I Went to Europe This Summer so That You Don’t Have to — and Trust Me, You Don’t Want to Go

Passengers in the departures hall in El Prat airport, in Barcelona, Spain, on August 2, 2021. Photo Courtesy: Angel Garcia/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A few weeks ago, and in preparation for summer travel season, I wrote about all the reasons why I was dreading a possible trip back home to Barcelona. On the one hand, I really longed to see my family and friends, and to walk the streets of my hometown. On the other hand, the whole experience just didn’t feel quite right. Especially considering that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wasn’t — and still isn’t — exactly recommending international travel to places with a very high level of COVID-19 cases, like Spain and a few other European countries.

I finally visited my home country during the first two weeks of July. Deciding to go wasn’t easy but it had been more than two years since my last trip home. Also, I’m fully vaccinated and all of my family and friends were either already fully vaccinated or had at least received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. And even though it wasn’t required, I took a rapid NAAT test the day before my trip to ensure I was healthy before leaving.

Getting to Barcelona was a tiresome 22-hour door-to-door affair. The availability of worldwide commercial flights is still down compared to previous years and flying direct was not an option for the dates I chose.

But regardless of the long trip, everything worked out as well as could be expected. I got to San Francisco International Airport (SFO) with the recommended three-hour window of time to spare only to be done with the ordeal of clearing check-in — I needed to show proof of vaccination to enter the European Union — and security in less than 20 minutes. I do have TSA PreCheck. I felt a bit foolish hanging out for three hours at the gate, to be honest. But I much rather that to the stresses of running to catch a flight. The layover in Miami was a breeze, but things started to feel a bit weird when dinner was served on my Miami-to-Barcelona leg of the trip: pretty much everyone unmasked at the same time to eat. The CDC requires passengers to wear a mask that completely covers their noses and mouths while they’re inside an airplane or at the airport. But passengers can take their masks off for brief periods while eating and drinking.

I tried to take my mask off to nourish and hydrate only when others weren’t doing it and, for the most part, I wore a KN95 mask for the whole 22 hours. But the couple sitting next to me on the plane decided to take their time with dinner and wine — and then some more wine. I did freak out a bit because of my proximity to two unmasked perfect strangers. I wanted to make sure not only to remain healthy myself, but I also didn’t want to be the reason my parents, who are in their late sixties, got sick. Thinking that everyone on the plane had had to either take a test or be fully vaccinated got me through the panic. My mask also helped, although I partially blame it for the much shorter-than-usual naps I took on both flights.

Getting into Spain was easy because I have a European passport. But I had also made sure to complete the Health Control Form (FCS), which resulted in me receiving a QR code required by the Spanish authorities in order to get into the country. This is a new procedure implemented during the pandemic. Navigating international travel in the times of COVID-19 can be a bit tricky because most countries have changed their requirements, even for citizens and permanent residents. American Airlines recommended I download the app VeriFLY, which drives you through the process of what specific paperwork and other credentials — such as taking a test — you need when traveling internationally.