Be excited, but be prepared.

By Stacey Leasca
June 30, 2021
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Some European borders are open to American tourists. Others, however, remain adamantly closed. Some countries require a negative PCR test, others require a full vaccine identification card. Some are in the "green" list, others in the "amber"... and on, and on, and on, in one confusing jumble of post-pandemic haze that can admittedly make the return of travel a bit overwhelming. But if you're ready, Luis Araújo, president of both the European Travel Commission and Visit Portugal, the Portuguese National Tourism Board, says book a ticket and stay a while — so long as you follow the rules.

"What you'll find [in Europe] is a very controlled situation regarding the pandemic," he told Travel + Leisure over Zoom. "Fortunately, in Europe, we have been controlling the spread of the disease, which is excellent. We have also been controlling the pressure on our national health system."

Lisbon, Portugal city street view
Credit: Kisa Markiza/Getty Images

Of course, like anywhere in the world today, there are spikes in certain places, he noted. But, at least now, Araújo said, officials are ready for whatever comes their way.

Here's what Araújo says you need to know about visiting Portugal and Europe as a whole in the months to come.

The hospitality industry is working hard to welcome you.

"We've been working hard, and it's not just Portugal," he said. "Many, many countries have been working on new protocols in order to reassure the needs of everyone."

Araújo pointed out that nations around Europe have worked out new safety and health systems to stem the spread of COVID-19 and its variants. And people in the hospitality space are happy to comply.

"Especially here in Portugal, everyone complies, there are very clear rules on what you can do," he said, pointing to rules like the nation's restaurant capacity regulations, mask mandates, and more.

He also called out Portugal's Clean and Safe program, a certification issued to establishments that "comply with hygiene and cleaning requirements for the prevention and control of COVID-19 and other possible infections." More than 22,000 companies have been certified with the program to date.

"Everyone is much more eager to welcome tourists," Araújo added. "We see that not only because we're here and we go to restaurants and we go out and we walk in the streets, but also because people are really happy to be with other people again."

Be prepared to do your own homework.

"We are living in a very bizarre time," Araújo said. "We need to be aware of all the things that are happening in the entire world."

Travelers hoping to once again summer in Portugal, swim in the waters off the south of France, bounce around the Italian countryside, sip a beer in a British pub, or some combination of these activities must first be willing to put in the work to understand each individual country's mandates and how to navigate them all. That's because, as of now, there is no international system of rules, no agreed upon guidelines, and no one single centralized location to find out just what you need and where. While there are a few things you can rightfully assume — the need to carry a vaccine card if you have one, the likelihood that you'll also need a negative COVID test and to fill out some pre-travel forms — there are still plenty of ways to gather intel.

Cozy old street with pink house at the sunny sunrise, quarter Montmartre in Paris, France
Credit: KavalenkavaVolha/Getty Images

"Visit Portugal has all the information regarding moving inside Portugal and coming to Portugal," Araújo said, adding there are other sites to peruse including Reopen EU, a website put together by the European Union that "provides information on the various measures in place, including quarantine and testing requirements for travelers, the EU Digital COVID certificate to help you exercise your right to free movement, and mobile coronavirus contact tracing and warning apps."

"Hopefully," Araújo said, for his country, "the vaccine will be sufficient one day, but for now we need to have the tests 72 hours prior."

Travel insurance is more important than ever.

When asked if there's a plan in place if another COVID-19 outbreak should occur across large swaths of Europe, Araújo didn't quite point to a plan, but rather, the idea that we've all collectively learned from our past, our mistakes, and our misunderstandings, making it possible to be more prepared should the worst occur.

"What we see now is that there is much more information than we had a year ago," he said. "Science has had a very big evolution. There has been a very big coordination in terms of health systems in order to prevent [a spike], and there has been a lot more shared information going from one place to the other."

A gondolier paddles towards the sunset in Venice's Grand Canal
Credit: JaCZhou/Getty Images

While officials are working together for any plan B, Araújo notes you should as well, in the form of travel insurance for any trip you may have planned to Europe in the near future.

"There is a platform called Portugal Health Passport. If you register, you'll gain access to the Portugal health system, and the public health system in Portugal is top of the world," he said.

Araújo explained there are also a plethora of other insurance options out there to help travelers get out and explore while also providing any needed support such as covering a COVID-19 test, or needing to cover a quarantine hotel or new flight home. (See more on that with T+L's own in-depth guide to the complicated world of travel insurance in the midst of a pandemic.)

It's OK to be excited again and to "get lost" in the moment.

"I always say that the best thing in Portugal is getting on a flight that arrives in any of the five airports, renting a car, and getting lost. That's the best thing you can do in Portugal," Araújo said. He's speaking from experience, as he too spent the last year staying domestic, but getting "lost" around his home country. He discovered new spots and rediscovered old favorites like the Azores, Algarve, and Madeira, the autonomous island chain located just off the coast of northern Africa.

"This is the time to start," Araújo said of the return to travel. "It's time for a simple reason: Because you cannot be totally, completely yourself if you don't travel and if you don't meet other people."

Stacey Leasca is a journalist, photographer, and media professor who can't wait to get back to Europe this summer. Send tips and follow her on Instagram now.