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Traveling to Italy in the Time of COVID – Sept 2021

The past few years have been a time of great stress and upheaval, with many of us missing time with families and unable to travel or participate in many of the activities that we enjoy. This is why we decided that it was time to get back out into the world and travel this fall!

Of course, traveling in the age of COVID brings with it many challenges and the necessity for a lot of planning. We’re here to tell you that it can be done. But, you’ll have to be flexible, proactive, and willing to jump through a few extra hoops to get where you’re going.

We wanted to share our experience of traveling from North America to Rome in September of 2021 with you, in hopes of better illuminating what the travel process looks like right now. Of course, you will need to research your own dream destinations, as requirements vary from country to country, and even within countries, regulations are ever-evolving to keep up with the current public health trends.

Covid travel entry requirements

Having done our research, we were excited to purchase our tickets to fly out on Lufthansa on September 13th. However – surprise! – the requirements for travel to Italy changed a mere four weeks before we were scheduled to leave! The new rules set up by the Italian government included:

  • Only vaccinated tourists from North America would be allowed to enter the country of Italy without quaranting.
  • All visitors are required to have a negative COVID-19 antigen test that was taken sometime within 72 hours of your arrival time in Italy. This can get very confusing, considering the time difference and the long flight time! Be sure to take this into consideration. To figure out when to book your test appointment, look at your flight arrival time in Italy and convert that to the time zone that you are departing from. You’ll need to work out when 72 hours is before that time that you’ll arrive in Italy and book your test to be done after that time. Keep in mind that you will also need to find a testing site that offers rapid results and that is approved for use for travel.

Knowing all of this, how did all the pieces come into play? Here’s the timeline for how we prepared for our trip.

Advance preparation

Knowing that we would need to have a COVID antigen test preparation within tight deadlines, we booked an antigen test to be taken at the airport. We called a week in advance to assure that we could get an appointment. The cost was rather pricey at 120 CAD but provided the best way to get the test and results in time. The testing center advised us to stay at the hotel located in the airport so that we wouldn’t be rushed the day of our flight. Per their recommendation, we did book a room there.

The day before our flight, we traveled to the airport by airport transfer. As we were heading to check in to the hotel, we saw that the testing clinic was located at one end of the check-in area. I have to admit that we were quite nervous about taking the test. We had been self-isolating for two weeks leading up to our departure but the trip was so important to us that we were dreading what might happen if we were somehow positive.

Once we had checked into our hotel, it occurred to us that we could actually go ahead and get ourselves tested that afternoon, rather than waiting until the following morning (the day of our flight.) We had to confirm that it would still fit into that 72-hour testing window (which it would) and then check to see if there might be any availability to get tested that afternoon. Thankfully, there were plenty of appointments available, so we walked down to get tested after lunch.

Testing process

Here’s how the testing went for us. We walked up to the “walk-in” counter to inquire about changing our appointment from the day of the flight to the day before. The attendant confirmed that she could do that and we lined up to wait for our test. After about ten minutes, we received an antigen test. The tester inserted a cotton swab just about an inch up both nostrils and moved it around in a circle several times. After the test, we walked out to a seating area to (anxiously!) await our results. In about 20 minutes, a woman came out with a stack of result papers. She read out the surnames and she checked them against the names on our passports and then we would be given a paper with our results.

Our results

Brighde was called first. The test was negative! What a relief. It turned out that they had my date of birth recorded incorrectly, but I went to the counter and within five minutes they had taken care of that mistake. However, we were still waiting for Seb! We were concerned that we weren’t hearing his name, as he had been tested right after me. Our minds began to spin into some dark places. But, finally, about 20 minutes later, the woman called his name and his result was also negative. We put our result paperwork in a safe place, and were so relieved to be able to enjoy the rest of the afternoon so we headed to the hotel lounge and had an Aperol Spritz to get into the Italian spirit!

Checking-in

The day of the flight arrived, and we were so excited to get going! We headed over to check in at the normal time. The crowds were very light, not many people at all. There was no waiting to check in but the process took a lot longer than normal, as the counter person had so much paperwork to check. He looked over our passports (and for me, my Permanent Residency card as I am not Canadian), tickets, our passenger locator form (filled out in advance), proof of COVID vaccination, and our negative COVID test.

We had all of these printed out on paper and kept with us at all times. We asked if it was all right to have them on paper and the attendant said that he preferred that to try to read our tiny phone screens! We chatted with him about how time-consuming all this document-checking was and we were grateful that there wasn’t a long queue of people. In that case, I’d imagine the wait to check-in would be very long, indeed. If you do end up in a line, be patient and gracious. This is a new system, and everyone is adjusting. After handing us our boarding cards, the attendant told us that the lounges were closed.

As for masks, Lufthansa’s policy was that they only allow surgical and N95 type masks, though I’m not sure if this applies to other airlines.

As previously mentioned, Vancouver airport was unusually quiet. Most shops, even some sections, were closed. We were directed to security, only to be redirected somewhere else, and ended up being sent through security in the domestic terminal. We were surprised but it actually makes sense, considering the low number of travelers, to keep things more centralized.

Seb, being a travel hacker, couldn’t believe all lounges were closed. He was right! The Air Canada International Lounge was closed, but the domestic one was open. There were several others but hours were very limited. We sat in the lounge, which had some very limited food/beverage choices.

Boarding and the flight to Italy

We were so happy to be on board! Everything on the flight was essentially the same as during regular travel times, except that masks were required and there were extra warnings and suggestions. We were offered the same food and drink service as usual.

We transferred flights in Germany and were not required to show any of our COVID paperwork there.

Arrival in Italy

We arrived in Italy, where we were not required to show any of our COVID paperwork. However, as we traveled to Italy, where they have the Green Pass, we were required to show our Proof of Vaccination to gain access to many places.

As of the time that I am writing this, there are many situations where travelers will have to show proof of vaccination. It seems that this will be expanded. As travelers from North America, you’re not required to have a Green Pass but will be asked to show your vaccination proof and a photo ID. To avoid any potential disappointment, it’s a good idea to keep these items with you at all times. I would also suggest making extra copies just to be safe!

Overall, while travel does require a bit more preparation than usual, there’s no doubt that it was worth it to be able to visit other places again. Of course, your mileage may vary. As precautions and regulations are constantly evolving, it’s vital that you check and double-check what the rules are for your particular destination, as your trip nears.

We hope that sharing our experiences will assuage some of our readers’ worries and we wish you happy travels!

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