In August 2021, I went on a two-week trip to Europe, and was pleasantly surprised at how free I felt to enjoy my time there. I was expecting testing and entry protocols to be much more stringent, and for locals to be hesitant about me being there. However, that didn’t turn out to be the case. Here’s what it’s like to travel to Europe now, along with tips for going during the pandemic.
I flew to Madrid via Brussels, and spent four days in the Spanish capital.
From Spain, I flew to Georgia (the country, not the state), and toured around with a friend from Germany for ten days. My routing was Madrid – Istanbul – Tbilisi.
The final stop on my trip was New York, where I flew to via Istanbul, once again. Then it was back to Austin.
For the purposes of this blog post, I will consider Georgia and Turkey to be part of Europe.
Editor’s Note: This story is based on a trip from August 2021. Please keep in mind that travel restrictions are subject to change at any time, and be sure to check the most current rules at the State Department’s website before planning travel.
Preparation Before Leaving
I needed to fill out two forms before departing for Europe, as well as show my CDC vaccination card at check-in in Washington D.C. I am fully-vaccinated, having received my two Moderna doses in March and April, respectively.
Even though I was only transiting through Brussels Airport for one hour, I needed to fill out the Passenger Locator Form for Belgium. This is because I had to pass through immigration for the Schengen Area. I filled out this form the day before departure. It took me three minutes and I immediately received a QR code to my email.
I also had to fill out a form to enter Spain, which is where I would actually be spending time on the ground. Again, it took me three minutes and I got a QR code.
For Georgia, I did not need to fill out any forms.
I would suggest taking a screenshot of both the (enlarged) QR code, and the email as a whole. This will come in handy if you do not have cell service at the airport and/or cannot connect to the WiFi to pull the email up.
Transiting Was Easy(ish)
Upon arrival at Brussels Airport, I proceeded to immigration to enter the Schengen Area. Two groups of travelers ahead of me had not filled out the required form before departure, even though the airline they fly with should have made sure they had at check-in. They had to go to the back of the line and fill out a paper form.
After waiting for just five minutes, I showed my passport and my QR code, and was waved through.
My connecting flight to Madrid was canceled—no reason given—so my transit lengthened from one to two hours. Then I was denied boarding on the alternative flight they booked me on—that airline said the plane was full. Then I finally got on a third flight…but that airline lost my bag for eight days, which is a whole other story.
No COVID Tests Or Quarantine Upon Arrival
Once arriving in Madrid, I stood in line for two minutes to show my QR code for Spain. Then I was waved through to collect my bag (which obviously didn’t arrive on my flight.)
At the time of writing, Spain does not require a COVID-19 test nor quarantine upon arrival, so I was free to catch the train into the city.
Most Things Open In Madrid
I’ve spent a lot of time in Madrid. This was by far the chillest visit I’ve had, which was actually really welcome.
I would say about half of people were wearing masks outside in the street; the other half were not. Everyone indoors and on public transport was wearing masks.
Stores and restaurants were fully open, although not super busy as Madrid tends to empty out quite a lot in August when residents go to the coasts to escape the heat. The only notable exception was that bars were seating only, and nightclubs were closed. So if you’re going to Spain wanting to party, you might want to lower your expectations.
I spent my days at my friends’ houses catching up, and going out to eat at restaurants and cafes. We also took a day trip to the mountains and had a picnic by a creek, relaxing in the Spanish sun.
The Spaniards seemed neither thrilled nor unhappy that I was there as a tourist. It kinda felt like a normal visit to me.
After four days came the time for me to head to Georgia (sans my luggage still.) I needed to show my vaccination card but no form or QR code was needed to transit through Istanbul Airport nor upon arrival to Tbilisi.
What’s Georgia Like?
This was my first time visiting Georgia (or any former Soviet republic, for that matter), so I can only judge it based on this one experience. I had a fantastic time and would highly recommend visiting!
There were hardly any other tourists, so the locals (at least the ones in the service industry) seemed happy that we were there exploring the country and spending money. We tried to spend most of our time doing outdoor activities, like hiking, swimming and eating outdoors. At the time of our trip, Georgia was in the top 10 countries for COVID-19 cases per capita.
The food (especially of the vegetarian variety) was absolutely phenomenal. The wine (particularly the red wine) is top-notch. The scenery is stunning. And the people are generally quite chill and friendly. Just be really careful when on the roads as the car culture is quite aggressive in terms of speeding, tailgating and overtaking.
Heading Back To The US
Two days before my departure from Georgia, I got a PCR test for reentry to the US. The hotel I was staying at in Tbilisi had someone come to the lobby to do the swab and take down my personal details. It cost around $70 and I received the (negative) results by email within 12 hours.
I presented a screenshot at check-in for my flight out of Georgia. There was a secondary check of the result at the boarding gate in Istanbul for my flight to New York.
Quick Tips For Traveling To Europe Right Now
- Choose your destinations carefully—some are stricter than others
- Minimize the number of countries you are visiting—with changing regulations, it’s best to opt for quality over quantity right now
- Have realistic expectations of what you will actually be able to do on the ground
- Bring multiple masks, preferably medical-grade ones
- Stock up on DIY COVID tests if you would like rapid results
- Be prepared for flight changes and cancelations
- Keep a photo of your vaccine card on your phone for easy access
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