Travel Recap – My First International Trip Since the Pandemic Started

Khinkali, Ramadan, and ridiculous business class flights. This is my travel recap highlight reel.

It’s funny how you can wait for seemingly ever for something to come and then feel like it’s over in an instant. Like a kid waiting for Christmas Day, my first international trip in 2+ years has come and gone with fleeting excitement. The trip was incredible and has provided me with happy memories and plenty of content to share. Until that rolls out, here is my travel recap along with how things went with Covid restrictions and how I stayed connected on the go.

Covid Considerations

For the most part, this trip was very relaxed on the Covid restrictions and even masking. I was worried about how I would take this but was actually able to forget there was a pandemic going on for stretches on this trip. Now I did have Covid right before leaving so this certainly gave me less worry about contracting it while away and messing up my trip. Most countries had mask mandates in effect but the use and enforcement of this varied. At our resort in Mexico, for example, masks were required in common spaces and ordering drinks at the bar. 1/10 people complied. In Turkey and Georgia, this was closer to 6/10 and back to 1/10 in the middle east.

My takeaway, in general, is travel was not inconvenient at all. This should be promising given the distance I travelled and amount of countries visited. I required a PCR test to enter Azerbaijan but there were clinics on seemingly every street corner in Tbilisi offering tests. Canada dropped its testing requirement while I was away so no stress coming home.

This all, of course, can change in an instant. I would still prepare yourself for the chance of delays and budget for possible quarantine requirements. I would also suggest masks while indoors and in tight spaces with others.

High-level Highlights

Each of my stops included some great excursions and experiences. I will be sharing dedicated posts on all of it over the next few months. Until then, here are the high-level highlights.

Cancun

This trip kicked off with a stop in Cancun, a place I wouldn’t necessarily recommend to my readers. So why was I there? A friend of mine moved there several years ago, met a girl, and decided to get married. This seemed like a fitting place to start my journey. I got to enjoy a post-pandemic (fingers crossed) relaxation at an all-inclusive resort and be at a friend’s wedding.

The highlight for me here was the wedding itself, specifically the moment it all started. The venue was a large restaurant/club with a panicked looking wedding planner. After the bride finished walking down the aisle to her song, “Hot Stuff” started blaring over the restaurant’s PA. This was unintentional but also zero cares given by the staff at the restaurant which made it that much better. The bride was not happy but certainly made for a memorable experience. A night of tequila-fueled fun followed.

Panama City

After a relaxing three days in Cancun, my trip kicked off with a day tour in Panama City. I had always wanted to check out the Panama Canal and finally got to do just that, just not as thoroughly as I would have liked. I was visiting on a Monday, a day when the locks visitor centre (amongst other attractions) is closed. Nevertheless, I had a great visit with my toursbylocal guide and was able to fill the day with plenty of activities.

Tbilisi, Georgia

I met up with my brother in Tbilisi where we spent a week exploring…and by exploring I mean eating khinkali and drinking wine. Highlights included taking a wine tour through the streets of Tbilisi on a bus with a bar built in it. We also explored Georgia’s Soviet past which was super interesting and got to learn how to make Khinkali with three generations of Georgian women.

All of that was super cool and I will have dedicated posts on each experience. That said, the most memorable part of visiting Georgia was the conversations with locals about the war in Ukraine and getting their stories and own experiences with an invading Russia. We also met several Belarusians who fleed to avoid conscription. I shared that experience in this post.

Baku, Azerbaijan

Baku was a bit of an addon to this trip but a surprisingly awesome one. We did do an exhausting day trip that covered all the highlights including mud volcanoes and mountains on fire. That said, the highlight of this stop was our hotel. It was so very nice and the bar served up incredibly unique and fun cocktails. We literally tried them all. Also, cafe culture is big in Baku. I enjoyed this along with the cats that curled up next to me.

Antalya

After Baku, I said goodbye to my brother and made my way to southern Turkey. My stay in Antalya was a weird one. I typically keep very busy on my trips but had nothing planned for Antalya. I was going to play it by ear and relax. This made for a long few days and it oddly made me uncomfortable. You think after two years of sitting still I would be used to it but no.

I also had a weird experience with my hotel. Essentially my room wasn’t what I expected and getting that rectified was a struggle. If anyone has seen the HBO show White Lotus, I felt I was going down the path of the newlywed couple. More to come on that.

Still, I really enjoyed exploring the old town, checking out the area’s many waterfalls, and eating all of the donairs. I did take a day tour and got out to some of the nearby sights including the Aspendos theatre which was incredibly mind-blowing.

Bahrain

Possibly because of my White Lotus experience with my accommodations in Antalya, I splurged in Manama. I stayed at the Wyndham Garden Manama which is one of the nicest hotels I have ever experienced. After a lazy morning enjoying my massive hotel room, I toured the country. I was visiting the middle east during Ramadan so many of the sights and museums were shut. Still, I got to experience a different side of Bahrain than most visitors and took a drive to the Saudi Arabi border on the causeway connecting the two countries.

Muscat, Oman

Similar to Bahrain, my Oman experience was limited by Ramadan. I also weirdly had a mundane and muted visit, largely because of the sleepy time I was visiting and the +40 heat. This included spending a lot of time in a mall and by my hotel’s pool, something I never do. I also visited a Tim Hortons…three separate times. Still, it was an interesting experience and unique in its own right as none of this is normal to me.

I had one city tour that was one of the worst tour experiences I have ever had. The highlight of that was getting yelled at by a Russian Paris Hilton wannabe. I had held the tour up for 15-minutes as I was tied up returning my audio guide at the Grande Mosque. This is no excuse and something I certainly would be annoyed about if I was on the other end, but this girl’s reaction was extreme. The van we were in was poorly air-conditioned and she and her friend were stuck in it because they refused to cover up to go inside the Mosque, something the tour guide warned her about on pickup. She was incredibly rude to him and then to me. It was…weird. Also, read the room Russia.

The highlight of Muscat and my trip was a day trip out to Wadi Shab. This sweaty hike through a canyon has the incredible reward of swimming in a river at the end with a waterfall hidden in a cave. The experience was magical (words I thought I would never type.) We also visited a sinkhole with equally inviting waters.

The group I was with was also a lot of fun – no Russian socialites here. We had a lot of great conversations and enjoyed an early Iftar together (a meal that breaks that day’s fast) behind a grocery store as to be out of sight from locals. A memorable experience for sure.

Keeping Classy

Another huge highlight of this trip was checking out several new (and new to me) business class products. This included an amazing Turkish Air flight between Panama and Istanbul as well as my first time flying 1st class. I also got to check out some incredible lounges including the industry-leading Turkish Air lounge in Istanbul and Oman Air’s ridiculous business and 1st class lounges in Muscat. Stay tuned for my reviews on these flight and lounge experiences.

    Compare prices on Business Class flights with Skyscanner

If you are curious about how I booked it all, check out this post on my Aeroplan tips and tricks. If you are interested in booking a crazy trip like this with Aeroplan points, give me a shout! I offer a points consultation services.

Keeping Connected

Another interesting and unexpected highlight of this trip was the unique way I was able to stay connected along the way. I used a global eSim by Aeralo and can’t recommend it enough. Since it’s an eSim there was no need to fuss with physical cards in each country I visited. This is so convenient and saves a lot of time and hassle. The global pack I had gave me coverage in six of the eight countries I visited. For Bahrain and Oman, the two counties excluded from the global package, I was able to buy dedicated eSim packages. I had all three eSims installed on my phone and was able to switch between them, easy peasy.

More to come in my full review but wanted to share that now in case anyone reading this is travelling soon!

Keeping Sexy

Like any trip I go on, I indulged in all of the local eats and treats along the way. From khinkali in Tbilisi to donairs in Antalya, I ate…a lot. This, of course, comes with some consequences. To get me back on track I preorder some healthy eats from Revive Superfoods. The shipment arrived the day after I got home meaning I was able to kick my unhealthy eating habits easily. I have enjoyed the shakes and healthy meals so I have partnered with them for future promotions. If you are interested in trying out a meal kit, use promo code RSF40LIFEINTRIPS to get 40% off your first box!

Revive Superfoods

Plenty of Stories to Come

Again, this trip provided plenty of great memories, photos, and stories to share. I have written up a lot of it and will be compiling stories and photos over the next few months. If there is anything specific you would like to know about any of the destinations or activities I did, let me know! I would be happy to expand on any topic either in the comments below or in a dedicated post.

What say you?
Thoughts on this Post Pandemic Travel Recap?
Let’s hear it!

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