see. Yeah, but the rates were unbelievably low. But yeah, there was that – oohh, what am I doing? I’m’ leaving in a week? And again, honestly, it’s the testing and finding where I can get it. I’m in Chicago so there’s a lot of delays here. So I did two tests. I did one Monday and then since I know a lot of travelers are going to be in different areas, I am testing out that Covid Consultants where you send it in so I swabbed myself yesterday and overnighted it. I was looking at the tracking this morning. I should get that back tomorrow but as of right now I have not received a test back.
SK: Yeah, and we’ll get into that in a little bit. Before we do, speak about what each country requires as far as Covid testing that’s different or if they need anything else like a form other than the normal declaration form. Speak to us, Tiffany, a little bit about Rwand and Kenya and what they both need and how you’re dealing with that.
TD: So I am a little bit lucky when combining East African properties in that they do have a little bit more of a wide window of when you can get tested before travel so that is helping to simplify things a little bit for me. So for Kenya you have to be tested 96 hours prior to your departure flight from home. So that’s like four days. And then for Rwanda, it’s actually 5 days. I kind of went in between that 96 and 72-hour mark for my testing. Because we booked our flights with miles we are actually spending a night in Nairobi before going to Kigali to start the Rwanda portion of our trip so I kind of had to factor in it’s possible that Rwanda might consider my departure as my departure from Kenya, not my departure from home but with that little bit of extra time it did work out. And for Kenya, there is a government form that you have to fill out ahead of time. You submit it online.
It asks some basic health questions, you let them know you got your Covid test, and then they give you a QR code that you can print or just use on your mobile device when you enter the country. For right now you can still get a visa on arrival in Kenya. That’s changing come the beginning of January. You can still get it online so we did our’s online. It’s just easier to have it already in place. Again where I come into being a terrible planner for myself, I, for whatever reason, did all my visas and forgot that there’s an East Africa Tourism Visa, so I properly advised my husband to get the correct visa but meanwhile, got a few extra visas for myself.
SK: For those of you that don’t know, each country in this East African…union…have their own visas. But if you are traveling to more than one – and I think it’s Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya, it may be more beneficial for you to buy this visa that allows you to go into all three of those countries, even if you’re not visiting one. So, that just depends on the countries you’re going to.
TD: Yeah and the other thing too with Rwanda as far as testing goes, they don’t have any specific health forms, necessarily, to fill out but they do require testing before you leave your home country. But then also when you arrive they require you to stay in a hotel for 24 hours and get tested and your results are guaranteed within 24 hours. Our flight arrives super early in the morning – like 5:10 in the morning so we’re only spending one night in Kigali but typically you would do two to allow for that 24-hour period at this time.
And then they also require testing at least 72 hours before going gorilla trekking so because of that we’re doing gorilla trekking first thing. That will be our very first full day in Volcanoes National Park so that the first test will qualify and then they do a second test prior to your departure and it’s so impressively organized. You can get tested at pretty much any property, it’s all included in your trip, you don’t even have to think about it so I’ve been super impressed with actually just how easy all of the on the ground….the most complicated thing, I think, is figuring out testing in my own home city.
SK: I think that’s a lot of people’s worry is will they even be able to get a test once they get there. So it has been really awesome to see how these countries have adapted and really cater to people coming into their country. And keeping their own people safe as well. So MJ, tell us a little bit about – South Africa is a different story. It just opened. Rwanda and Kenya have been open for quite some time so they have kind of figured out the processes but South Africa literally just opened a couple of weeks ago. So speak to us a little about the requirements you need to get in and then the process you had to take to fulfill all those requirements.
MJ: So their’s is 72-hours before departure.
SK: So three days, ok.
MJ: But the other thing keeping in mind is, for example, I have a very long layover so are they going to think my Frankfurt portion is…so that’s kind of why I staggered the two tests – just to have a backup.
MJ: Because even the airline will not guarantee, but I did speak to someone at United and they said their documentation kind of…they said just do two to be safe so that’s why I did that.
SK: So you had a test in a clinic and then you did a home test, right?
MJ: Yeah. So I’m waiting on both those results. And you also have to download an app. It’s the Covid Alert South Africa. So you’re going to have to download that. That seems like a contract-tracing app. Looking at it, I’m not live there yet, but that will be interesting to see what pops up. So I think it notifies that you are within a certain distance from someone that maybe has reported Covid.
So yeah…but they have testing there. They just advised they now have testing in the airport before your departure. On your way out I think it’s like 6 hours before your departure you can do that. They have different stages – like 6 and 12 so that they just launched so it will be interesting to see. It will all be interesting to see how airport personnel deal with it because they may not have had too many Americans going to South Africa yet.
MJ: So when they look at the rules and where you’re coming from it will be interesting to kind of go through that process when I connect in Frankfurt and then when I arrive in Johannesburg.
SK: So your’s is 72 hours for the Covid test and the app, right?
SK: But just the logistics of it all…so I do feel like a follow up is needed because I do want to figure out how all of this works out. Ok so…
MJ: It will be interesting to see if South Africa adjusts their timeframe…
MJ: And kind of lines up more with what East Africa is doing. Just because a lot of the flights are connecting and where you’re coming from – the distance – that time is a little more difficult.
SK: Well, and that is to say too, that East Africa was 72 hours and extended their window.
MJ: Then they went to 96 – yeah.
SK: All that to say too, the CDC just released guidelines that exposure is shortened too, so all these things are positive in way of travel and how things are progressing as we trudge along in this. Ok so MJ, it’s a holiday week so did you quarantine beforehand for two weeks?
MJ: Yes, well it wasn’t quite two full weeks because I didn’t know I was going. But once I found out, yeah I did. And I canceled my thanksgiving plans anyway because that was kind of the guidance here in Illinois. But I was going to go to someone’s in my pod friends. But yeah…zoomed with my family, you know it’s fine.
SK: Yeah. Tiffany, what about you?
TD: So I have mostly quarantined for like the last ten days or so. Well, honestly really through all of this I’ve been pretty careful and isolated and that’s easy to do when you work from home. But we did see my family for Thanksgiving. We did have a Thanksgiving meal outside so yes, we did see a miniature version of our family, not the whole family, but a few people. And my husband for his job has to work in an office so he has not been able to totally isolate but can minimize his contact within his office with people so yeah, we have both been doing that.
SK: Is it required when you come back to the United States for you to get a Covid test on arrival? and if not, will you get one?
TD: I will.
MJ: I will get one.
TD: So, Texas doesn’t have any sort of requirement for quarantine at all when you return from a trip. I don’t know that we’ve mentioned this by MJ and I obviously both live in different places so our requirements are a little bit different, but personally, we will kind of self-isolate for 5 days after we get back and then get tested at kind of that 5-day mark when we should be able. I don’t know that I would typically get a test on return. I would probably just isolate for the 7 to 10 days except for the fact that it kind of butts up onto Christmas, so we’ll get tested before seeing any family or anything over Christmas.
SK: So as we wrap things up, all this has been super helpful. And again I just can’t wait to hear about it when you get back. But what are you most excited about? I know, as travel planners, we are used to traveling and being on a plane and not thinking much of it. But when someone tells you you can’t do something, it’s like, “Ok I want to do it more.” So what are you most excited about now that you’re one day away from going? Tiffany, what are you most excited about?
TD: I am excited about – it’s hard to narrow it down to just one thing. I’m just so excited to travel again, internationally. We’ve taken some trips domestically this year which have been really fun, but also, it’s been a couple of years since I’ve been to Africa and Africa is a place really that’s so special to me. It’s hard to explain. I think anyone that’s been to Africa understands this, but it just rejuvenates your soul in a way that – there’s not much that can do the same thing.
SK: I agree.
TD: And so I just feel like if ever there were a time that we were in need of this rejuvenation of life, this is the time, for sure. This is the year. I think it will be even so much more meaningful. And then, of course, it being my husband’s first safari, I’m super excited for him to experience it too.
SK: Right. MJ, what about you?
MJ: Pretty much very similar. I mean in the sense that I haven’t been on a plane since March.
MJ: I mean, I always like getting on a long airplane. It’s exciting you know? But I’m pretty much packed already which is not 100% normal. I’m usually pretty useless. But I’ve already laid out all that and then, just to be kind of in wide-open spaces – I think I need this more than I even know and it will be even more apparent when I get there. I can’t wait for a nice sundowner.
SK: Oh! A sundowner in Africa. Gosh, I probably miss that the most.
MJ: Yeah, there is nothing better.
SK: There is nothing better. Well, I am super excited for y’all. Thank you so much for taking your time out today before you leave and just share in the excitement and all the questions that have come up. I really appreciate you taking that time so I hope you both have a really wonderful trip.
TD: Thank you.
MJ: Thank you.
SK: And that is all we have today. Be sure to follow us on Instagram and Facebook. Tiffany will be on there taking it over for her trip step, by step, live, and then we’ll catch up with her after, as well as MJ. So be sure that you’re following our social channels @kerdowney. There’s not & in that. We would love to see you on there.
So in January, when we get back, we will be doing a webinar on Rwanda. Tiffany will have just traveled there but we’re going to do a more all-encompassing webinar to learn more about that. So be sure to join us then.
That is all we have for now. I really appreciate you coming on today. Stay safe! Bye!
MJ: Bye. Thank you.
“On the Horizon” is Ker & Downey’s webinar series that seeks to keep you informed in the rapidly changing world of travel. As the World’s Best Tour Operator, we created this series as a resource for you to ask questions, learn about travel restrictions and traveling during a pandemic, travel trends, and destinations that should be on your bucket list. Sign up for our newsletter to hear about our upcoming webinars. Have travel-related questions or ready to start planning your next adventure? Contact a Ker & Downey destination specialist.