What it’s like to plan a trip to Europe right now

Are you planning a trip to Europe right now? Here are the lessons learned trying to plan a trip to Italy in December 2021.

10 December 2021
What it’s like to plan a trip to Europe right now

Stepping in for Damian this week is contributing writer, Virginia who shares advice for planning a trip to Europe this December.

Back in March, I found a super cheap deal on business class tickets to Italy. Our heads were immediately filled with visions of Christmas markets, gorgeous scenery, gelatos in the afternoon, aperitivos before plates of pasta and wine.

It sounded like a good idea. The pandemic would be under control by December, right? I’m in the travel biz, I follow the bloggers, faithfully read the travel updates, and we’re vaccinated so we’ll be fine. 

Since then, I’ve ridden the waves of fear and hope that is pandemic travel planning right now.

In November, we got our booster shots and travel medical insurance.

The detection of alarming new variants has countries changing the rules (again) and, in one case, adding lockdowns that make trip planning continually difficult.

Here are the lessons I’ve learned planning a trip to Europe this Christmas.

Find out if you can enter the country

As of this week, Austria is the only European country to announce a new national 10-day lockdown. No travelers are allowed into Austria right now, and the lockdown could be extended past December 13.

Only about 65% of the population of Austria is fully vaccinated—one of the lowest rates in Western Europe. 

Lesson learned: Check the destination’s vaccination rate. It matters because of the regulations a government could implement to check the spread of COVID.

Pro tip: Watch the New York Times article, I’m a U.S. Citizen. Where in the World Can I Go?, which is constantly updated with the latest changes and restrictions.

Figure out what you need to get in

As news of the latest variant, omicron, traveled around the world, governments re-examined their travel restrictions and entry requirements.

Entry requirements for most European countries right now boil down to the following:

  1. You’ll need to prove your vaccination status or prove you are cured of COVID-19
  2. You’ll need to show negative results for a test performed a short time before arriving
  3. You’ll likely need to complete a traveler locator form or health declaration form

EU citizens are using a digital green pass, and US citizens can show their white CDC vaccination card to prove their vaccination status.

Every country has slight variations on the requirements above. For example, Italy and Greece require the test to be completed 48 hours prior to arrival, but Iceland and Ireland accept tests taken 72 hours prior. 

The restrictions are changing so rapidly, websites aren’t always up-to-date. The US Italian Embassy website identified the Italian test requirements as 72 hours, so did the airline’s website, but the EU COVID-19 website listed 48 hours.

Lesson learned: Check all the websites and err on the side of caution when planning tests.

Pro tip: Check the rules for any stopovers on your trip too. Depending on how long you’re in the country or even at the airport, you may have more testing requirements to meet.

Learn what you can do when you get there

Sadly, many countries have canceled traditional holiday events. Munich and Bavaria canceled their Christmas markets but others are still running. In Greece, curfews have been imposed across some of the islands.

We purchased museum tickets last spring, so we checked the regulations for visiting. We’ll need to show our vaccination card to enter. Outdoor dining is allowed in Italy, so we’ll need to plan for some chilly meals.

Across Europe, bars, restaurants and cafes are open for business with social distancing and masks. 

Lesson learned: Follow bloggers and travel magazines for your destination to learn what it’s like to travel there now.

Understand what you have to do to get home

On December 6, President Biden announced that all travelers—even US citizens who are fully vaccinated—must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within a day before their flight home. This means travelers can take their test any time during the day prior to their flight, no matter what time the flight departs.

Travelers who recently recovered from COVID-19 can provide proof of their recovery in place of a negative test result. The accepted documentation is a letter from a licensed healthcare provider indicating the passenger is cleared to travel and a positive viral test result from within 90 days prior to the flight.

There are no new quarantine restrictions for those entering the US at this time. The testing rules also only apply to passengers entering the US by air (so cruise travelers get a pass).

The best source of information about what tests are accepted is the airline’s website. The country you’re leaving doesn’t matter. It’s the airline that takes you to the US that is required to verify your test results.

Lesson learned: Research the airline’s website for which tests will be accepted. We purchased multiple tests online and will pack them in our suitcases.

Pro tip: Don’t buy your tests too soon – they have expiration dates! Don’t wait too long either. There’s a worldwide shortage of tests.

Have a plan if you need to leave quickly

Travelers who were in Austria when the most recent lockdown happened had just a few days to make arrangements to leave the country. 

Once again, I researched what to do on the airline’s website. Many airlines have implemented strategies like pre-flight information sent to you by email. Some have apps that let you upload copies of your vaccine card and test results too.

We installed the airline’s app and signed up for their loyalty program. I’ve always found that joining the loyalty program helps when travel plans change. The contact information and your passenger details are right in the app, and the customer service rep answers the call using your name.

We also installed the US Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) app on our phones and added our trip details. The app will have embassy info if we need it.

Other interesting news

Got the winter blues? Here’s the Lonely Planet’s advice for choosing the Caribbean island that’s right for you.

Can’t make it to Europe this year? Here’s how to visit the Christmas markets without leaving home.

Looking for a travel match? Professional matchmaker Jenny Hart reveals her insider secrets for making lasting connections while traveling (podcast).

Want elite status?What exactly is elite status in travel – and how can I get it? from The Points Guy.

Gotta work while traveling? Here’s what you need to know about travel keyboards.