Updated: Nov 15, 2020
Not everyone decides to move from Austin, Texas, to Hawaii during a worldwide pandemic, not to mention that my husband Bill and I had moved within Austin just 18 months before. We enjoyed our home and neighbors in Steiner Ranch, until Covid hit and all social activities ceased.
As we self-quarantined and awaited a hoped-for vaccine, we talked constantly about whether “our bucket-list dream” was to remain in suburbia, pleasant as it was, or move to the Big Island of Hawaii, where we had visited many times and fell in love with the ocean vistas, volcanic mountains, and friendly culture. Perhaps our compulsion to move again was Covid escapism, but our dream talk escalated at each evening’s cocktail hour, to the point I told Bill, “If you really want to do this, I will make it happen.“ Except, I asked him to make his final decision when he was daytime sober.
What in the World Are We Doing?
Over the next few months, we both questioned the sanity of this move. And we had plenty of time to change our minds. Our initial plan was to wait until Spring 2021, but in September 2020, when our neighbor’s house went on the market for $100,000 higher than it was priced the previous year, we realized there was a huge demand for housing, thanks to Austin’s booming economy and the lack of available homes due to Covid. We listed our home for a whole lot more than we had paid for it the year before, and within two weeks it sold for enough profit to pay for what would be an expensive and complex move.
When you move to Hawaii you are advised to sell all furniture and household goods, and ship only your car, important papers, and mementos. Otherwise, you will pay a price. Because we had recently bought a living/dining room full of top-line furnishings, I calculated that the cost to ship everything was one-half the amount we would lose by selling the new furnishings at tag sale prices. So I got quotes from three shipping companies, each of which used some sort of app or online system to give you the quote, which took me hours to complete, instead of them hiring someone to do the work. One even had me upload a room-by-room video of our house.
Intense Planning Ahead
Shipping a car to the Big Island costs about $1,700, which seemed reasonable, but the car must be shipped out of Matson Shipping at Long Beach, Calif. We also needed to ship our two Cockalier dogs, Meryl Streep and Lord Byron, so we hired Island Pet Movers to manage the complicated ins and outs of that. Hawaii requires vast amounts of paperwork to import live animals, and because our dogs have snub noses and might have difficulty in a plane’s cargo hold, they were scheduled to ride inside the cockpit of a cargo flight out of Los Angeles.
Since our dogs and car had to get to L.A. somehow, Bill and I decided to save money and limit the dogs' flights by driving from Austin to Los Angeles. That sounded reasonably simple, and perhaps even fun, but when you add in a move to Hawaii during a Covid pandemic, the trip became a series of roadblocks, endurance tests, and technological glitches.
First off was finding hotels on route that take dogs. Along IH-10, that means La Quinta, some better than others. Secondly, we had a lot to take with us, since we would not see our household goods for two months. So we loaded two carry-ons, four large suitcases, two large dog crates, two portable crates for hotels, water, dog bowls, dog food, dog dishes, dog toys, dog leashes, dog medicines, dog pick-up bags, and even a dog towel, not to mention ourselves.
Where's Your Covid Test?
Moving to Hawaii would be difficult enough, but the state also required us to have negative Covid tests within 72 hours of the final leg of our flight to Kailua-Kona. On our itinerary, that meant we should be tested in Phoenix, Arizona. If we did not have results in time for our flight, we would be required to quarantine in a hotel room, where we would not be allowed to leave, rent a car, or even take the dogs for a walk. This possibility totally freaked me out.
In October 2020, Covid tests were almost impossible to arrange; in fact it took me many hours to locate clinics in Phoenix that would test non-Arizona residents solely for travel purposes. But I did find three options and planned our hotel stays to be nearby.
The week before we left for Phoenix, Hawaii threw another wrench in the works by announcing a “trusted travel partners program,” which dictated that arriving passengers’ Covid tests must be only from specific providers, not the clinics I had located. In Phoenix, only CVS and Walgreens were on Hawaii’s list. The rest were West Coast providers or HMOs.
Booking through a major drug chain may sound doable, but there was another roadblock. All testing appointments at a CVS or Walgreens had to be made online, and you could not make appointments more than 48 hours in advance. That meant we had to accomplish this at our first stop, which was El Paso, but we had no idea if we would be able to get an appointment.
Talk about nervous. We spent most of our energy worrying about getting these darn Covid tests. Both CVS and Walgreen’s promised two-to-three-day turn-arounds, which would squeak in hopefully before our flight.
Thwarted by Technology
In El Paso, we sequestered in our room because that city had a strong Covid outbreak. We ordered a pizza, while I jumped through the hoops to make our test appointments online, one for the next afternoon at a Walgreens in Phoenix, and another at a nearby CVS for the following morning.
I should add here that I’m the one who handles our tech projects, as my Bill, although a brilliant medical mind, trivia expert, and Egyptian historian, is not Bill Gates when it comes to computers, apps, websites, email, messages, or even answering his freaking iPhone. In fact, sometime during this trip, Bill had managed to block me as a caller on his phone, so I could not reach him when I needed to, which was far too often.
For the Walgreens test, we had to qualify medically, not merely for travel. Bill passed because of prior health issues, while I exaggerated my weight problems. For the CVS tests, I found that I had to arrange those via the link on the Hawaii Safe Travels website and pay for them privately. When I tried to schedule a CVS test without going through that Hawaii link, we wouldn’t qualify because we had to be a resident of that state.
This was how things went every step of the way, constantly tricky, due to the way the various sites or apps were set up. The next afternoon in Phoenix, we struggled to print out our Walgreen’s and CVS appointment times at the hotel’s business center, but one of the sites did not function well on Safari, only Chrome. That took several dysfunctional printouts to figure out.
We brought the dogs with us to the appointed Walgreens drive through, where we waited in line for a half hour, then nervously swabbed our nasal passages, diligently wrote in the collection time on the paperwork, then dropped our samples into a metal lab box.
One Test Down, One Test to Go, But No...
Back in our room, we received a text at 7:00 p.m. from CVS saying that our appointments for the following morning had been canceled. Why? There was no reason listed. I tried to reschedule the tests online, but the CVS system insisted we were already scheduled for the appointment CVS had just cancelled.
The next morning, I anxiously called the pharmacist at CVS to inquire what to do. She said she had no control over scheduling, but if we were not in the system, we could not receive the test. In the back of my mind I remembered the pharmacy’s answering system had given me an option for questions about Covid testing. So I called again and punched number two. After another 15 minutes on hold, I actually found a live human who rescheduled our tests, although we had to wait until almost noon to take them.
When we got to the CVS, we waited in line at the drive-through for more than an hour. This was troublesome, since we had planned to reach Los Angeles before sundown. But we were determined to take this second test for fear the Walgreen’s test would not come back in time.
L.A. By Dark Thirty, If You Survive
As we headed onto Interstate 10 through the desert, we calculated we would reach L.A. about 7:00 p.m. Sadly, the highway west of Phoenix is packed with gigantic trucks, and the road not only needs widening but also resurfacing. That doesn't stop most drivers from going 85 mph, however. We are fairly assertive drivers, but we had to keep up or be run over. We did our best to stop every two hours to give the dogs a break from their bouncing crates and ourselves a break from the trucks and rough roads.
As I drove the last 100 miles to L.A., our lives were truly at stake. I kept to the right when I could, but heaven help us if we needed to pass a truck. Maniacal drivers roared around us left and right, going far more than 100 miles per hour, sometimes zooming up the right shoulder, then crossing over to the left lane directly in front of us. Insanity.
Thankfully, we made it alive to the Hilton Airport Hotel, but in the dark, we could not find the entry. Due to construction, which seemed to be everywhere in south Los Angeles, the hotel entrance was through an alley. Only a small sign directed you, but the arrow vaguely pointed up the street. So it took us three complete circles around the hotel in the dark, Bill expressing his dismay full tilt, before I could find where to pull our car in. Luckily, the hotel had bell service, which took two full carts to unload all our dogs and gear.
This was my birthday, October 21. After three days of fish sandwiches, wilted salads, or pizza, I had looked forward to a steak dinner, beautifully prepared and served like you might see in a movie. But when Bill called room service, he said they laughed.
Due to Covid, the hotel’s only food options were pre-packaged meals like a teriyaki power bowl or a Cobb salad. The hotel also did not have martinis, my favorite evening cocktail. What I got instead was a canned gin and tonic. So much for my birthday celebration.
Did Walgreens Come Through?
We were elated, however, when the Walgreens test results arrived by email late that night. I thought all was well until the next morning when I began to upload the PDF to the Hawaii Safe Travels website — yet another hurdle Hawaii travelers must jump to avoid quarantine — but I noticed the Walgreens report had the wrong collection time on it.
Hawaii’s quarantine requirements are strict about the test being taken within 72 hours of the final leg of your flight to the islands. But the Walgreen’s report indicated our test was taken one whole day before we had taken it. That meant it would not qualify. I went online and looked up the company that does the testing. Through an obscure inquiry form, I urgently asked someone to correct the time.
Late that afternoon, an anonymous person responded that that time on the lab report was merely the time when the lab’s computer had been turned on, and those times are, “frequently inaccurate.” Hello? This was Hawaii’s “trusted travel partner”? This reply also said I had to contact the lab directly and gave me an 800 number.
Shipping, Tests, Shipping, Tests
By this time, I was in a dither. Beyond Covid reports, we also had to ship our car that morning and ship the dogs that night. Our flight was early the next day.
Matson Shipping was 24 miles south in Long Beach, but Matson was closed between 11:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m., or so Google told me. When we left about 10 a.m., I figured we could head down the freeway, wash and drop the car, and be back within two hours to straighten out the Walgreen’s Covid test reports.
Bill was following me in a rental car, but for some reason my iPhone GPS app was not speaking to me. I couldn’t keep looking at the tiny phone screen and drive, so I programmed our car’s non-updated GPS system to direct us to the shipping center. I tried to call Bill to let him know what was going on, but of course, my calls kept going to his voicemail.
In spite of this, the trip to get the car washed and then onward to the shipping area seemed to be going well until the GPS told me we had arrived at our destination at 10:45 a.m., only it was a gigantic fenced off area with a huge sign that said, “Road Closed.” Like most roads in Los Angeles, the shipping area was under construction.
When I turned the car around, the car’s GPS wanted me to go back on a freeway where there was a gigantic traffic jam of trucks. So I pulled off to get my bearings, tell Bill what was going on, and try to get my freaking phone to speak to me, which it finally did after I rebooted it. I asked Bill to call me and keep us connected so we would not lose each other in traffic.
As we headed out, trying to get to Matson before 11:30 a.m., I missed a turn and found myself screaming epithets into Bill’s ear because I had put us back on the freeway. Luckily, we were not going the same direction as the traffic jam, so I was able to take the next exit several miles up, then make enough wrong turns so that the iPhone app, now alive, would navigate us. But by that time, it was 11:20 a.m. and Matson would be closed by the time we got there.
That meant Bill and I had to kill an hour and a half in south Los Angeles, not the best part of town, so we went to McDonald’s for yet another fish sandwich.
At 12:30 p.m., we headed out again for Matson. Problem was, they had moved to temporary housing because of construction. Round and round we went again, and if I had not seen a tiny sign that said, “Matson Detour,” we would’ve been going round and round even longer.
One Shipment Down, But More to Go
Once at Matson, we were able to process the car shipment within 30 minutes, then Bill drove us in the rental car back to the hotel. In late-afternoon traffic, his hands gripped the steering wheel as though Death was tailgating us. I won’t say things went smoothly or quietly, but we managed to remain married, find the correct alley behind the hotel to return the rental car, and get ourselves back in the room.
With the dogs still to prepare for shipment, there was no time to jack around with contacting Walgreens lab, so I decided to print out copies of our appointments so we could prove to Hawaii that we got our tests at the correct time.
I also had to print the dogs’ paperwork for the Island Pet Movers handler who would pick them up at 8:30 p.m. for their overnight flight. So I went to the business center on the hotel’s second floor, which was closed because of Covid. Elevators would not stop on #2, so I had to go to the lobby, squeeze past a rope line, then climb two flights of stairs. Afterward, I had to go back downstairs to catch the elevator up to the room. With my knees, this was not exactly convenient or easy.
Back in the room, I had to follow the Island Pet Movers instructions to label the dogs’ crates with “Live Animals,” directional arrows, their photos and ID information, then tape the Hawaii health certificates on top. At 8 p.m., we loaded the dogs, patted them goodbye, then got a bellman to help us cart the dogs downstairs. When the handler put them in the back of his van, I will never forget the look on Byron’s face. He whined and whined. One scared pup.
CVS Came Through!
After returning to the room, Bill and I were relieved to have the dogs on their way, and even more elated when we received texts with our test results from CVS. But that meant I had to go back to the business center to print those reports.
Again, I went down to the lobby and marched up the stairs to level two, printed out the CVS tests and uploaded the PDFs to the Hawaii Safe Travels site. But when I left the business center, I was so distracted by the stress of this day, I left my purse inside ... my purse that held the room key I needed in order to get back inside the business center to retrieve my forgotten purse.
Downstairs to the lobby I went, asking concierge to help. A fellow promised security would be on the way soon. Well, 30 minutes passed with no help. Since I couldn’t reach Bill’s stupid phone or the front desk because there were no house phones, due to Covid, and not wanting to truck downstairs again, I called 1-800 Hilton Hotel customer service and found a WONDERFUL woman, a human voice, who understood my frustration, called the front desk and got someone to help me. I wish I had gotten her name so I could send her a thank you gift.
With CVS print outs in hand and Covid tests uploaded to Hawaii, Bill and I had two hours to “enjoy” yet another packaged salad in the room and a canned cocktail. Then we packed and tried to sleep before our 5 a.m. alarm.
Pushy, Rude People
The Hilton has a 24-hour shuttle to the airport. With such an early flight, I did not expect to see hordes of people trying to get on the same freaking bus at 5:30 a.m. But there they were, pushy, rude people who showed little respect for Covid distancing or the line we were in. They rushed past and crammed the first shuttle, which took off without us.
The bellman who was helping us had an offensive lineman’s build but was not at all aggressive. I gave him a pleading look, so he eventually wormed his way through the crowd to get our bags and my purse on the next shuttle. We ourselves weren’t on it yet, but our stuff was. That shuttle would have taken off without us if we did not suddenly become pushy, rude people ourselves, so we forged our way onto the bus, which was jammed with humanoids you do not want to spend time with, especially at 5:30 a.m.
Over the past few years, I had saved a bunch of AAdvantage miles to fly to Hawaii in first class. But inside the terminal, there was no first-class check in service, due to Covid. We had to go to the kiosks and load our own bags on the conveyor.
On Its Side, On Its Side
Yes, we did expect a bit of help in first class. Instead, we went through the nightmare of security, since we each have medical implants, then boarded our plane, hoping for a morning Bloody Mary. Instead, we had an irritating flight attendant who yammered at us about how our carry-on bag must be ON ITS SIDE.
Bill didn’t understand that, so as he struggled, the flight attendant kept yelling, “On its side, on its side, we’ve got to make room for all,” until Bill finally yelled back, “I thought this was first class.” Then she came over and threatened, saying, “This isn’t going to become a problem, is it?”
What a disappointment. This was our big dream, and we had fantasized about sitting back, having a cocktail, and flying off to our new home. However, this flight from LAX to Phoenix did not have any service, using the “due to Covid” excuse.
Also, due to Covid, American flew to Kailua-Kona only through Phoenix. So in spite of our having already been in Phoenix two days prior, we had to fly from L.A. to Phoenix to catch our Big Island flight. In Phoenix, we thought we might be able to stop in the Admirals Club to freshen up, but it wasn’t open in the terminal where our flight to Kona took off. Guess why.
My QR Code! My QR Code!
Before our flight to Kailua-Kona, we had to display our Hawaii Safe Travels QR code, which you get by email just 24 hours prior to your arrival. Talk about tight timing. For some reason, my QR code would not load from my email. Bill’s code uploaded just fine but mine was a blank, both on my phone and via my MacBook Pro email, using either Chrome, Safari, or Firefox.
I have no clue why, so I found a corner of the airport, went on the Safe Travels site, downloaded my QR code to my computer, messaged it to my phone, and that was how I was able to board the flight.
That glitch was just one measure of the technological hurdles during this trip. It seems every vendor required you to use their app or website, from Hawaii’s Safe Travels site, to American Airlines app, to Island Pet Movers' app, to CVS “MyChart” test results, even Hilton Hotel’s room service QR code ordering system. Problem is, some of these tech wonders are either quirky or dysfunctional. In case of trouble, you must be extremely persistent in order to locate a NUMBER to call. When you do, a recording begins with something like, “due to COVID-19, your wait time might be until after you die…“
Blessedly after all this stress, our flight from Phoenix to Kailua-Kona went beautifully. The plane was not crowded, the flight attendants were friendly and solicitous, and we both dozed off when possible.
One, Two, Three Covid Tests
On the ground about 2 p.m. Hawaii time, we showed our CVS Covid test results to the screeners, then lined up to take yet another Covid test. Yes. Hawaii Island’s Mayor Kim, who has since been booted from office, wanted assurances that travelers were not bringing in Covid. So he set up a process to test all passengers once you arrive at the airport. This took at least an hour, although the procedure was well run by polite and friendly people.
Anxious because I’d received a message via the Island Pet Movers app that our little dogs were already at the Hawaiian Airlines cargo facility, we kept trying to call to say we were coming, but of all days, the cargo area phone lines were down. Unable to reach them, we were held up another hour at the rental car counter where, because of Covid, three companies had combined services. Luckily, Hawaiian Air Cargo finally called to ask if we were indeed picking up our dogs, since by that time it was almost 5 p.m., and the sweeties had been locked in their crates since early morning.
When we finally let them out, they went potty for about 15 minutes. I felt terrible, because they’re such good little dogs, they had held their potty for almost 12 hours.
In a gigantic red van we rented, we made our way to our rental townhome in the Mauna Lani Resort area. We made a stop at the local Foodland to pick up things for dinner and breakfast, as well as ingredients for my long lost birthday martini and a Scotch for Bill.
Over the next four days we did little more than buy more groceries, prepare meals, have an evening cocktail, and sleep for hours on end. The dogs did too. Our Hawaii Life realtor, Pamela Deery, called to ask if we had gone to the beach. We laughed. I told her we would become Hawaiian eventually, but for now all is we wanted to do was NOTHING.