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Travel in the Time of COVID-19: Traveling From US to Europe in 2021

About the author

Christa Adams is a travel writer currently living in Barcelona. She’s often frolicking through picturesque countrysides and vibrant cities or sipping coffee in cosy cafes and finding sustainable alternatives to everyday essentials. Follow her adventures at The Spirited Explorer.

Boarding pass? Check. Passport? Check. COVID-19 certificate? Check. Residence permit? Check. Once upon a time, traveling to Europe from the US was a seamless, easy, and exciting procedure. We simply needed tickets and a passport. Now, with COVID-19, it’s not nearly as easy and exciting. The idea of booking a spontaneous trip to Europe has gone with the wind, leaving many Americans wondering when they will be able to travel again. Here’s what it’s like traveling from the US to Europe during COVID-19.

Booking a flight, the easy part

The seemingly easiest part of traveling from the US to Europe in 2021 is booking the flight. Seems pretty simple, right? Choose your departing and arriving airport and voilà! While major international airports like Miami International and New York’s JFK International often have convenient direct flights to major European cities like Barcelona and London, leaving from smaller airports is more complicated than ever.

Pre-COVID, I could fly from a smaller airport to a major airport and arrive at my destination directly from there. However, traveling in 2021, resulted in me having three layovers before arriving at my final destination of Barcelona.

The other tricky part about booking a flight in 2021 is hoping that it will stick and that the flight won’t get canceled. When departing from Barcelona to the US in late 2020, I had two flights get canceled before finally being able to find a guaranteed flight. Imagine the headache. Did I get a cancellation this time around? Let’s see.

Arriving at the airport, the complicated part

Arriving at the airport for my international flight to Barcelona, I had to check-in directly at the airport (online is not an option when traveling from the US to Europe right now). Luckily, I arrived with plenty of time to spare as stress and complications quickly arose.

I arrived at the American Airlines check-in desk. I presented both my American and British passports, my proof of residence in Spain, a QR code of Spain’s healthcare locator form, and my negative COVID-19 certificate (taken within 72 hours).

All documents were checking out, and I was feeling confident and relaxed. Then, before I knew it, problems presented themselves. There was an issue with my certificate. The attendant couldn’t identify the name of the test I had taken and told me she couldn’t accept it, meaning I probably couldn’t travel. My heart hit the floor.

Sweating, I ran downstairs, lugging a carry-on suitcase, a 50-pound checked bag, and a backpack. There was a COVID-19 testing center. Hoping for the best, I was quickly let down. I wouldn’t have a result for 72 hours. I hustled back upstairs, ready to plea to the lady, “Please – oh please, let me on this flight!”

But she wasn’t there. I approached a new woman and instead of explaining the chaos again, I began to check in as usual. She looks at the COVID-19 test with a bit of a confused expression. I feel the tears building up in my eyes. Soon after, she simply hands it back to me. I check my bag and she prints my tickets. Shew. A weight was lifted off my shoulders and I almost jumped across the desk to hug her.

Layovers, cancelations, and missing baggage

My first flight was simple, as was my first layover and second flight. I then touched down in Miami, where I would be flying out to Barcelona in just four hours. Turning my phone off airplane mode, I was flooded with emails and texts that my flight to Barcelona had been canceled.

However, I was rerouted onto a flight six-hour later, first to Madrid and then to Barcelona, adding another layover to my already long journey.

Due to my baggage already being checked and routed with my original ticket to Barcelona, my bag was put on hold and didn’t arrive in Spain with me. It instead arrived a day later and was delivered to my apartment. It was a bit of a headache, but fortunately, I had a change of clothes and all of my essential items in my carry-on bag.

Do I recommend traveling in 2021?

Needless to say, it has been a bit of a headache traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, even though my past trip took over 24 hours, it was still worth it for me to have been able to spend a few months in the US visiting my family. When I was finally ready to return to Barcelona, I’m glad I could do so, as many Americans are still unable.

I’m not in a rush to travel again, but when the time comes, I hope for a far more relaxed process. I’ll definitely be making sure my COVID-19 certificate includes every essential detail possible.

Don’t let my experience traveling in 2021 deter you! Simply expect the unexpected. Keep your essentials in your carry-on, triple check all your documents and correct, and bring a book or download some podcasts to keep you entertained.

Christa Adams