On May 14, Greece became the first country in the European Union to open to vaccinated travelers. I showed up on May 16 to report on the reopening, and I’ve been here ever since, studying various entry guidelines around the region and keeping track of testing protocols and mask mandates.
After 24 days of hotel openings and islands coming back online in Greece, I flew from Santorini to Paris on June 9, the day France reopened to American travelers. After experiencing two countries in their first days of reopening to foreigners, and with a month of post-vaccine Europe travel now under my belt, I’ve garnered quite a bit of insight—and a few cautionary tales—about traveling to Europe as an American in 2021. Here are four things to keep in mind if you’re a vaccinated American traveler planning a European adventure this year.
1. This is not the time to book tight connections
We’re all adjusting to COVID-19 travel regulations—and that includes airport personnel. You might encounter people abroad who don’t know that Johnson & Johnson is one shot and hold you up, questioning why you haven’t gotten your second dose. You might have a slight hiccup with the sworn declaration you need to sign to get into France (guaranteeing that you don’t have COVID-19). None of these factors alone would ruin your trip—and they shouldn’t dissuade you from traveling—but the COVID logistics can slow you down in transit. The solution is to be thorough in preparing to travel and give yourself plenty of time en route.
2. Just because a country is open to vaccinated travelers does not mean you only need to show up with your vaccine card
Every country has different entry and exit parameters. And just because that country is being covered in the news as open to vaccinated travelers doesn’t mean there aren’t asterisks. In Greece, for example, you have to fill out a Passenger Locator Form in addition to bringing your vaccination card. There are specific rules that go along with this form, including the need to fill it out the day prior to your arrival or earlier. If you fill it out the day you’re scheduled to arrive in Greece, you won’t be allowed on the flight or into the country. To enter France, I had to sign a form declaring that I didn’t have COVID-19 and take a PCR test, even though I was vaccinated. And in Italy, as of now, they’re only allowing American travelers who come to the country on specific COVID-free flights. Entry requirements are constantly changing and are different across many European countries. It’s essential to look through travel regulations for each of your destinations very carefully and follow them to a tee.
3. Even if you’re vaccinated, you will likely have to take a PCR test while abroad
You need a negative COVID-19 test to get back into the US. So, if nothing else, you’ll have to take a test within 72 hours of returning home. However, you might also have to test negative for COVID-19 to do activities while abroad. For example, in Greece, I had to take a PCR test to join a boat cruise, even though I’m vaccinated, because of cruising regulations. And to travel between countries, I had to test again. Again, check regulations before joining activities or bouncing between destinations.
4. Flights may not be plentiful, so if you’re planning a multi-destination trip, you’ll have to be flexible
While the travel world is steadily coming back online, the infrastructure simply can’t return overnight. Because of decreased demand, certain flight routes may not be up and running by the time you’re ready to book your flights. If you’re looking for a particular route, you might find that you have only one option on a Tuesday afternoon—and no alternatives for the next eight days. Be flexible and know that, while your trip may take a little extra logistical attention, it will be more than worth it to get back out there.
Looking for more advice? Check out Expedia’s guide to traveling in the pandemic here.