Caitlin and I just returned from our week-long trip to Kaua’i.
It was magical.
Kaua’i has the most beautiful scenery that I have ever seen and during this trip, Caitlin and I saw the island in a much different way than we did 5 1/2 years ago on our last trip here.
So, with that, here is part 1 of the Kaua’i trip series. Each day will be a different part so… buckle up.
Day 1 – Travel Day
Day 1 really starts 3 days before travel day.
There is very little that is pleasant to me leading up to and during this day.
I despise travel days, so this first post will be mostly negative news, but it is probably the most helpful post in making your Hawaii travel plans as I will show you how to avoid our mistakes.
Covid-19 and travel to Hawaii is an absolute nightmare. The state of Hawaii is extra cautious about letting travelers in. I understand and get that. Requiring travelers to have a negative Covid test and/or vaccination cards, especially during a time when cases continue to grow, makes sense to me.
Here’s where things stop making sense.
The whole mentality around Covid – and not just in Hawaii – is guilty until proven innocent… and then still guilty.
In order to travel to Hawaii and avoid a 10-day quarantine, you must do several important things within a specific time frame. I was not reading very closely and almost messed up our vacation.
If you plan on taking a trip to Hawaii, here are the things you have to do (as of August 29th, 2021).
Set up an account on the Safe Travels site
You’ll need to go to https://travel.hawaii.gov/ and create an account.
I used my email and a password. There are other options for you, but you need to have an account to finish up the next few steps.
Add your trip
Within your Safe Travels account, you’ll need to put in your trip details. Things like:
• Travel dates
• Travel locations (which islands)
• Purpose for travel (business, pleasure, honeymoon, etc.)
• Airline & flight number
It is important to note that each traveler will need his or her own Safe Travels account. For example, I had mine, Caitlin had her own. Each of us had to do each of these steps individually.
Apply for exemption/exception from quarantine
You can find the rules here: Quarantine exceptions
This is where things get fishy for me. The gist of it is you need to upload either:
- Your Covid Vaccination Card
Your vaccination card showing you are fully vaccinated and (this is important) your last vaccination dose must have been received at least 15 days before you begin your trip, will get you an exception.
We received our 2nd dose 3 days before our trip, so our vaccination card didn’t “count” as a valid exception to avoid the 10-day quarantine.
This isn’t my gripe with the system. We weren’t trying to sneak in with a last-minute vaccination card, it just happened to fall too soon to have that count. Which left us with option 2.
- Covid NAAT/PCR Test Exception
This would entail getting a negative Covid test within very particular parameters – and this is where my gripe begins.
You see, Hawaii only accepts a negative PCR test (which is fine) that has been administered within 72 hours of the last leg of your flight into Hawaii.
Let me try and clarify that a bit for those like me who didn’t read carefully enough.
We flew from Salt Lake to LA at 11:40 AM. We then had a few hours to spend in LAX before we took off for Hawaii at 3:54 PM (4:54 PM in MST where we originated… time zones are important).
This means that the tests Caitlin and I got at 3:00 PM, 3 days before our flight, would not have counted. We must have had the test administered after 4:54 PM our time, 3-days or fewer before our flight. Seems simple enough. Well, it kind of isn’t.
Caitlin and I got tested at one of the testing sites here in Salt Lake. It is an approved site for the State of Utah – having the Utah Department of Health stamped on the results, and you have your results turned around in less than 24 hours. It’s beautiful.
It also doesn’t count.
Hawaii only accepts tests administered by a select few entities across the country. Of those entities, only three exist in Utah:
This is nice because it is “free,” meaning your insurance will pay for it, which means you’ll eventually pay for it with premiums, but I digress… the problem with the Walgreens options is that each and every person I have spoken with that has traveled to Hawaii and tried to schedule with Walgreens have run into a couple problems.
The first is getting a time that falls within the window they need for the PCR test. The second, is getting the results back in time.
My sample size is small, roughly 15 people, but all 15 of them had issues scheduling a time within the 72 hour window. One was even willing to drive 3.5 hours to a location in a different state because that was the only location with an available time.
Also, all 15 people who took the Walgreens test, didn’t get results back in time as more than 72 hours had passed, meaning that they didn’t have the results by the time their flight took off.
You see, once you get results back, you have to upload them to your Safe Travels account by the time you try to leave the airport in Hawaii (more on this later). Two people NEVER got results back from the Walgreens test. So that’s fun.
And that’s why the Walgreens test doesn’t really help.
- CVS – Self Pay
Your other option in Utah is the CVS Self Pay option. They make this very clear on the Safe Travels website around the CVS option: “ONLY www.cvs.com/selfpaytesting, not a different CVS website or walk-in.”
These tests are $140 per person and results are “typically 1-2 days.” Keep in mind that results seem to be delayed on weekends, so if you plan on traveling near a weekend like we did, you may run into longer results times.
We didn’t go for this option because we were sure we could get away with the “free” option.
This is the even more expensive ($200 per person) test administered in a handful of airports around the country. Luckily, the Salt Lake Airport has one of these.
Your $200 gets you results in about 30 minutes. Magic.
I feel like I’m taking crazy pills here.
So, to get an exception, you have to prove you don’t have Covid (fine) but you can only use tests from a couple (massive) companies.
One probably won’t work because of scheduling and result turn-around time.
One costs you $140 per person and may get you results in time.
The last costs $200 per person at the last possible minute in an airport (because they know the other two options probably won’t work) and you can magically get you results in 3o minutes, rather than 3 – never days.
Why aren’t they all the 30-minute turnaround time?
So, you’ve shelved out $200 per person and have your Covid results (yay!).
*** Update ***
We were able to submit this test to our insurance company who ended up covering this test. They mailed us a check for the amount we paid to have this test. So that was nice.
Upload results into Safe Travels
The next thing you need to do is upload those results into your Safe Travels account.
Just taking a picture won’t cut it because, well, that would be the easy thing to do. To upload into the Safe Travels website, you can only upload a PDF – not a regular image.
Both phone systems allow you to get a picture into a PDF with a few extra steps.
- Select photos on Photo Gallary.
- Click on the dots to open a menu, and tap on “Print”.
- Choose “Save as PDF”.
- Edit the PDF settings including paper size, letter, orientation, color, etc.
- Choose a location from your phone to store this converted PDF.
Alright! You’ve made it this far!
You’ll wander to your gate that departs to Hawaii and notice another long line of people getting wrist bands. If you’re like me, you’ll ask someone in line what the line is for. They will tell you, “I don’t know, just seemed like the line I was supposed to be in.”
You’ll nod, confused, and meander towards the front of the line and ask someone up there.
This person will roll his eyes and say, “It’s where you complete your pre-screening,” and turn his back to you. You’ll politely ask if they can help you understand what that means and they will say, “if you don’t know by now, you’re already screwed.”
Just what you wanted to hear.
You’ll ask a third person, because all worthwhile things come in threes, and that person will finally explain that after you have jumped through all these hoops and uploaded your documentation (as a PDF!), you now need a QR code to complete your attempt to prove you don’t have Covid.
Within your Safe Travels account, you will need to fill out a health questionnaire where you will answer questions that basically ask if you have Covid. Upon completion, you will get a QR code emailed to you from your Safe Travels account. This super long line in front of your gate is a pre-screening where, if you can make it through the line to the front, you will get a wristband allowing you to bypass this same process in Hawaii.
But, of course, if you’re like me, you won’t make it to the front of the line before your plane leaves and you will do this same thing in the airport in Hawaii.
I have heard that the wait time can be hours at the airports on Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island. Our wait time on Kauai was only about 20 – 30 minutes.
So, as with seemingly all-things Covid related these days, just remember:
You are guilty unless you can prove you are innocent. And then you are still considered guilty.
But, at least you can fly to Hawaii and avoid the 10-day quarantine.
Salt Lake to LA
The Salt Lake Airport is beautiful, and my appreciation for the airport grew on this trip after seeing LA and Lihue. The Salt Lake airport is remarkably clean, efficient, and lots of nice restaurants and stores. It his huge and there is walking involved, but everything went smooth for us.
I grabbed a breakfast burrito from Cafe Rio and we ran into our neighbor/pilot/friend Mike Best while waiting at our gate.
We flew Delta and our flight from Salt Lake to LA was fine. The plane seemed like it was in good shape and the entertainment screen on the back of the seat in front of me was everything I needed.
I chose to play some games and watch an episode of Billions.
We had a 3.5 hour layover in the LA airport and had to switch terminals on a bus. Not bad and went fine.
Caitlin and I grabbed a bite to eat at the Border Grill in Terminal B, Caitlin took a little nap, and we watched the diverse people traveling through LAX.
It was here that I had the 3-person dialogue at the gate to figure out what the long line was about with the whole pre-screening thing.
LA to Lihue
Caitlin and I both felt that the 6 hour flight from LA to Lihue should be a better plane experience than the hour and a half flight from Salt Lake to LA.
Delta does not feel the same way.
It felt like the leg room was less, the entertainment screen was falling out of the seat and didn’t have nearly the same selection of movies/shows, and Caitlin’s headphone jack didn’t work. Caitlin was left to read a book while I watched S5:E2 of Billions because it only had the first 2 episodes (flight to LA had first 5 episodes). I also watched Inception, which blew my mind again.
My legs were cramped and my butt fell asleep, but the flight itself was fine. No real crazy turbulence or out-of-line passengers and we landed without dying. Always my top criteria for judging a plane ride.
We made it to Kauai
We step off the plane into the warm, humid Lihue airport.
Those who had the wristbands from the pre-screening headed on out to their rental cars while Caitlin and I spent 20-30 minutes scanning our QR code showing we had the vaccine, tested negative (3 times in 3 days), and filled out the health questionnaire. We were allowed to explore Kauai.
The shuttle to our rental car was quick and easy. The driver thanked us for traveling there because that island’s economy is centered around travel. I’ll talk more on that in later posts, but from every native I spoke to, they are glad travel is back on.
We had 2 cars to choose from (rental cars are hard to come by) and got the Chevy Impala.
My dad has always said – referring to people – it’s not the years, it’s the miles. Well, this applied to this car. Only 14,000 miles on the odometer, but on the inside, this puppy looked and sounded like it had seen 140,000 miles.
The outside looked fine as you’ll see from my video walk-around. The tires were nearly bald, but looks zippy from the outside.
It got us where we needed over the course of the next week and I am grateful for it.
We drove the 15 minutes to our hotel: The Kauai Shores Hotel
To check in, we again had to show our Safe Travels account QR code proving we were innocent (again). I kept thinking, “we wouldn’t be standing in front of the counter if we hadn’t already passed this portion of the test, right?”
We found our room, dumped our luggage, and went for a bite to eat at the onsite restaurant: Lava Lava Beach Club
Caitlin had the sweet potato fries and I got the pepperoni pizza. The food was good and the scenery was great. The restaurant has indoor/outdoor seating, a nice bar, and the ocean about 30 yards away so you can hear the waves crash and see the moon rise across the ocean while eating your meal. Live music is playing and a pool is nearby with a bunch of people swimming, drinking, and hanging out.
Here is a video of the beach just off the restaurant and the super-bright moon.
After a long day, we went to our room, watched an episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun, and went to bed around 10 PM (2 AM Utah time). This 4 hour difference is awesome traveling backwards. Not so much traveling forward home.
There’s day 1 for you. Days 2 – 7 will be much more eventful with better stories and pictures.
Read about Day 2 here: Trip to Kaua’i Part 2