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older male traveler in a red vintage Fiat car touring ruins around Rome Italy

This Couple Traveled to Rome Right Before the Pandemic—and Went Back Again Now

One of Wendy’s tips for smart travel in 2022 is: Don’t dismiss relatively Covid-safe places just because you’ve been there before. A local trip-planning expert can devise a completely different itinerary that gives you a fresh look at a place, and you’ll also have a built-in familiarity and comfort level that can help in pandemic times.

That’s what reader Kevin Haney did. As a holiday present to each other, he and his wife, Nancy, always travel in January. This year, they chose the same place they’d gone in January 2020, right before the pandemic: Rome.

“There’s so much to see,” he told me over the phone before they left for the Eternal City plus excursions to Naples, Pompeii and a few surrounding vineyards. They’re even using the same WOW List expert again, Jennifer Virgilio. “Jennifer did our Rome trip in 2020,” Kevin explained. “She lives there, so she’s able to offer insight of things to do and get access to private experiences, which is even more useful right now with Covid.”

I emailed with Kevin toward the end of his trip to see how the experience panned out and what it is like to travel in Italy now.

What’s the vibe of the places you’ve visited? How crowded are they?

None of the places we visited were crowded. As our guides told us, that has been the one advantage to Covid. We are in Rome at the exact same time as our pre-Covid trip in January 2020, and it is noticeable how much less crowded places are.

Where have you felt comfortable, and where have you not?

We have felt comfortable everywhere on this trip. With just a little common sense, we have been able to avoid crowds at indoor events.

Are people wearing masks and following other Covid protocols?

Yes. The Italian people are very conscious of following the protocols. They believe following the protocols is their responsibility to ensure that things get better and can return to normal. They do not see it as a political issue.

What has Jennifer done so far that made you feel safer?

Jennifer and her team have been able to get us after-hours access to the Borghese Gallery and the Galleria Doria Pamphilj. We feel so fortunate to be able to experience these locations without the crowds, and we get the chance to learn so much with the expertise the local guides provide.

older male traveler wearing mask standing in front of Doria Pamphilj Palace Rome Italy

Kevin Haney at a private after-hours visit to the Doria Pamphilj Palace in Rome. Photo courtesy Kevin Haney

What other experiences have you had this trip?

We have also done a nightingale Trastevere food tour, a vintage Fiat tour, and a day trip to Naples and Pompeii. The crowds have been reduced from the past, but that allows you to enjoy the sights.

Is there anything you weren’t able to do because of the pandemic?

One tour, “A Focus on Caravaggio,” cancelled the day before we were to take it, as the guide got Covid and the people in her office had to quarantine because of exposure to her. We decided to spend that time exploring Rome on our own instead.

How have you found the transportation logistics—airports, trains?

Everything has gone very smoothly. Our planes were on time, and the trains we took on our day trip to Naples worked out well. The car service that we used was on time. None of the modes of transportation have been crowded or made us feel uncomfortable. Jennifer’s guides and drivers were all vaccinated and observed the Covid protocols of Italy. They made sure not to expose us to situations where we would feel uncomfortable and, when appropriate, adjusted the order in which to see things so as to avoid the crowds.

Is Italy different than before?

It was much better than expected. Everything was open and, because of the pre-trip planning and our guides, we always felt safe.

Where did you get your Covid test before returning to the U.S.?

We noticed that testing was readily available throughout Rome and Naples as it seemed like there was a tent to perform the test on every other corner, and our one guide who we had for Borghese and Doria Pamphilj was telling us she got tested once a week to make sure she was ok to perform tours.

Our pre-departure Covid test was performed at the hotel, thanks to Jennifer, so we had the results quickly and could enjoy our final day in Rome. Once we got our negative result, it confirmed why we use WOW List specialists like Jennifer when we travel to Europe, as it makes the trip go so smoothly.


We’re Here to Help

As a travel journalist and consumer advocate for the past 30 years—first as Condé Nast Traveler’s advice columnist, then as TripAdvisor’s Travel Advocate—I’m all too aware of the travel concerns that need to be addressed as a result of this pandemic. For many trips, you’d be wise to use an extremely well-connected, extremely knowledgeable, destination-specific, trip-planning specialist who can act as your local fixer. You’d be even wiser to find and contact that trip planner via The WOW List, which is the first step in my WOW approach to trip planning, created by popular demand from my longtime readers. It’s the approach used by the travelers who are submitting these trip reviews and getting benefits including priority status, VIP treatment, my advice from the start of your trip planning, and the chance to win a surprise, custom-designed WOW Moment on a third qualifying trip. It all starts when you tell us about the trip you want via the questionnaires on The WOW List.

hiker on boardwalk trail surrounded by green rainforest Olympic National Park Washington state

One Family’s Island Vacation: Socially Distanced in Washington State


This traveler got this trip by starting with this questionnaire.  For a safe, smart, extraordinary trip, go to The WOW List, find the best destination specialist for you, then click his/her CONTACT button to reach Wendy’s questionnaire.


Kathy Gardner and her family managed to get a world away from their city lives this August. Based in San Francisco, she and her husband and their two teenagers had endured months working and learning from home; by the middle of summer, they needed time outdoors. So Kathy wrote to Ask Wendy, asking about the San Juan Islands, which had always been on her bucket list. We recommended that she consult with Sheri Doyle, trip-planning specialist for the Pacific Northwest. Sheri designed a two-week itinerary in Washington State, split between Olympic National Park and the San Juan Islands—an itinerary focused on hiking, biking, kayaking, and the enjoyment of nature. “It was stunningly, stunningly beautiful,” Kathy told us on the phone soon after their return. We thank her for taking the time to tell us about her family’s trip and for sharing information that we know will be useful to other travelers.

Why made you decide to travel now and to Washington State?

Our daughter is getting ready to go to college next year, so we really wanted to take this time to get away in a safe, socially distant way. We’d never been to the Olympic Peninsula or the San Juan Islands, and the more we looked into it, the more it seemed it would be easy to stay away from other people and enjoy the beauty of that part of the country. Also, we wanted a short flight. [Editor’s note: The flight from San Francisco to Seattle is only two hours.]

Did you get tested pre-travel?

Yes, we are fortunate in San Francisco to have relatively easy access to Covid-19 testing, and so were able to have the test and see the negative results both before our vacation and then immediately after we returned.

How did the flight go? What precautions did you take?

We took Wendy’s advice seriously about how to fly in a pandemic, and we incorporated that advice with other advice from the CDC. We felt we were following all the rules. We chose Alaska Airlines, which I had read was doing well during Covid, and we thought they were fantastic. The plane was clean and spacious, and they kept to their word of keeping an empty middle seat and giving us the seats we asked for. Everyone was wearing masks the entire flight—we were hoping they would, and they did.

I had read Wendy’s article about picking seats and staying safe. And we did the whole thing: We got masks and goggles and gloves and had Clorox wipes, and we just tried to be really pragmatic about things. Having a short flight makes a difference too.

Where did you stay?

We rented a house close to Olympic National Park, but not in it. It was on the water, super pretty and an easy drive into the park. Then we spent three days on San Juan Island in another rental home, and a week on Lopez Island in another.

Lopez is low-key and a really nice community and awesome for biking. It feels like a place people go if they know about it, if that makes sense. We did one day trip to Orcas Island, which is fantastic as well. We loved it. We had really beautiful weather, and it was easy to be completely by ourselves.

We were never in a situation where we needed to be around other people, except on the plane, and even the airports were not full.

So you rented three different homes over two weeks?

Yes. Renting our own places was a criterion for us and, interestingly, hard to do. Houses were very booked up. So Sheri was hugely helpful in piecing together our places to stay.

The three homes were all very clean, and we were all by ourselves. We went to the farmers’ market to shop, like we would at home. We ate outside a few times at restaurants. We did a lot of hiking. Our main activities were hiking, biking, kayaking, and paddle boarding. The Olympic Peninsula is such a huge national park; we had just a couple days and barely scratched the surface.

How else did Sheri help?

Sheri was incredible—just so on top of things. She knows that anyone who wants to travel right now needs to be careful, so she has great ideas. Before we could even ask our questions, she gave us great advice about how to navigate the process.

I almost didn’t have to ask. She was like, “I know the questions you’re going to ask,” and she had the answers about socially distancing, about the ferries, about where to stay. Sheri could not have been better.

Now that you’re back, is there anything you wish you’d known before?

I’m just happy we went. Life is short, and our kids are growing. We made a really nice choice for our family. Our kids are going back to distance learning, and they were in distance learning since March 17, so it was so nice to be outdoors in a beautiful place and have some freedom and just drink it in.

We ended up getting a national parks membership this year. I feel like it’s a good thing to support our parks, and you can use it anywhere you go.

A note: While we at WendyPerrin.com do not encourage travel at this time, we believe it is possible to travel responsibly during this pandemic. We have done so ourselves—and we trust our community of global citizens to make smart choices for themselves and the people they’ll encounter. While most travelers want to wait until there is a vaccine for their next trip, some have asked us to help them travel safely and responsibly now—and we are happy to provide the intel and support they seek. We answer their questions every day at Ask Wendy. And we request their post-trip feedback as part of our effort to provide you with a realistic and useful view of the travel landscape right now.

We can help you figure out how to safely plan your own trip and direct you to the right travel specialist for your needs. Write to us at Ask Wendy.

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Scott Mayerowitz AP airlines reporter

How an Airlines Reporter Travels: Meet the AP’s Scott Mayerowitz

Scott Mayerowitz knows airlines. He’s been reporting on them at the Associated Press for five years, and before that was a travel editor and business reporter with ABC News. So he’s not just any old travel writer—he’s an investigative journalist with chops. However, this self-described #avgeek is not so serious that he’d turn his nose up at the chance to go sky diving on a cruise ship or to share a good Throwback Thursday selfie.

His Twitter and Instagram feeds are must-follows for any traveler—not only for the airline and travel news he provides, but also for a window onto the world of frequent fliers and mileage junkies (he is one himself), and for a humorous peek at his own life too.

Most memorable travel moment:

Visiting Iceland in summer, it was still light enough after a late dinner to play a round of golf with my dad. It wasn’t the best course or the best performance on our part, but there was something very unique about teeing off that late at night.

Most embarrassing travel moment:

Ordering food at foreign restaurants. Anywhere. My Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese—frankly any language skills—are atrocious. Even when reading something off a menu, I horribly mispronounce it. I always try, and I want locals to correct me so I can learn, but it’s embarrassing to me and my travel companions.

Name one thing people would be surprised to find in your travel bag:

Pacifiers. Hey, I’ve got an infant daughter. I’m still kind of surprised at the things I now travel with.

Scott takes his future avgeek along for the flight. Photo: Scott Mayerowitz/Instagram

Scott takes his future avgeek along for the flight. Photo: Scott Mayerowitz/Instagram

Touristy spot that’s actually worth it, and the trick to doing it right:

The museums and monuments of Paris are surely packed with tourists but not the least bit touristy. The one trick to avoiding the masses is to buy the Paris Museum Pass. Yes, it can save most first-timers money. But the real value is saving time by skipping lines at sites like the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, and Versailles. Simply visit one of the less-crowded museums first to buy the pass.

Non-touristy spot people might not know about but should add to their must-visit list:

Most folks now know that Bruges is a popular place to travel outside Brussels, but Ghent, which is lesser known, was really cool. The city isn’t as postcard-pretty but is more vibrant; it’s filled with unique stores and restaurants and isn’t catering mostly to tourists.

Name two indispensable apps you use when you travel:

Google Maps (now with an offline feature that is perfect for overseas travel) and FlightAware, which updates me about flight delays, inbound aircraft, and the filed flight time.

The travel gadget or gear that has saved your life…or your mind:

My portable battery charger—well, chargers. I normally travel with two iPhones, an iPad, and my laptop. The laptop gets first priority for any spare electrical outlets. So that’s where the battery chargers come in; they ensure that my iPad will survive a long flight or that my phone has enough juice left upon landing to be productive.

Choose any two travel-world bloggers and tell us the most important thing you’ve learned from each.

It’s so hard to single out one or two folks. I’ve learned way too much about miles, points, and gaming the system from the scores of bloggers out there. I’ve also found tricks to making my travels easier from people like Wendy Perrin. And then there is Brett Snyder at CrankyFlier.com, who spells out exactly how things work in the industry.

Related:  The Airlines’ Biggest Shortcoming, According to The Cranky Flier

Whose Tweets do you find the most useful and entertaining when you see them in your feed?

I find Brian Sumers offers some of my favorite geeky, airline news. Then there is my awesome co-worker David Koenig, who is on top of every bit of industry news you would ever need to know.

Name one way the travel industry can do better.

A lot of websites will sell you a package vacation with air, hotel, and car rental. But none of them seamlessly ties all of that together. It’s the same thing with hotels and airlines. Travelers might be treated like royalty at a great hotel, but then that magic of the vacation disappears at the airport check-in counter. Luxury hotels and airlines need to find ways to better partner to have that service seamlessly carry over throughout the entire trip. For us, it is one journey, and travel providers need to start thinking about the trip from our perspective.

Look into the future and describe one aspect of travel that you think will be different in 20 years:

The personal interaction will be gone from all but luxury travel. We already check in for flights (and a handful of hotels) with our mobile phones. We can order room service on an app. And forget the city walking tour. There’s now a podcast for that. Sure, this does help empower some independent travelers, but we also risk a homogenized travel experience and miss out on those tiny interactions that give us a sense of place and uniqueness.

You’ve said the points/miles game will either go away completely or change drastically. Can you speak to that?

I have a confession: I am a points-and-miles addict. But I am getting closer and closer to getting out of the game. Or at least changing my strategy. Unless you are an elite flier, loyalty doesn’t pay. And even there, the real benefits don’t kick in unless you do 50,000 miles a year. The same for hotels. The top-tier folks are treated great, but otherwise the leisure traveler doesn’t see giant benefits. Still sign up for programs and collect your points, but maybe it is time to rethink those credit cards. A two-percent cash- back credit card will probably suit most travelers best. Especially if you just fly domestically in coach and are happy with a clean, safe hotel room. Plus you aren’t married to one airline or hotel chain. That said, I’m finding it personally very hard to break the habit. I still am getting value out of luxury hotels and international business-class flights, but it is getting harder and harder.

Related: The Best Credit Cards for Travelers

Most effective thing you’ve ever said or done to get an upgrade or a special perk while traveling:

Airline upgrades for special occasions are a thing of the past. But hotels still have much leeway in who they upgrade and why. I’ve had good luck on my honeymoon and even one night when my wife and I escaped for a kid-free night. I usually reach out in advance with my confirmation number, explain why this is an important stay, note any status I have, and ask if there is anything they can do to make it special for my wife.

To make friends, I always carry:

Airline drink coupons


Theme parks


National parks

If you were in my car during a road trip, you’d hear me singing:

The wrong lyrics to whatever’s on the radio.

The airplane movie that, unexpectedly, made me bawl was:

500 Days of Summer

When I travel, I’m not afraid of:

Getting lost

But I am afraid of:

Losing perspective.


Follow Scott:

Twitter @GlobeTrotScott

Instagram @GlobeTrotScott


Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.