Europe has enjoyed a summer of relative freedom as destinations open up and citizens come to terms with endless Covid testing, passes and form-filling.
To most, this is a small price to pay for a resurrected social life, much-missed cultural experiences and the chance to cross borders once more.
Life is still not back to normal, but we’re all adjusting. Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned while travelling during a global pandemic.
Prepare for paperwork
At times this year, completing the paperwork before any journey has felt like a full-time job. At the moment, most European countries require a detailed track-and-trace form, which generates a QR code, before you’re allowed in. The administrative joys of these include scanning your vaccination certificate, scanning your fit-to-travel Covid test, and knowing which seat you’re sitting in on the aircraft. Tip: Travel with a tablet or laptop to complement your phone, as some forms have to be filled in while you’re in transit.
Every country is different
You may have thought the European Union was one homogenous bloc, but every country has its own rules regarding masks, vaccination, boosters, social distancing and public gatherings. These rules can vary according to region. It’s your responsibility to understand the rules for wherever you’re going; situations often change overnight.
Green passes in varying forms
Italy has the Green Pass and France has the Passe sanitaire, which you download onto your phone. While we didn’t have an actual Green Pass when I travelled to Italy in October, I had to show my vaccination certificate, with QR code, and photo ID to get into public buildings. The Green Pass is also needed on intercity trains. Italians even have to show their pass to go to work.
In France, you’ll need the Passe sanitaire to get into a café, as well as on TGV trains, in cinemas and in museums. To the French, this digital pass is now part of everyday life. Again, as a visitor, you’ll need to show your vaccine certificate.
New rules in The Netherlands also require a Covid entry pass for anybody aged 13 or over to get into a restaurant, cafe, bar or cultural attraction. As Europe heads into winter and what’s predicted to be a tough flu season, there’s no reason to assume any of this will change imminently.
2G or 3G?
Germany and Austria have their own Covid jargon which you’ll need to understand. If a venue has “3G” on the door, it means you can only get in if you’re vaccinated, recovered or tested (Geimpfte, Genese, Getestete). Currently, this 3G rule applies in Germany in areas with more than 35 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants. “2G” may also appear, which means only people who are vaccinated or recovered can enter a venue. At any time, you may be asked to present evidence of a negative antigen test less than 24 hours old or a PCR test taken within 48 hours. As rates fluctuate, these rules may change.
If you plan to ski in Europe this winter, you’ll also need to show your 3G pass before you’re allowed to buy a lift ticket in Austria. And as for the après ski scene — no pass means no glühwein. Only the vaccine certificate, or proof of recovery or a negative PCR test will get you into a bar.
Mainland Europeans are pretty compliant when it comes to masks in public spaces. In Spain, France, Greece and Italy, you wouldn’t expect to enter a shop or use public transport without a mask. Italy requires medical-grade FFP2 masks (called N95 in some countries) on public transport and in airports, as does Germany.
The British are much more casual about mask wearing, although as a Londoner using the tube regularly as flu season takes a grip, I’m not taking any chances and always wear an FFP2.
Testing on cruise lines
Cruising was obviously hit hard by Covid in the early days and cruise lines are super-strict when it comes to testing. Generally speaking, you can expect to be tested at the cruise terminal before you board, again mid-cruise and possibly before disembarking. Depending on where you join your cruise, you may need a separate test to enter some countries. Usually, tests are supplied on board, sometimes free, sometimes at rip-off prices.
Situations change rapidly
Snap local lockdowns can happen if Covid rates spike. I was in Mykonos in July the day a week-long lockdown was announced. Suddenly, none of the bars were allowed to play music and a curfew was in place. The week before, the clubs had been open until dawn. You have to be prepared and you have to keep an open mind.
Track and trace
Track and trace systems across Europe mean you may be ‘pinged’ – notified by text if you’ve been in close contact with a positive Covid case. Each country has different rules but most likely, you will need to fill in a form online and declare either that you will take a PCR test or self-isolate. If you test positive, this will usually be in a designated quarantine hotel. You may have to change your travel arrangements, which is why
it’s so important to have comprehensive travel insurance.
In Europe, third doses are being rolled out, while many Australians are only just receiving their second dose. This will be something to bear in mind during 2022. Austria, for example, won’t let you in beyond nine months from your second dose. Check the rules for where you’re going so you aren’t turned away.
Your essential Covid kit
This is what I travel with, as a precaution, and this is despite being double vaccinated and possessing some immunity from having actually had Covid. A digital thermometer; pulse oximeter; a supply of DIY antigen tests; paracetamol and ibuprofen just in case; hand sanitiser; and spare masks. I take paper copies of my vaccination certificate, one for getting into venues and a fresh one for getting across borders. I always have my laptop, and a dongle in case I have to isolate and need fast wi-fi.
And the good news is…
Everybody will be delighted to see you. Destinations feel fresh, and over-tourism is not the issue of the day (for now). There’s a sense of celebration in the air, and relief, as people who depend on tourism can once more make a living. And despite all the tedious admin, I haven’t met anybody who’s said they wish they had stayed at home.