This Essay article is part of a Narcity Media series. The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Narcity Media.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, nobody quite anticipated for how long it was here to stay. Flash forward two years ahead, and we find ourselves at the tail end of a long battle that has finally begun to ease up.
As someone who caught the travel bug early, it’s been difficult to put adventures on hold. Although travel restrictions still exist, on the heels of my milestone birthday, I decided to cure that itch and jet off at last.
Sunny California awaited, but not before a myriad of pre-boarding requirements in Toronto.
Pre-flight testing & check-in at Pearson
Despite being fully vaccinated, all passengers boarding an aircraft were still expected to provide a negative antigen test result to their airline. The rapid tests range from $20-$40 depending on the provider and must be taken 24 hours before your departure time.
I booked my test at a local Shoppers Drug Mart for $40, and was given my negative result within 15 minutes. Flying with American Airlines, I was required to upload my results to their app along with my vaccination certificate before being allowed to check in. Once I was approved, it was time to get excited and pack my bags.Upon arrival at Pearson Airport, an airline agent checked me in at the front desk by verifying a paper copy of my antigen test results, as well as my digital vaccination certificate. Having chosen an early morning flight, the process was completed in about a minute, and I was prompted to check in my luggage.
Checking in a Pearson Airport.Courtesy of Itai Buenahora
The security checkpoint was smooth sailing and didn’t take any longer than it would’ve pre-pandemic. However, I was met at customs with a long and agonizing line that initially had me worried for time. Although other masked travellers also anxiously awaited their turn, the United States Customs and Border Protection got through everyone in time.
To my surprise, besides the initial checkpoint of showing my vaccination status and test result, the pre-boarding experience wasn’t any different than it was pre-pandemic.
Getting to the gates at Pearson Airport.Courtesy of Itai Buenahora
When I was called upon to board my flight, it was just a quick show of my passport and boarding pass, and on I went to begin my journey.
In-flight experience & arrival in San Francisco
On the flight itself, passengers were advised to stay masked for the duration of the travel time, with no restrictions to the seating arrangement. In-flight service was exactly like it had always been, with food and beverages being served regularly. Though it can get uncomfortable wearing a mask for the entire flight, this was the only notable difference for the in-flight experience.
After a movie and a quick snooze, I had arrived in San Francisco; my first stop of the vacation. My experience at the airport was seamless, with a quick trip over to baggage claim, and on I went to begin my journey.
I took the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) to my hotel, where you are still required to wear a mask, much like on all public transportation in the state of California. The same goes for Ubers and Lyfts, which compares to our experience here in Ontario.
Restrictions in California
Once settled, I met up with my friends who flew in earlier and headed out for a bite. When dining in California, all guests are still asked to present vaccination certificates, a mandate that has now been lifted back home in Toronto. Had I not been vaccinated, this would’ve been an issue during my stay, as we were frequently dining in closed settings.
There was no shortage of things to explore in the outdoors, though. We enjoyed a day-long bike ride through all of the sights San Francisco has to offer, from the Golden Gate Bridge to Baker Beach. Additionally, we took a day trip out to Yosemite National Park, a breathtaking landmark of California.
Itai in San Francisco.Courtesy of Itai Buenahora
Before leaving San Francisco, I attended an indoor concert at The Regency Ballroom, where the mask mandate was loosely followed, however I decided to take my own personal precautions due to close proximity with others.
Lastly, we headed to one of the must-see sites in the Bay area, the infamous Alcatraz Island. Both on the private ferry tour and on location, masks were still enforced, which was but a small inconvenience to witness the wonder.
Alcatraz Island.Courtesy of Itai Buenahora
Opting away from public transportation, we drove the Pacific Coast Highway to Los Angeles, giving us the opportunity to roam the coastal state as we pleased. The 10-hour journey enabled us to make stops in Pebble Beach, Monterey, and Big Sur along the way to L.A..
Driving through the California coast.Courtesy of Itai Buenahora
In Los Angeles, we were able to safely enjoy all outdoor areas without the use of masks, and spent our entire stay in the Santa Monica, Venice Beach, and Hollywood areas. From beach days and boardwalk strolls to hill hikes and observatories, the City of Angels was a breath of fresh air.
Palm trees in Los Angeles, California.Courtesy of Itai Buenahora
In my final days of the trip, I went to the Crypto.com Arena in the downtown core to watch our hometown Toronto Raptors take on the Los Angeles Lakers. The Arena requires guests to either show proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test in order to access their seats. Just like the newly-introduced Ontario guidelines, masks were only voluntary within the venue. In my section, I noticed the majority of people were unmasked. I personally decided to play it safe and wear a mask, as I had to provide a negative test to return home.
Attending a Lakers game at the Crypto.com Arena.Courtesy of Itai Buenahora
Preparing for my flight home
24 hours prior to my return to Canada, I was once again asked to present a negative antigen test result, this time running me $85 US dollars, which is just north of $100 Canadian. Entering the country, all travellers are to download the ArriveCan app where you would submit your test results, and complete a thorough attestation. My test results came back negative, and I was cleared to make my way back home.
At LAX Airport, the return experience was much of the same – an airline agent requested digital vaccination passports, uploaded negative results in the ArriveCan app, and a passport check. Before boarding, travellers are asked to present their completed ArriveCan attestations and the accompanying QR code. Like in Toronto, the process in L.A. was smooth and efficient.
To my surprise, landing back in Canada, I had my easiest and quickest arrival to date. Due to everything being submitted to ArriveCan before boarding the flight, there was nothing left to be done once I touched down. After a simple check-in at the kiosks, and a sign-off by border patrol, I retrieved my luggage and was out the door.
Santa Monica Pier.Courtesy of Itai Buenahora
After a long two years since I last left the country, the wait was well worth it. Despite the minor mandates and protocols enforced, my travel experience was one to remember, and I would happily advocate for anyone looking to explore again to do the same.
Beginning on April 1st, Canadian travellers will also no longer be required to submit negative test results to leave and enter the country, so for the time being, the future of travel is looking bright again.