Lessons from visiting 9 countries in the last 12 months
Somehow, someway I found myself traveling more over the last 12 months than ever before in my life. Not that I haven’t traveled before and in fact, I’ve traveled quite a bit.
I’ve studied abroad in Florence during high school, the Czech Republic during college (lived there for a year after college) and have tried to get a good trip about once a year for the last ten years or so.
But as fate would have it, right before the pandemic hit I went through a bit of a crossroads in my life. A full stop that actually prepared me very well for the pandemic that would take place just a few months later.
With the pandemic and a newfound outlook on life, purpose, and time management, I found myself with the opportunity to travel extensively.
At the start of the pandemic, I actually bought about six plane tickets for a self-guided month-long around the world trip that I thought would take place in the fall of 2020, the minor worldwide pandemic just had to get under control.
By the early summer of 2020, I realized that trip was in serious jeopardy and started gathering vouchers and refunds. But in my mind, the money had already been allocated and I saw some opportunities out there where I could still travel within the guidelines of both the CDC and most importantly the places I would like to visit.
I did so safely, got a lot of COVID tests, got vaccinated at my earliest opportunity, and by doing so was lucky enough to experience some magical places with just me and some welcoming locals.
I don’t have kids, I have a supportive partner and a flexible, remote optional job. I had the freedom to head wherever they were willing to have me and in the last 12 months I have traveled to Oregon, Croatia, Mexico City, Hawaii, Costa Rica, Colombia and I’m currently spending six weeks in Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Denmark, and Germany.
Be Prepared, Be Flexible and Maybe Take a Risk
Makes sense right? But from stressed workforces at airports to daily changing entry requirements, now is the time to make sure you are ready.
Start simple, bring a PEN
Pens are great, take notes, write down addresses and most importantly fill out unexpected entry forms. I recently flew into Croatia for the second time in three weeks.
The first time in, I didn’t have to fill out a COVID form, just one online.
The second time in, I did have to fill out a COVID form for the airline and the one online for the country. I got popped as well with an unexpected written form on the way into Mexico and found myself digging through my bag in customs and losing a few spots in line and causing myself and others a little unnecessary frustration.
Shared pens aren’t too common in the new world of pandemic travel, so having one ready and for your own personal use will save you some time and potentially save you an awkward request.
Get to the airport on time
I know, pretty basic but international travel right now is a bit more complicated than before.
Some airlines are rolling out new platforms to upload negative tests or vaccine cards that almost every country is requiring but a lot are still in development phases and with entry requirements changing daily it’s almost impossible for them to keep up to date.
More and more your information is going to be verified at your DEPARTURE airport and then also when you land.
Airline staff may be adjusting to a policy that has changed in the last 24–48 hours and have to handle checking in an unexpectedly higher group of passengers. Couple this with overstressed airlines that don’t have the staff or the planes to keep up with demand and airports are gonna be a little bit wilder this summer.
Give yourself that extra time and be nice and patient with some probably overworked employees
Pictures and screenshots of everything!
Pictures and screenshots of passports, vaccination cards, PCR tests, accommodations, entry forms, and confirmation numbers, just to name a few. Most countries will want to know where you are staying and a copy of your vaccination card right at customs.
Screenshots work great and you don’t have to go digging through your bag for a manila folder with a bunch of printouts in it.
Having that information readily available just after touch down in a new country with potentially shotty international service is pretty valuable, especially if you have a couple of hundred people trying to navigate the same, new system behind you.
Vaccination cards and PCR tests will come in handy while navigating some country’s restaurant and public transit requirements.
Double, Triple Check Entry Requirements
Entry requirements are changing sometimes by the hour and you may need a test one day and just a vaccine card the next. The information coming your way may be a little hard to decipher as well.
Denmark’s national site may say one thing, a news article may say another and an airline may even have one more scenario to throw at you. I’ve found the US Embassy site for each country is usually pretty spot on and clear.
Recently, airline websites are becoming much more clear and user-friendly. I used Lufthansa recently for my entry into Denmark and Germany and it was spot on for countries that had just updated their travel requirements a week before.
ps, this goes for things like corona pass or digital entry forms that are becoming quite popular in Europe. I found that my vaccination card was a suitable substitute for the corona pass but as new systems become more structured that could change
Have a Back-Up Plan
I don’t recommend this for everyone but if you are able, right now is a great time to be flexible. Most airlines are still offering a pretty solid refund or change policy for flights and if you can take a little bit of a chance it may just pay off big time.
In April while I was planning my trip to Croatia and I started hearing rumblings that the EU would be trying to get open by this summer. I was vaccinated and decided to buy a cheap flight to Copenhagen and a train ticket to Hamburg.
I arrived in Croatia with both countries still being shut off to almost all travelers, especially Americans for personal tourism reasons. But the tickets had a voucher that came with no change fees and I had a plan that in the worst case I’ll just drive into Slovenia (which is also open to Americans) and use the vouchers next year.
But luck was on my side and Denmark opened a week before the flight, Germany following suit just a few days later. I found myself traveling through the relatively empty streets of Copenhagen and Hamburg as one of the first Americans there in 18 months.
ps something I’ve also started doing is downloading the google maps of where I’ll be traveling or might be traveling for offline use. Helps out so much if you aren’t looking to pay for an international plan every day of your trip.
Bring a good new medical mask (and extras)
Almost all airlines and international airports are requiring you to wear a medical mask, not just whatever you want to put over your face. If you are traveling internationally that could mean 10+ hours in a plane and airport with the same mask on. Spend the extra buck or two to get something that you won’t want to burn off your face once you eventually get there.
I also recommend having a bunch of extras at your disposal. I’d say 80% of the time I’ve been traveling this year, I haven’t physically had a mask on (a lot of walking outdoors). But I’ve always got 5–10 on me. If I want to jump on a bus, need water at a grocery store, or find an interesting museum to take in.
Find your happy place
I’ve found for the most part the world and its travel industry are ready to get back on track. People are helpful and understanding in the ever-changing world of post-pandemic travel taking place. I ask for help a lot and receive it kindly all over the world.
Traveling this last year has opened my eyes to the similarities that we all face in life as opposed to the differences. No corner of Earth has been spared from this horrible, dangerous disease and so many lives and industries have been economically destroyed.
Hopefully, if we all follow some safe practice guidelines and help each other along the way, we will see some of the confusing and change requirements for travel disappear and help put back into place what has been lost. But for now, they aren’t that complicated, take your time, come prepared and maybe throw a little smile behind that mask and eyes for the world to see.