The Explore More Family just returned for a two and a half week trip to Greece. As the owner of a travel agency specializing in family travel (with a focus on Mediterranean countries), I felt I needed to find out for myself what it was like to travel to Europe during the pandemic with kids. I needed to be prepared for what to expect right now and wanted to go before sending clients to Europe this fall. Our family has been very COVID cautious during the pandemic, but we felt that traveling to our favorite country where almost all dining and activities are outdoors was a natural choice.
After a year plus of no flying or leaving the country, our wanderlust was in overdrive. After carefully weighing the risks and rewards and purchasing a comprehensive travel insurance policy, we took the plunge and decided to travel to Europe during the pandemic with kids. Are we glad we did it? Absolutely! But it isn’t for everyone …
Should you travel to Europe during the pandemic with kids?
Well, that depends … I am going to tell you about my experience. The final decision will be yours, but I will give you my advice as a travel advisor and as a mom.
Traveling during the pandemic
A lot of people are understandably intimidated at the thought of leaving their home country right now. This has caused a huge spike in domestic travel prices and a huge reduction in availability. Thus, Hawaii, US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, National Parks and Florida are a challenge to book right now unless you planned earlier in the year. The US islands all require testing for arrivals, but not needing a test to return home is a big relief for those afraid of being ‘stuck’ in a destination if they test positive on their return.
It seems the first step people are willing to take towards a true international trip is a ‘fly and flop’ type vacation to a resort in Mexico or the Caribbean. That is what we did to get our ‘feet wet’ this past June with my sister’s family Who doesn’t need a vacation after the past 18 months? And who better to take those first steps with than those in your COVID bubble.
Caribbean and Mexican resorts are taking care of return C-19 testing onsite so there isn’t much else for a guest to think about. Since this is the second most popular type of trip Americans are booking right now, these prices have skyrocketed as well, especially for festive season at the end of the year.
Europe seems to be the next frontier in international travel post-COVID for the American traveler. European countries have opened to Americans over the summer and many of us made the journey. However, the numbers of Americans traveling to Europe is nowhere close to pre-COVID levels so those who are willing to take the leap may be able to take advantage of some airfare sales and smaller crowds than usual. So, let me tell you what our experience was like.
What to expect if you travel to Europe with kids during the pandemic?
Expect to show your vaccine card or COVID test results on a regular basis
Let me start by saying this, if you are not vaccinated against COVID-19, I would not travel to Europe right now. To be honest, I believe there may be a time when unvaccinated travelers will not be allowed to travel to Europe at all. Right now, you are allowed to travel with a negative rapid antigen (this is more complicated than it sounds, trust me) or a negative PCR test. Kids under 12 are exempt from testing to enter in Greece, but the rules for exemption are different in each country. Since we connected in Germany, the boys still needed a test to board our flight.
Getting into a European country is only the first time you will need to prove you are vaccinated or have had a C-19 test in the past 48-72 hours depending on the test type. To travel domestically within the country, you will need to show your vaccination card or test results again and again. Children are exempt from the in country requirements but will likely need to be tested to arrive in most countries.
While getting tested is easier in Europe because many pharmacies offer testing, having to test every couple of days is not how I would recommend spending your vacation. On the Greek islands, the locations for testing are not always the town you are staying in. This can be a logistical challenge, one that my husband experienced prior to heading home before us from the island of Milos. Ultimately, he retested at the Athens airport because the results from Milos were in Greek and was worried that his connecting flight in Munich may not accept the results.
Getting around Greece was simple for us because we had our vaccination cards and the boys were exempt due to their age. We simply showed them our cards to gain access to our ferries and domestic flights. Easy peasy!
Expect to wear masks
Some people who know me personally are surprised that my husband and I are willing to take the kids globetrotting when we have been so cautious about COVID. We kept them away from their friends at first, then slowly allowed them to play outside, and have allowed a few indoor play dates in homes where the parents are vaccinated. However, we feel safer traveling than we do out and about locally.
One reason that we feel more comfortable are masks. Until the kids are vaccinated, we will continue to wear them at home. They are still required in most of Europe so we were not the lone people still wearing them like we are here! (update: our county implemented a new mask mandate the day I published this article, so we are no longer alone! Now, there is an even better reason to go to Europe if you are already used to wearing them all the time!).
Europeans are more particular regarding what type of mask to wear as well. They don’t think the cloth ones are effective so we were required in many places to wear N95 or medical masks, especially on the planes.
We ended up buying K94 masks for the kids while we were there so that they could wear them on public transportation. Since returning home, we have invested in higher-quality masks for their school year. My kids clearly do not mind wearing them and even remind me when I am occasionally absentminded about it during our travels. (I feel the need to tell you that we have multiple masks in the same design, so they were not wearing the navy and white one over and over again!)
Expect to see hand sanitizer everywhere
There was hand sanitizer at every turn! Seriously, every restaurant had a full bottle on every table. It was so nice not to have to search it out of my bag throughout each day. Europe makes it very easy to sanitize!
There were also some pretty interesting contraptions to keep you from actually touching the hand sanitizer. I loved the foot pump action that kept you from actually touching the bottle.
They have officially thought of everything!
Expect to dine al fresco
Al fresco means being in the open air, especially in reference to eating. We always eat outdoors in Europe, especially Greece! It is part of the culture. And thank goodness since that is how we’ve been eating since the return of dining out during the pandemic. Those wanting to eat indoors will need to be vaccinated or tested within the past 48-72 hours depending on the test type. This is actually true of almost all indoor activities in much of Europe right now. More reasons as to why it is so much easier to be vaccinated if you plan to go to Europe. Children are excluded from these indoor restrictions.
The Bottom Line
If you are the kind of person who feels like C-19 restrictions are a hassle or inconvenience, I would not travel to Europe right now. However, if you are the type of person who feels more secure by the extra precautions, then now is the time to plan your trip to Europe. Once everybody is as comfortable traveling to Europe as they are traveling to Mexico and the Caribbean, rates are going to skyrocket there as well. There are some amazing airfares to Europe right now, but I expect them to disappear as people stop treating Europe like the next travel frontier.
I don’t want my talk of pricing increases to come across as a discussion about ‘deals’, my concern for my clients is value. I do not want my clients ever paying more than they should even if they have a large budget. I want to ensure that what my clients pay for is worthy of the price tag. I guess it is the financial analyst in me! Your vacation is an investment of time and financial resources so I want to make sure that my clients feel like their experience is worth the investment.
Extra Precautions To Protect Your Family
To further protect your investment in your vacation, I highly recommend using a travel advisor in the current landscape. Our jobs are more important than ever before. This is our time to shine! Keeping up with changing schedules and regulations is a lot of work, so it is best to work with a professional, perhaps the one whose article you are currently reading! (read more about my services here or fill out my travel style questionnaire to jump start the process)
I have really leaned on local Destination Management Companies (DMCs) more than ever before because it is also their time to shine. They can help resolve any hiccups along the way faster since they are in the country where I am sending my clients. Travel advisors and DMCs have always been an added value to your vacation, but I think it is more obvious than ever before.
The other precaution that I highly recommend to (and wish I could require of) my clients is travel protection. I currently require all clients to sign a waiver if they decline coverage and luckily, I have only had one client decline coverage since I changed my wording to explain that I always buy travel protection, even before COVID. Trip protection is a must now because things are not like they used to be, and we need to protect ourselves from any issues that arise along the way.
While the Department of State travel advisories should be respected, please keep in mind that they are a reflection of traveling now. You can take advantage of less demand now to book your travel for 2022. I personally feel like I am safer in Europe, so we are planning another trip in 2021, this time to Italy. We have purchased travel protection with Cancel for any Reason so we can simply change our mind and be reimbursed at 75% for any nonrefundable costs. There are ways to protect yourself if you are ready to get back out there.
Why travel to Europe during the pandemic with kids?
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we do not know what the future holds. Our whole lives can be turned upside down at any moment. Borders may close again, maybe for longer next time. Based on my personal experiences, I had a philosophy of ‘Don’t Wait. Just Go‘ long before the pandemic.
The thing I love about travel to Europe with kids, regardless of whether or not there is a pandemic or not, is that they make traveling easier for families with children. Children are valued in Greece. Aegean Airlines even has a special ticket counter at the airport for families, complete with balloons!
Every airline I have flown within Europe allows families with children up to twelve years old to board first. My kids get very antsy waiting in the lines to board so things become much less stressful when we are allowed to board first.
Once on board, the flight attendants cater to children. They actually seem to like having them on board. Maybe it is an act, but they are pretty good actors if so!
On Aegean, I did not even have to pre-order a special meal for my children. They were automatically given a plain version of the sandwich being served along with some other kid-friendly items like a juice box.
At the start of our Lufthansa flights, the kids were given candy. Maybe not every parent would love this, but I am a fan of anything that keeps my kids entertained during a 9+ hour flight!
In Closing ...
Despite the changed landscape, I personally feel that travel is always worth the effort. We will continue to travel in what we consider to be a safe way because it is part of our identity. I hope that sharing my experiences will help encourage others who may be on the fence to take the leap towards discovering our big, beautiful world again. I am here to help if you need me!