REMEMBER when booking a holiday abroad used to be straightforward – a few clicks of the keyboard or popping into a travel agency? Well, that’s most definitely not the case now, as anyone trying to get away for the school October break will know.

I was aware that Covid tests needed to be taken before, during and after international travel but I didn’t realise it would take me hours and hours of scrolling through baffling websites and the realisation that one mistake could see me refused to board a plane at either end.

The rigmarole would have been enough to put me off going on a foreign holiday in these peculiar times, but I need to go to Portugal to sort out some family business after my dad died earlier this year.

I spent a whole day going cross-eyed on official Scottish Government and NHS Scotland websites trying to make sense of what tests to take when, and where to book and pay for them. It didn’t help that links kept taking me to the travel rules for England, which are different since Boris Johnson relaxed the testing for travellers returning there.

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First step into red tape hell was to get proof I’d been double vaccinated, as the rules are different for those who have and haven’t had two jabs. NHS Inform was less than informative as it cheerily advises you to input the username on your appointment card.

What? Why would I keep that? As a souvenir? Luckily, my husband had trod that stony path before to get proof of vaccination to attend a music gig and could show me the tiny link that asked for the date of one of my vaccinations. Luckily, again, I’d kept a note in my diary and was able to print out the document. What happens if you don’t keep a diary?

After that hurdle, I had to search out the rules for travelling to Portugal – every country is different – and found out I had to get a private PCR test within 72 hours of flying out. I was travelling on a Wednesday, so Sunday should have been the ideal day. But the problem was getting the results back in time as some labs are closed on a Sunday. After hanging on the phone to various so-called customer helplines I found the most straightforward was booking a test at Glasgow Airport online, £80 for next day results.

Next step was to book a test within two days after returning to Scotland – this is the test that Boris Johnson has downgraded from an expensive PCR test to a cheaper lateral flow test for travellers to England. You can’t just book this home test from the same testing place – it must be from a website of approved testers, which was so hard to find I had to rope in a neighbour who had recently returned from France.

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Now £68 lighter, I moved onto the next stage: booking a test in Portugal within three days before the return flight. The Scottish Government website says there are three types of tests that are acceptable from Portugal: PCR, LAMP and Antigen, also known as lateral flow, but a specific type of lateral flow that must meet certain indecipherable standards. I phoned an English-speaking clinic in Portugal, which assured me they had the required antigen test, and it would cost €30 as opposed to €100 for the PCR test, and that I’d have the results the same day.

There’s also a travel locator form that needs to be filled online 48 hours before the return flight to Scotland, but you need to pre-book your day two PCR test before you leave Scotland as you need the reference number to complete this form.

After we’d got the restrictions straight in our heads with the help of friends who had recently travelled and calls to travel agents, it took my sister and me two solid hours to book tests online, make calls, and print out various forms. I now have a file of documents to take to the airport, although you can show emails and texts on your phone. It was hard enough – and costly at nearly £180 each for tests – doing all this for two adults, think how much worse for a family of four or more.

Of course, I understand the need to keep us all safe and I don’t baulk at taking tests to stop variants and the spread of infection, but does it need to be so complicated? It can’t be that hard to have one website with all the information you need simply explained and clearly signposted.

And why the different regulations for England and Scotland? Nicola Sturgeon’s decision to retain PCR testing for international travellers entering the country has infuriated the Scottish Tourism Alliance, who have sent her an open letter, signed by more than 40 tourism organisations, saying last week’s decision threatens to “destroy any hopes of recovery in 2022.” And Edinburgh Airport bosses are warning that passengers will flee “the most restrictive country in Europe” for English terminals where they can travel more cheaply.

The Scottish Government’s response was that “no decision has been made as yet regarding day two PCR testing.” So, families who want to go abroad for the October week, which is fast upon us, won’t know which test to book on their return. I’m sorry, I’m too bamboozled to guide anyone clearly on that last point.

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