For some people, summer 2021 held the long-awaited promise of reuniting with loved ones and exploring places new. For others, it has been a more anxious process of slowly returning to normality following one of the weirdest years in living memory.
Here, we talk to the people who braved restrictions, vaccines and quarantines to get away for a summer break.
Ziryan’s road trip seeing friends and family in Italy
In June I spent 12 days in Italy. I travelled alone to see my girlfriend Sofia, who is Italian, after nine months apart.
We met at Bolognia airport - she lives just 30 minutes away in the city of Modena. We spent all day at her place on Saturday, before travelling on Sunday to the seaside town of Cesenatico, located south on the Adriatic Sea.
On the way, we stopped in the city of Cesena to see Sofia's sister and her partner. We spent some time exploring the city and seeing some of the medieval ruins in towns nearby.
We spent two whole days in Cesenatico, where we sunbathed all day eating seafood and relaxing. On Wednesday, we headed to Sestino where Sofia has more family. I’ve missed them a lot over the past year.
Leaving Sestino on the following Sunday, we spent our remaining days in Modena, where we took a day trip to the city of Ravenna before saying our goodbyes on Wednesday.
Did your Italy road trip feel different to travel pre-2020?
I don't personally feel like it was very different. That sounds strange to say, but I think I’ve acclimatised to the COVID lifestyle. I can't really see how my summer has massively changed. The main thing was wearing a mask in the heat.
How do you think Italy handled COVID safety requirements?
I think Italy has handled it much better than the UK, where I live.
People seemed more observant of the rules and took it all a little more seriously. Rules like having to wear masks in busy outside spaces - this was mandatory in the city centres.
In shops, public transport stations and places like museums, temperature checks were often carried out.
The only thing that threw me was how busy the outdoor cafes and bars were in the evening. They were packed, which seems contrary to everything I’ve just said. But overall, the Italians are taking it pretty seriously.
Did you have to isolate or take a test?
When I arrived in Italy I had to provide proof of a negative test which I had the day prior.
Once there, I had to register over the phone with a health board for the region of Emilia-Romagna.
48 hours before returning to Manchester I had to splash out on a €90 COVID test.
Returning to the UK, I had to do three separate COVID tests and a period of isolation. This was the most stressful part - I was called every day by test and trace.
It cost a fortune to get all the tests done - which was okay for me travelling solo, but it’s a worry for families wanting to travel this summer.
Mila’s visit to Catalonia
I went to Catalonia for 10 days - Figueres and Girona for sightseeing and Sitges for the beach and bars. I travelled there from Brussels by high-speed train changing via Valence, France.
I travelled by myself but met up with the two friends out there, one also coming by train from Brussels and another by train from Madrid.
How did your holiday compare to travel before COVID?
I’m not going to lie, there was lots of anxiety and apprehension before travelling. I was closely monitoring the COVID measures in place in Catalonia - curfews as well as the travel restrictions for my arrival in Spain and return to Belgium.
I booked everything through Booking.com to ensure that all my reservations were fully flexible, modifiable, refundable, just in case. Every part of this holiday felt more planned out and organised, with lots of contingency measures.
I also opted for train travel - mainly because it's a green option - but also to avoid having to deal with the extra stress of airports and security checks. I took with me some rapid tests, masks and hand sanitiser.
How was Catalonia managing COVID?
I am fully vaccinated so I had the EU vaccination certificate. It was only checked once on the train from Belgium to France. There was no need for me to isolate upon arrival or upon return to Brussels.
In Catalonia, we had to wear masks inside shops and on public transport. There was a 1 am curfew, which was actually fine and not really strictly enforced.
I experienced most anxiety before travelling, once there everything felt totally fine. Normal, even.
Arnold’s getaway to Greece, Madeira and Portugal
I just returned last night from Greece after three weeks split between there and Madeira in Portugal. I worked for the first two weeks in Madeira before having my leave in Greece.
I'm 30, Australian but have been living in London since 2018. We're still working from home full-time until at least September this year (but with no obligation to return to the office until the end of the year).
I had originally had the Greece trip booked way back in November 2020 for a big group sailing week with 10 other friends. We were all very focused on what restrictions would be in place and whether our trip would go ahead.
What were your biggest concerns?
Even though the majority of our group were fully vaccinated, we were nervous that increasing case numbers would mean Greece would introduce restrictions on UK travellers.
I decided to fly out to visit friends in Madeira and work remotely from there for two weeks. This was a win win - extra travel, visiting more friends and reduction in COVID travel risk. The only problem is my work doesn't support working remotely from a foreign country, so I didn't share that information with them - nor did they find out.
How was the holiday?
My time in Madeira was fantastic and definitely felt quite normal in most ways.
Masks are officially required in outdoor municipal areas, but in practice this is just in the crowded inner city of Funchal. Everywhere else outdoors is fine - no one really wore them, but it felt safe.
While there are capacity constraints at bars and restaurants it didn't ruin my time there at all.
Madeira does free tests on arrival and you only need to isolate the 6-12 hours until you get the result - but this requirement is waived if you're fully vaccinated.
What was it like transiting from country to country?
To fly from Madeira to Athens, I had to take a whole travel day to go via Lisbon, then Bergamo in Italy, before arriving in Athens. The rules between all the different locations were complex but in the end, there were no checks on any tests or vaccinations until boarding for Greece in Italy.
In Greece, the COVID situation felt similar to Madeira even though they had stricter restrictions. They did check vaccination and test status at the border.
Officially you weren't allowed inside hospitality venues without vaccination - but in practice, almost all restaurants were outdoor-only due to the summer heat. We were never checked or questioned.
The company we booked with for the sail week calls itself a 'floating festival' so it was quite badly impacted by the restrictions in the way it operates. They normally host club nights and other large parties.
I did a trip with them in 2019 around Croatia and this time around they hosted more big dinners in outside venues which was actually more fun. Parties were restricted to the boats where we had formed a 'COVID bubble' as all guests were tested on arrival. If anything, it made them more sociable.
The police in Greece were definitely starting to restrict gatherings more and more throughout the week. But there wasn’t much of a negative impact from the restrictions.
Would you travel again while restrictions continue?
Overall, while stressful with all the regulations and uncertainty, it’s definitely achievable to have quite rewarding and safe holidays at the moment.
Even with the most social contact I've had since the start of the pandemic, I've tested negative multiple times as did everyone else on the trip with me.
Returning to the UK was actually quite straightforward too, with no queues in Athens or arriving back in Luton last night. Being vaccinated and having no symptoms, I'm not worried.