Many travel addicts like me often spurn destinations they have already visited. But not me. France is one destination that I've gone back to time and again. It was France that turned out to be my only overseas destination in 2020 before the pandemic took off. And, when Road Scholar announced they were going to restart programs in the summer and fall, I quickly signed up a September 2021 date of a program that had been on my wish list for a while: French Canal Voyage by Barge: Discover Alsace-Lorraine. It would be my sixth Road Scholar program in France in the past eight years.
I was a bit unsure of what traveling to Europe during a pandemic would be like, but Road Scholar went to rather extraordinary lengths to ensure that we got all the coaching and hand-holding we needed to clear the hurdles set for those traveling internationally. Read on to find out how Road Scholar made travel to France during a pandemic easy!
The rules for both entering the EU and returning to the U.S. could seem intimidating, but Road Scholar arranged a Zoom video call for those of us enrolled in the September Road Scholar programs in France when all our questions could be answered. We learned that, though a COVID-19 test wasn’t required to leave the U.S., proof of a negative test was required to re-enter the U.S. (citizen or not). Road Scholar also walked us through the requirements from France, which included a "Pass Sanitaire" (Immunity Passport) that would prove we were vaccinated. This required us to get a QR code from the French government by registering online.
The head of Road Scholar France personally assured us that, even if we did not receive our Pass Sanitaire prior to entering France, she and her staff would ensure that we would get it once we arrived. (And that's exactly what happened.) On our first day in Strasbourg, our expert Group Leader took us to the one pharmacy in Strasbourg where the pass could be issued upon presentation of one's vaccination record.
The program itself went off without a hitch. French Canal Voyage by Barge: Discover Alsace-Lorraine was the perfect introduction to Alsace-Lorraine and one I would recommend to any Francophile. Strasbourg may not be as big or famous as Paris, but it has a great deal to offer that should not be missed. And the Alsace-Lorraine countryside is unique in its bicultural lore and traditions. It's almost like getting two countries in one, since Germany is literally just on the other side of the Rhine River.
And then — for the re-entry into the U.S. Trying to get a COVID-19 test in the U.S. can be confusing enough, but add to that a foreign government and healthcare system and a language barrier, and it might have seemed overwhelming to arrange the required COVID test we needed in France. But, amazingly, Road Scholar made provision for all of the participants to be tested before we left the barge! A medical team came onto the barge and executed all the required testing. Since most of us were departing for the U.S. on the day of disembarkation, and the test had to be no more than 72 hours prior to flying homebound, this worked out seamlessly.
So, my travel in the time of COVID, like Marquez's novel "Love in the time of Cholera," followed a circular path — ending up where my international travel addiction had been interrupted: in France. Road Scholar made it all possible and as stress free as could be. We all felt safe and in knowledgeable hands with our Group Leader, Libby, and the CroisiEurope barge staff kept us not only on course, but entertained, fed and watered with the finest French cuisine and wines (not to mention cheeses).
Seeing this region of France was more than reward enough for the extra thought and care it took to get there. Now I'm preparing for Antarctica this winter with Road Scholar. The provider is Danish, not French, so I guess I'll have to settle for Danish instead of croissant for breakfast! Quel dommage!
- Teresa Wilkin, Road Scholar Ambassador
Teresa Wilkin worked in public diplomacy and cultural exchange programs for the U.S. government for 32 years before retiring in 2004. The French barge trip was her 60th Road Scholar adventure in her soon to be 20 years with the organization. She has been an active Road Scholar Ambassador since 2009.
Thank you Teresa for sharing this information. My husband and I have just rebooked the Road Scholar trip to Egypt we cancelled at the last minute out of fear for COVID 19, which was just starting at the…
Your experience with Road Scholar pre-trip is interesting and not what I experienced at all.
I just returned from a RS trip to SW France and found the information sent by RS to participants on my tour…
I'm 5 months out for a trip to Egypt and have the same issue with lack of info and ability to contact RS. I am doing my own research and have contacted the Egyptian Embassy for info on shots, visa…
I think this is a wise choice on your part. Best to do the leg work yourself and make sure it is correct. On an April trip to Belgium and Netherlands the leader did not even ask to see CDC cards or discuss the locator form required by the Belgium government. The substitute leader also had no idea what the Road Scholar policies were when someone tested positive for Covid on the tour. Do your own research and protect yourself as you see fit.
I'm 5 months out for a trip to Egypt and have the same issue with lack of info and ability to contact RS. I am doing my own research and have contacted the Egyptian Embassy for info on shots, visa, etc. They now have Visas by e-mail that can be obtained directly from them before you leave, so I'll be doing that. Egypt has no shot requirements, but I've taken a few recommended by CDC and my physician. Everyone has said that the trip to Egypt is fabulous, so I'll just wade through sites for info I need to get out and back into the country.
Be advised that it is no longer possible to go to a pharmacy in France to get your CDC vaccination card converted to a pass sanitaire. (One pharmacist even told me he could go to prison for doing it.) They only way is to apply on the France Connect website. Some people get their QR code within days or even hours. Others, well ....I applied for my pass sanitaire in mid-September -- a full month before my flight to France. No movement on receiving the QR code even after several attempts to gently nudge the French bureaucracy, and I arrived in Paris on 13 October with no pass sanitaire. One last, desperate 3AM email to the address on the France Connect page (well, on some of the pages), and the next day the link to the QR code appeared in my email shortly after 10AM on my first full day in Paris.
I, too, did not receive any help from RS on my September trip to France. No Zoom call, or even much help by phone other than things would likely work out fine. Which they did. I found conflicting information online about whether I needed something for changing planes in Amsterdam, and only through the airline's Twitter did I get an answer for that. Once on the tour, our guide was very helpful and found a pharmacy for us to go to. He advised not going en masse, but two or three at a time and at off-times, which worked well. Because I was leaving several days after the trip was over, I had to get my own antigen test, which was very easy to do. The pharmacist and tester both spoke English. I had the results in 10 minutes by phone.(I always get European SIM card) My biggest confusion was the form the U.S. required prior to boarding the plane coming back. It would not come up on my phone, and Delta told me there would be no forms at the airport. There were forms at the CDG gate w/extra reps to help people get everything filled out. Overall, loved the trip--thought it was very well organized altho changes had to be made along the way due to Covid restrictions. I highly recommend RS - just completed another one in the U.S. and have 2 more planned next spring/summer. But no Zoom call for me, which would have eased my nerves. Both coming and going, I had no idea whether or not I'd be allowed on the plane!
I just returned from a RS trip to SW France and found the information sent by RS to participants on my tour was very poor. The information about the Pass Sanitaire was buried deep in material that was sent out pre-trip. I had emailed RS in early September with my concerns about the Pass as I monitor both Trip Advisor and Rick Steves forums and felt I was well-informed. Another friend who was on the SW France tour the week before me also emailed Road Scholar about the lack on information. As it turns out, after meeting up with the tour, another group member indicated she had also sent Road Scholar an email with concerns about the lack of information.
I think I might have been the only one (out of 21) who had the Pass Sanitaire on arrival although there were others who had applied for it and not received it. There were some tour members who had no idea what the Pass Sanitaire was or that they should have applied for it. On the first night the guide took those who needed it out to get one from a pharmacy. As I understand it they visited 2 pharmacies, one of which he'd used before and they were both too busy to process passes for the group. As it turns out the CDC card worked fine for the venues we visited and for the restaurants for the group meals.
So....very nice that you had a zoom call and information and that the "head of Road Scholar in France" gave you assurances. I can tell you that although things went well, other tours are NOT receiving the same level of service. I hate to be critical and suspicious but I wonder if it was because they knew you would be creating a blog entry for it?
The departure antigen test did work fairly well. A nurse came to our last hotel and did the test on anyone who was leaving on the last day. The only PROBLEMS were that people did not know they had to pay this in Euros AND several did not have smart phones or smart phone skills to be able to retrieve the results. Bless the Road Scholar tour guide who used his computer to get results printed out for people who were unable to have this information digitally.
My evaluation will reflect my disappointment at the poor information provided before the start of the trip on the Pass Sanitaire. I will also suggest that Road Scholar provide more information to participants regarding the need for smart phones AND smart phone skills. People need to at least know how to access and send email with their phone. In France SO MANY things are done with smart phones and you really need to have some basic skill level with them. As usual there are people who don't understand money and how to access it (Can we use dollars? was the question one person had when told she needed 35E for the return to US Antigen test) so more up front information is needed on having a debit card to withdraw Euro from a bank ATM.
I did enjoy my trip but Road Scholar is not providing your level of service to everyone. I suggest all International Road Scholar travelers do research themselves on requirements to enter their country of choice and actively keep up with and apply themselves for any documentation needed without waiting for Road Scholar information on it.
Thank you Teresa for sharing this information. My husband and I have just rebooked the Road Scholar trip to Egypt we cancelled at the last minute out of fear for COVID 19, which was just starting at the time of our trip. I found your description of your travel with Road Scholar in the time of Covid very reassuring.
We just returned from The Best of Greece: Island Hopping in the Aegean at the end of September 2021. We knew that if RS was still planning the trip, we would be in good hands. Even though the US State Department elevated Greece to Level 4-Do Not Travel due to COVID 19, we still went because we were just tired of hiding out at home. We weren't disappointed! We had a fabulous time, and no one on the trip got sick. Yes, we had to show our vaccination cards and test before we traveled back home to the US, but it was all worth it!
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