Pandemic Travel: What’s It Like?

First things first. Before I get to the travel pictures, let me answer the most commonly asked question: what is European travel like during the current pandemic?

You Can Go ALMOST Anywhere

Well, if anyone tells you there are scores of things you can’t do, they would be wrong. We traveled through 5 countries (France, Italy, Greece, Croatia, and Slovenia) over 7 weeks, and were never turned away from any event or location because of the COVID situation. We did everything we wanted to and went everywhere we wanted to go with one exception. The cruise ship was scheduled to stop in Montenegro, but switched ports because of a spike in that country. Masks routinely required everywhere indoors and in close quarters outdoors, pretty much like home.

But Hoops Increase the More Places You Go

On the other hand, there were a significant number of hoops required. It has always been true that you need to have your passport handy for ID every time you enter a country or check into a hotel. But COVID introduced a whole new level of complexity. One of these is the personal locator form, or PLF. In the event we came down with COVID, or were exposed, each country wanted to know details about our travel. The forms were different, but usually included questions like how you planned to enter the country and for what length of time. They would usually go further and ask what flight number and plane seat you were on, and what provinces you planned to visit. Often they would ask questions like the city or state where you were born.

The EU also has its own version of proof of vaccine, called the “green pass” or in France the “pass sanitaire.” Theoretically, the American CDC card would be accepted in its place. We were told that some places in France might not accept the US form, but that never happened to us.

So Here Was the Bottom Line for Us

With that background, here is what we had to do to travel through these 5 countries:

  1. Needed the CDC proof of vaccination card to board planes, the cruise ship, and enter Italy. In France, it was required to eat in any restaurant, indoors or outdoors. Most museums and large public indoor venues required it. Outside France, it was generally only required to eat indoors.
  2. We had to fill out 5 different PLF forms, one for each country. Most were never checked.
  3. We had to feel out separate paper attestations of “no COVID symptoms” to fly to France, Italy and the USA. Essentially, “I swear I am not knowingly contagious when I get on this plane.”
  4. We had to take 4 COVID tests along the way: to enter Italy; board the cruise ship; re-enter Italy; and return to the USA. The cruise ship paid for two of them and we had to cover the other two. They are quick and easy to obtain in Italy and France.
  5. Our temperature was taken to enter places at least half a dozen times.

A Cell Phone is ALMOST Mandatory

Since it was easier to have a green pass accepted than to use the CDC card, we applied for one about a month before the trip, then again later when they changed the process. We actually got our QR codes a week into the trip. From that point it made the process go faster.

Speaking of QR codes, by the time the trip ended I had collected 18 of them on my cell phone, nine each for Ellen and me. I had 1 for vaccination status, 3 for passed tests, 5 for PLF forms. Sometimes the hardest part was just finding which one was needed at the time!

In general, masks and administrative hoops were the only downsides. Both were made much simpler by the fact that, apart from the cruise ship, we ate almost every meal at outdoor cafes, where little or nothing was required.

On the plus side, crowds were noticeably down in most places (except Florence, which was amazingly packed everywhere we went), and every business seemed overjoyed to see us, even in France! Cruise ship was 40% of capacity but 100% of crew. Staff falling all over themselves to help you.

Bottom Line

There were indeed quite a few more hoops, each one simple but all necessary. If you really want to travel it is worth it. Things took a bit more planning and organization, but 99% of the experiences were normal and pleasant. And given there were no “mask fights” anywhere, service people were overall more relaxed than in the US.