Tag Archives: pandemic

teenager at airport at night wearing mask and looking at 2 phones

Tips for Surviving The Flight Delays of Summer 2021

NOTE: This was written in July 2021, during Covid, when airlines were trying to ramp up service again for the first big wave of summer travelers since the pandemic started in 2020.

After my fifth flight this summer, I wanted to share some tips for other people flying in the U.S. now because U.S. airports and airplanes are like the wild west. Anything can happen, and you may need to fend for yourself. Expect long waits, lines, closed services, and staff shortages.

Every flight I’ve taken during Covid has been delayed at least an hour and a half, and multiple times we’ve been on a six-hour flight for nine or ten hours. They may not serve drinks or food on the plane, and many shops and restaurants in the airports are closed, which means you might be thirsty or hungry for long periods of time. I’ve seen long lines for lost luggage, so do not pack anything with significant value. On a flight from San Francisco to New York, we were diverted to Cleveland and stuck on the tarmac for two hours in the middle of the night because there was nobody in the airport who had the proper certification to operate the gate. They had to go wake someone up at their house. The next morning, we had to stand in line for a paper boarding pass to get back onto our flight, since none of the check-in machines worked and we had to see an agent (who spent 25 minutes trying to get a dog ticketed for another flight). Our TSAPre didn’t work with the paper ticket either. In addition, boarding was alphabetical because they didn’t have a scanner at the gate.

Based on the flight problems I’ve seen and experienced this summer, here is my advice for families headed to the airport:

1. Bring two different types of masks that sit on your face differently. Because you could be in your mask for a very long time. From entering the airport to exiting your destination airport, it may be many hours before you can get outside again.

2. Pack for any climate. You could land in a place where the climate is completely different from where you expected to land. The air temperature on the plane can vary greatly too. So, if you’re wearing shorts and a T-shirt, bring long pants and a hoodie. And always have a spare toothbrush and toothpaste in your carry-on.

3. You might not have access to food when you want it, so bring enough snacks to last you. We were stuck on a plane for more than nine hours (on a five-hour flight) with basic snacks served early in the flight. A lot of airport shops aren’t open yet or are closed when you’re there. Especially if you need special foods like gluten-free or vegan, bring it with you!

4. Expect your flight time to change at the last minute. It could likely change multiple times. Make sure you’re getting notifications from your airline to your phone. We were getting updates on the phone while the pilot said she was getting none.

5. For long delays in the gate area, quickly find a spot off the floor where you can lie flat. Quickly because you may find yourself in competition with 250 other passengers. We found a very wide padded windowsill where we could sleep. Or at least lie flat and keep our carry-ons with us.

6. Use the restroom right before you get on the plane. Because of delays on the tarmac, you may not be able to get up from your seat for a long time after takeoff. You may be stuck in your seat for a while after landing too, because they’re trying to find a gate for your plane. So use it again before the landing process starts and the seatbelt sign goes on.

7. If you land in a different location than expected, don’t rely on the airline for anything. Be prepared to find your own hotel room and transportation to it. We were on the last plane to divert from Newark, so the other planes had gotten all the hotel rooms near the airport. The airline made an announcement that we all had to figure it out for ourselves because every room near the airport was booked. (They gave us a paper that stated their reimbursement policy of approx. $200 per passenger.)  I managed to find us a room in Cleveland at 1:00 a.m. because I searched for one downtown, farther away. At the hotel, I had to explain our situation to the night manager so that she would waive the two-night minimum stay.

8. Don’t assume you’re getting back on the same plane you took off on. When you leave a plane, take everything with you. And make sure your bags have your mobile phone number on them, in case they get lost.

9. Fly nonstop when you can. On each delayed flight, the only thing that made it better was that we didn’t have to catch a connecting flight. A lot of people missed their connecting flights. So take nonstop flights when you can. And if you’re flying to an event you can’t miss—like a wedding or boarding a cruise ship—you might want to fly a day early.

As for our night in Cleveland, we wish we’d had either much more time there (to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or a Cleveland Indians game) or much less.

Barcelona Spain beach-June 2021

Barcelona Without the Crowds and Cruise Ships

Barcelona Spain beach-June 2021
Barcelona's beach was lively, even at 9:30 at night.
Barcelona Spain Sagrada Familia - market outside
But there were so few crowds at Gaudi's famous Sagrada Familia church that a market popped up outside. In pre-pandemic times, this street would have been elbow-to-elbow with tourists.
Barcelona Spain Sagrada Familia 1-June 2021 interior
I was mesmerized by the light coming through the stained glass windows. I never would have been able to take this picture in 2019. There would have been throngs of people all through this corridor.
Barcelona Spain Sagrada Familia interior
This was as crowded as it got in the main part of the nave.
Barcelona Spain Las Ramblas-June 2021
Las Ramblas were wide open.
Barcelona Spain Gotchic quarter street-June 2021
So were the tiny streets in the Gothic Quarter, which made it so much more enjoyable to wander and visit the shops.
Barcelona Spain La Boqueria Market June 2021
La Boqueria market was calm and I had plenty of space (partly because I visited late in the day).
people eating outside of vBasilica of Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona Spain
But it's not like the city was empty or deserted — it was lively in all the ways you'd want it to be. People were eating at a cute café outside the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar.
Barcelona Spain port restaurants-June 2021
They were having late dinner at the restaurants along the port.
Barcelona Spain Vila Viniteca food
I ate well too. At Vila Viniteca, my guide and I sat for nearly two hours with one of the shop's managers, just getting to know each other and tasting delicious Spanish cheeses and wines and fresh salad. That's tomato bread on the left, a simple yet delicious Catalan tapas of grilled bread, fresh tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and salt served everywhere in Barcelona.
Barcelona Spain Vila Viniteca market with tomatoes-June 2021
But, as my guide pointed out, you have to use the right tomatoes for it.
3 women posing at La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona
Every shopkeeper I spoke to was thrilled that travelers were starting to come back. At La Manual Alpargatera, the oldest espadrille maker in Barcelona, the staff even applauded me and I got a special tour of the shop and even learned a bit about shoemaking!
Barcelona Spain La Plata tapas restaurant with bartender
The tapas and pintxos crawl experience is a little different because of the pandemic. At La Plata, beers are served in plastic cups and you have to order from your table.
Barcelona Spain Sagardi tapas restaurant with covered food-June 2021
And at Sagardi, the tapas are kept behind glass — you can no longer just grab them off the counter yourself. But the food is still delicious, and I saw many groups of friends out at night to grab a drink and a skewered snack.
Barcelona Spain Serras Hotel room
I found it so interesting (and helpful) that you can eat dinner earlier these days, if you prefer. Restaurants started opening earlier during the pandemic to account for curfews (now lifted), and so far they are continuing that trend. I wasn't able to stay up as late as a true Barcelonian, but maybe that was because I had this cool hotel room to come back to at The Serras.
Barcelona Spain Serras Hotel room-June 2021
The Serras Hotel is where Picasso had his first studio in Barcelona. The building overlooks the ocean, has a cool mod design, and my room had two balconies and a bathtub with a view!


When I posted photos of my experience at Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, taken just a few days after the country had reopened, the comments I got back were full of awe. Not awe of the eye-popping details of Antoni Gaudí’s elaborate and famously unfinished church, but of the lack of people crowding into it.

The Sagrada Familia is the biggest tourism draw in Barcelona (and arguably, in Spain), but if you were to visit now, you may not even realize it. Because as Spain welcomes back visitors, there is a special opportunity: You can have it to yourself. Travelers arriving directly from the U.S. don’t even need to show proof of vaccination or a negative test. All we have to do is fill out one simple health declaration form.

Barcelona, in particular, feels different as it emerges from the pandemic—in the best way possible. The Gothic Quarter isn’t clogged with tourists, you can actually stroll along Las Ramblas rather than be pushed along by the swarm, La Boqueria Market is calmer, shopkeepers have time to chat, restaurants are open for dinner earlier than usual so you don’t have to wait until 10pm to eat (though you can—there’s no curfew in Spain!), and museums have plenty of tickets.

The major reason for this change? No cruise ships. In years past, Barcelona had been Europe’s busiest cruise destination (more than 800 ships docked there in 2019), and the city’s mayor, neighborhood groups, and local organizations were all working to limit the swarm. Now, as a result of the pandemic, cruises are still extremely limited throughout the country. And when I visited in mid-June, I didn’t spot a single ship in the harbor (which I could take in from my balcony at the lovely Serras Hotel).

The beach, however, was buzzing. Masks are no longer required outdoors in Spain, and Barcelonians were reveling in the open air and warm weather. In fact, all of Barcelona had the vibe of a summer beach town that hadn’t been slowed down at all by the pandemic. At 9:30 pm on a Sunday, people were still out on the sand, playing beach volleyball, picnicking, and hanging out by the water. The restaurants and bars that line the beach and port were all open, and a few blocks away, in the little neighborhood of Barceloneta, spots were even livelier, dotted with groups of friends laughing, reconnecting, and watching football. The whole scene felt alive and fresh in a way that only a beach city can be—and after a year and a half in insular, cramped New York, I breathed deeper and more freely than I thought possible.

As I talked to locals (not only my guides, but shopkeepers, waiters, hotel staff, bartenders, cheesemongers, candymakers, cobblers), I realized they were no longer holding their breath either. Barcelonians are happy to have us back. If you’d asked them the same question in 2018 or 2019, you might have heard grumbles about the overwhelming waves of tourists spilling through the city. But now, the warmth is palpable.

In fact, the staff at one store (the oldest espadrille shop in Barcelona) were so happy to have international travelers back that they applauded me when they learned I was visiting from the U.S. I then spent an hour hanging out with them, learning about the store’s history, and swapping stories about our pandemic experiences. It was one of many moments during my two weeks in Europe that made me realize that (a) masks cannot hinder true connection and (b) the pandemic gave us travelers the unexpected gift of common ground with everyone we meet no matter where we go. And that’s not a downer—it’s common ground people were eager to discuss. Especially, if you’re chatting over a spread of Spanish wines and cheeses, which I did for a couple hours at Vila Viniteca, a wine distributor, shop and market founded in 1932 where I sat in a private wine cellar with my guide Veronica and a couple staff members as we sampled their wares.

If you find yourself grazing through Barcelona’s many snack spots like I did, be sure to save room for pintxos and tapas, because the restaurants are definitely open and ready for hungry guests. During the pandemic, they started opening earlier to accommodate an earlier curfew. But now that the curfew is lifted, many are still choosing to open at 7 or 8pm in order to serve more people (and, hopefully, make more money). When I visited, QR menus were the norm, and instead of grabbing snacks off an open bar, you had to sit and order at your table (you can read more about my tapas experience in Madrid), but the food was still delicious and the gregarious, fun atmosphere was still there, the crowds were merely smaller and had moved outside into the cool air.

Getting there

In addition to easy access to culture, food, and camaraderie, the logistics of getting to and from Barcelona are easy too. I flew into Barcelona from Paris, and filled out the required health declaration form online, received a QR code by email a few seconds later, and then showed it at a health-security checkpoint after deplaning. Totally hassle-free.

I also took a three-hour train ride from Barcelona to Madrid, and it could not have been easier or more relaxing. I booked my ticket online and I chose the quiet car for two reasons: First, so that I wouldn’t have to listen to loud talkers on their cell phones the whole way, but also as an added safety measure, since talking spreads particles and the train windows didn’t open. That said, I wasn’t too worried: I am vaccinated, and all passengers and staff were required to wear masks, plus I had a two-seater to myself, as did everyone else in my car. The train ride ended up being a surprisingly restful and enjoyable little break. It was very comfortable (air-conditioned, smooth, and nearly silent), and the scenery of villages and vineyards passing by was beautiful.

But even as I was pulling out of Barcelona, I was already missing it. The city is coming alive now, and it’s having a kind of aaaah moment to stretch, sparkle, and rejuvenate. Travelers who can get there soon, before all of the mass tourists and cruise ship passengers flood back in, will be revitalized by that energy (not to mention the joy of being in the Sagrada Familia without fighting for space and sightlines). We’ve all just spent more than a year living through the bad side of Covid; for pete’s sake, take advantage and reward yourself with the one upside.

Transparency disclosure: So that I could investigate Spain on your behalf, The Serras Hotel provided two nights’ complimentary accommodations, and Virginia Irurita arranged for two private guiding experiences.


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.

castle on green hill overlooking Douro River in Portugal with text Europe's Latest Reopening Where You can go and what it will be like

Europe’s Latest Reopenings: Where You Can Go and What It Will Be Like

Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, Malta, Germany, the Czech Republic—so many countries in Europe have just opened or are about to. If you’re vaccinated, right now is a uniquely enjoyable and fun moment for experiencing these places without the usual tourist crowds and with a warm welcome from virtually everyone you meet. In this live Q&A, we talked about how to make your Europe trip easy and special.

You can watch the full Q&A above.

These were the over-arching takeaways:

  • Covid-related logistics—such as testing requirements, flight schedule changes, hotel availability, car rental—are much easier to handle than you might imagine. Based on what Wendy’s hearing from travelers, logistics and service levels are much better in Europe than in the U.S. this summer so far. Of course, such logistics are hugely diminished, or eliminated entirely, if you use the right local fixer who has the knowledge and resources on the ground. Just ask your fellow travelers.
  • Countries that are usually packed are experiencing a unique crowd-free moment.
  • There is value to be had if you travel now. In Portugal, for example, prices have dropped for 2021, but not for 2022.

You can read about Billie’s experiences in Greece, France, and Spain this month here:

As journalists, it’s our job to review and road-test trip designers—that’s how we curate The WOW List, and it’s how we make recommendations to you. You can reach out to the right local fixer for your needs by using Wendy’s WOW List of road-tested trip planners around the world. If you contact them this way, they’ll know you’re a VIP sent by Wendy, you’ll get all the benefits that come with that, and you can start your way to earning a WOW Moment from Wendy (a complimentary, exclusive, insider travel experience).

The travel specialists featured in our talk were:

•Portugal – Gonçalo Correia
Read reviews of Goncalo, and contact him through The WOW List to be marked as a VIP

•Switzerland – Nina Müller
Read reviews of Nina, and contact her through The WOW List to be marked as a VIP

•Malta – Damon Camilleri Allan
Read reviews of Damon, and contact him through The WOW List to be marked as a VIP

•Italy – Jennifer Virgilio
Read reviews of Jennifer, and contact her through The WOW List to be marked as a VIP

Covid-era travel intel and articles:

Many of you also had questions about other topics, and you can find answers in the following videos and articles, as well as in our special Covid-19 section of WendyPerrin.​com where all this intel is collected.

Thanks again to all who joined us and to all of you who are watching now. Sign up for our newsletter for info on our next talk, and please share our videos and articles with a friend who loves travel. Together we can figure out how to do it as smartly, safely, and meaningfully as possible. —Wendy, Brook, Billie, and Kristine



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.

3 women posing at La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona

What I Learned About People from Traveling During Covid

3 women posing at La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona
Asilde, me, and Aurora
exterior shop view of La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona
worker at work table at La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona
shoe molds on shelf at La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona
wall of shoes up to the ceiling at La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona
queue ticket numbers in shape of shoes at La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona
photo of owners meeting pope in backroom at La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona


I’ve never been applauded in a store before. But that’s what happened about a minute after I walked into La Manual Alpargatera, the oldest espadrille shop in Barcelona. A few seconds into my broken-Spanish chit-chat with the clerk who’d come over to help me, she realized I was visiting from America…and a bright smile suddenly lit up her entire face. No mask could hide it.

She called out to her two colleagues who were busy making espadrilles by hand at the back table, pointed at me excitedly, and announced that I was here from the U.S. The next thing I know, they’re clapping, we’re all laughing, and my new BFF Aurora is introducing me to Asilde and Alberto, who tell me that it’s been more than a year since they’ve had a traveler from America in the shop.

Asilde is the owner’s wife, and she serves as my translator for the next hour as I talk to the trio about what it’s been like for them during the pandemic, learn a few fun facts about espadrille history and construction, and get a guided tour through the 80-year-old shop (which includes a large framed photo of Asilde’s father-in-law meeting the Pope, who bought a pair of their shoes).

Before the pandemic, Asilde explained, the store would be so busy that all 51 of the espadrille-shaped, numbered queue tickets would be taken—and they’d need even more. But during the hour I spent with them, only three other people came in. Fortunately, now that Spain is open to U.S. travelers and its Covid restrictions are easing (no quarantine or testing is required for vaccinated travelers; no masks are required outdoors as of June 26; indoor dining is permitted) it’s only a matter of time before travelers and cruise ships return to Barcelona and businesses like La Manual Alpargatera begin to recover.

Of course I bought a pair of espadrilles (with Aurora’s expert help and everyone’s feedback on styles), but the thing I’ll remember most about that afternoon is how uplifting and heartening it was. I laughed and bonded with three perfect strangers, simply because we had all just emerged from a difficult, shared global experience.

Turns out, something quite surprising and good is coming out of this pandemic—and it’s the dismantling of the wall between “tourist” and “local.” Everywhere I went on this trip, I had immediate common ground with the people I met, Equally surprising, what we had in common—a familiar tale of suffering and survival—wasn’t a downer.

Guides, shop keepers, ticket takers, even a baker in Madrid and a hotel maid in Paris, were eager to share their stories and hear mine. Regardless of whether we spoke the same language, we understood one another because we’ve all been through similar things—like when Olga, a maid at my Paris hotel, blanked on the name of a famous museum and then tapped her head three times, repeating the French for “Covid brain.” I’d never heard that term spoken in French before, but I knew exactly what she meant. We both burst out laughing.

Maybe you’d expect that all the mask mandates and social distancing rules would make it harder to forge any real human connections; maybe you’d think that if a person’s mouth and nose are hidden, you won’t be able to have a meaningful conversation. But that was not my experience at all. In fact, it was the opposite. After being cooped up and isolated from one another for so long, most people I met seemed to crave and appreciate human connection more than ever. Bittersweetly, we now all have the past difficult year and the upcoming brighter one as common ground to build on. Travelers especially will get to understand more about this strange moment in time and the people around the world who are going through it. And, maybe if they walk into the right shop or take the time to look at the Paris skyline with a hotel housekeeper, they’ll also make a friend.


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.

Paris Louvre pyramid plaza empty right after Paris reopening after covid lockdown

Paris Is Having a Moment. Don’t Miss It.

I arrived in Paris on the day that France opened to travelers from the U.S. (June 9).  My job: Find out what had changed and how it feels to be there now.  Short answer: Not much, and amazing. Walking around the city felt like the first day of spring when everyone emerges from a long snowy winter excited to socialize outdoors again. In the Latin Quarter on Friday night, I watched an impromptu dance party coalesce. I saw friends reconnect as they walked along the Seine.  In the Jardin des Tuileries, I saw a man on a bike literally stop to smell the flowers and coworkers and couples picnicking in the shade. I found the city flickering with moments like that—quiet in all the right places and busy in all the right places. As an added bonus, the sun doesn’t set until about 10pm in June, so there’s even more time to take in the festive atmosphere.  In the few days since I visited, restrictions have been eased further:  Masks are no longer required outdoors as of today, and there will be no curfew starting June 20.

Paris is having a unique moment. Here’s what I found:

The feeling on the street


Paris was downright celebratory from June 9-13:  The curfew had just been extended from 9pm to 11pm—and those two hours made a world of difference. On the first night, I spoke to Parisians dining at the many jubilant patios along Rue Saint-​Honoré. “We have our lives back,” a woman told me as she sat outdoors with a friend who’d just returned to Paris. Nearby, I saw a young man carefully composing photographs with his prized old-school SLR camera; he explained that he wanted to capture the evening on film so that he could remember it. At another bustling restaurant, the owner gushed, “I opened five years ago, and this is the best Wednesday we’ve ever had!” And you can bet that the next few weeks will be even better: the curfew will be dropped completely on June 20.

Although indoor dining is now allowed with certain protocols, most people are still eating outdoors—not surprising, considering this is spring in Paris.

While eating, masks come off (except for the waitstaff), but anytime I walked into a store, hotel, gallery, or museum, people put their masks on and used the hand sanitizer dispensers placed prominently at the door. In fact, I saw so many people stop to use them that the etiquette seems rote by now. Masks are no longer required outdoors as of June 17.

What’s open and what’s closed

Cinemas are open, concerts are happening in small venues (indoor and out), the Opéra Bastille is open with a ballet of Romeo and Juliet, the Opéra Garnier is open for visits (performances are coming later), and most museums are open. The Eiffel Tower is the only big-ticket sight I encountered that was still closed, and it was scheduled to reopen on July 16. (In the meantime, an alternative for good city views is the Centre Pompidou’s Restaurant Georges.)

Shops are open all over the city, and the streets are full of people going about their lives. In Saint-Germain on a Saturday afternoon, the streets were bustling, the brunch spots were full, and there were lines at the boulangeries. Le Marais was hopping too. That night, I even stumbled on a champagne-filled art opening hidden in a courtyard.

Popular places that are crowd-free

The Louvre
The Louvre
The Louvre's Mona Lisa room when I visited June 11, 2021
crowd in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Paris France
The Louvre's Mona Lisa room when Wendy visited in 2012


While it seemed that the day-to-day venues of Parisian life were nearing normalcy, I did go to a few places that were definitely not back to their usual selves yet. And this was a very good thing.

Versailles was basically empty. On my Thursday mid-morning visit, there was no line to get in; in fact, there was barely anyone on the sprawling plaza at all. My guide Isabelle recalled that in 2019, a visitor could expect to wait two to three hours to enter the palace, even if they’d pre-purchased a ticket. Right now, we were able to walk right in, timed tickets in hand. The woman who took our passes said that in pre-pandemic times, Versailles saw 35,000 people a day. So far this season, the most she’d seen was 10,000—on the previous weekend.

Once we were inside the massive palace, I saw just how few people were there. In previous years, visitors would be so crammed together that they’d be jostling for personal space as well for views of the opulent rooms. But when we walked into the usually packed Queen’s bedroom, only two other guests were standing there. Isabelle whispered, “Oooh, this is incredible. I’ve never seen it like this.”

Outside the chateau, the gardens are so vast that it’s hard to believe they could be teeming with people. But they could. Yet they weren’t. We saw two busloads of students on a field trip, but those were the only big groups we encountered. Instead, I wandered manicured lanes of flowers, took the usual Instagram shots without worrying about random tourists walking through them, and shielded my eyes from the statues that had been re-gilded during the pandemic closure and were now so bright they hurt to look at. #VersaillesProblems.

“How long do you think this respite will last?” I asked Isabelle as we walked back to the train. “Months? Through the end of the year?”

“Weeks,” she said.

If you come after this unique window of post-lockdown calm, one way to ensure a less crowded visit is to leverage the connections of a local travel fixer. Jennifer Virgilio, a France specialist on Wendy’s WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts, can arrange for you to see areas that are off-limits to the general public, like the apartment of the mistresses and the horse stables.

The Louvre was similarly uncrowded. You can easily buy tickets online for a set time slot now, but I happened to be passing by when I saw a distinct lack of lines at the pyramid entrance, so I took my chances and tried to get a ticket on the spot. The guard at the empty rope queue was checking ticket times as a few people around me flashed their phones and walked in, but he didn’t hesitate to let me pass when I said that I wanted to go in and purchase a ticket for today. When I got to the ticket counter inside, there was only one family in line ahead of me, and then the clerk quickly sold me a ticket for the current time slot. The whole process took only a few minutes and was very simple, but I don’t know if buying tickets in person like that will continue to be possible as travelers return en masse. Note that if you do not have a pre-purchased ticket, you must enter through the Pyramid. The attendants at alternate entrances like the Pavilion de la Bibliothèque and Porte des Lions, the latter of which is a great secret for bypassing long lines, won’t let you in without one. (The door guards at the Musée d’Orsay were similarly strict: If you didn’t have a ticket on your phone, they would not let you pass. And that’s why I saw about a dozen people busily tapping at their phones to download tickets.)

Once inside the Louvre, I headed straight for the Mona Lisa. If there was any arbiter of how busy the museum really was, that was it. And my jaw dropped as I walked in. The long circuitous rope lines were empty, and only about a dozen people were milling about. I waited about two minutes while some teenagers took selfies in front of the painting, and then I had an unobstructed view. Remembering the photo that Wendy had taken of the same room jam-packed in 2012, I snapped a comparison. (See both photos in the slideshow above.)

The hottest ticket in town

Swiss artist Urs Fischer made giant wax sculptures that burn a little every day, like candles.
Urs Fischer's wax airplane seats, with candles
The building is the old commodities exchange, and it's a work of art itself.
I liked the shadows created by the glass dome.
Gallery view
Artist Bertrand Lavier placed artworks in 24 wood-and-glass cases built for the 1889 World Fair.


While I would never say someone should skip the Louvre or the d’Orsay, the museum that I most wanted to see on this trip was the Pinault Collection, Paris’s newest addition to the art scene.

This modern and contemporary art museum has moved into the historic, iron-and-glass-domed Bourse de Commerce, which was a commodities exchange for wheat, sugar, and other crops in the 1800s. Now it’s been repurposed as a home for the vast art collection of French billionaire businessman François Pinault, who restored the building to its peak glory, hired Pritzker-Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando to design the interior additions, and filled the galleries with some very interesting works (including a room of sculptures made from slowly melting wax). This kind of old-meets-new juxtaposition is exactly my thing, so it was at the top of my must-do list for Paris. But since it opened in May, it’s been the hottest ticket in town: Slots were being released in controlled batches and were selling out as soon as they were posted.  Jennifer, however, was able to get me in.

Local guides are even more valuable

If you’re a regular reader here, you most likely already know the great value that private guides bring to a trip. Not only can they bring a place to life with their stories and introduce us to the most interesting people (artists, chefs, musicians, sommeliers, fashion designers, whatever your interest), but now they can provide fascinating insights into this new Covid era we all share. I had a hundred questions for Isabelle about what it was like to be in Paris during the pandemic, and she was able to give me personal insight I never could have understood from reading the news. As we walked through the city, she pointed out how different businesses and even whole streets were affected, she shared personal stories from lockdown, she illuminated aspects of city life and culture that the pandemic temporarily changed, and added context to what I was seeing all around me.

Where to stay

The view from my balcony at Le Meurice, over the Tuileries.
A suite at Le Meurice
A cute "attic" room at Le Meurice
The elaborate regal decor is dotted with contemporary art, like the glass sculpture over the fireplace and a standing panel of photography.
Relais Christine's entrance courtyard
Room 11, where I stayed.
It has a private backyard. Other rooms have outdoor patios as well, that open onto a shared lawn.
A leafy nook for sitting with a glass of wine or a cup of tea.
The lobby at Relais Christine is more like a living room.
At Airelles Château de Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle, the furniture and artwork are replicas of 18th-century pieces.
One of the sitting rooms
The outdoor dining area looks onto the Orangerie.
The dishes, made by Limoges, are exact replicas of an 1833 set belonging to King Louis Philippe, the last king of France. He is the king who turned Versailles into a museum.


I tried out two very different types of hotels: a grand hotel that made me feel like I was living in a palace, and an intimate boutique relais that made me feel like I was living in a cozy mansion. Both had a few key things in common that made my trip feel safer and less stressful.

My first stay was at Le Meurice, an elegant palace built in 1835 with many distinctions: Queen Victoria stayed here in 1855, and it was the first hotel in Paris to have a telephone and, later, to have private bathrooms in each room. The amenities and service here continue to be as impressive as those, especially the views. Ask for a room facing the Tuileries garden directly across from the hotel; and open the French doors to let in fresh air and to see all the way from the Louvre to the Grand Palais and the Eiffel Tower. (The fifth and sixth floors have balconies; floors one through four have windows.) But don’t forget to keep your eyes open inside, too: There are contemporary artworks placed throughout the public spaces.

The hotel is in a prime location in the 1st arondissement right on Rue de Rivoli, within walking distance of the Louvre, the d’Orsay, and plenty of restaurants and shops on both the Right and Left banks. Don’t miss the hotel’s own newly reopened eateries either: Alain Ducasse’s Restaurant le Meurice has two Michelin stars.

My second stop was the Relais Christine, where the word charming might have been invented. You enter the hotel through a private courtyard rich with greenery; there’s even a little loveseat nook under a trellis where you can have drinks. Inside, the lobby and breakfast area are outfitted with gem-colored couches, textured wallpaper, and plush pillows. It is all very elegant, yet unstuffy and homey—like if you had a cool, down-to-earth duchess for a cousin and she invited you to stay for the weekend. Many of the 48 rooms have outdoor space, and #11 has its own private backyard. I loved how Relais Christine was right in the middle of the lively shops and restaurants of the Saint-Germain-des-Pres neighborhood, but tucked away just off the main roads on a small, quiet street.

At Versailles, there’s a new hotel that is getting a lot of buzz, the Airelles Château de Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle. It’s set in an 1861 palace building (called Le Grand Contrôle) originally used for schmoozing with ambassadors, artists, and other political and cultural bigwigs.  Each room is decorated differently with re-creations of period artwork and furniture, and the staff wear period-inspired uniforms as well. The entire venue has only 14 rooms, an Alain Ducasse restaurant, and exclusive guest perks such as access to areas of Versailles that are normally off-limits and after-hours tours of the palace.  The right local travel fixer, such as as the Paris specialist I used for my trip, can also plan these for you.

Transparency disclosure: So that I could investigate Paris on your behalf, Le Meurice and Relais Christine each provided two nights’ complimentary accommodations.  Jennifer Virgilio arranged for a day of private guiding with Isabelle, for which I paid 550 euros—and she was worth every cent!


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.

Paros Greece Prodromos Village (

The Time to Go to Paros is Now

Paros Greece Podromos Village (
I turned a corner in the little village of Prodromos and was surprised by these bright flowers.
Paros Greece Lefkes Village
Lefkes is another small village, with a few restaurants and art galleries.
Paros Greece Lefkes Village
I loved the experience of wandering through villages like Lefkes and finding nooks like this.
In Parikia, the restaurants looked like magic gardens, especially when lit up at night. This was Daphne, and the food was delicious.
In Parikia, the restaurants were lively and busy, but no one really eats until about 8pm so if you come to town before that it's quieter.
This is what raw marble looks like.
The stonecutter pointed out different marbles from different Greek islands, all on display here.
When the Venetians ruled in the 13th century, they stole marble columns from ancient temples to build their own towers. Can you spot them?
Parilio hotel opened in 2019 and has a kind of California-meets-Greek island feel.
Each of the rooms has its own private patio or terrace. This was mine.
Since the days are so hot, guests usually hit the pool in the late afternoon.


The Greek island of Paros is like the goldilocks of the Cyclades. It’s not too scene-y and it’s not too sleepy—it’s the just-right mix of serene and relaxed, with a dash of nightlife and glam. But now is the time to go. Cruise ships have yet to return en masse this summer, so there’s a unique window of opportunity now. When the airport starts to allow international flights in 2023, even more visitors will flock to this idyllic isle.

Paros (just an hour’s ferry ride from Naxos, where I started my island hopping) has two main towns and a bunch of small villages—and it’s worth visiting as many as you can, to get a feel for the different sides of Paros.

Parikia is the main town, and it’s where you’ll disembark from the ferry, but don’t be put off by the busy, taxi-lined port. Stroll a few streets in, and you’ll be happily lost in a maze of white-washed, stone-paved alleys, where bougainvillea spills around corners and over walls, and restaurants are tucked under trellises overflowing with greenery and lights. (Fun fact: The streets and homes in the Cyclades islands were originally painted white by dictatorial decree in the 1930s—the whitewash is limestone, which is antibacterial and was supposed to combat sickness.)

Both towns are buzzing at night, with plenty of restaurants and shops that stay open late. During my time there, I heard lots of English, French, German, and Greek conversations emanating from the tables. It’s not overly busy yet, especially in the smaller villages, but cruise ships will start to arrive around the third week of June.

Lefkes and Prodromos are smaller villages, a little more off the beaten path, but absolute must-visits. Both are tiny and quaint (Lefkes has one guy who sweeps the whole town to keep it clean, and the entrance to Prodromos has a covered walkway where the townspeople hang out in the evening), but there are great cultural gems to be found in each. A mini art scene is burgeoning in Lefkes, with new photography and ceramics galleries joining veteran artist studios; and in Prodromos, you can feast with the town’s old timers at Tsitsanis, where the Giannis family has been cooking dishes with the ingredients from their own garden since 1969.

There’s also an ancient art scene, of sorts, on Paros. Since antiquity, Parian marble has been famed as the most translucent, purest white, and finest-grained marble in the world. The Venus de Milo and the Nike of Samothrace were carved from Parian marble, so that gives you an idea of how prized it was. The ancient quarries with that highest-quality marble are now closed for mining, but newer quarries are still excavating valuable stone that is used for houses as well as art. My guide took me to meet a stoneworker at his factory outside the village of Marathi, and he gave me a quick lesson in the different marbles from around the Greek islands and how it is quarried and carved.

Marble is everywhere on Paros, not just in the sculptures. Look for it in the door frames of the houses in Parikia (the Venetians added it to strengthen against earthquakes), and it even paves the Byzantine Road that connects Lefkes to Prodromos. You can hike the path, or any of Paros’s many other walking trails, and then finish with a strong Greek coffee at Tsitsanis.

While the island itself is beautiful, you should make time to get out on the water as well. Private and small-group boat tours will take you out for swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing, and beach visits on Antiparos (where Tom Hanks has a house).

Or you may just want to laze by the pool at your hotel for the hot part of the day. I stayed at the serene, stylish Parilio, where every room is a suite with its own private patio or terrace, the pool is a work of art with boulders accenting each end, and the concierge staff is excellent. Not only did they provide restaurant, activity, and beach recommendations at all hours in person or via a WhatsApp number that they provide you at check-in, but they arranged a Covid test for me prior to my departure to France and then helped communicate with the doctor when my results were late.

Such good-natured service was not unique to the hotel. Every shop I entered, every restaurant I sat down in—really, every Greek person I encountered—was genuinely happy to see travelers coming back. Even through the masks, you could see—and feel—that they were smiling.


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.

Naxos is the Greek Island You’ve Been Looking For

The island's long beaches are a big draw, but they're still not as crowded as on other islands.
Naxos is the largest of the Cyclades islands, but it feels homey and small.
The Portata, an ancient entry gate to a temple for Apollo
Naxos is lauded for its cheeses. These are made by the Koufopoulos family, who've been producing cheeses for four generations.
Kyriakos Tziblakis runs the market his grandfather started. Every shelf is packed with local items, from honey and olives to spices and clay pots.
Kitron liqueur is only produced on Naxos, and Katerina Probonas's family has been distilling it for more than 100 years.
Kitron comes from the citron fruit, which looks like a big green lemon but is more sour. Katerina's shop sells candied slices, and they are delicious.
Naxos Town, the main town on the island, is lined with whitewashed buildings and splashes of colorful flowers.
In town, families and children were playing in the main plaza, and shops and restaurants were open late.
sunset over sailboats Naxos Town Greece
Sunset from the Naxos Town plaza rivals the Santorini experience—and with none of the same crowds.


The Greek island of Naxos is known for its beaches and turquoise water, but it should also be on your radar for the food specialities produced here, the hidden-in-plain-sight history, and the tranquil atmosphere.

Even though it’s the biggest island in the Cyclades, Naxos has dodged the overtourism challenges of neighboring Santorini and Mykonos so far, largely thanks to the absence of large cruise ships. When Greece opened to U.S. travelers in May, I talked to Mina Agnos, one of Wendy’s recommended travel fixers for Greece, about where I should go. I put Naxos on my itinerary in order to get off the beaten path, see its lauded beaches for myself, and investigate whether the pandemic has changed the island experience.

The scene: relaxed and comfortable

On Naxos, it is easy to feel like the pandemic doesn’t exist. Workers at shops, hotels, taxis, and restaurants do wear masks, wait staff also wear gloves, and hand sanitizer is everywhere, but since most of daily social life happens outdoors here, the rhythms and behaviors don’t feel different. Tavernas have lots of tables scattered down adorable stone alleys, historical sights are in the open air, and the Aegean sea breeze blows over the beaches. Even the communal areas at my hotel, the 18 Grapes, were outdoors: a pool with socially distanced lounges, an al fresco bar, a breakfast area with floor to ceiling doors that opened to the pool deck; plus, all the 18 rooms also have private terraces.

At night, the island’s main town (called Naxos Town or Chora Town), had many open restaurants along its narrow winding streets, but especially right by the water. Families and children were playing in the main plaza, and shops were open late, staffed by chatty, welcoming locals whose masks could not hide their happiness to have travelrs back. Don’t miss the sunset overlooking the harbor.

So in all the ways that mattered, my time here felt like a “normal” slice of Greek island life. If anything, time on Naxos feels even more slowed down than usual.

The food: fresh and farmed right here

Naxos is mostly known for its beaches and turquoise water, and those are indeed stunning, but it’s worth a visit for the agricultural products alone—they have a special character thanks to the island’s green mountains, mineral-rich soil, windy micro-climate, and tens of thousands of sheep, goats, and cows. Its potatoes are known throughout Greece, and you can try the rich, yellow spuds with dinner at any taverna on the island. Look for the option to get them with cheese and you’ll be adding Naxos’s other masterpiece.  I spent some delicious time sampling the island’s signature wheels with a fourth-generation cheesemaker from the Koufopoulos family, which has a farm on the island and a cute, stone-walled shop in town. Gloved and masked (and with no one else in the store), Maria handed me slices of two Naxian cheeses renowned throughout the Cyclades islands: arseniko (Greek for masculine), a hard, pungent cheese; and the milder, sweeter Graviera Naxou. Next she offered me a very unusual sour cheese called xinotyro and a delicious herbed variety made special by the family.

Naxos has yet another culinary distinction: It’s the only place that produces Kitron, a citrusy liqueur made from the citron fruit. I sipped a glass with Katerina Probonas, whose family has been distilling the drink for 106 years, and which also makes jams, candies, and other products from the fruit. I was surprised at how delicious the dried, candied slices were, because the fruit on its own can be sour.

In between, I stopped at a market run by the Tziblakis family for three generations, where you can buy herbs, honey, olives and olive oil, traditional cookware and clay pots (for baking my new favorite Cycladic chickpea-stew recipe), and cheese from small farms that don’t have their own shops. Kyriakos, the proprietor, let me try a few more slices, and explained that not only was everything in the shop made locally, the displays were even decorated with paintings by his wife.

My guide, Katia, was friends with everyone, and people waved and said hello even from the stores we didn’t stop in. For anyone interested in a deeper dive into the agricultural and culinary scene on Naxos, she can arrange an all-day, progressive-meal tour, where you can stop at several Naxian villages and farms and eat a different course at each one.

The beaches: beautiful and not too crowded

As for the beaches, they were peaceful, picturesque, and not too crowded at this point of the season (and only a few weeks after the country reopened to travelers). The sandy stretches here are longer than on the other popular islands so there’s more space to spread out and walk.  There are several beach areas around the island, so you can hop around and find your favorite. I was walked to the seaside village of Agios Prokopios from my hotel, where you can either rent one of the chaise lounges that various establishments have lined up on the sand (some farther apart than others) or bring your own blanket. And food can be ordered from shoreline restaurants and eaten al fresco.

The history: under your feet and at your fingertips

The iconic image of Naxos is the giant marble Portata, a gate standing 16 feet high over the port since 530 B.C. It is the entrance to what should have been a temple for Apollo but was never completed, and the structure is unusual because it doesn’t face east as most ancient Greek temples do, but rather toward the island of Delos, where Apollo was supposedly born. It’s also unusual because it’s just sitting there on the hill — there’s no entrance fee, there’s not even an entrance gate, it’s a literal open-air museum on a small hill that you can climb at any hour of the day (it’s a particularly beautiful sunset spot). This lack of walls and barriers is very Naxian. The island has several ancient treasures scattered around, including the unusually shaped Temple of Demeter and a sunken Mycenaean-era city, and the entire top of Naxos town is part of the 13th-century complex where the Venetians ruled their Duchy of the Archipelago. So just walking through the streets, you can see (and touch) remnants of the past if you know where to look: a cross of the Knights Templar hidden in a sone wall, a fabric-measuring mark used by the Duchess when tailors who came to the castle door, granite foundations of a church from the 6th century BC, and (my favorite) an ancient marble column that now stands nonchalantly next to a fruit stand.

“This is not a monument,” said my guide Katia as we wound through the old castle streets lined with houses. “People live here—you can see their laundry,” she said pointing. “This is what makes Naxos special.”

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.

Parthenon Acropolis Greece

What Athens is Like Right Now

Greece opened to U.S. travelers on May 15, and I flew there this week to see what it’s really like to be there now. First stop: Athens, where tourism had skyrocketed so high in 2019 that it caused concern about overcrowding. But as I peered out from the Acropolis, there was not a cruise ship to be seen in the port, and sights that would have been mobbed in pre-pandemic times were lively but comfortable. Here’s a tour through Athens and some insight into what has changed and what hasn’t.

The Acropolis

It’s the sight in Athens, of course, and it’s a good barometer for the tourism scene. As I walked up with my guide, Ifigenia, she remarked that, in pre-pandemic times, the wide path we were following would have been a sea of people. In fact, Greece had broken its own tourism records in 2019, topping 34 million visitors, and if you were at the Acropolis that summer, it would have felt like every single one of them was there (especially on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, which were cruise ship arrival days). The Acropolis in June 2021 is a stark contrast: At 10:30 am on a Friday, the ticket area, main entrance, and trails around the monuments were only sparsely peppered with people. I never had to jostle with anyone to get a good view or worry about anyone accidentally walking into my photos. Ifigenia got a kick out of the fact that we could simply stop walking at certain spots so that she could point out architectural details; before the pandemic, the momentum of the crowd would not have allowed for standing in place like that.

Logistics were easy: You can walk up to the ticket office and just buy your ticket—no advance online purchase necessary, no timed entries, no limited capacity. I do wonder if all of that will stay the same as the crowds build up again in the future, but for now the only rules I saw were: (1) You had to be masked (keep your ears open for a whistle: that’s the cue that someone is getting scolded for not having one on). (2) There was a limit to the number of people who could be at one particular lookout point. (3) Group tours are supposed to be limited to 14 (but we saw one that numbered 16).

Empty path to the Acropolis Athens Greece
My guide and I walked this path from the street below to the ticket booth and entrance to the Acropolis site. On a busy pre-pandemic day, the ticket line could stretch down it.
The Odeon of Herodes Atticus at the Acropolis Athens Greece
At this point along the path through the Acropolis, there'd normally be a line of people taking photos of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus.
Acropolis Athens Greece small crowd at main entrance (1)
These stairs to enter the main area of the ruins are usually packed with people.
Parthenon Acropolis Greece
Without all the crowds, I had no trouble finding a shady bench to relax on while my guide told me stories of Athena and Poseidon. No way those benches would have been empty in 2019.
selfie of a woman wearing a mask in front of the Parthenon at the Acropolis in Athens Greece
Everyone had to wear masks as they toured the ruins at the Acropolis, even though we were outside. And everyone did.
A guard limited the number of people allowed on this lookout point.
The rooftop restaurant at the Hotel Grand Bretagne has a clear view to the Acropolis.
The rooftop restaurant at the Hotel Grand Bretagne has a clear view to the Acropolis.


The Acropolis Museum

This beautiful, modern-looking museum is a great compliment to the ruins on the Acropolis—it’s ingeniously built with glass floors overlooking excavations too—and it is open pretty much as usual. You can get tickets online or at the desk when you walk in. I felt comfortable being indoors, as masks are required and there is a capacity limit\\. Besides, the space is sprawling and the ceilings are high, so even when there were other people around me, we were able to keep plenty of distance, and most of the layout is open—no small galleries or low ceilings. The museum’s outdoor restaurant is open too. Just a few areas and amenities (audio guides, gallery talks, the kids corner, the reading room, etc.) were unavailable.

The modern architecture of the Acropolis Museum still manages to take its ancient artifacts into account.
The museum is built over excavations, and you can see down to them when you're outside…
…and when you're inside.


The Hotel Grande Bretagne

I stayed at this historic hotel located on Syntagma Square, right across from the Parliament building. Built as a mansion for a wealthy Greek in 1842, the hotel still has that old-world, regal charm, but it doesn’t feel stuffy or dated.  Cases in point: Internet is free and fast, there are enough outlets for all my devices (including a USB port), and there are Pringles in the mini bar.

The hotel is part of the Marriott family and follows the Covid-era cleaning protocols of that umbrella brand: e.g., the TV remote is sanitized between guests and then enclosed in a plastic bag; the mini bar is sealed with a sticker to show it’s been cleaned since the last guest (a QR code on the sticker takes you to a page with all the cleaning protocols); and, in addition to the usual robe-and-slippers amenities, there’s a gift-boxed “safety kit” with wipes, a mask, and hand sanitizer. But the best perk of all: a window that opens! Ask for a room facing the Parliament building; mine had the one big window, but some others have balconies. And if your room is well placed, you’ll be able to watch the changing of the guard (see below) without leaving your room.

You could also watch the changing of the guard from the rooftop garden (where breakfast is served), but you’ll probably be too busy looking up: from here, you’ve got a sweeping panorama of the Athens skyline, from the Acropolis to Panathenaic Stadium. It’s a gorgeous way to start the day, especially if you can nab one of the tables that’s fully outdoors (the rest of the space is sort of semi-indoors). Although you can order a la carte, which I did, I found it surprising that the hotel was still serving a breakfast buffet; most of the food was kept behind Plexiglas and guests could only be served by the staff, but there was one table (breads and pastries) that was DIY and not well covered. And since people were getting up to go back to the buffet for several rounds, they didn’t always put their masks back on.

The hotel’s restaurants, shop, pool, spa, and pool bar are also open, and a welcome video kiosk in the hotel’s main lobby ran through some of the safety upgrades for those (socially distanced pool chairs, e.g.). I didn’t have enough time to check out all of those areas, but I did notice that while the video stated that a maximum of two people were allowed per elevator, I never saw any staff person monitoring any elevator, and I ended up on several lifts with three to four people. I could have easily avoided this by waiting for the next elevator to ride alone or by taking the stairs, but since I’m vaccinated and I was always double-masked indoors (and the other guests were masked too), I didn’t mind too much.

Overall, the hotel was really lovely, very comfortable, and made for an easy, stress-free stay.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Billie Cohen (@billietravels)

The changing of the guard

The changing of the guard might be one of the most Instagrammed events in Athens. All day every day, two members of the Evzones (the Presidential guard) stand motionless in front of the Hellenic Parliament and watch over the monument to the Unknown Soldier. They don’t crack smiles and they barely blink, and they even have a helper to make sure the kilt, tassles, pom-poms, and hat of their unique uniforms are all exactly in place. Then, at the top of every hour, they swing into action. The guards and their replacements lift knees, kick out legs, flex toes adorned with pom-poms, spin their rifles, drag their shoes to make a scuffing sound, and stomp their heels to make a click. It’s mesmerizing to watch—and it helps that their uniforms are so remarkable. During the week, they wear skirted summer khakis, but on Sundays at 11am the ceremony gets kicked up a notch: There’s a band, and the guards switch to their traditional white uniform that dates to the guards’ creation in 1868 — it’s intricately handmade and every piece has a symbolic meaning. For instance, the white kilt has 400 pleats to symbolize Greece’s 400 years of freedom from the Ottoman empire; and a taxi driver (so often full of great information!) told me that the shoe pom-poms used to hide knives for sneak attacks during battle.

The mini-show happens 24 hours a day, and even if you choose to watch at a peak time rather than in the middle of the night, you won’t have to share the plaza with the pre-pandemic hordes of tourists all jostling to take photos. Since it was right across from my hotel, I passed by several times, and I saw maybe 50 people at most in the plaza (at sunset), but usually only about a dozen. Other than that, the only about this ceremony that has changed because of Covid is that the guards wear masks.



View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Billie Cohen (@billietravels)

Shopping, dining, and neighborhood life

Plaka is the shopping and eating district around the Acropolis. Lined with souvenir stands, I expected it to be overly touristy and garish, but somehow its village-y charm keeps it from veering too far in that direction. Normally these streets would be thronged with visitors on their way to or from the Parthenon (and plenty of cruisers), but right now there are just enough people to make it feel lively but not overrun. The adjacent neighborhood of Monastiraki—where you’ll find a flea market, antique shops, and cool artsy coffee houses and restaurants—was similarly crowd-free and pleasant to stroll around. And I found Syntagma Square to be a hopping little park, with a color-changing fountain that glowed in the evening, groups of friends hanging out, and at least two busking musicians. At night, shops in all three neighborhoods stayed open late and restaurants were buzzing; their outdoor areas were cheerful and bright as diners lingered over meals. It all felt…normal. And invigorating too. It was clear that Greek locals and international visitors alike were happy to be out and about.

In Plaka, a more touristy neighborhood at the base of the Acropolis, shops were open and people were browsing, but it never felt overcrowded.
In Plaka, a more touristy neighborhood at the base of the Acropolis, shops were open and people were browsing, but it never felt overcrowded.
In Plaka, people were sitting outside cafes for coffee and lunch.
For a few short weeks at the end of May and beginning of June, the purple jacaranda trees in the National Garden bloom. If you're in the city during this time, it's worth walking through the park.
Many restaurants in Syntagma, Plaka, and other central neighborhoods had adorable outdoor set-ups.
Syntagma Square, right across from the Parliament building and the Grande Bretagne hotel, felt festive and safe. People strolled and stopped to listen to musicians.


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.

Aerial view of Athens Greece from airplane June 4 2021

6 Things I Learned About Taking an International Flight to a Recently Reopened Country

I’ve just landed in Greece, after a nine-hour nonstop flight from New York. Here are five things I learned about taking an international flight to a recently reopened country.

Check the situation at the gate at least an hour before boarding—it is likely to be hectic.

When I arrived at JFK two hours before my flight to Athens, I passed through security in less than a minute (really!), but at the gate I found a scene that was a mess. For one thing, the flight was packed—it was a big plane (2-4-2 configuration in economy) and nearly every single seat was taken, which meant that there were a ton of people huddled around the gate. But what made it worse was that everyone was queued up in a very, very long line for a reason that few people seemed to understand. Some thought it was the usual pre-boarding lineup. Others thought we had to get verified for something before we’d be allowed to board. Still others weren’t sure if this was a verification line only for people who had to show their Covid test and if there was a separate line for vaccinated people.

Delta representatives were at the gate, but they were not using a PA system to make announcements, just shouting occasionally—so you couldn’t hear anything. We all waited, wondering what we were supposed to be doing. I got the feeling that the airline staff was feeling the same way. As rules change and solidify for the countries we’re traveling to, the airlines are tasked with a lot of the prep work—and they don’t yet have good systems in place. This is why boarding was scheduled to start an hour before departure, but it was still a confusing hour. So if you’re the kind of traveler who usually saunters to the gate right around boarding time, do yourself a favor and (a) get to the airport at minimum two hours ahead of your flight and (b) head to the gate as soon as you get through security so that you can evaluate the situation and find out whether you need to start queuing up early for any verification process that has suddenly popped up.

In my case, it turned out that the airline staff wanted to look at everyone’s passport, boarding pass, and official Passenger Locator Form—a contact-tracing form from the Greek government that had to be submitted online prior to departure. (To make things more complicated, when some passengers had filled out the form, me included, they got confirmation emails that the QR-coded, approved document wouldn’t arrive in their email inbox until midnight on the day of their arrival in Greece—and since our flight was an overnight flight that started the day before, we only had proof of submission but not the actual approved form. In the end, the frazzled single Delta staff member tasked with checking the documentation allowed this, but there was a lot of stress among my fellow passengers as to whether they’d be allowed to board.)

Print everything out.

If you keep all your documents on your phone (boarding pass, vaccine/test proof, and any government-required health forms), you’re going to have to shuffle through a bunch of apps when an official asks to see each one. If it’s allowed, you might want to go old-school and print everything out on paper so you can hand over the stack in one fell swoop rather than wrestling with your phone. In fact, the Delta attendant asked me for a paper boarding pass—maybe it makes their lives a little easier too.

Carry a scarf—it’s even more important now.

This is a classic tip, but there’s a new reason why a scarf is part of my essential plane gear. Delta put a blanket and pillow on every seat (yes, even in economy) for the overnight flight, but I couldn’t help but wonder: How clean are they? How are airplane pillows sanitized? The blanket came wrapped in plastic, which I guess indicates that it came from the cleaners. However, the pillows were not wrapped in anything—it was just a pillow in a pillowcase, and I couldn’t tell if the pillowcases were disposable or had been cleaned, as they were just sitting there on the seat on top of the blanket. So throwing a scarf or an extra shirt over the top can act as a personal pillowcase.

Eat at a different time than everyone else.

We took off at 5:15 pm NYC time, and dinner was served shortly after we boarded. Of course everyone took off their masks to eat (quick shout-out to all the passengers, because almost everyone wore their masks correctly; and kudos to the Delta flight crew, who politely nudged noncompliant passengers throughout the flight). Even though I’m vaccinated, and I know that airplanes are pretty safe environments, I still didn’t feel entirely comfortable dining with a few hundred strangers with their masks off. So I decided to wait to have my meal until everyone around me had finished eating and put their masks back on. This had two additional perks: First, I was able to use the bathrooms before the inevitable post-meal rush left them nasty. Second, delaying my meal meant that I could go right to sleep after we took off and therefore get on Greece time more effectively (it was midnight in Greece when our flight took off, we landed at 10am, and I am writing this feeling well rested and ready to get on with my day). When I woke a few hours later, I could eat while everyone else was masked. (I had brought my own food, but if you prefer to eat what they’re handing out, ask a flight attendant to hold your meal.)

Look for open seats at the last minute.

On my way to the airport, I checked the seat plan on the Delta app to see if there were any open rows left on my flight. I already knew the plane was going to be packed, but I also knew there’d been a few of the paid “preferred” rows still available when I checked that morning, and I was considering using my miles to upgrade. But I wanted to wait until closer to the flight time because I also knew I’d be frustrated if I spent the miles expecting to have a two-seat row to myself only to have someone snatch up the other seat at the last second. It was a bit of a gamble, but it paid off: I got the aisle spot in a two-seat row, and no one took the window. I don’t know why that row was considered “preferred”—it wasn’t an exit row, and the seats were the same size as the others—but my 9,500 SkyMiles points purchase ended up being worth it. I had more space for my own Covid-related comfort, and I could stretch out to sleep. If you don’t want to upgrade to a premium class or even a comfort-plus category seat (which was sold out on this flight), you could try this hack and see if you can get a little more space at the last minute.

Get the VIP fast-track pick-up for when you land at your destination.

Ironically, the entry process once I landed in Greece ran a lot smoother, and took a lot less time, than the boarding process in New York. That’s partly because the ground staff in the country you’re traveling to probably knows exactly what they need and how the process works. But it’s also because Mina Agnos, one of Wendy’s recommended travel fixers for Greece, booked a VIP fast-track pick-up service for me: A guide met me with a sign before I entered the passport control area and whisked me past the line of other passengers. First I flashed my CDC vaccine card and my Passenger Locator Form (as promised, the official version with the QR code was in my inbox when I landed, although no one ended up actually scanning the code). Then my fast-track fixer brought me to a special, no-line window to get my passport stamp. Several dozen people were on the regular line, and I expect there would be even more of a crowd as our plane continued to unload all its passengers. Not only did this whole process take just a few minutes, but it also alleviated the stress of dealing with the unfamiliar logistics of our Covid-travel era. With my fast-track fixer at my side, I knew that if I ran into a problem, she could communicate with whatever authorities might have questions, aid me in solving them, and help me get any additional support I needed.

We’re Here to Help

Right now is a remarkable opportunity for global travelers who are vaccinated. When your friends say that travel is problematic as a result of the pandemic—rental cars aren’t available, service even at 5-star hotels is shoddy—the problem is they’re not planning their trips right! Travel can be spectacular now if you choose the right destination, know the savviest local fixers, and approach them the optimal way. Check out these recent trip reviews to see the difference that Wendy’s WOW approach to trip planning makes. And if you’re looking for a similarly carefree travel experience, contact us at Ask Wendy.

plain open ocean looking out to the horizon

Cruises: When Can We Sail Again? How Will It Be Different?

This summer ships will be sailing again—in the Caribbean, in the Greek Islands, on European rivers, on Alaska’s coast—and maybe out of other U.S. ports too. In this live Q&A, cruise specialists on The WOW List and cruise journalist Carolyn Spencer Brown told us how cruise lines, both large and small, are wooing travelers back onboard, putting new safety standards in place, and changing both onboard and shoreside experiences.

Our conversation touched on so many interesting aspects of what travelers can expect from the cruise experience, including:

•How cruise lines are wooing travelers back

•New safety measures on large and small ships and river cruises

•How limited capacity and fewer ships will affect availability

•How the onboard experience is changing on large and small ships

•What shore excursions will be like going forward

•Covid logistics for multi-country cruises

•Onboard testing

•Cruise lines’ vaccination and documentation requirements

•Mask requirements onboard and on shore excursions

•When to cruise

•Where to cruise

•Christmas market cruises

•Alaska cruises and whether they can make stops in Canada

•Small expedition cruises

•The cruises that are already operating in the U.S.

•How the pandemic has created opportunities for the cruise industry as a whole to improve

The panelists:

Carolyn Spencer Brown, former editor-in-chief of CruiseCritic.com who’s now at Carolynspencerbrown.com

Tom Baker, WOW List Trusted Travel Expert for Cruises, including Large Ships, Luxury Ships, and River Cruises. (Read reviews of Tom here.)

Ashton Palmer, WOW List Trusted Travel Expert for Small-Ship Expedition Cruises, Antarctica, and the Arctic. (Read reviews of Ashton here.)

More Q&A videos:

You’ll find the Zoom recordings of our previous travel Q&As in our new Travel Talk Videos section, including Q&As on last-minute trips, what vaccinated travelers do and don’t need to worry about, and understanding travel insurance in this new era. And, if you’d like to travel this summer while minimizing your risk and maximizing your experience, you’ll find wise solutions via Ask Wendy. We know which places are safest and smartest, and which local fixers can ensure an easy and extraordinary trip. Check out these recent international trip reviews to understand the huge difference that this makes

We’re Here to Help

Right now is a remarkable opportunity for global travelers who are vaccinated. When your friends say that travel is problematic as a result of the pandemic—rental cars aren’t available, service even at 5-star hotels is shoddy—the problem is they’re not planning their trips right! Travel can be spectacular now if you choose the right destination, know the savviest local fixers, and approach them the optimal way. Check out these recent trip reviews to see the difference that Wendy’s WOW approach to trip planning makes. And if you’re looking for a similarly carefree travel experience, contact us at Ask Wendy.

man at a cafe in Medellin Colombia

Dispatch from Colombia: It’s Open, and Open-Air

Colombia is just a three-hour flight from Miami and five hours from New York. So, if you’re ready to board a plane, the country’s diverse landscapes—Caribbean beaches, Amazon rainforest, lush jungle, snow-capped mountains—are within reach for a week-long or maybe even a long-weekend escape (or even a three-month trip, as one reader just experienced and reviewed). Those landscapes offer plenty of open-air experiences and space for social distancing, and entry requirements are pretty easy to tackle too: U.S. travelers just need proof of a negative Covid test taken within 96 hours of their departure from the U.S. (see How to Get a Quick Covid Test for Travel).

So we touched base with Marc Beale and Boris Seckovic, two Trusted Travel Experts for Colombia on Wendy’s WOW List who live in the Medellin area. Marc has remained in Colombia throughout the pandemic, and they’ve both been closely tracking travel rules and Covid safety protocols. We spoke to them to find out what it’s like to be in Colombia now, and what travelers can expect.

*This article is part of a series in which we are following the pioneers on Wendy’s WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts as they road-test their reopened destinations anew. Remember, these are the trip planners with the highest standards in the world—they’ve earned these stellar reviews—so we’ll ask them how local safety protocols measure up; the savviest ways to sightsee and explore; and the safest places to stay, eat, and get health care if necessary. In other words, we’ll follow them as they do all the in-country legwork so that you don’t have to.

Colombia - Colorful painted buildings in the town of Guatape

The town of Guatape is in a lake region not far from Medellin. Photo: Marc Beale

You live in Colombia. Where have you traveled within the country during the pandemic, and how was it different?

Marc: My wife and I were in Cartagena in the fall, and it was fun and enjoyable. To go to Café Del Mar and have a beer on the city walls, for example—we didn’t have to make a reservation. It’s a big, open, outdoor space, and normally you can just walk in and sit at a table. But now they have only one entrance, so you have to queue up, and they have to disinfect your table before seating you. But once you sit down, it’s the normal Café Del Mar experience.

My family has also spent time in a lake area called El Peñol and Guatapé, which is a day trip from Medellin. El Peñol and Guatapé is totally open to visitors. It’s a very outdoorsy area, so it’s pretty Covid-safe. One of the fun things to do is to climb this huge rock with 700 steps called El Peñón, and you get an amazing view over the countryside. The village itself is open, and it’s very pretty to walk around. So really, apart from having to wear a mask and go with a local guide, there’s no difference from pre-Covid. Face masks are mandatory in all public areas (even outside my house I have to wear a mask).

Where do travelers usually want to go in Colombia, and can you go there now?

Marc: Almost everyone goes to Bogotá, the coffee region, and Cartagena. Probably half come to Medellin, and half go to the Amazon or Tayrona National Park or one of the islands. All of these places are open now; there’s no region that has been shut off.

Boris: In the Amazon, though, we’re not taking travelers to visit the indigenous communities. If Covid were to get into a community there, it would be devastating because people there don’t have access to hospitals.

What’s worse than before the pandemic? What’s better?

Boris: Colombia is a lot about its people, and the Colombian smile goes a long way to make your trip stand out. One thing that’s different, with all the mask-wearing, is that a lot of social cues and warmth are harder to express. We wonder how that barrier will affect how guests experience Colombia. We tell this to travelers, but they’re so eager to come anyway.

Transportation is more challenging: The flights, the entry requirements, the forms… they’re changing all the time. But people are aware of the hurdles and they still want to come. We have travelers who are coming in February; they’ll be starting in the coffee region, then going to Cartagena, and then spending a few nights on an island. They have already taken a few trips during the pandemic, and they’re aware of the hurdles.

In terms of in-country experiences and activities, though, not that much has changed. In fact, it’s easier to get access to certain experiences and places now because there are fewer travelers around and people have more open schedules.

Whether it’s getting travelers into our favorite rooms at a hotel, or getting them our favorite slots to see a particular nature sight, or access to journalists or ranking officials to have lunch with, or musicians to meet—in the past, that has proven challenging during peak tourist periods. But now, that’s a lot easier to organize.

View of pool area from Luxury Room at Sofitel Legend Santa Clara

Hotels, like the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara, have to meet protocols of bio-safety. Photo: Marc Beale

What are hotels like now, and how are they accommodating safety concerns?

Marc: In order for hotels to reopen, they need to meet protocols of bio-safety. When you enter, you are stopped in your tracks—you have to disinfect your shoes, then disinfect your hands with gel. Some have really fancy contraptions that you stand in front of and they take your temperature automatically. Every hotel has an in-room pack for you with antibacterial gel, a face-mask, and a reminder of protocols. They are not sending room cleaning regularly; you can schedule it for when you want, so you can monitor who comes in and out of your room.

When I was at the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara in Cartagena, there were a lot fewer sun loungers around the pool. They have a very big pool area and normally it’s full, but they had removed loungers and spaced them out more, and you had to reserve them. Also, that hotel normally has one of the best breakfast spreads in Colombia: so much variety of fruits, hams, cheeses, pastries, coffees, teas, cooked stuff—it’s amazing. Now, though, you have to order from the menu (which is all QR code). There’s no spread. Hopefully it will come back at some point.

outdoor restaurant near Medellin Colombia with a wooden deck and chairs and pretty lights on the awning

Colombia’s mild weather lends itself to outdoor dining, like at this restaurant outside of Medellin. Photo: Marc Beale

What is it like to go to a restaurant?

Marc: Cartagena is an outdoor dining place anyway, but they’ve put even more tables and chairs outside. In Medellin, they’ve blocked off a popular thoroughfare with trees and made it a pedestrian area with a lot of outdoor seating. Tonight I’m going down for dinner made by one of our favorite chefs

You can’t go inside a restaurant here without protocols: Disinfect your shoes, step onto the mat, disinfect your hands, take your temperature. And you can’t walk in off the street; you need to make a reservation. The capacity has been reduced in order to space tables. And if you’re waiting in line, there are footpads on the ground showing you where to stand.

If you sit indoors and dine, there’s atmosphere—there will be other people. Yes, the tables are farther apart, and there are no physical menus, and the waiters are in masks 100% of the time, but you can take yours off. You’ll feel like it’s a relatively normal experience.

Travelers who are coming from a country where there’s a hard lockdown will find Colombia quite free. Here, everything is open.

Boris: Keep in mind as well that Colombia is a tropical country, so the weather doesn’t change much year-round. The temperature depends on the elevation. Bogotá is the highest and coldest city, but even that’s like a September day in New York, so they have outdoor seating anyway, and heaters if it gets colder. Medellin has spring weather that’s ideal for sitting outside. And Cartagena is the opposite of Bogotá: During the day it might be hot to sit outside comfortably, but in the evening it’s cooler and nice outdoors. Most restaurants are requiring a reservation, but cafes and bars not so much.

What Covid protocols have you and your staff put in place?

Marc: We’ve upgraded our vehicles to be bigger, so if you’re a family of four, you’re in your own vehicle that we previously would have used for a group of ten. We recommend opening windows for fresh air instead of using air-conditioning. Our local English-speaking guides wear masks all the time and stay two meters away from you, and we’ve spoken to each and every one of them about Covid safety.

What has the pandemic made surprisingly nice right now?

Marc: People will find the country quieter and more relaxed. It’s nicer to be in places where there’s just less people around.

Boris: Colombians are very grateful for visitors right now, and people will find how lovely and welcoming they are.

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.

Understanding Travel Insurance in the Covid Era: What you need and where to get it

We’ve gotten so many questions about travel insurance during Covid that we devoted one of our WOW Week travel talks to the topic. The WendyPerrin.com team was joined by three experts on travel insurance and evacuation assistance: Stan Sandberg of travelinsurance.com, Meghan Walch of insuremytrip.com, and Sheri Howell of Medjet. Below are the top six takeaways from our talk, and you can watch the full video above.

Many travel insurance plans have added coverage for pandemics.

Before Covid, it was standard for insurance plans to exclude coverage due to an epidemic or pandemic. Now, some plans—but not all of them—are treating Covid like any other medical illness; they will cover trip cancellation or interruption due to Covid, or medical bills if you are diagnosed with it during your trip. To confirm your policy’s particular coverage, read the disclosures or speak with an agent before you purchase.

Standalone medical coverage is cheap.

Most travelers are looking for a “comprehensive” travel insurance policy: one that covers their nonrefundable trip payments plus any medical expenses that arise during travel. If your main concern is covering illness or injury, you can save hundreds of dollars by foregoing coverage for trip cancellation or interruption. (Annual policies generally only provide medical coverage, and are a good option if you take more than four trips per year.)

For insurance that covers preexisting medical conditions or allows you to “cancel for any reason,” act quickly.

These pieces of coverage are time-sensitive, which means that you’re only eligible for them if you purchase your policy within 10 to 21 days (depending on the carrier) of making your first trip deposit. For more details on “cancel for any reason” insurance, see “Cancel For Any Reason” CFAR Travel Insurance: What It Is and How It Works.

Travel insurance typically covers default of a hotel or other supplier, but not of a travel agency.

Say you put down a deposit for a reservation at a hotel that subsequently goes out of business. Many plans will cover you for financial default of a hotel. However, if your deposit is being held by a travel agency or other intermediary that goes under, your insurance might not reimburse you. To confirm that your financial investment is protected, speak with a representative of the insurance provider whose policy you plan to purchase and explain your specific situation. Click here to read more about travel insurance coverage for financial default.

If travel insurance is the cake, evacuation assistance that gets you back home is the icing.

If you have a medical emergency, most policies will cover your transportation to the nearest acceptable medical facility. If you fall off a horse at a ranch in Argentina, that could mean an ambulance ride to Buenos Aires. If you want to be transported back home, you need additional coverage from a program such as Medjet: Once you are hospitalized, they will transport you back home to the hospital of your choice. See also What Medical Evacuation Coverage Do You Need?

Don’t buy the insurance your airline tries to sell you when you book your flights.

Travel insurance is not one-size-fits-all. Use a comparison site such as travelinsurance.com or insuremytrip.com to search for the most cost-effective policies that best fit your particular needs, with the coverage limits you want.

There was a lot more great info shared by our travel-insurance experts; watch the video above to hear it all. And for a primer on the basics of travel insurance, read this article.




Close-up on a red closed sign in the window of a shop displaying the message "Closed due to Covid-19".

How to Protect Yourself in Case a Travel Company You Pay Goes Out of Business

Travel planning these days often requires that you make a large, non-refundable, advance payment. Here’s how to protect your investment:

Does travel insurance protect me if a travel company ceases operations?

Some comprehensive travel insurance policies will reimburse you for trip cancellation or interruption due to bankruptcy or financial default of your travel supplier: an airline, cruise line, or tour operator, for example. Many such policies will not cover you, however, if the company you used to book your trip—a travel agency or other intermediary—goes out of business. This is one area where policies differ widely, so to confirm that your financial investment is protected, speak with a representative of the insurance provider whose policy you plan to purchase and explain your specific situation.

When do I need to purchase this insurance?

Within a couple of weeks after putting down your deposit toward a trip. One reason why is that coverage for financial default may be activated only if you buy insurance within 10 to 21 days (depending on the policy) after making your initial trip payment. You also usually can’t file a claim for cancellation due to financial default until 10 to 14 days after you’ve purchased the policy. Note that you may not be covered if your trip is years out: Some policies limit financial-default claims to trips taken within 12 or 15 months of purchasing your insurance.

Will the policy offered by my cruise line protect me if the cruise line goes out of business?

No. Some travel companies—cruise lines, tour operators, and such—sell their own insurance or “protection” policies. The premiums may seem attractive, but you will not be covered if that company financially defaults. Instead, you need the protection of third-party insurance—meaning, a policy written by someone other than the travel company that is operating your trip.

Am I protected if I pay by credit card?

If you don’t receive an item or service that you paid for by credit card, you can dispute that particular charge. But what if your airline goes under the day before your trip and you can’t find another way to get to your destination, so you’re out the $5,000 you spent on nonrefundable hotel reservations? In that case, your credit card provider will credit you the cost of the flights, but it won’t help with the hotel stays (because the hotels are still operating). A travel insurance policy with a financial-default clause, however, will cover all of your losses because you were forced to cancel your entire trip.

For more guidance on the right insurance for your particular needs, read How to Buy Travel Insurance: What It Covers, When You Need It.


Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.


coastal town Vieste Italy with text that says Italy's reopening what travelers can expect

Italy’s Reopening: What Travelers Can Expect


Everyone loves Italy, but what will it really be like now that it’s reopening to travelers? We gathered  Italy trip-planning specialists who live and work there for a live Q&A on May 12, 2021.  The event was part of our series of live travel talks. (You can watch previous talks here, and find out about upcoming talks by signing up here. For full details about Italy’s opening plans and “Covid-tested” quarantine-free flights, see “The Countries That Are Open to U.S. Travelers and What You’ll Find There“).

The big takeaways: Travelers can still do the things they love, they can cook outdoors, they can visit wineries and olive groves, they can go to Capri and the islands, they can rent a villa, they can explore the historical sights and museums, they will likely even be able to see the opera. But all five of our guests emphasized that the minute U.S. travelers are allowed in, the most charming hotels and in-demand experiences for summer will fill up fast, given the capacity restrictions in place for safety. So if you’re thinking of going, stop thinking and start planning.

You can reach out to any of the travel specialists featured in our talk by using Wendy’s WOW List of road-tested trip planners around the world. If you contact them this way, they’ll know you’re a VIP sent by Wendy, you’ll get all the benefits that come with that, and you can start your way to earning a WOW Moment from Wendy (a complimentary, exclusive, insider travel experience).

Here’s how you can reach them. If you’re not sure who will be the right planner for your trip, write to us at Ask Wendy. As journalists, it’s our job to review and road-test trip designers—that’s how we curate The WOW List, and it’s how we make recommendations to you.

WOW List–recommended Italy specialists

Andrea Grisdale  — Italy
Read reviews of Andrea, and contact her through The WOW List

Jennifer Virgilio – Italy and France
Read reviews of Jennifer, and contact her through The WOW List

Maria Landers + Brian Dore – Italy and Switzerland
Read reviews of Maria and Brian, and contact them through The WOW List

Marcello Baglioni  – Sicily
Read reviews of Marcello, and contact him through The WOW List

Your Italy questions, answered

  • Will tourist sites require a vaccine? 4:54
  • How do travelers get the required covid test before they come back to the US? 5:57
  • Are the country’s trains running normally? 6:45 (also 55:25)
  • Andrea’s summer pick 8:32
  • How is the situation on Capri? 8:48
  • What is it like in Rome? Are sights, restaurants, and museums open? 9:47
  • Jennifer’s summer pick 15:53
  • How have Umbria and Tuscany been affected? 17:54
  • What is the outlook for cultural events, such as festivals and concerts? 21:29
  • Are culinary experiences and cooking trips still possible? 23:42
  • Villa vacation rentals: where do you recommend, is everything already booked? 27:07
  • What are the pros and cons of renting a villa in Tuscany at this moment? 28:45
  • Is it possible to stay in a castle in Italy? 30:50
  • The benefits of renting a villa in the wintertime for the holidays 32:39
  • What it the best time this year to visit Sicily? 34:23
  • What would it be like to take a boat and visit the Aeolian Islands now? 37:55
  • Are the restrictions the same on Sicily as they are on the mainland? 54:28
  • The dates for Italy’s expected opening 40:15  (for the latest updates, check The Countries That Are Open to U.S. Travelers and What You’ll Find There)
  • What will be accepted as proof of vaccination? 41:49
  • What are the mask rules in Italy? 43:41
  • What do you know about traveling from other EU countries to Italy? 44:40
  • Can you explain the “Covid-free flight” to Italy? 46:10
  • How is the vaccination program going in Italy? 50:19
  • Would you recommend Puglia, Sicily, or the Lakes region as less crowded (but equally or more interesting in terms of food and culture) than Florence, Rome, or Naples? 51:10
  • Are the restrictions in Italy the same as they are on the mainland? 54:28
  • Is it realistic to expect the authentic Italian experience in 2021? 56:26
  • New hotels and renovations 1:02:01
  • What happens if someone gets sick on a trip, will tourists have difficulties receiving medical care if necessary? 1:05:57
  • Recommendations for Italian winter holiday trips 1:08:03


Learn about our upcoming live Q&A travel talks

We will be doing more travel talks on specific destinations as they open and other timely topics, and our newsletter is where you’ll hear about them, so be sure to sign up. We send it 1-2/week and it’s always personally written by Wendy, Brook, or Billie — no spam. You can find our already published Zoom recordings here.

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.

Where to Travel in 2021: What’s open, what’s worth it

Every week more countries are reopening to U.S. travelers, but which will deliver a Covid-era experience you’ll be happy with?  We asked our WOW Listers based around the world to share on-the-ground intelligence in a live conversation and Q&A on May 3, 2021. During this WOW Week talk, they shared smart options for travelers and weighed in on whether you’re better off going soon, or later this year, or next year instead.

The hour was packed with valuable trip-planning insights, which we’ve outlined here for quick reference.  Watch the video above for the full conversation (start at 3:25, which is when viewers had arrived and we got started in earnest.)  For a complete list of the countries that are open to U.S. travelers now, click here.  And for a list of the countries where vaccinated U.S. travelers can go with no pre-trip testing required, click here.

North America

The most popular U.S. national parks will be packed this summer. Forward the video to 10:40 to learn about lesser-known yet spectacular national parks.  Read reviews of superb national-park trips that our readers have taken during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire to ensure your own national-parks trip is extraordinary.

To hear about Colorado ski resorts in summertime (where you’ll find 5-star hotels at 3-star prices) and Hawaii specials, skip to 13:10. Read reviews of exciting ski-resort and tropical-resort vacations during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire for a five-star mountain or beach vacation.

To learn how to visit Disney World safely, skipping the lines and enjoying private experiences, forward the video to 16:10.  Read reviews of Disney trips during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire for a low-risk, high-reward Disney trip.

For Alaska by small expedition ship (think Glacier Bay all to yourself, with no large cruise ships and everyone on your ship vaccinated), skip to 17:45.  Use our questionnaire for a low-risk Alaska adventure.

To learn about safe travel to Mexico, with no pre-trip Covid testing required, skip to 20:47.  Read reviews of successful Mexico trips during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire for a low-risk, high-reward experience there.

Tropical Islands

Think Belize for Caribbean beaches, coral reefs, and boating adventures, and forward the video to 25:00. Read reviews of Belize trips during the pandemic so you can understand why we’re recommending it so highly, and use our questionnaire for a low-risk, low-hassle trip there.

If your dream is a private overwater bungalow in Tahiti or Bora Bora, skip to 28:30 to learn how French Polynesia has kept Covid cases low. Read reviews of these islands during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire to get your own extraordinary experience of French Polynesia.

To learn about safe sailing in the Galapagos Islands, with few other boats around, skip to 32:00. Read reviews of Galapagos trips during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire for a low-risk, high-reward trip there.

Pre-Covid-style private-island idylls in the Maldives are addressed at 36:14. Read about Brook’s trip to the Maldives during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire for a low-risk, high-reward trip there.

“Outdoor Museums”: A Unique Moment for Iconic Sights Without the Crowds

Soak up Croatia‘s medieval walled towns and charming islands, minus the tour groups and cruise hordes that normally pack the streets in summertime.  Learn more at 48:06.  Read reviews of carefully planned Croatia trips during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire for your own low-risk, high-reward experience there.

Turkey‘s legendary archaeological sites are all but empty, no tour groups or cruise crowds in sight.  Watch the video at 50:42, and use our questionnaire for an extraordinary Turkey trip.

In Morocco,  you can stroll the winding alleyways in the medinas of Marrakech and Fez with few people around and enjoy private, plush, well-ventilated villas, with external entrances off charming courtyards, at a great value. Watch at 1:16:08, and use our questionnaire for an extraordinary Morocco trip.

Egypt has few visitors at its tombs and temples now, and you can spend most of your time outdoors, sailing in feluccas along the Nile and dining al fresco. Skip to 1:13:10 to learn more, and use our questionnaire for an extraordinary Egypt trip.

African Safaris: If You’re Vaccinated, an Optimal Moment is Actually Right Now

A well-constructed Kenya safari can be safe from start to finish, with physical distancing, private vehicles, standalone accommodations, and abundant wildlife throughout.  Local infections are low in much of Africa, and in Victoria Falls, the gateway to Zimbabwe, the entire local population has been vaccinated.  Watch at 1:03:18 and read reviews of safe safaris during the pandemic. Then use our questionnaire for your own low-risk, extraordinary safari.

In Botswana, Namibia, and Zambia, private and socially-distanced experiences are easily had now, and you will pay much less this year than next. (As we learned from professor of pathology Dr. Timothy Triche in our to-be-published-soon WOW Week Zoom talk on May 4, the situation in South Africa has improved dramatically, it looks like herd immunity has been reached there, and the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are highly effective against the South Africa variant.)  Watch at 1:05:50, and use our questionnaire for a low-risk, high-reward safari.

Western Europe: Summer and Fall Possibilities

Consider France in the fall, once the summer crowds from other European countries have dissipated.  Forward the video to 41:20, and use our questionnaire for an extraordinary trip to France.

Italy’s iconic museums and monuments, as well as transportation around the country, are all operating at reduced capacity, so book ahead to get the timing you want. A WOW trip should be feasible starting in July. Watch at 56:10, and use our questionnaire for an extraordinary trip to Italy.

Fall is a lovely time for Italy’s many outdoor delights, from ancient ruins to village-to-village hikes to cooking experiences on farms and in vineyards. Skip to 59:00 and use our questionnaire for safe itineraries in Italy’s countryside this fall.

Thanks to the success of the vaccination roll-outs in the U.S. and the United Kingdom, travel without quarantine could resume between the two countries as early as this summer. Watch at 1:01:17, and use our questionnaire for an extraordinary trip to the U.K.

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.

Smarter Airline Travel in 2021: Best flights, seats, and fares


In one of our travel talks for WOW Week 2021, air travel watchdogs Brett Snyder, founder of Cranky Concierge, and Gary Leff , founder of View From the Wing and Book Your Award, revealed what you can expect from airlines and airfares this year, when to buy your tickets, how to choose the safest flights, where to find business-class bargains, how to get the most value for your miles, and much more.

Our conversation included:

• Airfare pricing trends
• Domestic airfare vs. international airfare
• Business-class deals
• How frequent-flier programs have changed
• Airlines’ change fees and refund policies
• Health and safety while flying
• Airfare predictions for holiday travel in 2021
• Buying tickets through an online service vs. the airline or a travel agent

Here are excerpts from our talk; answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Airfare price predictions

Brett Snyder: It’s been an interesting roller coaster over the last year, to say the least. What we’re seeing with airfare now is that, as demand is starting to get a lot stronger domestically, a lot of those deals that we saw just a few months ago aren’t there anymore. There are still deals to be had, of course, depending on when you’re flying, but for the most part, fares are rising domestically.  Internationally, it’s a bit more of a crapshoot. I would say that, to some places that we know Americans can visit this year, it’s unlikely you’re going to find these amazing deals right now, and the airlines know that—they know where you can go.  But what we have seen a lot of is refundable fares that are much lower than they used to be in a lot of places. And that is really a nice option for people. The difference between non-refundable and refundable used to be so ridiculous that it just wasn’t worth considering. But that’s something that’s changed a lot. So, on the whole, if you see a hot destination where people are going, the chances are less that you’re going to get a better deal than if you’re going to somewhere else.

Gary Leff:  The general principle is the same that it’s always been: Where the price of airfare is driven by supply and demand, and where there are a lot of people wanting to travel somewhere, it’s going to cost more to get there. Back in March, I was able to buy $31 tickets from Austin, where I live, to Miami.  I’m not able to do anything like that anymore.  Airlines are going to scale back up their capacity—they’re beginning to do that over the next few weeks.  If the return of travel continues, as it seems highly likely to, we’re going to see airfares rise as well.

To Brett’s point about refundable tickets being cheaper:  There are deals on business-class tickets, but it varies by destination.  One of the things that’s changed is who’s traveling: The people who used to buy refundable tickets aren’t the ones who are traveling now or they’re not the ones buying the tickets for work. The people who were buying long-haul business class don’t have employers paying for it for business travel. And so there’s a compression as well to some extent. About a week ago, there were $900 roundtrips on TAP Air Portugal business class between the US and Europe. Now, that was a deal worth jumping on. It was before we saw some of the latest news about Europe’s opening.  United shared during their earnings call that, as soon as the word came out that Americans could visit Greece, the number of searches on their website skyrocketed, and the number of ticket purchases on their Athens flights skyrocketed. So, if you’re going where everyone else is going and searching where everyone else is searching, then it’s going to be more expensive, but not necessarily more expensive than it was before the pandemic. So we sort of need to attenuate our expectations. It’s not the $13 cross-country fares that we saw a year ago. But it is not outsized expense, relative to the past.

Bargain-hunting for international flights

Brett: It all goes back to supply and demand again, for the most part, but sometimes foreign airlines have mandates and just decide to do things that are less market-based than you’ll find from U.S. airlines. If China ever opens again, I would expect there would be a flood of low fares on the Chinese carriers. … Europe is a little bit tougher.

Gary: If you’re buying tickets now, you’re making a bet on the future. And certainly things have not always played out the way they’ve been expected to play out over the last year. And in COVID, we think we know what direction things are going,…but you’re making a bet on reopening and staying open. So it is certainly the case that you would be more inclined to have tickets on a carrier with some flexibility, and that you trust is going to, you know, be there. … I think there are going to be deals, and to Brett’s point, I think some of those deals will be on foreign carriers as they restart service, or as they attempt to gain traffic for the flights that they’re operating.

Frequent-flier programs in the Covid-travel era

Gary:  In some ways, they haven’t changed very much, although a couple of things that are worth highlighting: American Advantage, I really have to applaud something that they did, which is to eliminate cancellation and redeposit-of-miles fees. United is more flexible than they were, and if you cancel more than a month out, they’re not going to charge you a fee to put your miles back. American won’t charge any of their members at all for redepositing the miles on any of their awards. That means booking with them is something you can do, even if you think you might take the trip, and you can cancel later—and it’s really a risk-free proposition. Other than that, the miles you have in your account can only be used for ticketing one trip at a time. Giving that sort of flexibility and that kind of confidence is something that I think is really valuable.

But getting cheap fares is not really that different than getting award seats: it’s very difficult to get award seats when you’re looking to fly where everyone else wants to go when they want to go. … As a general rule, you get award availability when you’re flying where other people aren’t going or on the planes other people aren’t taking.

Holiday travel airfare

Gary: Holiday travel is always hard. In fact, holiday travel with miles and holiday travel with cash, you’re not seeing a whole lot of deals. This is one of the things that American Airlines Chief Revenue Officer Vasu Raja talked about on their earnings call: They’re not releasing their cheap fares for the holidays yet, because they’re taking a wait-and-see attitude on passenger demand. They could fill all these flights really cheap now, but they think they may have a shot at filling them at a higher price point later on. And so the old advice about booking three months out, but for the holidays maybe six months out, is maybe not quite right. I think it’s much more along the lines of: Look for the flight that you want, whether it’s revenue or on an award, and when you find it, grab it. There’s more flexibility than there used to be in terms of changeability and in terms of returning miles. So grab it, and then consider improving or, if your plans change, retaining a credit or putting your miles back, or if you see a better deal come along later.

Watch the video to learn more about how to get the best flights, seats, and fares in 2021.


We’re Here to Help

Right now is a remarkable opportunity for global travelers who are vaccinated. When your friends say that travel is problematic as a result of the pandemic—rental cars aren’t available, service even at 5-star hotels is shoddy—the problem is they’re not planning their trips right! Travel can be spectacular now if you choose the right destination, know the savviest local fixers, and approach them the optimal way. Check out these recent trip reviews to see the difference that Wendy’s WOW approach to trip planning makes. And if you’re looking for a similarly carefree travel experience, contact 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.