Travel bites: we visited an amber list country

British Airways poster

International travel during a global pandemic

You want to travel during a pandemic? Sounds a bit crazy, doesn’t it. But we all have our reasons for wanting to escape the country we’re stuck in(side). For me, it’s about going home. Italy, where I was born and raised and where my family lives. I miss my hometown of Naples, my friends, the sea… everything. Call me irresponsible but as soon as travel was no longer illegal (yet not encouraged of course), I made my way to Napoli with my son for a few days home.

The WHO still advises against any non essential travel: define essential. To me, seeing family and spending time home is essential after six months of separation. I no longer have the luxury of time on my side and time spent with my Italian family, for myself and my young son, is absolutely essential.

It’s a logistical and organisation nightmare to travel to an amber listed country – and it’s expensive. Here’s some tips and links to help you plan.

Things change very quickly and constantly so double check and research everything before going somewhere!

Before departure

Italy requires a negative antigen or PCR test (molecolare o antigenico) on arrival, taken no more than 48h before entry into Italy. The results do not have to be in italian, thanks Italian Government! At the moment (with the DCPM of 21 June) arrivals form the UK also require to isolate for 5 days once in Italy, within your domicile / residence and communication to the local health authorities as well as a negative test on day 5 at the end of the isolation period. Children under 6 do not require a test upon arrival anymore (they did when we visited) but will need to isolate too.

I did our tests the day before departure with Corona Test Centre. I had used them in December too, and found them professional, friendly and very reliable. The results are guaranteed by 10pm on the day (but I received them within 3 hours!) and have centres all over London. They charge £75 for an antigen test with a Fit to Fly certificate but with this link you will get 20% off which makes it very competitive. I couldn’t recommend them more.

The rules are in place until 30th July when will be subject to review, and hopefully those double vaccinated will not need to quarantine either. There are a few exceptions but don’t apply to most of us. (are you a footballer in a Euro 2021 team? Are you airline crew?)

At the airport

We flew out of Gatwick on Easyjet. At the moment flights to Naples aren’t daily, unfortunately. We took the train to the airport and arrived at a surreally empty South Terminal. It’s currently closed for refurbishments and all flights go from North terminal which was mildly busy. It was still a fairly quick process. Easyjet staff checked Fit to Fly before check in too, and I was even asked upon boarding (no idea why!) if I was an italian national.

A few shops and coffee shops were still closed but – compared to December – the airport felt pretty normal. Adults were wearing masks but social distancing wasn’t particularly respected especially in queues!

The flight left bang on time and landed early, and I felt almost emotional boarding and greeting the cabin crew. It felt really good to be back, just as they said in the on board announcement! And to be fair to Easyjet, the last few weeks their customer service had been brilliant with all the changes and additions I had to do.

Naples view
Castel dell’Ovo on the Naples’ seafront

Italy! Finally

Once in Napoli, the queues at passport control were pretty long because they check passport, passenger locator form and test results. Fair enough. Napoli airport has a digital ceiling temperature scan as well while you queue, I did not see any at Gatwick or Heathrow. It felt amazing to land in Italy !

When we visited some regions were still in ‘yellow’ and masks were mandatory everywhere including outdoor, but this is going to change soon as rules relax thanks to low covid rates. We went out for breakfast, lunch, dinners and aperitivo and everywhere felt safe and highly enjoyable.

Returning to the UK

Now the fun begins. Amber list country – at the moment of writing – means you need to:

  • Have a test with full english results within 48h of leaving the country (unless you’re under 11 years of age!)
  • Book ahead and pay in advance for ‘Day 2 + 8’ private test package (unless you’re under 4 years of age!)
  • Also book ahead and pay in advance if you choose to ‘test and release’ upon returning to the UK
  • Fill in a passenger locator form for the UK with all the booking references above within 48h of leaving the amber country
Rapid antigen tests in English available at the Napoli airport pharmacy, before security

I spent hours searching for reasonably priced tests. While in Italy I paid 20euros for a fully english test with fast turnaround (antigen is fine too as long as it has high enough sensitivity, see guidelines), tests in the UK are stupidly expensive. We used Farmacia Cotroneo in Fuorigrotta, they are extremely professional and well organised so if you’re visiting Napoli, this is a good option.

For the Day 2 and 8 I used Rightangled, with some of the most competitive prices I could find (around £90 per person); these are done by post and come with pre paid envelopes for fast track.

For the test and release, I used BioGrad, the cheapest Test and Release I could find, in person, with 24h results. I needed these as I wanted my son to go to nursery on day 6 and day 5 fell on a sunday. We had to drive to Docklands (they have 3 testing sites in London, but the central one was booked up) but it was really quick and at £60 each, was perfect. The test is an official Test and Release PCR certificate and arrived within 24hours as promised.

If you find anything cheaper / better, please let us know in the comments!

Quarantine

The ‘first’ day of quarantine is the day after you land, unfortunately. The NHS Track and Trace called me every day until day 5, then on day 8. They pretty much read a script each time, asking the same questions including:

  • Are you at the address and are you remaining there?
  • Have you done the day 2 test?
  • Have you developed symptoms of Covid?

Etc. While my son was registered on my passenger locator form, they never once asked me about him. He of course followed the same protocol as me and the same quarantine as he’s over 4years. NHS had mentioned they would do one or two house visits during the period, but this did not happen for us (although I have heard it does actually happen).

Was it worth it?

Yes, yes and yes. Quarantine is really dull (I missed walking Amber and getting my take away coffee above everything else!) and I am aware that the testing packages are extremely expensive. The rough overall cost for two of us was around £440 and that’s excluding side costs such as missed nursery days; once in Italy we do not pay for accommodation which makes up for it somehow, but not everyone has this option.

Goodbye Italia!

I am so pissed off that despite double vaccine, I had to go through the above, coming from a country with way lower COVID figures than the UK, where most people respected the rules, wore masks even outdoor and didn’t particularly crowded spaces. But nevermind, we made it – and I am so glad we did. The flights felt very safe, neither leg was full so we had nobody sitting next to us, and I met only family and a couple of close friends, all vaccinated. I feel way less safe just walking through a packed Lower Marsh, where people are drunk, all over the place, not wearing a single mask or in the gym, where masks aren’t even required (went once and stopped immediately).

Seeing home, seeing my beautiful hometown and seeing family and friends was worth the hassle and the prices!

Helpful links

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