Travel

How to Get an International COVID Test in Under 24 Hours

More swabs, less panic.

RichLegg/E+/Getty Images
RichLegg/E+/Getty Images
RichLegg/E+/Getty Images

The days of booking a dreamy vacation and just showing up to the airport with naught but bags and a passport are pretty much over (at least in the near future). Keeping up with the constantly changing testing requirements for traveling and re-entering the United States definitely takes a bit more planning than before, but as the French say: c’est la vie!

As of December 6, 2021, the CDC updated the travel guidelines for all travelers ages two and older entering the US. Proof of a negative COVID test result (PCR, rapid antigen, and others) will be required no more than one day before travel to the US, regardless of vaccination status. Previously, the testing period was three days, which gave travelers plenty of time to make arrangements before their departure. But nothing says vacation more than having to scramble on your last day in paradise to find a COVID testing center, am I right?

Luckily, we’ve done some of the work for you and rounded up ways you can prepare to get an international COVID test before you head back home.

Pekic/E+/Getty Images
Pekic/E+/Getty Images
Pekic/E+/Getty Images

Check with your hotel to see if they provide a COVID test

Say goodbye to breakfast buffets and say hello to the new amenity that hotels are brandishing: on-site COVID testing. It’s a convenient option, since it doesn’t require a lot of planning ahead and everything is done at your hotel. Some hotels may require you to book your appointment upon check-in, but everything else is taken care of at the resort or in your hotel room, and then you can be on your merry way (unless you test positive for COVID, that is).

Some resorts charge an additional fee for the test, while testing is complimentary at other resorts such as select Marriott International Resorts in the Caribbean and Latin America (terms and restrictions apply). A Hyatt spokesperson also confirmed that all Hyatt properties in Latin America and the Caribbean provide guests with access to COVID testing to meet US requirements for international arrivals (guidelines and services vary by destination). Aside from hotel brands, destinations that heavily rely on tourism such as Los Cabos San Lucas or Thailand have also made testing widely available across hotels, resorts, villas, timeshares, hospitals, clinics, and the local airport.

Pro-tip: Request a paper or digital copy of your results, and if it’s the latter, make sure to take a screenshot of the results just in case cell service at the airport is poor.

Catherine Falls Commercial/Moment/Getty Images
Catherine Falls Commercial/Moment/Getty Images
Catherine Falls Commercial/Moment/Getty Images

Order a self-test kit

Self-test kits or over-the-counter tests that require a nasal swab collection are another option that you can just pack in your suitcase, and forget about trying to make an appointment anywhere. Results for rapid antigen test kits come back in 30 minutes or less. They’ve been somewhat hard to come across due to high demand, so it may be easier to order an at-home test well before your takeoff. They last for about eight months to a year, so plan to get it for a trip in that time frame.Not all at-home self-test kits are approved by the FDA, so make sure to check this list before you purchase a kit. A few examples of kits that are FDA-approved are Abbott’s BinaxNOW Self-Test, iHealth Antigen Rapid Test, and InteliSwab Rapid Test.

“United is collaborating with Abbott and became the first U.S. carrier to set up an easy way for international travelers to bring a CDC-approved test with them, self-administer while abroad, and return home,” says Christine Salamone, a United spokesperson. “Customers can purchase Abbott BinaxNOW tests through eMED and Optum Store.”

Alessia Pierdomenico/Shutterstock
Alessia Pierdomenico/Shutterstock
Alessia Pierdomenico/Shutterstock

Check if the airport has a testing center

Several international airports have also launched COVID testing centers since the onset of the pandemic. A few of those include:

  • Istanbul Airport: Tests are available 24/7 at the Arrivals floor at gate number 14; fees apply
  • London Heathrow Airport: Tests must be pre-booked and fees apply
  • Rome Fiumicino Airport: Tests are available at Terminal 3 only for passengers with a travel document; fees apply

You can also check with your airline to see if they offer any resources for passengers. For example, United Airlines is making it easier for customers to meet the travel requirements directly through their app. “Travelers can now easily access testing or vaccine requirements needed for their specific destination, upload testing and vaccination records, and schedule a Covid-19 test all in United’s app and on United.com,” says Salamone. Customers can also locate testing providers across the country, book appointments, and have their results sent directly to United for review, she says.

Other airlines like TAP Air Portugal provide exclusive discounts and priority access to COVID tests for air passengers from Lisbon. An appointment may be required, so you should check the airport or airline website. It doesn’t hurt to confirm the type of test given meets the requirements and if the results will be turned around in the allowed timeframe.

Michael Derrer Fuchs/Shutterstock
Michael Derrer Fuchs/Shutterstock
Michael Derrer Fuchs/Shutterstock

Go to a local testing center or pharmacy

Check the local government’s website or tourism website for a list of local testing centers or pharmacies near your hotel that offer COVID testing. For example, the Switzerland tourism website has compiled a list of places where you can get tested here. A quick Google search of the U.S. Embassy and Consulate page in Portugal leads to this travel check-in page, which includes a list of authorized laboratories that provide COVID testing.

AirFrance also offers this interactive map, where users can input an address and it will populate local testing sites based on the turnaround time of results.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Leila Najafi is a contributor for Thrillist. Follow her on Instagram at @LeilasList.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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