Pandemic Travel: International Edition
Updated: Dec 30, 2021
As more and more countries open to vaccinated travelers, it's so tempting to get back on the road (or in the air). My friend and I decided to take the leap and plan a summer trip to Europe. France here we come!
If you are booking things in advance, I highly recommend only choosing refundable options. On many airlines, tickets through the end of the year are flexible, meaning they are changeable, refundable (either in the form of currency or a voucher), or cancellable if any restrictions or COVID-related illness prohibit you from traveling. This was a huge factor in deciding to book! As for accommodations, many hotels and Airbnbs have cancellable/refundable options for a higher price. While they may be a bit more expensive, restrictions can change and COVID case numbers change daily!
This leads me to my next point: keep up to date with restrictions and case numbers! When my friend and I booked our flight, we were able to enter our destination with a negative COVID-19 test (we are both vaccinated). The country had mask mandates for indoors and outdoors and a curfew in place. About 2 weeks after we booked, the mask mandate was lifted for outdoors and the curfew was lifted. When we arrived, we didn't have to provide a negative test to enter the country because we are fully vaccinated! While that was beneficial for us, there is always a chance that the borders will close again, especially with the spread of new variants. As a matter of fact, since we left France, the rules on who can enter have changed yet again.
In order to return to the U.S., we had to provide a negative COVID test. Scheduling the appointment to complete the test can be difficult and confusing. I recommend asking your accommodation if they are able to help you with scheduling the COVID test. We went to one testing center and they told us it would be 80€. In France there are cheaper options, so we checked with pharmacies to see if they offered COVID tests. Most pharmacies had a sign saying they offered COVID tests, so it was fairly easy. I highly recommend checking on test requirements for returning back to your country; we were unsure if we needed a PCR test or if we could take an antigen test. We decided to do the PCR test to be safe, but it was a longer process. For this test, we ended up spending 40€ (10€ at the pharmacy and 30€ at the lab). Make sure you do research on your country's policies well before you return!
In order to enter France and do certain activities around the country, we had to prove that we are fully vaccinated. The rules on this were also fairly confusing because at the time of travel, the Europe COVID pass was unavailable to Americans. We were able to show our CDC Vaccination Cards as proof of vaccination. If you are unsure of acceptable proof for an activity, accommodation, etc., I recommend contacting them. While in France, the government announced that vaccinated Americans were able to get a Pass Sanitaire (French COVID vaccine pass). They also announced that you had to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test in order to eat at restaurants and enter certain establishments. Like I said, rules are changing constantly so stay up to date!!
Something I found super helpful while abroad was the U.S. Department of State's Smart Traveler Enrollment Plan (STEP). I'm a "worst case scenario" kind of person so I always prepare for emergencies, especially when I'm overseas. Americans can enroll in STEP when they are traveling abroad to receive alerts and have a way to get in touch with the right people in a case of emergency. Before traveling to France, I enrolled in STEP by filling out a form about my trip and submitting my information. The info I received about updated restrictions while I was there was actually from the U.S. Embassy in France. If I had not signed up for STEP, I wouldn't have received any of the updates!
Something else that I feel is important to do in times like this (aka when there's a pandemic) is to buy travel insurance. I bought travel insurance that also covered medical issues and emergency situations. If I would've caught COVID while abroad and had to quarantine there or ended up in the hospital, my extended stay and/or a large part (if not all) of my hospital bill would've been covered. I recommend that everyone buy travel insurance, even when there's not a pandemic. You never know what will happen and it's better to be safe than sorry!
I feel this goes without being said, but make sure you bring either a pack of disposable masks or 2-3 reusable masks. You never know if you'll misplace your mask somewhere and need another one. Obviously, depending on where you're traveling, you will probably have the opportunity to buy masks somewhere. If not, having a few extras on hand is important.
Traveling with COVID-19 still lingering of course made me really nervous. Admittedly, when I traveled, cases were not extremely high. I feel as though I was able to safely travel, though. Some destinations are different from others so I definitely felt more comfortable traveling to France rather than somewhere where I don't have easy access to medical assistance, masks, COVID tests, etc. Overall, I would say traveling with COVID-19 still around is definitely doable, just do some research and be cautious!