DUS to MCO : Urlaub 101


DUS to MCO : American Urlaub 101

So I am finally out of vacation mode. Sadly, my urlaub season is over when most of you are just getting started. I feel like Europeans are set on vacationing in mid-summer where the rest of the world is trying to get to it between April and June. At least for Americans, most official vacations are set around the end or beginning of a semester, a graduation, a destination wedding or when the weather isn't too hot. For me I needed to go home for many reasons (more on this later) and I didn't consider it urlaub until my husband decided to join me. For his sake, I had to try to add the vacation into an itinerary that didn't include much r&r. To create the illusion of doing something to rewards oneself for endless work and life  balance, we had multiple flights, rented a car, took some road trips and created a list of to-dos. And despite the other stuff I myself planned to conquer while back home, we managed to have a decent vacay. If you plan to travel in coming weeks to the U.S. of A. consider this your simple guide.

America is open.... to Americans! 

Tourism isn't open to outsiders unless an American returns with their qualified for entry family members. On TV and in the News, the United States seems bustling and prepared for tourism. But federally that really isn't the case. As an American that holds a valid United States passport I can come home any time I feel like it ... even in the middle of a global pandemic. However, my husband had to file with ESTA to travel with me and acceptance of it was only conditional because he could be denied boarding when traveling if he failed to meet whatever additional requirements at the border. ESTA - The Electronic System for Travel Authorization is accessed online and it essentially waives the requirement for a visa. This works for travel to the United States under 90 days for an individual that doesn't already possess a visa or green card. I personally was traveling for medical tourism and my husband was there to support me. He was NOT traveling for ahem recreation or achoo tourism. Maybe when the pandemic ever ends your German or non-American counterpart can assert travel for travel sake as a reason for crossing the borders, but for now have a valid reason along with proper documentation to support it. 

Documents you should bring (but may never be asked for) ...

- Copies of recent Covid tests (24hrs and 48 hrs - free, schnell or antigen NOT PCR) 
- Your Impfungbuch
- Covid Pass  (In both languages, printed and digital in an app)
- Whatever attestation your destination and or airline requires 
- Passports/Visas or ESTA and COLOR copies of each
- Copies of your booking/ticketing info including your electronic ticket number (TKT or e-Ticket)
- Copies of your insurance policies (health, life, auto)
COLOR copies of marriage license/certificates in multiple languages
- COLOR copies of your children(s) birth certificates in multiple languages 

The only thing that got us on our second plane to the U.S. was my marriage certificate in both English and Deutsch. When leaving, we couldn't check-in and at ticketing our agent seemed stumped by a lack of an e-Ticket number for me. Thankfully, I could pull it up easily in booking documents via email. I would highly suggest printing those details off in advance. For some reason this lack of an e-Ticket number caused a number of hold ups at multiple airports when returning home to Germany. 

Testing was required ...

As of July 6th, 2021 you need a test to enter the United States but you can exit with only your vaccination records if you haven't traveled to a high incident area. We flew KLM/Delta and we had multiple layovers in different countries that required passport control. In those places, we expected to show our recent test results and or vaccination records. However, those documents were never checked until arriving at our gate. This is why it is imperative to know what the rules are with your destinations, airlines, etc. well in advance and to be prepared for changes midway. The change that occurred in July benefited us because we were so lost on how to get the right test to leave. Also, experiencing a lack of checks until the gate concerned us because the last thing we wanted was to be denied entry onto a flight after going through so many checks and balances. I had heard way too many horror stories of missing ones flight because you did the wrong type of test or didn't get results back in the right language or not in time for ones flight. The vaccination was the only thing we knew we had in ample time, in both languages and in both digital and printed formats. 

To be honest, the only time where we actually used the vaccination records was leaving the United States and at the gate when threatened with an unwanted, rogue test. 

Listen, we tried to get tests anyways just to avoid issues. But we couldn't figure out what tests we needed or where to even get a test. I came home to Florida just to see my old doctor and take care of a lot of medical issues. So I asked all the right people all the right questions in person. Most of these physicians and nurses who I trusted and have been with for decades ... they had no idea. We expected to get CDC translations of our Robert Koch vaccination records ... no one even knew what those iconic cards looked like. Only drug stores and supermarket pharmacies had access to them. And as for testing, all the testing facilities that existed all late 2020 and early 2021 had closed. Even my doctor who has her own lab asked me to ask at Quest or Labcorp who are independent labs. I went to Labcorp and they only did test ordered by doctors or employers (drug tests). I called walk-in clinics and emergency doctors, they all asked did I have insurance to get a free test otherwise whatever test they had was $285 and up. Even the airlines who were horrible to get a hold of had no details about what test and where to get one. I waited days for a response via WhatsApp. I never got through on the phone or via social media. At the height of the pandemic I was able to get ahold of multiple airlines through Twitter. I have been home now two full weeks and no one has even read my DM - direct message. We eventually made appointments with CVS, a local drugstore/pharmacy but I actually had no idea what test they did or the cost. And to sign up for an appointment it required a US phone number and address which if we were true tourists we could not provide. But eventually Delta responded and messaged what we could travel home with just our German vaccination records. In the airport we saw no testing facilities nor were we asked about abutting until we arrived at the gate. Those without test results or vaccination records were tested at the gate and all people boarding were corralled in the gate area and could not exit and return without showing proof of being tested or vaccinated. I have no idea if those passengers were charged for those test but it was literally done in front of everyone by some random lady in a Kasper dress from Macy's. It didn't look legit or safe and I am glad we avoided it. 

Of course...

Airports were extremely busy. The majority of our flights were fully booked. The middle seats were not kept empty. 

And masks were required in places like airports and train stations. But when in the United States people still took advantage despite there being a federal mandate to wear a mask at all times in transportation enclaves. We saw plenty of people not wearing a proper mask (Surgical or KN95 masks are NOT requirement in the U.S.A. - Yes in 2021 people are wearing cloth masks, towels, shields etc.), keeping ones mask on both their nose and mouth or best yet not having a mask at all. I am not talking about having a mask in ones pocket or under their chin ... no over a year and a half later not bringing a mask at all to the airport and having to be provided one. And no they didn't exclaim they forgot and profusely apologize. No, they blatantly showed up without a mask and were approached multiple times about it and begrudgingly put on a gratis surgical mask when threatened. I cannot make this up. I saw this at ticketing and even on a flight. I saw this for all types of people especially children where parents had zero intentions on masking their school age, variant, super spreading crotch fruit. I digress. 

Please have plenty of masks for your transport, waiting times in between and be prepared to wear it indoors or in flight for an extended period of time. 

As for getting around throughout the States with or without a mask. It all seems like a choice outside of federal buildings and transport. So you could shop, go to a restaurant, or the movies nationwide without a mask. I never took advantage of that freedom. I always wore a mask indoors and sometimes outdoors depending upon the amount of people I was around. I shopped in a mall in a mask. I entered the movies in a mask. I did pick ups at places like Walmart and Target with my mask on and I never went in them without a mask. In most states, you could function as if there was no pandemic. You could enter any establishment freely. Fast food restaurants, gas stations restrooms, shopping outlets without a mask and never be required to wear one especially if you could prove you were vaccinated. That grey area kept most places with unmasked vendors, customers, employees, servers and patrons. I never took any chances and I am glad I didn't because the variants were rampant when we arrived. Surely, it is difficult to stay masked up in Florida and Georgia but I did - at all times and everywhere. And yes people did stare, comment, point and sometimes get up and leave just because I did. I am used to that behavior here in Germany for no reason at all so I was quite okay with protecting myself and others regardless of reactions. And some retailers or brands were still doing the right thing despite it all like Publix, AMC and Starbucks. In fact, a lot of Starbucks still had closed dining rooms and didn't allow anything but drive thru ... with a mask. So be prepared and have a mask available. I cannot stress this enough.

Please have enough masks, sanitizer and whatever you need to protect yourself and others the entirety of your trip wherever you go.  In your room, in your carry ons and in the car.

So we also rented a car....

Renting a car from Germany was easy. Booking online we secured a great deal and had no qualms about procuring a mid sized vehicle (we had four suitcases). What we didn't anticipate was gas prices being at a historic high and the expectation that we would pay for tolls. Gas had recently been rationed due to another one of those crypto heists to a popular pipeline. Also, rental car fleets were lessened during the pandemic making those prices soar as well and availability wain. We were lucky with the rental agency we chose (I will not advertise them here) but they did give us a model car we actually wanted. Where they almost got us at was agreeing to use their toll payment system and paying for gas upfront. Apparently, allegedly they estimate that a tourist could us up to $60 USD in tolls a week and they tacked that onto our bill. If my husband hadn't asked me to look things over he would have paid for it. He did opt for a fill up when returning the car because their price was around $2.99 a gallon and while there the lowest gas was probably $2.86 a gallon and do not quote me on that. Visiting Florida a place where toll roads are merely an option I chose to get a $10 SunPass Mini which does cover tolls on SunPass and E-Pass roads. You must upload a minimum of $10 for use and you can tie the pass to whatever vehicle you want. You can do this via an app and you do not even need to create a user account. Just remember to unlink that vehicle and remove the sticker when you return your vehicle. We unfortunately did that just before entering a toll road to the airport which was totally avoidable but our GPS was in cahoots with the State of Florida. 

Oh about GPS...

Using an American, English speaking GPS while driving or even walking in the States was problematic for us. I wasn't raised nor learned to drive with heads up features in a vehicle. Most Germans are. My husband expected a similar system in the rental which uses satellite and turn by turn instructions. Our car had CarPlay so without U.S. carrier phone service with an iPhone it was useless. I personally was fine with that because I had a phone that worked within the States. However, for him to drive he had to Hotspot to my phone to connect his phone to CarPlay. And CarPlay was often in limbo with Siri (which I think is utterly useless and have never enabled it on any of my phones) and the delay of tethering. When I am a passenger I am not paying attention to anything but my own phone or the music so assisting him when directions were all over the place was a chore. To assist him, I changed settings to kilometers, the language from English to Deutsch and tried very hard to make it so he could hear it over music. However, the vehicle itself was just shitty in creating a happy medium for him to hear audible instructions and provide heads up on screen directions. Even connecting my phone to Bluetooth to just use Google Maps kept making music start playing at whatever volume and then that could contradict Apple Maps. I honestly prefer the good ole days of printing instructions from MapQuest. My husband had no reference. But I also struggled with mapping things to walk or park. Systems like this are just not as advanced as they are in Europe. And being in places like Savannah, GA draw no comparison to New York, NY. If you think you cannot manage with these systems bring your own TomTom or something. We spent at least 20% of our trip arguing over this and I regret not bringing his GPS from his car. 


Before we left Germany required a registration with your Bundesland upon arrival. You would go to your stadt's online site 24 hrs before flight and request to re-enter. However, by the time we left the States this was no longer required. However, passport control somehow notified the proper channels on our behalf (which scared the shit out of me because dataschutz). When we got home we both received random text messages asking that we quarantine or get tested. Otherwise, there were no demands placed upon us at the airport. We had a brief layover in Amsterdam where there was only passport control and once in Germany there was no one at immigration or border control in Düsseldorf. And of course we had nothing to declare and even if we did that looked like no one was home either. 


I could make another post about this. But of course when traveling to another country you can and will buy things. I had no intentions in buying anything while in the States but I had an entire of suitcase of stuff I left there in 2020. My mother was also kind enough to receive a lot of things I bought and shipped to her home while here. So outside of going home for medical tourism, I was really utilizing Delta/KLMs luggage policies to get my fucking stuff. In order to avoid declaring things I open, untag and destroy anything that can be considered new or luxury. I think that is something any expat will learn to avoid issues with immigration and customs. I mean I live in Germany now but even the slightest amount of deemed unnecessary crap can make me look suspicious. But yes I totally brought dry foods, canned goods, clothes, beauty products etc. - that was my goal. But just in case I kept receipts and invoices in my carry-on. I also had a printed manifest of everything in that extra suitcase because I attempted to ship it multiple times. It was actually cheaper and easier to book an entire roundtrip flight to get my things. But those last minute trips to Sephora and Walmart were totally in my right and I will never declare things like yellow rice and face cream. Nor will I ever be the person that brings $10k in cash and stop to discuss it. If it belongs to me, it isn't ruining the agriculture and it isn't something I cannot pack in a standard suitcase, I will also walk right through that fucking shitshow area of the airport. I will do it in the States. I will do it in Germany. I will do it in outer space too.

Jetlag (And that nasty European adjustment bug)

I personally have never changed my sleep cycle from east coast American time. I've stayed up all hours of the night for over four years. Yes, my eyesight and cortisone is all out of whack. When I returned the only thing that threw me off was taking naps at 17:00 and re-waking at 21:00 for a solid three days straight. Now the sickness which makes you question having Covid did happen. It happened for both of us before leaving the States. We both traveled with snotty noses and head colds but it was quite apparent we didn't have Covid. To be safe though, we did stay in the house for a week. I was tested multiple times before meeting other people. I have re-entered the EU now three times and each time I have gotten sick like this. It is a normal response to the climate, lack of air conditioning and shitty food. Sorry not sorry. It is inevitable ... the dry cough, the blurring headaches and the endless runny nose. It is like a mix of normal allergies and sinusitis that subsides in a few days with citrus and rest. When I finally stopped napping and got back to my routine I was totally better. I also had a planned trip to Berlin which was also good for a reset. I went there five days after returning. I tested before my travel to Berlin and while I was there. Upon return back to Köln I felt quite Germanized. I tell anyone traveling over the pond to prepare themselves for "The Sick". Seriously, even if you come from Spain or Greece and come back to Germany you will get sick. Covid has just made that reality a slippery slope. 

Ride it out, stay at home or in your hotel, get rest and tested repeatedly. 

What about the other stuff? 

The other stuff I purposely left out ... bookings at hotels, staying with family and friends, going out in the States ... that stuff. It really isn't that interesting. Those experiences do not really differ from planning a trip anywhere at anytime. I mean what could I be missing? Bring your plug changes. Have money to tip underpaid people. Buy some decent sunscreen. Tap water is disgusting. There is so much content about the other stuff in blogs and videos that will steer you in the right direction. I am not here to explain how to or customs of doing those things in America. I think right now people really want to know how to navigate these weird times of flying and getting around during the pandemic. And I watched and read so much to prepare myself for this trip and I got no vital info. This is my experience and thankfully I had a good experience planning, leaving and returning. For me I was able to get on the plane, I was able to get around once I arrived, I was able to get home without jumping through a lot of hoops and I didn't get the Covid. That is what people really want to read and hear about. And gladly July opened up a lot of a opportunity for you to travel without issue. So go forth and get your urlaub on but do it fast because I feel like the window is closing soon or better yet Bleibst zu Hause.