It’s the question everyone is asking: how has European travel changed post-pandemic?
A quick note about coronavirus and my travel content: in these crazy times, I know much of the world isn’t traveling right now. But my hope is that you keep dreaming and planning for travel, and when the time comes, you go! In that spirit, I’ll continue sharing travel tips for when it’s safe for global travel.
One of the questions I’ve had the most this summer is how travel is changing post-COVID. While I know that the US is still very much in the midst of the pandemic, Europe has moved into the phase where we find a new normal.
After eleven weeks of tight lockdown and a further month of loosened local restrictions, we were able to travel again. In the past six weeks we’ve taken two trips: a weekend road trip to Trieste and a longer trip to the Amalfi Coast, where we used public transport (bus and train). I’ve also been down to Venice a few times, as well as a bunch of hiking and local exploring.
I share this for those who are curious – I know we still don’t have a date that foreigners can enter much of Europe. I’ve chosen not to address the nitty-gritty of entry requirements: it changes at least weekly. If you need it, I’d encourage you to check your country’s state department as well as the embassy in your destination country for the most updated information.
European Travel Post-Pandemic in General
Some things are true whether you’re entering a plane, restaurant, or shop, so let’s cover those first. None of these are all that inconvenient or time-consuming, just an adjusted way of doing things.
Masks are required to have with you in most EU countries. In general, you do not have to be wearing them if you can maintain a 1-meter distance from others. There are several places that exceptions are made, too: sunbathing, swimming, or if you’re at your table at a restaurant to name a few. Hopefully this explains why you see so many people not wearing masks in photos. They’ve all got them in their pockets or hanging from their ears.
Even in situations where guests don’t have to wear them, staff always do. After four days in a hotel, I never once saw the owner without a mask. It makes Italian a bit harder – I didn’t realize how much watching someone speaks helps me process in a foreign language – but it seemed like staff work really hard to keep things sanitized but still offer smooth service.
Hand sanitizer is everywhere now. As someone who uses public transportation a lot, I love this. But whether you like it or not, it’s expected that you use it upon entering – essentially, if it’s sitting next to the door, use it. Staff will politely correct you if you don’t. Sometimes they’re weird/gross kinds, so I also carry my own.
I can’t speak to air travel personally. We’ve opted to not fly yet; airports feel like the hardest place to control the variables. Since there are so many great options for getting around in Europe, we’ve prioritized trips by car and train so far.
Both local and high-speed trains have very different protocols than before. It’s common to have your temperature taken to get on a train or bus, and only ticket holders are allowed onto the platforms at larger train stations. Carriages have two doors which are now designated as entrances or exits.
At least 50% of the seats are blocked off to create 1-meter distance. Commuter trains also have indicated distanced spots for passengers to stand when all seats are full. You’re also expected to wear your mask the entire journey, which isn’t fun but you get used to it. It’s really not as bad as I thought.
One nice touch is that bigger trains provide a bag of supplies to all riders. It’s mostly sanitation precautions, like a disposable mask and headrest cover, but also a small bottle of water. A nice touch.
The good news: train, bus and ferry prices haven’t gone up significantly in spite of losing half their potential seats! In 2019 it was 6.90€ to ride the train from my town to Venice (about 1 hour), and now it’s 7.20€. So not bad.
Changes within restaurants aren’t hugely problematic to guests, but make a lot more work for the wait staff. The biggest difference is that tables are significantly more spread out, which is quite the change from the normal European style. Some places ask if you’re family, and if you’re not, will make you sit social-distanced, meaning 3 at a table for 6-8. It’s a bit weird. I’ve only had that happen once, but they do ask sometimes.
Some places with communal tables put up plexiglass to allow strangers to sit at the same bench-style tables without violating the 1-meter rule.
One aspect that Italian culture has no trouble embracing is more outdoor seating. Small bar/cafes have agreements with neighboring shops to extend their table space to offer more seats. Some have yet to reopen their indoor seating at all.
Many places ask for your contact info upon arrival, whether you have a reservation or not. A few of the more upscale places even had us sign waivers to eat in their restaurant. Some also take your temperature, even if you’re just picking up a pizza to go. The entire process only takes about 10 seconds, so I mention it only so you’re not confused the first time it happens.
Many places have moved to verbal menus or using a QR code on the table for everyone to use their own phones. It’s a smart move – who wants to disinfect menus all night long?
Bread typically now comes in a bag. It’s the same quality, just packaged before dinner service to prevent germ spreading. Things like salt or oil aren’t usually on the table anymore: you have to ask for it, and they’ll bring you a dish of olive oil instead of leaving the bottle.
Hotels & Airbnbs
The airbnbs I’ve stayed in post-pandemic have been immaculately clean and provided hand sanitizers and showed me where the cleaning products were just in case I wanted to give the counter a wipe down for my own peace of mind. I feel pretty safe staying in them, but as usual, I always pick spot with very good ratings.
Hotels can’t offer traditional breakfast bars, so some offer a brown bag breakfast delivered to the room. Others essentially offer room service at no additional charge. It’s a really nice touch, especially when each room has a private balcony, like we did in Positano.
European travel post-pandemic is definitely different than previously, but no part has become impossible. At best there are a few inconveniences, but really nothing too crazy.
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