We were thrilled to be traveling internationally again for our eighth leg of full-time traveling. In some ways, it was a return to our old normal, bringing up fond memories of our first month-long stay in Budapest back in 2018 and other great times in Europe. But of course, the COVID pandemic made things very different and as always, we learned a lot from this leg. Here are some of our main takeaways.
International Travel During COVID Is Complicated
We took so many COVID tests during this leg. It started with our pre-departure test at Walgreens here in the US that we didn’t need, but the rules were so unclear at that time that we took it to be safe (and then a few weeks later the rules did change to require it; and then maybe changed again; COVID rules are a moving target). It was all very confusing, and that confusion didn’t change much throughout the leg.
We’d chosen to remain in Italy for our whole leg to limit our border crossings, but then ended up needing to take business trips to the UK and Turkey, resulting in whole other rounds of testing. We learned that COVID testing is very different from country to country. In Turkey, a medical professional came to our hotel to perform PCR tests with overnight results for about $30 per person. In the UK, we had to take a PCR test within two days of our arrival so we took it at the airport for about $90, but results took a couple of days. In Italy, you just have to look for pharmacies with white tents outside and you can get a rapid test for $25 with results in under an hour. Plus our results, CDC cards, and special forms telling exactly where we’d be staying all had to get uploaded and checked by the airlines.
There was also the green pass system in Italy, which required us to show our CDC cards to enter museums and some churches and intercity trains (sometimes) and on the rare occasion we wanted to eat indoors. But when most of the pass checkers barely glanced at our cards once they recognized the CDC logo rather than us having a QR code like the Europeans. The good news is, we were never turned away. I read stories online about other Americans who weren’t as lucky.
Of course, there are some advantages to their system too. At least the rules around masking were well-known and pretty well followed. Where we live in Missouri, it is pretty much a free-for-all as to whether people wear masks or not. Even though I’m not sure masks are always necessary in every indoor situation, it was nice to never have to make a decision about it. Oh, and fun fact: in Europe, everyone wears either surgical or KN-95 masks. There were almost no cloth masks in sight. We brought a big package of KN-95s with us, so we fit right in.
International Travel During COVID Is Worth It
Although it was a bit complicated to keep track of and follow all the rules and takes COVID tests every time we went from country to country, it was well worth the effort. It was so nice to be in a foreign country again, learning new customs, trying new foods, and seeing awesome things. We definitely saw awesome things on our two U.S. legs during COVID, but domestic travel is so much less exotic (obviously). I feel like we have a much better understanding of Italian culture and cuisine after our time there. We really prefer international travel to domestic.
That said, as I write these words, the omicron variant is exploding in the U.S. and we’re a lot less certain about our winter plans. We’ve been planning on heading down to Mexico by February, but we want to be careful about not contributing to any strain on other country’s health system. So, we’re keeping an eye on the current COVID trends. But if it seems safe enough to go, we definitely will, even if it requires more rounds of COVID testing and CDC-card showing and mask wearing, etc. This leg reminded us how much we enjoy being a part of cultures other than our own.
It’s Fun to Stay in One Country for Several Months
Usually, we hop to several countries during a leg, which are typically three or four months long. But other than our business trips, we spent our full three months in Italy this time. And it worked out great. It was actually really nice when we returned to Italy from the UK to already know the expectations in grocery stores and restaurants (for example, in Italy you typically weigh and tag your own produce before going to the checkout line, and many restaurants expect you to come inside to a cashier to pay) and understand the exchange rate.
It also gave us the opportunity to better differentiate between different regions since we started in northern Italy and then spent some time in the south and ended up in Rome (which is sort of its own region). We’d already been planning to spend a full leg in Mexico at some point in the future (to be a super cost-effective leg to give us a higher budget for the leg after), but I think we’ll try full-leg or multi-month stays in even more countries going forward. We have a lot of years to travel and see the world, so I think the biggest thing this leg taught us is that we may want to slow down our travel even more.
Italy Is Not Overrated
The final big take-away from this leg is that Italy is so many people’s favorite place for a very good reason. It is a wonderful country and we enjoyed it so much. Since we’d been to Italy before (in 2010), it didn’t seem especially exotic before we departed for this leg. But once we got there and re-immersed ourselves in it, we remembered how much we’d loved Italy before and what a truly special place it is.
We find things to love about all the places we visit, but in Italy, there is very little not to like. Even though we’ve now spent more time in Italy than almost any other country (besides USA and Mexico), we still want to keep going back and learning more. There are so many places we didn’t get to see. It may be a few years before we make it back to Italy, but it is definitely a place we’ll return to again and again.
We feel very lucky we were able to spend nearly three months in Italy on this leg and especially lucky we fit it all in pre-omicron. It was wonderful being back on the road internationally again, living the life on the road we planned back when we first decided to travel full-time. Although we’re not sure now what 2022 will bring, we know it will involve plenty of travel and adventure, and if we have our way, the majority of the travel will take place outside of the U.S.