How to Plan, Pack, and Prepare for a Pandemic Trip to Europe

Planning, packing, and preparing for a trip to Europe takes a lot of work. And even more so during a pandemic. I’m back in Europe now, having cleared all of those hurdles. A few months ago, when I began planning my trip, I hoped things would become clearer over time. Instead, the opposite happened. But with a little extra preparation and flexibility, coming to Europe has turned out just fine. And I must say, it feels fantastic to be here.

Here are some details about how I packed and prepared for this trip. Keep in mind that, especially in uncertain times, I’m a “belt-and-suspenders” traveler who tends to overprepare. You may find some of these steps overkill. Even more important, be aware that things are changing fast — including several new restrictions that have come about even since I arrived — so don’t take anything in this post as definitive. The key thing for travelers is to stay informed, double-check official sources as your trip nears, and don’t assume anything.

Packing

I gave myself a few weeks to inventory and pack my travel gear — partly because I was rusty after two years of no European travel, and partly because I’m traveling in a whole new world. This gave me time to brainstorm what I might need and to order some new items (like home test kits and N95 masks) well before departure. Here are some of the “extras” that I brought along for pandemic travel:

Your CDC vaccine card is now right up there with your passport as an essential item for traveling in Europe. I enclosed mine in a form-fitting plastic sleeve, sealed with a zipper, which fits perfectly in my money belt. I also went to a copy shop and asked them to make a double-sided, full-color, laminated photocopy; it took a few minutes and cost less than $5. That’s the “vaccine card” that I keep in my pocket, while the original (in case I’m asked for it) is safely in my money belt. So far, the copy has been accepted everywhere in Europe.

Another addition to my luggage were a few home COVID test kits. (File under “Never thought I’d bring that to Europe.”) These have been approved by the FDA for emergency use and are available over-the-counter; I bought the Abbot BinaxNOW kits. (It’s important to note that these are rapid antigen tests, rather than the more sensitive and accurate PCR tests that are sent to a lab. The at-home tests essentially indicate whether you’re actively contagious, not necessarily if you have small amounts of the virus in your system. Learn more about the difference here.) These can be useful to have in hand. For example, after arriving in Europe and spending three days in the mountains, I was heading into civilization where I’d be seeing several friends. So that morning, I took a test…negative!

While not a 100% guarantee, it gave me peace of mind. And if I start having symptoms, I’ll be glad to be able to test quickly to determine if I need to isolate.

I also packed a second type of home COVID test, which can be used for the mandatory test for returning to the US. There’s more detail on this later.

I’m also bringing along lots of extra masks, of various types; I prefer KN95 and N95 respirators, which offer the best protection both for the wearer and for those they interact with. For the first time since the shortages of early 2020, I found it relatively easy to stock up on some medical-grade N95 masks, which give me peace of mind on the airplane. I find my preferred style (3M “Aura”), with more breathing space and a padded nose bridge (to reduce eyeglasses fog), are particularly comfortable on a nine-hour flight.

Here in Europe, I’m noticing that most people wear surgical masks and KN95s; cloth masks are rare, and some countries require medical-grade masks in addition to, or instead of, cloth ones.

Before I was vaccinated, I also wore a face shield on the plane. I brought one along on this trip, just in case, say, the guy seated next to me spent the entire trip coughing. (He didn’t.)

I packed a thermometer and an oximeter. If I’m feeling flushed, a thermometer helps me figure it out if I just got too much sun or actually have a fever. And if I came down with COVID, I’d use the oximeter to track my oxygen levels and determine whether I should seek medical treatment.

And, of course, I brought along loads of disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer. However, now that I’ve arrived, I’m finding that hand sanitizer is as ubiquitous here as it is back home. (This was not the case even a few years ago, when my European friends would stock up on sanitizer anytime they visited the US.)

Finally, before entering each country, I enable the contact tracing app for that place. Many US states have these; in fact, my Washington State app pinged me  with a possible exposure notification earlier this summer. While it turned out to be OK (it was in a brief, masked situation; I never had any symptoms; and an at-home test came up negative), this was a good reminder that these apps do work and can be useful in alerting you if you’ve been near someone who has tested positive. In an effort to be a good guest, I want to use the local app and make sure that the “Exposure Notifications” on my iPhone menu are set to the country that I’m currently in. This involves downloading and setting up the app for each country that you’re visiting (easy to find; or just search “contact tracing app” plus the country).

Red Tape and Restrictions

Another big hurdle was keeping track of the ever-shifting red tape for Americans going to Europe. Each European country has its own policies, so you’ll need to check details for every place you’re going. My itinerary includes Slovenia, Italy, the Czech Republic, and Germany — so that’s four times the homework, and four times the places I have to constantly check for updates.

Some general trends: First of all, Europe wants travelers who are fully vaccinated. As noted, you’ll need to bring your CDC vaccination card and expect to show it frequently — especially when dining indoors or entering a museum. (Anecdotally, some countries are more lax about this than others. But be prepared regardless.) You’ll also be asked to show your vaccine card when boarding a flight for the US, or an internal flight within Europe.

Yes, it’s possible for the unvaccinated to show a recent negative test, or evidence that they have recovered from COVID. However, new restrictions are targeting unvaccinated Americans first and foremost, so being unvaxxed in Europe will only become more challenging. (Several countries now have quarantine requirements for unvaccinated Americans, with more likely to follow.) If you are choosing not to get vaccinated, save yourself some hassle and don’t go to Europe. Or, you know…get vaccinated.

To monitor this, Europe has instituted an EU-wide certification called the “green pass” — a QR code that verifies their vaccination status. When this was announced, the EU claimed that visitors would also be able to get a green pass, but so far that hasn’t happened across the board (though in France, for example, American visitors can get a pass sanitaire.) I am finding that anyplace that requires a green pass recognizes an American CDC vaccination card just as well.

Some countries ask travelers to fill out a passenger locator form, like this one for Italy. Filling this out took me a few exasperating minutes, and after submitting it, I was sent a confirmation with a QR code. In the end, nobody ever asked me for it. But I was glad I had it, just in case. When I go to Prague later this week, I’ll be filling out the Czech form — which, local friends have told me, is in fact being verified at the airport.

One thing very much in flux are the country-by-country requirements for taking a COVID test, typically within two or three days before your trip. When I flew to Italy, I was not required to present test results. (I did a home test anyway, for my own peace of mind.) But just a couple of days after I landed, Italy did begin requiring a test. Your airline’s website can be a good place to start researching this, as is the embassy in the country you’re visiting.

And, it goes without saying: When visiting a foreign land, follow all rules and guidelines to a T. Be a good guest. You’ll notice that masking compliance is near 100% throughout Europe; don’t be the only chinstrapped clod on the train or cable car.

Mentally Preparing for Travel in Uncertain Times

For my trip, the biggest hurdle was a psychological one — when, several days before departure, I began hearing rumors that the European Union was planning to remove the United States from its “safe countries” list. It did not help that these rumors were reported both sparsely and sensationally, using phrases like “travel ban.” I checked the news constantly to see exactly what those changes would look like. If I were already in Europe, would I be sent home? Were Americans truly going to be “banned”?

But when it finally was announced, it was far from a “travel ban against Americans.” It was simply an acknowledgement that COVID rates in the US had reached troubling new highs, and advice that EU member countries should be re-examining their entry requirements — especially for unvaccinated travelers. Some countries placed new limits on the unvaccinated, and/or introduced testing requirements. And a few — including Sweden, Norway, and Bulgaria — instituted new quarantine requirements even for vaccinated Americans. But most of Europe, including the places I’m visiting, didn’t change much for someone who is vaccinated and willing to test as needed.

This was a reminder of the importance of taking the news with a grain of salt. So much information is presented as clickbait, and phrases like “travel ban” (or, say, “Europe’s doors are slamming shut”) generate lots of attention and angst. But travelers need to read beyond those hysterical headlines to understand what’s really happening, and only then re-evaluate how, if at all, it affects their trip. Remember: News outlets are in the business of discovering, isolating, and trumpeting the worst-case scenario rather than the predominant reality.

While Europe is understandably concerned about the USA’s Delta surge, politics are also driving some of these policies. Europeans are very frustrated that, while they opened their borders to Americans early this summer, most Europeans — who live in places which far higher vaccination rates and far lower case rates than the USA — still cannot enter the United States. European threats of a “travel ban” are, at least to some degree, likely a political ploy to encourage the US government to seriously reconsider reciprocity.

Another topic that worries many is this: If you test positive (even asymptomatically) before traveling home to the US, you’ll be required to quarantine and rebook your flight. I’m not going to sugar-coat it: This could happen, and it would be both expensive and inconvenient. We all know that breakthrough cases occur, even when vaccinated people are being careful.

My wife and I had some serious conversations about this eventuality. And we decided to assume that risk, partly because we believe the risk is quite small. While I’ve heard of this happening (the clip from CNN at the top of this article does an excellent job of making this “NIGHTMARE” scenario seem both terrifying and a veritable certainty), I don’t know anyone personally who has experienced it. (If it’s happened to you, or someone you know, by all means give us the details in the Comments.) If you’re risk-averse, or you don’t have the finances or the flexibility to absorb a last-minute change like this one, I wouldn’t blame you for skipping the trip. But in my case, I decided to take a leap of faith.

In general, traveling during COVID requires a willingness to disentangle fear and facts. There are some things to genuinely be fearful about: Delta cases are rising in Europe, so even though I’m vaccinated, I’m scrupulously masking and avoiding crowds. But vague rumors of a blanket “travel ban” against Americans, or the (likely remote) possibility of having to quarantine before coming home, aren’t necessarily worthy of fear.

That said, don’t travel in Europe right now unless you’re willing to change plans on a dime. If Delta rates skyrocket in places I’m planning to visit, there may well come a point where those places say, “Sorry, we don’t want you here.” And at that point, I’m prepared to change plans. For example, I’m hoping to be in Berlin in a couple of weeks. If, between now and then, Germany decrees that even vaccinated Americans need to quarantine, I simply won’t go there; I’ll either re-route my trip to somewhere else, or I’ll change my plans to fly home early. Frankly, I will be mildly surprised if I actually make it to all of the places I’m planning to visit. That’s travel during the pandemic.

“But what about travel insurance?” I can hear some of you saying. I believe there are two types of people in this world: People who buy travel insurance, and people who don’t. And maybe it’s my privilege speaking — as a hale-and-hearty professional traveler — but I’m not in the habit of buying travel insurance. However, I think it could be a great option for some travelers, and I may well regret not taking that step.

One thing I will advise: If you are considering travel insurance, be sure to carefully read and fully understand the fine print about things like what happens if you choose to call off your trip (rather than the trip being cancelled because of new restrictions); or whether a quarantine hotel and flight changes would be covered in case you test positive on the way home. (If I’m being honest, a lack of patience for sorting through those details is the main reason I didn’t bother with insurance.) If anyone has any tips about trip insurance, then by all means, fill us in in the Comments.

The Journey (There and Back)

With all of that packing and planning out of the way, my flight to Europe was smooth and uneventful. I was asked for my vaccination card upon check-in at Sea-Tac Airport (and then never again). Otherwise, the trip over was about the same as always; everyone on board masked carefully, and the plane was mostly full. On a tight layover in Amsterdam, I went through passport control (to enter the Schengen zone), but there were no further security or vaccination checks. Same thing on arrival in Venice: No vaccination or other paperwork checks…simply benvenuti in Italia! I picked up my rental car at the airport and was on my way to Slovenia, where the border was entirely unguarded and unchecked. (Keep in mind this is specific to my itinerary; travelers going to other places, at other times, may find things more complicated.)

There were plenty of subtle differences, of course. In airport bathrooms, every other urinal was taped off in a halfhearted social-distancing measure. Nearly all of the entrances and exits at the Venice Airport had been closed, and the flow had been re-routed on a one-way path, so that everyone entered the airport through the same door, and everyone exited through another door. (Take that, COVID!) Aside from minor, idiosyncratic hassles like that one, Europe was still Europe. And it was wonderful to be back…jet lag and all.

One last bit of red tape: Before returning home, I’ll need to get a negative COVID test within 72 hours to enter the United States. Some travelers do this by going to a European pharmacy or testing center. I brought along a home test kit (specifically, this one) that is approved for entering the US. This works basically like other home test kits, except that you have to call in for a telehealth appointment (included in the price) to have your test supervised.

While I am still in Europe, my wife — who joined me for the first part of my trip — has already returned home, and she used this test two days before she departed. The entire process took about 45 minutes: She followed the instructions to download the app on her phone, then initiated a video call with a proctor on her laptop. In just a few minutes, her call was answered and a live person gave her instructions while visually ensuring that she was doing the test correctly. After a nasal swab, the proctor set a timer and returned 15 minutes later to verify the result: Negative. Within minutes, a QR code with the result popped up on her phone, which was readily accepted at her airline check-in.

Some travelers — especially ones staying in big cities with ready testing availability — may prefer the simplicity of just stopping by a pharmacy for an in-person test. (Your hotel can help you track down options.) In our case, we were staying in smaller and more remote places, so it was a relief to be able to test at home rather than spend precious vacation time driving into a big city for a test. I should also stress that, while this test is currently accepted for people going to the United States, each European country has their own list of tests that they do and do not accept. Check specifics to determine exactly which types of tests are valid for the place you’re going. For more on these options, I found this article very helpful in understanding exactly how this works; here’s another one.

UPDATE, Sept. 23: Crossing borders has been less of an ordeal than I expected. Flying from Italy to Prague, I had to show my vaccine card, and I had to fill out a passenger locator form for Czechia before going to the airport (which was checked on arrival in Prague). And before taking the train from Prague to Berlin, I carefully studied requirements for entering Germany and found I didn’t need to do anything in particular, since I had not been in a high-risk place (like the USA) for more than 14 days. Sure enough, upon crossing the border, nobody ever came through the train to check passports or any other paperwork. (I did receive a text message that said, simply, “Please follow the rules on tests/quarantines,” with a link.) And when I go home, I’ll need to test negative within three days of my flight. Of course, your mileage may vary: Depending on which borders you’re crossing, things could be more complicated. And I have heard, anecdotally, that there can be more restrictions for airports than land crossings. But overall, the parts of Europe I’m visiting feel fully open.

Once You’re There, You’re There.

For some people, this all sounds like too much hassle. And those people should hold off on a trip to Europe until things are more settled. But for those of us who just can’t wait, going to Europe feels far more manageable, and far safer, than we would have dreamed a year ago.

A few years back, on a visit to New Zealand, I was lamenting to a friend who’d moved there about how far away it feels: a fourteen-hour flight from the West Coast of the US! He smiled patiently and said, “Yes. It’s a long trip. But once you’re there, you’re there.”

And that’s how I feel about this trip: Planning and packing was far more complicated than I’m used to. But now that I’m here…I’m here. And it’s wonderful. Speaking of which, my next post will cover what it’s like to actually be on the ground in Europe right now. (Spoiler alert: Surprisingly normal.)

72 Replies to “How to Plan, Pack, and Prepare for a Pandemic Trip to Europe”

  1. Thank you for your great info. I’m headed to Egypt in December and your blog helped calm me down about stressing over the tests, etc.

    BTW, A few years ago I quit my job and traveled thru Eastern Europe using your wonderful guidebook. You’re my hero.

  2. It just hardly seems worth the trouble. I’m willing to wait for another several months to see if things calm down or (unlikely) stabilize.

    1. Fair enough; it’s definitely not for everyone right now. My European friends are speculating things might get more restricted, not less, over the winter (with anticipated spikes in cases). I imagine by next spring/summer, they’ll settle into a more predictable rhythm. Being here right now feels like a “test run” for 2022 travels.

    2. This article is my lifeblood right now. I’ll be running a tour in Croatia next month, with a transfer in London, and all of the testing requirements, etc. have me more stressed than I’ve ever been before a trip.
      I noticed your wife used the Binax test to regain entry into the US. Do you happen to know if it’s possible to use those tests with only a mobile phone? I don’t tend to travel with my laptop.

      1. Jennifer, good question. I don’t know for certain whether it’s possible to do the Binax test without a laptop, but I’m pretty sure you need a second device (for example, an iPad). You actually do the test on a device with a fixed camera (like an iPad or a laptop) because they need to monitor the entire thing. Then they send the QR code to your phone when you’re done. Check the Binax website to make sure.

  3. Writing from Athens, so happy to be back in Europe. Please note that even if you transfer planes in England you will need a PCR test and a completed Passenger Locator form. Several passengers on my flight over did not check on this and missed connections. My CDC vaccination card is as important as my passport at the moment and I have been asked to show it several times.
    Keeping out the way of crowds, everyone is delighted that tourism is start again and my present hotel, which I have stayed in before, has made use of the slow time to paint and update.

      1. I just returned from the UK. You do not need a pcr test if you are in transit. You follow the guidelines of the country where you go through immigration.

      2. I just returned from Athens last week. Heading over to Greece, I had a 2 leg trip that had a layover in London Heathrow. To get my 2 boarding passes in the US, I had to show my completed Passenger Locator Form (PLF) for the UK and negative Covid test and my Greece PLF for my final destination. If you look up the PLF requirements of each country that you will be entering or transiting through, their government will tell you what they require. The UK requires the completed PLF plus proof of the negative test even if you are just transiting like I was. They called it “airside” transit where you don’t go through their customs. Greece required their completed PLF plus either proof of a negative test or your vaccination card. I also flew into different Greek islands on different airlines and they ask for your vaccination card in order to get your boarding pass and one of the airlines also asked to see it when boarding the plane. The vaccination card is really helpful when getting into some buildings too, like museums, indoor dining at some restaurant, etc. To fly home to the US, we found a lab (near Syggrou-Fix metro station) in Athens which processed our PCR test in the same day. Keep in mind, you must make an appointment ahead of time. I made mine one week ahead.

  4. This article was more helpful than any official website I’ve read so far. My husband, daughter and I are going to Berlin where my daughter is running in the marathon. I’m very nervous but will use your information to help guide us. After that we are going to Venice and a few other Italian cities. Thx for the tips on where to get the Covid tests while in Europe too.

  5. Surprised to read that you don’t carry at least medical evacuation insurance. The healthiest person can trip and fall, or wind up in an accident. And while medical care is certainly cheaper in Europe, it’s not necessarily free. The bill when I broke my wrist in Switzerland was a few thousand dollars. Happily I had insurance that covered it, and evacuation insurance that got me home (make sure your evacuation insurance doesn’t just get you to the nearest hospital). I buy mine from Seven Corners, but insuremytrip and squaremouth will compare policies for you.

    1. Good advice. Heaven forbid you have a serious medical emergency and need or want to return to the US. Most insurance policies do not include this “evacuation” benefit and it can cost thousands, sometimes tens of thousands. My personal medical insurance (BCBS), though is does included coverage for overseas medical issues, specifically excludes evacuation unless the US is the “closest available facility.”

      And one more note, don’t forget that Medicare covers NOTHING outside the borders of the US.

      Again, thanks, Cameron, for this excellent summary.

    2. We were so grateful to have trip insurance when we went to France a few years ago. I ended up with a serious infection and was hospitalized for three days. I was not cleared to travel home for a week. Our trip insurance paid for my hospitalization, gave a stipend that paid for most of our extended housing plus expenses, paid for the $1,000 medication I required, translated medical documents from French, and assisted us with changing our airline flights. In addition, they were so supportive and helpful during a very stressful time. That policy cost us $120 and saved us thousands of dollars. We will never, ever travel without it again. I suggest working with a travel agent to find the right policy for your needs.

    3. Can you please explain to me why you needed emergency evacuation, just for a broken wrist? Couldn’t you walk? Are we talking evacuation from the Alps or something? Back to the States?

  6. Great article Cameron, thanks! We just got back from Africa (Tanzania, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe) and had a great time. Preventative measures and precautions were much better than in the US, and while the entry part was pretty involved as you describe, once you’re there, you’r there! We actually felt more uncomfortable once we hit O’Hare and precautions went back to US norms again. My wife is in Europe now to hike and bike in Switzerland, Germany and Austria and is having a great time. There does seem to be some confusion about the QR code thing, would be great for travelers and innkeepers alike if this became a more universal standard that could be used by US travelers as well as Europeans.

  7. Thanks for this. Leaving for Italy in a few weeks and trying to cover all the bases regarding Covid.
    I was curious if you know what would happen if you test positive at a pharmacy or other onsite testing place before the return to the US? Are you allowed to get your stuff at your hotel? Or do the quarantine people come and take you away?

    1. Patti, I have no idea, though I have wondered about this. Honestly, as noted in the article, I think it’s a rare (but not impossible) situation that an American traveler would test positive on the way home to the US. I imagine most test results are delivered later, depending on which kind of test you’re taking, so rather than literally seize you on the spot, they’d just require you to pack up and report for quarantine. Again…I have not talked to anyone who has actually experienced this, so if someone knows about it firsthand, please let us all know.

  8. GREAT article! Most helpful.
    In the thick of planning for a month in Europe and experiencing your angst re: tests – type, who , how and when…
    Most bothersome is the travel tracking. Cruising in the middle of this trip- do I put down every port or re- do the form for each of 11 stops? Multiple stops are in Italy and Greece, but the 14 days prior to each port become a sliding scale of sorts. Psyching myself into being prepared and having a GRANDE time.
    Thanks for your posts!
    Staying tuned >>>

    1. Seems like most forms are very specific: You need list each country you’ve been to in the last 10 or 14 days. (I just checked the ones for both Czechia and Germany–I’m heading to both places in the next week–and they’re both very clear on this point.) I think you really do need to list each place to be in compliance. But it’s just one more hoop to jump through. Enjoy your trip!

      1. I’ve been in Europe (Scotland, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and Greece coming up) since July 19. Cameron is spot on. What you have to do and how report it depends on where and how you travel. There was basically nothing needed for crossing an international border into Switzerland and Germany if I travels by Train, but a lot of stuff to do via plane.

  9. Thank you for all this valuable information. Everything is more difficult because of the lack of vaccinations in the US and the burden that places on the whole of Europe. With any trip there can be numerous jurisdictions involved (countries, cities, venues, dining, trains, underground, EU etc), all of which are constantly changing. My wife and I travel to Europe for 6-7 weeks each spring usually beginning with a transatlantic cruise from Florida (14 days) and then another 30 days or so following Rick’s guide books to various E locations.

    We are scheduled to leave for our next trip on 4-17-22 (the previous three trips have been cancelled). This will involve stops in two Azorean Islands, Cherbourg, France, Bruge and ending in Amsterdam. Five days there, train to Paris (9 days), Chunnel to London (9days), fly home on 5-28-22. Writing this has made me dizzy after reading all the “current” regulations and how it all applies to us. If the trip was to begin in a month we would not be going anywhere despite the fact that most E countries have handled this better than we have. We will be on a holding pattern for 5 more months but need to obviously stay informed and change as needed. This is complicated & stressful. Make me feel better.

    1. Raymond, what will make you feel better is setting foot in Europe again. Yes, there are lots of hurdles and hassles (some real, some imagined) in getting here. But once you’re here, it’s wonderful. Hold your nose, jump through the hoops, and you’ll be glad you came. Also, I wouldn’t worry too much about tracking every little development over the next several months…that will make you crazy, and you don’t even need to worry about the current state of things until it’s much closer to your trip. I imagine that by April things will be more settled than they are now (though there could be a few speed bumps between now and then). Again, I feel like traveling in Europe right now is a test run to get the wrinkles ironed out for a big and busy 2022.

  10. I cant wait to plan our next European trip. Thanks for this information.

    What was the covid testing like when entering italy? Did they require airport testing?

    1. I did not have to test (that rule came in just days after I arrived). But as I understand it, it’s a pre-trip thing–take care of it before heading to the airport and bring the results with you.

      1. I’m headed to Venice in a couple of weeks. The US Embassy in Italy has very informative webpage, which is updated regularly, that summarizes the requirements applicable to travelers from the U.S. seeking to enter Italy, and travelers returning to the U.S. The webpage contains links to the website of the Italian Ministry of Health (which can be read in English as well as Italian). Italy now requires BOTH a negative COVID test result AND proof of vaccination in order to enter the country (requiring both is pretty recent). Fortunately, the Italian Ministry of Health will accept results from an antigen test (rapid test) or a PCR test, so long as the test is taken not more than 72 hours before entering the country. Italian authorities will also accept the white CDC card as proof of vaccination. All of this info, and more, is summarized on the Italian Ministry of Health webpage, which I’ve bookmarked and check regularly.

  11. I get medical travel insurance ‘just in case’. An annual plan is not much more than a one trip. I also, when I went to Costa Rica, had ‘Covid’ insurance ad it was required then. I will get it fir my upcoming European trip as well. It was about $40 for ten days. If I had to quarantine, get medical help or whatever, it was covered. Made me and loved ones at home feel better. Thanks for a great article!! It is really different these days

  12. I’m traveling to Venice from Seattle to begin a cruise in about a month. I will change planes in Frankfurt (I’m flying Lufthansa). My layover in Frankfurt is about three hours. Is there some additional hoop to jump through because of my transit through Germany? I pass through Munich on my way home. I’ve tried to decipher Lufthansa’s web site and ended up more confused than ever!

    1. Speaking from experience, there are no restrictions when transiting at Frankfurt airport. The check in counter for Lufthansa will check your vaccination status and/or Covid tests as well ensure the passenger locator card is completed for the country you are entering.

    2. I looked at Germany’s rules yesterday, and travelers just connecting through airports are (currently) exempt from any COVID related regulations.

    3. I’ll be flying to Florence from Washington, DC 10/20 (fingers crossed) on United. Their website indicates there are no tests needed for the flight through Frankfurt. But a PCR or antigen test is required no more than 72 hours before arrival in Florence. Before arrival is key here. Especially for you since you’re coming from the west coast.

    4. Just returned from Greece through Germany. Munich going over and Frankfurt coming back. Both Lufthansa from and to Seattle. No additional hoops in Germany. Just your immunization card and we needed the Passenger Locator Form for Greece. You only need testing if you are leaving the airport and staying in Germany for any length of time. Transit through Germany is no problem. You do need a KN95 mask to go into the shops in the airports.

  13. I am a foreign resident of Prague, Czech Republic and can confirm that you can only have N95/FFP2 masks in Vaclav Havel airport. If you don’t have one there are vending machines you can purchase one from. They will also check to make sure the Passenger Locator form is completed when entering the airport after getting off the plane. If it isn’t, you will be asked to sit down at a computer to fill it out before they allow you to leave the airport. This is a secondary check because the airline should of checked this before you boarded your plane to Prague. Vaccinations are also checked at both the airline check-in and with Customs officers. FYI- All Public Transport in Czech Republic requires N95/FFP2 masks and are monitored regularly with fines imposed. Face coverings are required when shopping indoors just not specifically the N95/FFP2 kind, but it is enforced.

  14. We just returned from three wonderful weeks in Germany, Switzerland, and France. I agree with you! Lots of preplanning, careful packing, and extra red tape but it’s all worth it. We almost did not board the flight because the German health form is a real pain and there was NO mention of it on United’s website. Once you fill it out no one ever looks at it again though. Allow extra time at airports because lines are very long and slow and there are extra checkpoints to get through. If possible get your covid test at a pharmacy (unless you’re in Switzerland, it’s only 25$) because the home proctored test kits have a high failure rate and they want you to buy a backup. The airport test centers are hectic and we saw testing centers at pharmacies everywhere. You may need an appointment and remember they do not open on sundays. And yes if you are not vaccinated, forget about traveling.

  15. Thank you for this. I’ll be flying to Berlin next week to run the marathon and I’ve been more nervous about all the new rules than actually running. Reading this has calmed down my nerves.

    1. I just spent 10 weeks in Berlin. They really have it together there. Download the Luca app for contract tracing at restaurants; most of them require it. Good luck in the race!

  16. Just so you know. My daughter travelled all summer in Europe, but when she prepared to return home her COVID test was positive in Italy. She was vaccinated and asymptomatic which helped. It was a NIGHTMARE. No one would help her and hotels kicked her out. She struggled to even get food because the hotels refused to even help deliver the take out food she ordered to her room. Her travel partner tested negative and had flown out on an earlier flight so she was all alone. We are a family that loves to travel, but travelers should be aware. She had all the supplies you recommended with her.

  17. I took the plunge and went to The Netherlands end of August. We traveled to rural areas to bike ride, stayed off the bus & train at rush hour, and ate outdoors at cafes. It was a lot of planning, but worth it to be back in Europe. I did a supervised video test and admittedly had some anxiety towards the end of the trip about how this would play out. Thankfully, I tested negative. When I got to AMS, there is rapid COVID testing at the airport with no line, so in retrospect, it may have been easier to go that route as I had trouble using the test app and was on hold about 35 minutes initially to start test. I could not find any insurance which would cover COVID quarantine if one traveled to a country the CDC labelled “high risk” like the Netherlands.

  18. All good advice here. I’ve been in Berlin for the last 10 weeks, a week in Greece (Santorini and Athens), and now starting 5+ weeks in Paris. Masking is everywhere, and I have yet to have my CDC card declined as proof (though friends had difficulty getting into the Louvre with it). My experience in Berlin was many restaurants are using the Luca app for contact tracing. You simply scan a QR code at the entrance or table when you sit down, then remember to check out of the app when you leave. I’ve had a wonderful trip so far and the precautions being taken over here have left me not wanting to return home to the Wild West of patchwork regulations. That time will come, though.

    One tip for Berlin: You absolutely must hit up the taco truck that is located in the plaza at the Sony Center in Potsdamer Platz. He’s closed on Mondays, but serves up the best tacos that I’ve had in some time, and I’m a native Texan! Go early before he sells out!!

    1. Roger, my husband and I are flying to Paris in a week. Would you mind please sharing more information how your trip to Paris evolved regarding use of the CDC card? We both applied for the pass sanitaire on September 10 but no response yet. My specific question is – where is the CDC card NOT accepted? Many thanks! Julia

  19. Would you be willing to share what contact tracking apps you used. Searched for info and there appears to be quite a few of them. Not sure which are truly legit. Headed to Germany, Austria and Italy soon and want to be a considerate traveler. Thank you!

  20. i just returned from switzerland [with a dip into france] with my family. things went smoothly, albeit with a lot of extra hoops to jump through. pack your patience and you will be fine. switzerland was more laid back about all things covid, although it was mask indoors everywhere we went. france wanted proof of vaccine just to sit outside at a restaurant, so they were a bit more strict. all in all, we got to do and see 97% of the things we wanted to see-only one covid closure. it was nice to have lighter crowds and shorter wait times. i would say all in all it was a great success!

  21. This article was very helpful. I am scheduled to travel to Venice on one of Rick Steve’s tours next October. I am hoping that things will have calmed down by then. I am 80 years old and will be traveling with a friend of the same age. I am not very computer technical and all of these instructions using one’s phone seems challenging.

  22. Thank you, Cameron! My daughter and I are headed to Italy in 3 weeks and the stress of the ever changing requirements is getting to me a bit. I know it will all be worth it when we’re finally there.

  23. An acquaintance of mine tested positive before departure from Scotland last week. She had to move out of her hotel, but was able to book into an AirBnB (with a lovely view!) There was no mad fuss about it–just the hotel did not want her there. Food delivery has not been a problem, and she took her laptop along so she’s working from there. Thankfully, she has had no symptoms, so she’s just waiting it out. She did the rapid Binax test with the video supervision. Some have suggested that she should have done another test, PCR, locally to confirm the result in case the first one was a false positive.

  24. We just got back from Iceland. We masked up everywhere (as did most other people). Sometimes it was required and sometimes not. For our peace of mind we did a fair amount of self-catering (staying in little cottages or flats and cooking for ourselves). It minimized restaurant concerns and saved us a little money too.

    The test for our return flight to the US was a piece of cake. Their government website, Covid.is, had links to testing sites in Iceland. We went online to make an appointment (about $50 each) at a testing site in Reykjavik for the day before departure. It was literally a 5-min procedure. We walked in, gave our name, got swabbed and left. There was no line. We got the results by email about an hour later.

    I’m thankful we went!

  25. I really enjoyed your blog and it gave me a lot to think about as I prepare for my RS Italy VFR trip next September and my upcoming trip to Mexico in November. Not sure if I am ready to travel to Europe right now but I feel better armed with your detailed information. While Mexico standards may be a little different from countries in Europe, your info is a great trip planning guide for my November adventure out of the US. Thanks again and safe travels.

  26. Has anyone been to Ireland or England recently? We’re leaving October 3rd and will be there thirteen days, but thankfully just in those two countries. Just wondering if anyone had any insights or personal experiences.

  27. Thanks, Cameron – excellent summary as of now. For months I’ve been searching for comprehensive information on the ever-changing situation and came to the conclusion: It doesn’t exist.
    We are a “dual-residency” family with two passports each and still have worried about when and how to test and prep for six trips over the Atlantic this year. My son got married over here, after postponing twice in Germany last year. He also got the US vaccinations in March and was ahead of the game re-entering Germany (he lives there with his US wife). My next flight was postponed twice, once on my own, I wanted to go in August originally, now it’s December, and second time by the airline who changed the day of departure. So you are correct and clear: Expect the unexpected but take the risk. People are friendly and eager to help, contrary of what we read in the media.

    1. Each country has its own. For example, the one for Italy is called “Immuni.” Just search for “COVID contact tracing app” plus the country name and it should pop up.

  28. Thanks for the real-time snapshot of current conditions. My husband and I spent 3+ weeks in Croatia in July, before delta was a big concern. We flew Alaska from SFO to Sea-Tac, Condor to Frankfurt, Lufthansa to Zagreb on the way there (on a Condor ticket), return from Dubrovnik on United. Condor and Lufthansa required “medical grade” masks. Our KN95 were accepted, but travelers who only had cloth masks were directed to a shop to purchase approved masks before boarding. After electronically submitting the traveler locater form which Croatia required we received an email confirmation. I printed out the email as well as the completed form, and I’m glad I did – according to the border guard the dorm is SUPPOSED to be electronical linked to your passport, so when they scan your passport they see the locater info, but it doesn’t always work. He insisted on seeing the print out. And our CDC vaccine cards. Testing for the return trip was cheap, quick and easy at a tiny clinic outside of the Dubrovnik old town walls. The trip which we had planned for 2020 included visiting relatives in Germany, a bike tour in Croatia, and a few days in Montenegro for diving. Because each country’s requirements were so fluid, and we were looking at both Schengen and non-shinging countries, we decided to keep it simple this year and only deal with one border crossing and one country’s requirements, so we extended the time in Croatia. Before delta we felt pretty bulletproof with our vaccines, although we were cautious and were respectful guests by following all of the covid rules even when some other locals and travelers were not. We were told in Croatia that had we tested positive for our return, the local authorities would provide a list of approved quarantine facilities (hotels)for us to choose from for our required quarantine stay.
    I had planned a solo trip to Sicily starting September 16th. With case numbers rising in Sicily and concerns about breakthrough cases with delta, and near constant changes of my itinerary by Alitalia (including some changes that didn’t allow for connections anymore), and LONG wait times to reach an agent each time they made a change, I scrapped that trip and will try again in the spring. Obviously with a different carrier.

  29. Cameron ~
    This has been so helpful! You have restored my enthusiasm for our upcoming trip—three weeks in Europe including a river cruise. The last minute additions and requirements have had me concerned (overwhelmed!), but I think I have a handle on it. Certainly your words have helped diminish the doubts and anxiety. You rock!

    Thank you,
    E

  30. Thanks for the reassuring article, Cameron. We are heading to France again for the winter, and we understand the stress of preparation and the “ahhhh” of just being there! I recently helped six friends who are on a French self-guided barge trip to apply for and obtain the passe sanitaire. Even though the CDC card is accepted, the QR code format of the passe sanitaire adds an extra level of ease, and French friends say it is accepted throughout the EU. It’s all about doing the prep work to make the stay easy and enjoyable.

  31. Cameron, this is super helpful information. My sister and I are headed to Italy for our *first ever* trip to Europe next May/June.
    We’re planning to fly into Naples as we want to spend some time on the Amalfi Coast. Lodging in Naples via VRBO or Air BnB’s do indicate that it’s a noisy city. Our tentative reservations host has confirmed that.
    Any suggestions for a place further out from the city center that might be quiet-er?
    Thank you very much.

    1. I love Naples, but there’s definitely risk of noise. That said, there are certainly some quiet accommodations even in downtown Naples. I would very carefully search reviews on Airbnb/VRBO specifically for noise; as a light sleeper, I do this wherever I go, and I usually can find something sleepable. If you are looking for a more sedate home base than Naples, Sorrento is a very popular alternative–it’s quite a ways out but a bit easier to grapple with. Never having been to Europe, diving right into Naples may be a bit intense; especially if the Amalfi Coast is your real target, Sorrento might be the right place for you.

  32. Do you know if the authorities in Paris provide the names of hotels that will accommodate you if you test positive for covid prior to leaving?

  33. Cameron…my family of 3 is on the fence about booking a trip to Germany for December. So many unknowns about what could happen between now and then. Will the Christmas markets even be happening, will the EU still be allowing US visitors? Should we just book it now and hope for the best or wait until last minute and hope to find lodging/flights etc?

    1. Wow, that’s a decision only you can make. While things are OK now, and I suspect they’ll be OK next spring, some Europeans are anticipating the likelihood of a winter surge that could cause some speed bumps for travelers. There’s no way at all to predict this. If you’re confident about wanting to go–assuming you can–maybe the best thing is to book flights and accommodations that are refundable, then make the final decision as the date approaches. For example, my wife and I found that, flying on Delta, we could pay $100 extra, per person each way, to make our flights fully refundable for any reason–that was well worth it, considering the uncertainty. I would be wary about putting down nonrefundable money on a December trip right now, but that’s your call.

  34. Hi Cameron,

    I’m wondering if you happen to know if the restrictions/testing differ for unvaccinated kids? My husband and I are fully vaccinated, but my kids aren’t old enough to be eligible. We’re thinking about a trip in summer of 2022, but curious if we’d be doing the vaccinated and unvaccinated requirements, even though they are younger. Your posts have come right when we were trying to think about these things, so thank you for your insights!

  35. Hello! Thank you for this really informative and useful article but I have a couple of questions. I’ve found a lot of this information confusing. Are they saying only the vaccinated tourists can enter certain European countries, or is it just that the vaccine makes travel easier? Can you still go to France, Spain, Germany etc. with just a negative PCR test or is the vaccine a must?

    1. It varies country by country; just look up the US Embassy page for the country you are visiting. But in short, some countries are indeed making it very difficult for unvaccinated Americans to travel here–either barring them entirely, or requiring cumbersome quarantine periods. And even in places where the unvaccinated are technically allowed, doing certain activities (including entering restaurants or museums) will require constant testing. In short, if you are not vaccinated, traveling in Europe will be a big headache for quite some time to come. Either get vaccinated, or don’t go.

  36. Great article! We have a trip planned for November and are still on the fence. I’ve seen so much contradicting information on requirements and find it incredibly difficult to decipher some of these websites. We fly into LHR, stay 7 nights, then take the train to Brussels for 3 nights, and then Paris for 4 nights before returning to London for 1 last night. Is there any easy way to figure out what we need to do? I know we will test 72 hours before our arrival at LHR, then again on day 2, and 72 hours before returning back to the US. But I’m not sure about entering Belgium after 7 days in the UK, and re-entering the UK after 4 days in France. We’re pretty travel savvy, but I feel lost.

  37. Hi! Thank you for this really informative and useful article but I have a couple of questions. I’ve found a lot of this information confusing. Are they saying only the vaccinated tourists can enter certain European countries, or is it just that the vaccine makes travel easier? Can you still go to France, Spain, Germany etc. with just a negative PCR test or is the vaccine a must?

  38. Hi Cameron

    Great article we leave on 10/28 for Greece, Southern Italy and Southern Portugal for 3 months. We booked the tickets in June when everything looked great and have been worried we’d get prevented from going. We want to see how bad winter is because we are considering becoming residents for a few years.

    You asked about travel insurance, we are in our 60s and we have an annual policy through Allianz. The cost is $465 a year for both of us and it covers COVID medical expenses. It covers unlimited trips anywhere in the world. The only limit is no trip can be longer than 90 day. We think it’s a bargain.

  39. I’m flying into Heathrow October 5. I’ve booked Day 2 test upon arrival at Heathrow. Now, according to the new updates on travel to the UK, as of October 4, fit-to-fly pre-tests will no longer be required of fully vaccinated people flying from amber countries. My friend, who is flying to the UK a week later, thinks I’m mad to believe that the new regulations regarding pre-testing will ACTUALLY be in effect by the 5th, and that I need to get a pre-test “just in case.” I think she’s mad for thinking the announced changes won’t actually go into effect when the government says they will. I generally carry caution in abundance, but I think she’s wrong in this case. What do you think?

  40. Thanks for the great report Cameron! We will be traveling to Italy in November. Can you confirm that the Abbott/Binax test is valid in Italy?

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