I want to start by saying – this post is about me going from the UK to Italy in August 2020. I went for 3 days, and it was completely in line with government advice. If that infuriates you, then stop reading now. Just exit this page and carry on with your day, no one needs to argue here. However, if you are interested to know how it went, or planning your own trip, then read on!
The trip itself was a fairly last minute affair, for no other reason than I am disorganized. After months of stress and worry, trying to rearrange other peoples’ cancelled trips (I work as a Travel Consultant), I felt it was time to get away! The first glimmer of hope came 4th July. The advice for a few months prior to that was clear – do not travel anywhere, a blanket ban. Early July though, this advice was removed for several countries. So my idea for a lovely 3 day break in Rome was born.
The airport during Covid
Our flight departed in the evening from Heathrow, an airport I have been to many times. It was the quietest I have ever seen it, which was to be expected. There was no real queue at security. Everything was business as usual as far a security was concerned.
Masks need to be worn throughout the airport. Nearly everyone respected this rule, which is more than I can say for general life around London at the moment. You can of course remove your mask to eat and drink in the bars and restaurants. There are also masks available to buy all over the airport. Please also note – when we flew out to Rome, we used our own cloth masks. On our flight home, they would not let us board without surgical style masks (this kind). Always check your airline policies regularly!
The flight itself
When checking in online, there was a new form to fill in about your whereabouts whilst in Italy. Once filled in, this adds some kind of marker to your boarding pass. This is checked before you board. Without this form filled in, you cannot board the plane. Everyone had their temperature checked before boarding too. My boyfriend was given a few extra questions thanks to his Canadian passport, but he has UK residency so all was fine.
So, I think that we may have been missing trick all these years. Well, in fact it is something I had thought about previously, but this flight cemented the idea firmly into my mind. Boarding planes : why on earth do we do it front to back?! We all know how irritating it is when people in the first rows don’t know how to stick a bag in an overhead locker and just sit down. They slow down the whole boarding process. Switch to filling up from the back like airlines do post covid, and the whole thing is so much quicker!
The flight was also at about 30% capacity. Every middle seat was left empty, and not every row was taken. This also goes to show how much more effective flight boarding becomes when there is enough room in the overhead bins for everyone’s bags! Both our outbound and inbound flights departed early, which I really do put down to boarding from the back and of course, much less people on the flight!
Onboard, there was no drink service or anything like that. The stewards closed the curtains at the front and back of plane after take off. They occasionally walked through the cabin to check everyone was wearing masks, which they were.
Rome during Covid
For me, it was my first time in not only Rome, but Italy itself. I couldn’t wait to see all the famous tourist sights and try all the amazing food! For my boyfriend, it was his third time in Rome. This at least meant he had a bench mark for comparison, pre covid! He kept remarking how quiet it was compared to his previous trips. Everything was open though, albeit with some restrictions. we visited the Colosseum, booking our tickets on the day which is unheard of before the pandemic. We also visited the Pantheon, waiting in a short 10 minute queue. I managed to get some great shots of the Spanish steps with no people on them. The Trevi fountain, well, I thought it was busy. But according to my boyfriend, no, that was not busy!
Our hotel had some covid measures in place. What is usual a help yourself buffet breakfast, has become a more civilised affair. And tables in the breakfast room had been spread out more than usual. But other than that, it felt like your usual city break! Restaurants and bars were for the most part fully open, as were parks, tourist attractions and even public toilets (I’m glaring at you right now, London!).
Arrival back into the UK
We arrived back into Heathrow about 7pm. You absolutely must complete a Passenger Locator Form if arriving into the UK, regardless of whether your are a resident or visitor. I mean, I say you must, because that is the government line, but no one checked. In fact, no one checked anything, because both myself and even Canadian passport holders can use the automated gates. So we saw no one, spoke to no one, and were through immigration in a matter of minutes. That being said, you mustt still fill in the form and be a responsible traveller. There was no mandatory period of self isolation when we entered the UK from Italy.
Is it responsible to travel right now?
To be quite honest, I think that is only something an individual can decide for themselves. It is based on your own circumstances and your own beliefs. For us, as a young couple with no medical issues and no elderly relatives in the vicinity, we felt OK about it. I am furloughed, and my boyfriend works from home, so we are not out and about mingling with others every day either. I also have travelled within my own country recently, on train trips that were longer than my flight to Rome. We followed all government advice, but ultimately, there are risks that only you can be ok with.
DIY vs booking a package
I literally cannot stress this enough. Book your trip through a package provider. Believe me, I am a thrifty individual. Pre covid, I would book things directly with hotels, or use discount codes on weird websites just to save a few pennies. Now though, at least for the foreseeable future, those days are gone. Let me try to explain why a package is so important right now.
Example 1 : You book your flights directly on the airlines website, you pay 100% of the cost upfront. You agree to all those terms and conditions without really reading them. But you have just agreed your flights are non refundable. You book your hotel on Booking.com, using the cheapest possible rate. That is also pay up front and 100% non refundable. Fast forward a few weeks and suddenly the FCO advice changes. Your insurance is not going to cover you whilst you’re abroad.
Or maybe the country imposes a quarantine, and your whole trip will be spent self isolating. Understandably, you don’t want to go anymore. You call your airline, but the flight has not been cancelled by them, so no way will you get a refund. You may be able to move the dates if you’re lucky. Next, you contact Booking.com. They say there is no lockdown in your destination, plus the hotel is still open and ready to welcome you, so sorry, no refund from them either. You are left out of pocket and pretty annoyed!
Perhaps though, none of that happens. Everything is open and you’re raring to go. But then you find out your outbound flight has been cancelled, much like the many flight cancellations happening at the moment. The airline offers you an alternative the next day. You begrudgingly accept because you are desperate for a holiday. You call Booking.com, who tell you sorry, the room is non refundable so no, you cannot get a refund on the first night.
Example 2 : You book your flights and hotel through a reputable travel agent. You end up paying a bit more than if you had spent hours scouring the internet for the best deal. If you’ve booked a few months in advance, you might even be able to pay a deposit now and the rest later. Fast forward a few weeks and you are nearly ready to go. But the FCO changes the advice, and now says that no one should be travelling to your holiday destination. You call your agent. They offer you a refund, because after all, they are a reputable company and are not actually allowed to send you on a package holiday to somewhere that the government advises against travel to.
Or perhaps you airline goes bust, or the hotel closes down. Not your problem. You entered a contract with the agent, and they have to, under Package Travel Regulations, offer you a suitable alternative or give you a refund.
Sounds good? As a former die hard backpacker, even I don’t mind paying a bit more for the package protection right now!
Where can I actually travel right now?
This is the most obvious and frequently asked question. I work in travel, for a huge company with a high street presence. This means I have gotten very used to people popping there heads in the store and asking “Why are you open? I thought we couldn’t go anywhere?”. At this moment in time (and of course, by the time you read this, that could change) there are countries you can go to. In fact, for every person asking me where can they travel to, there’s another trying to book a last minute trip.
I wont write down a list of countries you can travel to, because that depends on a few things. Where are you coming from? What passport do you hold? Plus, the advice and restrictions unfortunately change so frequently. However, you need to factor in a few things. You need to find a country that:
- Is not against your own government’s advice to travel to
- Allows you in (based on either your passport, or where you are coming from)
- Does not have a quarantine period when you arrive
- Does not mean that you have to quarantine when you arrive home
- Is actually accepting international flights
Once you narrow that all down, you are left with maybe only a handful of countries. If you are a UK citizen, then the FCO website is the best place to start. Here is a list of all countries you can go to and not isolate when you arrive home. This list however is also full of countries where at the moment of writing, there are no foreign visitors allowed ie. Australia, New Zealand. you need to forget about these countries, there are a handful of flights, and they are not for tourists. Follow the links on the FCO website to each country and carefully read “Entry Requirements”.
Do I need to take a Covid 19 test before I travel?
For entry into some countries, you will need to provide a negative test. This varies greatly from country to country. At the time of writing, some were requiring the test to be done in a designated testing centre. Others are insisting the test be done on arrival into your destination. This is where you really need to keep yourself up to date on entry requirements. When you book your trip, you may not need to take a test. However, countries are changing their entry requirements at the drop of a hat. You need to be prepared for the fact that literally hours before you go, a country could decide they now want a negative test in order for you to enter.
What happens if I want to go somewhere against FCO advice?
So, there are still many countries that the FCO are advising against travel to. Some of these countries may not grant foreign citizens entry. There are however some countries (ie. Spain) where you technically still can travel to. I have seen plenty of people still going to these places. I for one though will never encourage people to go against what the government is saying. Perhaps the most compelling reason to avoid these places, is that near enough no travel insurance provider will cover you for travel to any destination where the government has explicitly said you cannot travel! So really, you could find yourself in quite a pickle.
I am always interetsed in your questions and comments! So please, leave a comment, use the contact form, or find me on Twitter!