FAQ – Are We Really Abroad Again?

Yes! We did it! We left the US and returned to international travel. I am writing this from Milan, Italy, and am looking forward to posting more frequently again as we get to see and do awesome things. We’ve been here just four days and I already have at least two full posts worth of adventures to share.

But before moving on to future posts about how wonderful it is to be back in Europe, I thought it would be good to record our journey of coming to Italy while COVID is still a problem worldwide. So, here are the answers to some questions you might be wondering about.

Why Italy?

Our selfish reasons for choosing Italy start with wanting to be able to limit border crossings. Having experienced a total shutdown of international borders from Costa Rica at the beginning of the pandemic, we wanted to pick a country where we could happily spend our full three-month leg (and longer if needed) without having to worry about whether we’d be allowed into the next place. As I mentioned, we’ve been to Italy once before and loved it. And unlike some other Western European nations, Italy’s regions come across as very distinct to us. So we decided we could start in northern Italy, then see some of the coast and Puglia, and then end up in Rome, and it would still feel like diverse experiences even though we’re in the same country.

Italy is also between two places we need to visit for the film, although at present that isn’t possible without quarantine. However, conditions are changing all the time here and if we’re able to go to either of the places on Chad’s list, Italy is a good location to travel from.

And, when we were planning this leg a few months ago, Italy seemed like it would be pretty safe. This has proven to be correct. In the spring when we were planning, their government announced a goal to have 80% of adults vaccinated by September. They’re not going to quite achieve that, but vaccination rates have been high and case counts per 100,000 people are lower here than much of the rest of Europe (and FAR lower than the United States). 

Our less selfish reason for choosing Italy was in response to their initial struggles with the pandemic, before people really knew how bad it would be. If you remember back to early 2020, Italy was one of the first countries outside of China to be hard hit by COVID-19. At that time I felt a strong urge to go back to Italy when we could in order to spend whatever money we can here as part of their economic recovery. Tourism is still a big part of their economy and the global shutdowns have certainly hurt hospitality businesses here as they have in many other countries. Italy seemed like a very worthy first destination in which to restart our international travel.

What about COVID?

The Alps from our plane

It’s here, but unlike in the United States, there are clear rules in place about wearing masks indoors and on transit and in crowds. Their vaccine passport system makes us at least feel a little safer spending time inside a public place. You must have a “green pass” for most indoor leisure activities, including museums and dining. Our CDC vaccine cards serve as our green pass and while they don’t feel super-official to us (they’re just basic white cardstock with our vaccine info stuck on with mailing labels), we’ve already had them checked at a couple of museums and they work just fine. 

Entering Italy was also pretty easy with our CDC cards, though the information we received from the airline and available online was pretty unclear. So unclear, in fact, that Chad ended up calling the administrator of our local airport who put him in direct contact with our local market United Airlines manager. She was great and called a few people at the corporate office to be able to reassure us that we shouldn’t need a negative COVID test to enter Italy but it wouldn’t hurt to take a freebie one at Walgreens 72 hours before our Italy arrival just in case the rules change at the last minute. We were wondering if we’d need to pay for a rapid PCR test, which can run $150-$200. Luckily that wasn’t the case. I filled out some paperwork online and uploaded our vaccine cards, which were also checked at the Newark airport before we departed and at border control here when we arrived. Very easy.

We’ve felt very safe here in our first four days. People wear their masks when required (though not always quite properly), many places are at partial capacity making distancing easier, and with the green pass system, people are either vaccinated or getting tested regularly. We’re really happy we chose Italy, especially because it seems like they really want foreigners to come.   

What else is new?

In my last post, I mentioned we had a lot of plans for our summer at home in Missouri. In case you’re wondering how that all turned out, here is a rundown: 

We sold our house with minimal fuss thanks to a super-hot real estate market and choosing the exact right realtor. We had a huge garage sale to sell most of the rest of our stuff. All that remains of our old life now is some bedroom furniture, our keepsakes, and our books (which I just can’t part with). We hired movers to transfer about 1000 16-mm films into our new climate-controlled self-storage unit, cleared out the rest of the house, and that’s that. I have no regrets about selling.

We had nice quality time with Chad’s folks before they took off to their new second location in Florida. Chad got to visit them there and meet some of their new friends. We finally met my new second cousin. My new favorite little one, Gio, arrived a few weeks before we left, so I was able to see him once. 

We did a TON of shooting for the movie, including a trip to Nashville where we got to hang out with friends from college.

I went on two trips with my sister – a trip to see our Austin family where we stayed in a vintage Airstream Airbnb (it was very Austin) and a road trip to Kentucky where we learned how to really taste whiskey on a tour of Maker’s Mark. And Chad and I were able to spend some great quality time with each other and with my family at our Missouri happy place, the Lighthouse (which is where our books now all live, so it is an even happier place). 

We didn’t get to see everyone we hoped to or spend as much time with the friends we did see as we wanted, but we’ll be back home again in three months. I still feel that having limited time makes the time we do spend in Missouri more special. Not owning a home (or a basement full of stuff) now makes me feel a lot lighter and like a true full-time traveler. If we can keep traveling through a pandemic, then this is definitely our chosen lifestyle. And we are so happy to be back on the (international) road.

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