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Covid Ends Family Trip for Parents Fall 2023

Our family planned our Rick Steve's Best of Eastern Europe (15 day) Tour for a year. It was a chance to celebrate our daughter doctorate accomplishments, our 30 year anniversary (2 years late) and a time to have quality time as a family, including our new son in law. Unfortunately - after just 5 days on the tour my husband tested positive for COVID and we were forced to leave the tour, leaving our adult children to complete it on their own.

I am writing provide an overview of our experience and lessons learned for others to consider. First - we unfortunately DID NOT secure travel insurance. While I attempted to sign up multiple times - the on-line process with the third part insurance for our multiple stop tour was time consuming and ultimately fell of the list at some point. Looking back - the extra hassle may have been worth it as we are out almost $3,000. This loss reflects Rick Steve's providing us a partial credit for days lost on tour (thank you very much Rick Steves). Luckily we had paid extra for flexible airfare which allowed us to rebook with no fees (Delta).

In the end - we lost more than money. We lost precious family time with our adult children who had agreed to take all their leave for this trip we have planned for the past year. We are happy to report they have continued on and so far have avoided Covid. I will say that this new variant seems to have a short incubation period and travels fast. Symptoms include sore throat to start, followed by head congestion and then cough. Medication helped control symptoms. I ended up testing positive the day we arrived home and felt 80% after just 3 days and texted negative day 4. I think that is the good news.

The forum is correct in stating you are OUT if you test positive. While everyone had proof of vaccination on day one, we suspect COVID arrived with one of the tour members unknowingly and after a long bus ride, an incubation period of what seemed like 3 days - people started sniffling, coughing and testing positive one after the other. In our 28-member tour group that stated 9/3/23, I understand they are down to 18. As previously stated, if your partner tests positive - they are out (no matter if you quarantine for 5 days, text negative and have remaining time on your tour). The remaining partner is given the opportunity to continue but must mask the entire time and test daily. Our tour guide helped provide alternative hotels to move to while we stayed behind and the tour continued.

Tests and masks are not provided by Rick Steves and we were unsuccessful finding N95 masks in Europe, as it isn't considered a big deal. Luckily - out kids brought them and a tour member donated one for me.

I wish after the first person tested positive that Rick Steve's would have provided N95 masks to tour members who opted to wear them moving forward in our bus. This might have helped limit the spread. My advice is to bring them with you. Ours unfortunately did not arrive before we left. I would also bring your own tests.

I hope this is helpful. Know Covid still is out there and for 2023 Tours - Rick Steve's policy will require you test and drop out if you are symptomatic. I recommend getting insurance if you have a long trip.

Posted by
1695 posts

So sorry that Covid spoiled your trip. This new variant is really spreading, and I know a lot of people who've avoided Covid until now but have recently come down with it. Even though I won't be on a tour, I will definitely be using N95s on the plane and in indoor, public spaces, as I have done every trip since November 2021. Thanks for the helpful advice.

Again, I'm sorry for your experience.

Posted by
919 posts

I am sorry your husband (and later you) tested positive and were unable to complete the Rick Steves tour with your family.

For anyone interested, please see below link for COVID Policies for tour members from the RS organization. RS clearly states that tour members should bring their own masks and COVID self-tests. We are all adults and should be responsible for ourselves and not rely on the tour operator to provide masks and tests.

Rick Steves' Europe Requirements
For 2024 Tours: Covid vaccines NOT required.
For 2023 Tours: Covid Vaccines: Yes!
You and each member of your traveling party will need to be "fully vaccinated" according to the CDC, meaning you have received a single dose (Johnson & Johnson/Bivalent Pfizer-BioNtech) or two-dose series (Moderna/Monovalent Pfizer-BioNTech) of an accepted vaccine at least 14 days prior to your tour start date. (Booster shots are recommended for those that are eligible but not required). You'll need to present proof of vaccination to your guide at the welcome meeting on the first day of your tour in one of the following forms: CDC (or equivalent) vaccination card, photo of the front and back of original card, or photocopy of the front and back of original card.

For 2023 and 2024 Tours:
Face Masks: Optional
Although we've found that face masks help prevent the spread of illness when traveling in a group, wearing a face mask while on tour is optional. However, please know that at any time the situation with Covid may change and your guide may instruct you to wear a mask while on the bus or in other public settings. Please be prepared by packing along your own N95/KN95 masks.

Pre-tour Testing: Not Required
We do not require pre-tour testing. But if you exhibit Covid symptoms while on tour, you'll be required to take a test and present the results to your guide. Please bring a few Covid-19 self-test kits with you (they are readily available at US drug stores but may be hard to find in Europe).

Policy If You Test Positive While on Tour
If you test positive while on tour you’re obligated to follow local protocol for quarantining. In addition to any local requirements, RSE's policy requires Covid positive tour members to leave and not rejoin the tour; cease in-person contact with other tour members, including travel partners who are remaining on the tour; and avoid public areas of the hotel when the tour group is present. RSE will provide a $200-per-day refund for you (and your travel partner if you choose to quarantine together) for the number of days missed due to Covid.  Please carefully review our Tour Member Expectations and read about our Tour Interruption Resources before joining your tour.

On Call Assistance Services and Rick Steves' Europe will provide support with managing quarantine requirements, but you're responsible for the associated costs. Many travel insurance policies cover the additional expenses for accommodations, travel change fees, food, etc.

Policy updates?
We'll be reviewing these standard requirements on a regular basis and if we need to make changes, we'll do our best to notify you prior to your tour start date. There's a chance we may need to make changes during your tour as well. Most of all, while on tour you'll need to be flexible — and remember as like the rest of life — travel is subject to change.

Posted by
129 posts

Patty - thank you for taking the time to share your experience. I am sure many on this forum find it helpful. I am sorry your family vacation was derailed.

Posted by
8625 posts

Patty, take a moment and look at your credit cards that you used to charge trip costs. You may some some travel insurance benefits associated with those cards.

At least as of last April (my last RS tour) information I received pretour did suggest bringing a few tests and masks along and stressed the importance of travel insurance. I believe they are trying to communicate these points, and your post is a helpful reminder.

I’m sorry it worked out the way it did, but an thankful you are recovering.

Posted by
14249 posts

Patty, I am so sorry this messed up your celebratory trip with family! What awesome accomplishments all around.

I'm glad your daughter/SIL continued on with the trip but sorry you and DH were left behind!

Just a word about N95 masks. They are generally available at Home Depot. I like the 3M Aura N95 as they are cut down some to accommodate folks who wear glasses. You can check on the Home Depot website for your local store which will give you both the amount in stock AND the row and bin numbers so you don't have to search high and low for them. (Hint - paint department).

Happy you all are feeling better now! Thanks for posting your experience.

Posted by
959 posts

I am sorry for your experience.

Am I reading correctly, per Mary's post, that RS is still requiring Covid testing if symptomatic on 2024 tours?

Posted by
2912 posts

Patty, I'm sorry your husband and you got covid. It's sad you spent a year planning the perfect family trip and only half the family was able to complete it.

Although this is after the fact, I always take and wear masks on transportation and crowded sights. Even at home I wear masks in stores and anywhere crowded. I found comfortable KN95 masks on Amazon and keep a supply
On my June trip I took two Covid tests left over from September's trip and a thermometer. Fortunately no one on the trip got covid. Only three of us wore masks most of the time and a few others occasionally. I'm surprised you couldn't find Covid tests. I would think that they would be available in any European pharmacy.

Your post is a good reminder why people should have travel insurance. It takes a bit of time to research what's best for you, but worth it if you need it.

Safe travels on your next trip.

Posted by
959 posts

Thanks, Don. I didn't mean to suggest that Mary was mis-reporting, just questioning my interpretation.

Posted by
6372 posts

Patty, what a sad and disappointing experience. I am currently on a RS tour, and scarily, have had exactly the symptoms you mention. I am thankful to report, however, that I test negative. The cold or whatever it is seems to be working its way through the group.

I will say, without judgment, that since we left home 16 days ago I have worn a mask in airports, on all planes, on the tour bus, and in any crowded situation, i. e., markets. And still I came down with whatever this unpleasantness is.

My husband doesn’t usually wear a mask, but started wearing one on the bus as soon as I developed symptoms. He just told me, after I read him this post, that several people on the tour have thanked him for our wearing masks, realizing that we were protecting them, as well as ourselves. And I will add that, although a couple of tour members have given me the stink-eye (a term we’ve just taught our guide,) more of them have asked me how I’m doing and expressed genuine concern about my health.

We usually buy masks at Lowes, but switched to Home Depot this year. We brought 10 masks with us, as well as a number of tests, as RSE recommended in pre-tour documents.

Frankly, I’m not happy with RSE’s current Covid policy for several reasons, but we did agree to it when we signed up gor our 2023 tours.

Again, I am truly sorry for what you and your family have gone through. I do hope you will not let this discourage you from future travel, whether with RSE or not.

Posted by
4012 posts

Patty, thank you for taking the time to write this thread. I’m so sorry that you and your husband succumbed to Covid and that your long planned family vacation was ruined.

If I may ask, how recently did you and your husband get a Covid booster? Obviously, a new one is coming out so I know you could not get that.

The one thing you have shown us loudly and clearly is that sitting on a bus with 28 people no matter how spread out the people are is a recipe to spread Covid even today.

I am leaving for Germany on Monday September 18 for 9 days. Your post is an important reminder to me to bring several N95s which I do have. I will wear it on the flight & on all public transport. I will also pack several Covid test boxes.

Posted by
855 posts

Each RS tour member must sign the Health and Safety Pledge, yes?

For someone who's recently been on an RS tour, do you have a copy of the actual contract that you signed? I wonder whether there is additional language beyond the terms and conditions available here on the web regarding governing law and related boilerplate.

Posted by
6698 posts

@ David- In this case it is nothing to do with American law versus UK law.

A contract has been signed by the customers of an American company. That is the policies of that company, not a matter of US law. It can only be enforced when actually on the conveyance (bus) of that American company.
It is very, very doubtful if it can be enforced in another setting, such as a restaurant or hotel in the UK or other European country.

I have no idea what you are trying to prove concerning shopping in the UK. But the facts are that all Covid policies have ended in the UK, a long time ago.
Even at the height of the pandemic there was no legal basis to require a test before entering a store. I doubt there was any such legal basis in the US either.
It would be a gross over stepping of the law for any shop in the UK (or, as far as I know, the US) to insist on Covid testing before entering a shop. No shop keeper would be so stupid as to engage in such a policy.

They would be straight in court for discrimination. Any physical attempt to prevent entry would result in a charge of assault.

Similarly attempts to quote the law on the workplace are at best quoting out of context. The context is pretty clear in that it relates pretty narrowly to a health care setting where close quarters personal care is unavoidable. Given that there are no longer free tests I think that the law would consider it unreasonable for the employee to bear the costs of such testing (including the travelling time and costs).
Under Health and Safety at work legislation the onus would be on the employer to provide appropriate work conditions and to make reasonable accommodation. I see no ordinary basis in UK law for an ordinary employer to insist on testing.

Many of the symptoms could easily relate to other illnesses.

With regard to the tour the OP signed a contract to bring their own masks and tests, but failed to do so.

Posted by
2713 posts

Very sad ending to a long anticipated trip. My condolences. I’ve read RSE policy (and this is what is being enforced and tour members agree to it. The discussion about this law or that law is not pertinent). COVID will be with us for a long time, maybe forever. We are fortunate that through immunization and repeated exposure we have some immunity, even with new variants emerging. So, folks are getting sick but few sick enough to require hospitalization and many fewer succumbing. So, what is the “right” policy on a coach tour? Here is our experience: we toured with a high end company a year ago.; N. Spain starting in Barcelona. They had a pledge you signed regarding your willingness to self test, quarantine, leave the tour, etc. But, pish posh. Here is what really happened. We had a very nice first dinner and we sat with a couple who had just disembarked from a cruise. By day three the husband had a terrible loud cough and looked visibly ill. My wife and I were the only ones who masked on the bus (or anywhere for that matter). Pretty soon many others started having mostly URI symptoms-lots of nose blowing, nasal voice, cough. I asked the guide about testing, isolation, masking and she said I have no authority to mandate any of that. So, we continued on. We began having symptoms on the way home and tested positive when we arrived in the states So, it was sort of a don’t ask don’t tell COVID tour. At the time I was really miffed. But, now with the passage of time I’m really not sure what the right thing is-a strict policy like RSE or sort of a lasseiz-fair approach knowing that it;’s nearly impossible to contain this virus on a bus, so you take your chances and hopefully don’t get too sick (and have Paxlovid which saved my bacon!) I don’t know….

Posted by
7448 posts

Patty, I appreciate that you’re willing to share what you learned through this experience to help others planning trips. I’m sorry that Covid messed up your family celebration!

Your post is a good reminder to pack the home Covid tests & masks. I brought six with me on the tour in June, but I know several in our tour didn’t bring one. We had a person test positive early in our tour, and our guide shared the news with us when we boarded the bus the next morning. I immediately pulled out a mask, but I remember the tour guide handed a packet of masks down the aisle because people didn’t have one. She did say that masks were available to buy in the cities (in Croatia). I can’t verify that since I had my own supply.

One hint: for the 2-pack home kits, I usually can open the box, remove the instruction papers and place 3 tests into a 2-pack box. I’ve taken so many tests traveling - just in case informational, no Covid, that I have the instructions memorized.

Posted by
15675 posts

It's a very simple thing. Prior to signing up to the tour, the passenger is told of the COVID policy. They then have a choice of taking the tour or not. If they take the tour they sign an agreement to the policy. (Sort of like agreeing to a website's privacy policy.) The passenger knows the rules ahead of time and agrees to it.

That's all it is. It's not a governmental law matter. It's civil. They are signing a contract of agreement. As long as the contract does not insist on the passenger doing something illegal, it's fine.

If there was no Covid policy, and the testing was sprung on the passenger after the tour started, then it would be questionable as to whether the passenger has to agree to it. As long as there was no testing law in the country they are in, they can refuse.

Posted by
6 posts

Thank you all. For those who referred to RS guidelines instructing to bring masks and tests. We were aware and had the best laid intentions however upon packing realized we were out of N95 and our tests were outdated. We recognize this is something we should have checked earlier.

I think the point I was making is this variant is alive and spreading. Be prepared. And my suggestion for RS providing N95 and tests is as a back up for those who forgot. I’m not trying to shift responsibility- simply trying to suggest a Plan B. This past year I haven’t felt the need to mask up. This trip reminded me the importance

The kids are having a great time which makes my husband and I happy.

Happy Travels. We love Rick Steves Tours and look forward to future adventures

As for my lost luggage - 4 days later it’s a no show.

Posted by
1108 posts

Hi Patty,

So sorry this happened. I am going on a RS tour in November and also understand and agree to the policies, whether I agree with them or not. I was on a RS tour pre-covid and on day one two couples arrived with something like the worst case of pneumonia we’d ever seen. They weren’t asked to mask, leave the tour, isolate, or anything. And one by one each tour member caught whatever they had. It was awful. The original two couples couldn’t even walk the sites on the tour because they were so out of breath. Whatever that bug was so much worse than covid was for me, and covid took me out for a solid week. My point being, it’s ridiculous to only require that covid be the one bug that requires tour members to leave, isolate or mask. But I digress…

Did you consider staying on in Europe on your vacation without the tour? That would be my plan in the event that I had to leave the tour.

Posted by
1453 posts

Patty, I’m sorry the viral plague got you and I hope your recovery has been smooth albeit frustrating. Covid is indeed alive and prospering in Italy.I traveled with a group of friends for 10 days. They returned to the US while I stayed on. Three days after they returned I received a message saying one of my friends tested positive. She had received a booster 2 weeks prior to departing for Italy. She is immune comprised and is the only one in the group to have caught the virus. Knock on wood I’m fine. But it is a good reminder that it is still out there.

Posted by
1625 posts

Oh Patty, this breaks my heart, forget the money, the missed opportunity to make these precious memories with your family is the greatest loss. The bright side is that there will be many more celebrations to be had in the future.

I have friends that have had their 10 year Anniversary trip derailed due both of them getting Covid. They had planned London, then meeting up with friends for a grand tour of Ireland and Scotland which included visits to multiple distilleries, and they landed up spending the whole time holed up together in London till they felt well enough and tested negative to fly home.

Sounds like if you were traveling independently, you would have missed 4 days then been able to complete the trip. But you just never know, could have been two weeks. Pre-Covid I have gotten a cold on a trip and just kept on going and never thought twice about it.

Posted by
173 posts

PattyPDX - and all others who have "expired" covid tests - Don't throw them out just yet! You can google your test (ex: Binax?) and find the updated/extended expiration dates to see if they are still current/useable.
I traveled to Europe twice last fall with masks and tests. I take 6 tests in a little zip pouch along with one instruction booklet. I used the mask when in indoor public spaces, on public transport and especially whenever in a closed space, like an elevator, even if I was the only person on the elevator. Others had been in that small space before me. Fortunately I had no need to use the tests so they will go with me again next week to France and Spain. I just received my latest shipment of N95's. With the recent variant, many more are now wearing masks in our local grocery stores.
Thank you, PattyPDX, for your report and reminder. I hope your family has many enjoyable experiences to share in the future.

Posted by
435 posts

So sorry to hear you lost out on the tour.

I know we all fit masks differently, but I'm wondering if someone has discovered a favorite brand of N95s for comfort over many hours.

Posted by
256 posts

Covid did not end this family trip, Covid protocols that forced the OP off the tour are the culprit. I get that some people don’t want to travel in a group with sick persons, but like April said it makes no sense to boot people for Covid but not for other infectious diseases. As long as these protocols remain, it is smart to have a Plan B to continue your travels while mitigating your impact on others.

Posted by
599 posts

Simpgolf, I did some research given the regular theme of your comments on this topic. I came across a few other tour companies, not large high profile ones like Trafalgar, but ones offering a variety of tours nonetheless and they have requirements re getting Covid: you leave the tour for 5 days and can return if you test negative after 5 days. From personal experience in May I was positive and thus infectious for 12 days. So yes there are other tours managing this similarly.

Quite frankly, not all respiratory viruses are the same so not sure why they need to be treated the same? A cold is not the same as Covid, period. Perhaps it is a positive that a tour company like RS offers a more cautious alternative for folks who would like to minimize the risks of getting sick while spending a lot of money for a holiday. As mentioned by others, one can certainly find other tours where everyone takes their chances.

Posted by
271 posts

RS tours have done an admirable job during these challenging times. They continue to be a model of commonsense. I wish Patty a speedy recovery.

Posted by
226 posts

I will not leave home without Travel Insurance especially with older Parents. Yes it's time consuming to fill out the online form but it may prove worth it Why would you spend hours on planning and not spend a few more on buying insurance? Even if zi had to pay someone to do it for me it's worth it

A $5,000+ trip is worth $600 more to get a good Cancel For Any Reason Policy,Medical Evacuation with Repatriation,Trip Delay etc. My theory is even if you have to sacrifice $600 on
few nights of hotel at a nicer property Travel Insurance is. a priority .

Hope you are all doing better.

Posted by
158 posts

That is such a bummer. On our July tour, someone (solo traveler) tested positive on day 2. Thankfully, nobody else did after that. But it was nervewracking every time anyone on the bus coughed or sniffled or cleared their throat!

Posted by
111 posts

Thank you David and Claire for the responses above. It's my thinking as well.