Put to “The Test” in Budapest

Lisa Spiller

I am a Travel Advisor and I have a confession to make. Travel is not easy these days. There are hoops to jump through, formsto fill out, apps to upload, and vaccinations and Covid tests required. But travel is worth it. Worth the pain for the gain. Worth the risk for the reward.

The airport lines and full planes attest to this. The world is traveling again. The one burning question is, “What if I test positive for Covid while traveling abroad and can’t fly home? ”

Like many, we weighed risk against reward and finally embarked on our long-awaited bucket list trip to Europe this October. With incredible pent-up wanderlust, we arrived in Prague and fell in love at first sight. I surprised my husband with a horse-drawn carriage ride through Old Town and opera box seats for a performance of Don Giovanni at the theatre where Mozart premiered his opera in 1787.

We strolled cobblestone streets, dove underground into speakeasies glowing with bohemian crystal chandeliers and chartered a river skiff for a champagne sunset boatride.

After a couple of storybook days, we joined our river cruise. We gently glided along the Danube past UNESCO World Heritage villages, Wachau vineyards, castles and farmland. We savored beer, sausage and monster soft pretzels in bustling city squares, shivered in the crisp Fall air and chased the sunshine. We walked the monastery grounds of Trappist monks and biked bumpy backstreets of 12th century villages from Germany to Austria. We broke bread with a young Austrian vintner while enjoying an introduction to Austrian varietals and dined at imperial palaces.

The finale was Budapest, famous for the castle district, breathtaking architecture, chic rooftop bars and ancient thermal baths.

After exploring Budapest, our tour directors organized Covid tests, a requirement to fly home to the United States. We bemoaned this as a sign that our adventure was nearly over. Little did I know that a new adventure was about to begin.

One by one, a Hungarian lab tech checked our name off a list and swabbed our noses. Test results came in. Three people on tour tested positive, and I was one of them! Alarm bells rang in my head: Not me! Impossible! I confess, I had acquired a cold while we were shivering in the autumn morning shadows and wind tunnels of Salzburg, but this was Covid?

We promptly took a backup test and returned to our hotel rooms to await results. I set up a chat group on WhatsApp with my two fellow travelers so that we could communicate while isolated.

Our second tests were positive. We urgently googled Hungary’s policies for vaccinated visitors who test positive. There was no official quarantine for breakthrough cases, so we followed CDC recommendations to isolate.

We learned we could test every day until we tested negative, and then fly home.

I went into task mode and checked off an imaginary list:

  1. Call my travel insurance
  2. Negotiate an extended stay with my hotel
  3. Cancel my flight
  4. Advise my colleagues at work and postpone appointments
  5. Order room service and a movie and bethankful I’m at a Ritz-Carlton!

My husband flew home. Though I lost my appetite, I ordered Hungarian goulash from room service daily. Sheets, towels and disinfectant were dropped off at my hotel door in a box upon request and I changed my own sheets. I explored the city alone a couple of hours each day.

Trust me, even vibrant Budapest lost its luster, knowing I was infected and isolated, but I still managed to find the silver lining. I visited the lab daily and my test results continued to defy me.

Five days later, the Hungarian lab tech swabbed my nose, and while I awaited results, I prayed the rosary. Hallelujah! I tested negative! I booked my flight for the next morning and packed.

While I was “put to the test in Budapest,” I found that it was worth it for the experience. I now have stories to tell at cocktail parties and insights to share with clients who ask, “What happens if I test positive while traveling abroad?” My answer now is “Call your Travel Advisor. It happened to me!”

Lisa is an Independent Luxury Travel Advisor with Preferred Travel of Naples. Lisa@preferrednaples.com



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