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We asked, you answered: NPR readers share how they handled COVID on vacation

Malaka Gharib/NPR

You went on a trip. And you got COVID. Now what?

That was the topic of our Coronavirus FAQ last week. We asked people how they handled the situation. Did they respect the guidance from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention to quarantine and wait 10 days before flying? Or did they travel anyway, even though they might infect others?

I've been in this dilemma myself. And it seems like many other NPR readers have been, too. We were flooded with nearly 5,000 responses via Instagram, Facebook, email and Twitter.

Many readers shared that they could not afford the added expenses of quarantine or couldn't get a week off from work, so they traveled while sick. They warned that getting the antiviral pill Paxlovid or even a pulse oximeter could be a challenge in some countries. And for those who were able to quarantine, many said they were frustrated that they had to rejigger or cancel their travel plans and face unexpected expenses.

Here's a sampling of readers' responses, edited for length and clarity.

'I felt terrible flying, but I did the best I could'

"I tested positive for COVID the last day of my trip about a month ago, and I honestly couldn't afford to stay in my destination at a hotel. I felt terrible flying, but I did the best I could to not share my COVID. I triple masked [with a] regular mask, N95 and cloth mask and isolated myself as much as I could at the airport and then chose a seat in the back of the plane by others who were masked. I didn't drink anything on my flight and faced the window the whole time. I know it's not ideal, but it was the best solution I had due to my personal circumstances!" – Noelle

'It was a crazy adventure'

"On the day of a flight home, I woke up at 5 a.m. with worsening respiratory symptoms and congestion and [I was] just feeling crummy. Luckily, I had packed a rapid COVID test, so I took one thinking I was being overly cautious. It was positive! Within the next hour or so I called the rental car company to change my return time and location, checked out of my hotel and started the more than 14-hour drive from Denver back to Indianapolis. I made 4 gas stops and went into gas stations twice while wearing an N95 mask. I skipped stopping for meals and snacked on Goldfish crackers and candy. I finally made it to the Indianapolis International Airport at midnight and left the rental car and drove my own car home. Luckily my symptoms were not bad, but it was a crazy adventure." – Emma Tillman

'It's your conscience you have to live with'

"My in-laws from Florida flew out to visit me and the family for a trip to the Tetons. We all had a great time." Then her father-in-law tested positive for COVID.

"So then started the awkward tension on what to do next. I pulled up the CDC guidance saying they should not travel and reassess their symptoms before rescheduling their flight. I did offer my input that it's irresponsible to fly when you know you have COVID. This was met with downward gazes and loud sighs. The truth also came out that they did not wear masks during their previous flights or in the airports even though we asked them to."

Her in-laws called the airline to ask if they could fly with COVID. The response: "It's not recommended, but yes, you can fly and wear a mask."

"The in-laws asked: 'Will you be mad at us if we fly?' We said yes, disappointed, but it's your conscience you have to live with, not ours." – Name withheld

'We're broken up'

"My boyfriend was at a conference. Then he was feeling sick and tested positive. He consulted everyone for advice about flying home (everyone but me, because he knew I would say absolutely not).

Once he made his decision to fly home he texted me: "heading home." To which I told him I was disappointed in him.

My disappointment led him to rent a car and drive home instead of flying. Yay!

But he ghosted me, and then dumped me. Boo! We've since talked. But yeah, we're broken up." –Patty (last name withheld by request)

'That experience led us to hide our COVID status'

"Lodging managers WILL turn you away if you tell them you have COVID. This happened to us the first day on a vacation abroad. Some of us tested positive. I wanted to be honest about our situation, so when we arrived, I immediately told the B&B owner that two of our party had tested positive that morning and that we would isolate in our rooms. She scolded us for not canceling the reservation earlier and told us to leave immediately. That experience led us to hide our COVID status and simply continue with our itinerary, isolating in the remaining two lodgings we had booked. We feared that doing anything else would put us out on the street." – Mary K. Holland

'COVID exposure ... basically sucks'

"Our family of 4 embarked on a trip to the Pacific Northwest. Throughout our trip we wore KN95 masks everywhere (my sons even wore them outdoors), but hardly anyone else was wearing any masks."

The younger son tested positive – and the family had a trip planned to celebrate her mother's 75th birthday. "Our plans included seeing a musical in San Francisco and a nice dinner celebration – cancelled, of course. After an almost 4-hour drive, we met my folks masked, in the restaurant parking lot (the sick child stayed in the car). I handed my mom her gifts while she gave me two boxes of COVID tests and we left, feeling heartbroken and sad."

"Stranded without a place to stay, we found a local hotel and booked 2 hotel rooms.

"The bottom line: COVID exposure still keeps you away from your loved ones, cancels celebrations, can be expensive and basically sucks." – Stacie Bresler

'Lesson learned. Wear your masks'

"My wife and I recently took our family on a driving tour of the National Parks of Zion, Bryce, Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon ending in Las Vegas. The parks were very crowded, and we let our guard down by not wearing our masks. My adult grandchild did wear hers when in confined situations. In Las Vegas, my wife and I were positive and my granddaughter was negative. We isolated away from her and immediately packed up and drove home. We underestimated this infection by not wearing our masks when needed. Lesson learned. Wear your masks inside or around large masses of people, like parks. Be especially aware of shuttle buses in these parks. They are crammed full, with most people not wearing masks. I wish we all would wear our masks when needed and not make it political." -- Thomas McFadden

'It pays to consider worst-case scenarios'

"It's sooo tempting to assume things will work out for the best – because they often do. But when they don't, it's a whole lot better if you've made some contingency plans. Especially when traveling to less-developed destinations, it pays to consider worst-case scenarios and to plan accordingly." --Steve McCall

'I felt like I was a little kid again'

"I finally made it to Australia to see my mom. Hadn't seen her since 2019 because of COVID. Made it to her house — and 4 days later we all got COVID. We had to cancel a bunch of plans, but spent the days napping, watching movies and coloring. I felt like I was a little kid again staying home sick with my mom." -- Stephanie Rhone

Thank you to all who told us your personal stories. For more callouts like these, stay in touch with NPR Goats and Soda by subscribing to our weekly newsletter.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Marc Silver
Marc Silver, who edits NPR's global health blog, has been a reporter and editor for the Baltimore Jewish Times, U.S. News & World Report and National Geographic. He is the author of Breast Cancer Husband: How to Help Your Wife (and Yourself) During Diagnosis, Treatment and Beyond and co-author, with his daughter, Maya Silver, of My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks: Real-Life Advice From Real-Life Teens. The NPR story he co-wrote with Rebecca Davis and Viola Kosome -- 'No Sex For Fish' — won a Sigma Delta Chi award for online reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists.
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