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    19 Ways To Make Travel During COVID-19 A Bit Easier

    Realistic advice from someone who's been to several destinations this year.

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    Hi, I'm Elizabeth and I've picked up some tips this year while traveling as the world is still dealing with COVID-19. So I'm sharing them with you!

    writer sitting on edge of bridge with Rome in the background
    Elizabeth Lilly / BuzzFeed

    I've flown from NYC where I live to visit my parents in NC a few times, and have been on trips to Savannah, GA, for a weekend, Croatia for a week, and Italy for two weeks. I've most definitely been THAT person documenting my travels on Instagram for those trips and have received a lot of DMs from friends asking just *how* it is to travel right now. So I wrote this story because I'm sure you, dear BuzzFeed reader, are also curious if you clicked through to read this!

    Note that though these tips were influenced by air, train, and ferry travel, there are still some takeaways for folks who are traveling by car. 

    1. Check once, twice, a dozen times all the restrictions your destination *and* layover locations may have.

    PBS Kids / Giphy / Via giphy.com

    At this story's publish, the US is requiring ALL international travelers to the US (regardless of citizenship or vaccination status) to present a negative COVID test (more on that here). When I went to Croatia in July this year they lifted some test requirements for travelers entering Croatia (even for vaccinated travelers) last minute and it turns out that I didn't need to get tested before leaving the States. And on that trip I flew back to NYC through the UK via Heathrow, which allowed US travelers to transit through the country but required a quarantine if the UK was your final destination. Suffice to say, keeping up with all the travel restrictions can get complicated. But the planning shouldn't stop with any air travel. Other forms of transportation like trains and ferries have their own rules, so if you're even thinking about using those to get around, make sure you know exactly what's required of you. 

    If you're flying, your airline will likely send a couple of emails reminding you to fill out a passenger locator form (which can vary by country) and to check your destination's local COVID restrictions. But ultimately, you're liable for knowing what's required of you. Check when booking, and then keep tabs on the rules in the time between booking and your trip because some rules are likely to change. 

    2. Also figure out the testing requirements for any tour group, activities, or accommodations for your trip. They could be stricter than the locale's requirements.

    Acorn TV / Giphy / Via giphy.com

    This year I traveled to Croatia and Southern Italy with the tour group For the Love of Travel (a group travel company I CANNOT recommend highly enough...I've traveled with them three times!). In July and August of 2021 I was able to fly *to* both destinations as a vaccinated US citizen without negative test results. The tour group, in light of increasing positive cases due to the Delta variant, started requiring before my August Italy trip that everyone on the trip (regardless of vaccination status) must have a negative COVID test result from within 48 of departure for the tour. I was grateful for this, as the group included folks flying in from a variety of destinations before hanging out together  for a week. 

    I've also heard about private boat rentals/rides requiring recent negative test results (this obviously varies by location and company). So that's something to plan around, especially if you're doing a boat day in the middle of a weeklong trip. If you're traveling right now, you just have to be OK with getting tested! Ask when booking tours about any testing requirements and try to be flexible for the tour company and hosts because they too are dealing with COVID's effects. 

    3. Buy some travel insurance that'll help cover any changes in your itinerary. And insure your flights!

    I've been foiled a few times by opting out of the extra travel insurance on a flight when I had to change reservations for non-COVID reasons. So...lesson learned. I rec Allianz for travel insurance, as that's what I use for my international trips. Look for epidemic coverage when getting travel insurance quotes and read the fine print more closely than you usually would. 

    Also be sure to get CFAR (cancel-for-any-reason) coverage when you purchase your insurance. This coverage typically can't be added on after you've made your purchase. 

    4. Get to the airport EVEN EARLIER for your flight than normal.

    South Park / Giphy / Via giphy.com

    Yes, I am your dad screaming at you about being at the airport super early. (Being at the airport early is my favorite.) But it's even more important than usual. Lemme tell you. I've flown for six trips in 2021 and folks have forgotten how to go through security and end up taking so much longer than usual. Not that they were great at it before. This was the reason I finally broke down and got Global Entry after my Croatia trip in July (psst, it includes TSA PreCheck). It's fab!

    If you're traveling back to the US, you'll likely have to show your negative COVID test results to even get *to* checkout counters. This also adds on quite a chunk of time at the airport. I nearly missed my flight back to NYC from Rome thanks to a line of hundreds of people at a checkpoint where any US-bound passengers had to have their test results checked. I made the flight. But it was a very close call!

    5. Expect a few more hiccups than usual with your travel plans.

    You may have to wait longer to get seated at a restaurant, stand in line for an attraction where you can normally just stroll right in, and change your transportation plans last minute. The folks living and working at your travel destination are making strides to accommodate tourists. So please PLEASE do not be a jerk or complain when you're minorly inconvenienced due to extra measures taken to keep people safe from COVID and the Delta variant. 

    6. Remember what they say about packing more Imodium for traveling than you think you'll need? That goes double for face masks.

    face masks
    Amazon

    We loooove some reusable face masks here at BuzzFeed Shopping but certain countries and airlines give them a big ole NOPE and require that you wear a surgical mask. So if you're a die-hard reusable mask fan, I rec that you bring several of both...especially because you won't always have time to wash/sanitize your mask. (Though, I like this carry-on-friendly sanitizing spray/mask refresher for that.)

    When I flew to Rome via Boston in August, Delta airline employees flagged my printed surgical-style mask and gave me blue surgical-style masks because Italy is being *that* strict. They were afraid that a printed mask would make it seem homemade or fabric, both of which weren't allowed. Additionally, the airline (and three Trenitalia trains I took the following week) asked that passengers change their masks every four hours. So you're going to need a LOT of masks. 

    Get a 50-pack of masks from Amazon for $14.99.

    7. TSA *will* let you carry on a bottle of hand sanitizer on a plane.

    various plane carry on essentials like hand sanitizing wipes, masks, a bottle of hand sanitizer in a separate bag.
    Elizabeth Lilly / BuzzFeed

    According to the TSA website, you can bring a bottle of hand sanitizer larger than 3.4 oz and it will be screened separately from your other toiletries. I've done this a couple of times with no problem.  

    You just simply have to put it in a separate plastic bag and put it in the tray at the security checkpoint (even if you don't put your regular toiletries in the tray at the checkpoint). Most attractions and restaurants you visit may have a bottle of hand sani they want you to use, but some of the hand sani I've used at establishments smelled like straight-up grain alcohol and made me gag. So it's best to be prepared with your own! 

    Get a four-pack of 8-oz. hand sanitizer bottles from Amazon for $12.95.

    (FYI, I always carry this eye mask, these ear plugs, and a Quip toothbrush in my carry-on too.)

    8. *But* sanitizing wipes are still gonna be your BFF.

    person with open hand sanitizing wipe larger than the palm of the hand
    amazon.com

    You can go through hand sanitizer fast. So it's also important to have a pack of these at the ready. I've always flown with a pack to sanitize my seat/tray table/armrests in pre-COVID times. While boarding almost every plane I've been on in 2021 a flight attendant has handed me a wipe (except on a Ryanair one) to disinfect...but ya' never know!

    I personally prefer individually wrapped wipes because they're less likely to dry out and you can store them in all sorts of nooks and crannies or your bag and luggage. On my trips this year I've had sanitizing wipes everywhere they'll fit in bags. 

    Get a 110-pack of wipes from Amazon for $8.17.

    9. Mentally prepare yourself to be around a lot of people — especially if you haven't been in a crowd lately.

    beach in Croatia with lots of people sitting or floating in the shallow water
    Elizabeth Lilly / BuzzFeed

    It can be a bit jarring to go on a plane for a few hours if for the past year and a half you've mainly just been in your home and stores when you need to go shopping. NGL, it was a little weird to be on a plane for the first time in more than a year back in May. And by now, if you're flying you'll likely be on a plane that is almost full if not sold out. So don't get your hopes up for being spaced out from other passengers. 

    Obviously, you'll be around a lot of people at tourist hot spots — even outdoor spots like the gorgeous Stiniva Beach in Croatia (pictured here). That's just the reality of most any noncamping vacations. 

    10. Be ready to whip out that vaccine card to go ANYWHERE...even outdoor attractions like a cave!

    11. You're going to have to wear a mask everywhere, even some "outdoor" attractions.

    person wearing a mask outside pointing a the butt of a statue
    Elizabeth Lilly / BuzzFeed

    Here I am at the Doge's Palace in Venice pointing at the butt of a statue. The majority of the museum was indoors but there were parts of the route that took you outside. During these outdoors parts I still kept on my mask as indicated, and slipped it off my face at a few points for photo purposes. The Colosseum in Rome also required you wear your mask the entire time. 

    12. This SHOULD go without saying, but be respectful of the locals and mask when they're masking.

    You should be respectful REGARDLESS, but if you're walking around on the streets and see most people wearing masks, put on your mask. You're a tourist giving the local economy money, but you should do so in the least disruptive way possible. 

    13. It's even more important to book reservations whenever possible.

    back view of Michelangelo's David statue
    Elizabeth Lilly / BuzzFeed

    Museums and attractions are capping admittance so visitors can social-distance. I made reservations for the Colosseum, a Vatican Museums tour via Airbnb Experiences, and some other places that had VERY long lines. For things that I didn't book ahead, I had to stand in line. I got out pretty lucky with a line only 45 minutes long at the Accademia Gallery in Florence (aka where you'll see David) but it could've been much worse because I didn't book a timed reservation. Standing in line was worth that view, though!

    14. You may have to request daily cleaning for your hotel rooms.

    Hotels are taking a LOT of steps to minimize interaction. I've stayed in a few hotels this year that required you specifically ask for daily cleanings if you wanted it. But when I wanted to skip the cleanings but switch out new towels, it was a super-simple phone call to reception like during "normal" times. 

    15. Prioritize outdoor eating and activities when possible given your destination and weather so you can still practice some social distancing.

    Elizabeth Lilly / BuzzFeed

    I was in Croatia for a week in July and ate inside maybe once or twice. During two weeks in Italy I ate inside four or five times. Here in NYC, where I live, almost every single restaurant now has outdoor dining options. So eating outdoors (especially if you're avoiding the indoors as much as possible) is a very realistic possibility in a lot of places.

    If you're booking meal reservations ahead of time (which I recommend when possible), many reservation apps put "indoor" and "outdoor" on reservation time slots so you know what you're getting into ahead of time.

    (If you're wondering where I took these food pics, the left is at Algiubagio in Venice and the right is a sandwich from All’Antico Vinaio in Florence that I ate sitting on the steps of a museum in a square.)

    16. You'll experience far sparser tourist crowds at certain attractions right now.

    Elizabeth Lilly / BuzzFeed

    There are still lots of (understandably) hesitant tourists and people who can't travel because of country/government restrictions. So that means crowds are significantly smaller at popular spots.

    I snagged the pic on the left at The Vatican Museums of Laocoön and His Sons, which is extremely popular, and our tour guide (s/o to Christina for this tour) told us that in pre-COVID times we'd have a tough time getting closer than ~20 feet away from it. The agony! The abs! The intricate stonework! It just doesn't hit as hard when you have to peer over dozens of strangers' head to realize, "Oh god, those are snakes."

    During a July walking tour in Split, Croatia, a tour guide told our group that there were probably 30% of the normal number of tourists there at the time. And things in Split definitely felt a bit empty at that time, which was advantageous for our tour group. We were told the same in Dubrovnik, Croatia, where the infamous "Shame" stairs featured in Game of Thrones are normally mobbed. But as you can see from the pic on the right, there weren't that many tourists there for a Friday during high season!

    17. *And* you may even luck out with tour groups that are much smaller in comparison. (No promises, though!)

    screen shot of a ghost tour in Rome
    Airbnb Experiences / Via airbnb.com

    With smaller crowds overall, it makes sense that booked tours could have fewer people. Or at least it makes sense to me! My friend and I booked a Rome ghost tour via Airbnb Experiences that had a group cap of 10 people and it turns out...we were the only guests on the tour! Which ended up being great because we had a fantastic tour guide (s/o to Yash!) who was able to answer our questions about certain things while still telling us all sorts of spooky, macabre stuff. We also had a fantastic Venice walking tour with a cap of 10 people that ended up having 7 people overall.  

    18. When you have to get tested, opt for a telehealth at-home COVID test instead of standing in line for one before heading back to the US.

    EMed, Elizabeth Lilly / BuzzFeed

    As a vaccinated US citizen, I still had to get a negative COVID test within 72 hours of flying back to the US from Croatia and Italy. For Croatia I stood in line at the airport for an hour for one but for Italy I spent 25 min in my Airbnb with an at-home kit that works with QR codes and an app. Once the results process you get an email with a PDF attached (mine is above) that you show at the airport. You can buy them in bulk and pack them in your checked bag (bc you don't open the kit 'til you do the test and it does contain a liquid solution). I was especially glad I did this when I saw the two-hour-long Italian Red Cross line for a free rapid test at Venice's train station.

    You can also luck out with walking into a local drugstore to buy an at-home test at home, but just double check that it's approved for international travel. COVID tests seem to go in and out of stock online at pharmacies like CVS and big stores like Walmart, but it's worth a check! You can also get reimbursed for your at-home tests by your health insurance, depending on your plan.

    Get a six-pack of the test from eMed for $150.

    19. Or if you'd rather get tested at a pharmacy or testing center at your destination, allow a chunk of time for it.

    Line wait times can vary (especially at free testing sites), and people at testing sites are doing the best they can. Make sure that you give yourself enough time to get tested and wait on the results. 

    Happy, safe travels!

    This Morning / Giphy / Via giphy.com

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