You’ve probably seen the photos of the mountains of luggage at London’s Heathrow Airport. You’ve heard of the heat wave. And maybe you have friends who caught the Covid while they were in Europe.
With everything going on, you might need a better guide to traveling Europe this summer.
“Tourism is back,” says David Corsun, director of the Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management at the University of Denver. “Hotels are full. Flights are full. Restaurants are full.”
According to new projections from Allianz Partners, American travel to Europe will increase by 600% compared to last summer.
Europeans are also traveling more. A new survey by insurance company Europ Assistance Group has revealed that 71% of Europeans intend to travel during the summer. That’s an increase of 14 percentage points from 2021.
But you don’t have to get stuck in a crowd and miss the best part of your European vacation. Europe has changed since the pandemic, in big and small ways. You may not be able to avoid a summer heat wave, but experts say that with a little planning and some insider strategies, you can avoid the crowds and high prices – and still have a great vacation.
This is the first part of a two-part series on summer travel in Europe. In our next story, we’ll look at how travel has changed based on mode of transportation and type of accommodation.
What’s new in Europe this summer?
If you haven’t been to Europe for a few years, here are some differences you might notice:
Europe is cheaper
The euro is at its lowest level against the dollar since 2017. (The euro is only worth $1.06, so it’s practically at par.) “This makes traveling around Europe extremely attractive for the ‘savvy saver,’ says Hussein Fazal, CEO of Snapcommerce, an AI-powered mobile commerce platform. “There are some differences in inflation rates, but overall your dollar should take you further.” Flights to Europe are also cheaper. A new survey from CheapAir.com shows the lowest average international airfare to Europe is down 15.1% from a year ago. Last year, flights to Europe from cities across the United States cost an average of $1,070. This year, the lowest average price is $908.
Covid-19 is gone – but it’s still here
Most testing requirements were dropped this summer, including those for returning to the United States. But I have heard of many travelers who have fallen ill in Europe and had to extend their trip. “While you no longer need a negative Covid test to return to the US, I think it has given many a false sense of ease when traveling to Europe,” says travel consultant Jenna Swan luxury at Embark Beyond.
Cash is no longer king
During the pandemic, many businesses have switched to contactless payment systems. Some companies now prefer electronic payments. And some businesses, including airlines, will no longer accept cash. Suzanne Wolko, a travel expert who has just returned from a whirlwind tour of London, Madrid, Barcelona and Paris, says it’s the biggest change she’s noticed. “Everyone uses credit cards,” she says. “I didn’t use cash during my two weeks of traveling through three countries. I did everything with a simple swipe of my credit card.”
Travelers expect more from their holidays in Europe
After sitting on the sidelines for two years, travelers coming to Europe expect more. “Travellers who come to Europe are different,” explains Jérôme Montantème, general manager of Fauchon L’Hôtel Paris, a new boutique establishment. “They are more demanding. This means that travelers visiting Paris and other major European cities have raised their vacation expectations. Guests don’t want to waste time at the hotel waiting in line.
Is it safe to visit Europe this summer?
According to the US State Department, sort of. The government advises a level 2 “increased caution” for the most popular summer destinations. For instance:
Of course, it depends on where you are going and what you are doing. (Here’s my series on summer travel tips.)
“Preparation is key,” says Alex Twiggs, director of business development at World Travel Protection. “Understanding that travel is not exactly the same as before the pandemic is important to ensure a smooth journey. Some people traveling for the first time in over 18 months, I would recommend going back to basics.”
Twiggs says you have to remember that different countries are emerging from the pandemic at different speeds. Even if everything seems normal, your hotel facilities may still be closed. He says if you’re traveling for business and your company has a travel risk management partner, contact them before you go to understand the security risks.
It’s the hardest part of being in Europe now
I live in Paris and have heard complaints about crowds and long lines at museums and attractions. But with a few expert tips, you can easily avoid them. (I’ll get to that in a minute.)
The hardest part is a combination of the weather and the lack of amenities. A heat wave scorched Paris last weekend. Temperatures soared into the 90s. My small apartment in the 19th arrondissement has no air conditioning, which makes things a bit uncomfortable. My friends in the UK have also complained about the extreme heat. They also don’t have air conditioning.
On the hottest day of the year, I visited the Center Pompidou, the modern art museum in Paris. The Pompidou escalators, which are in plastic tubes outside the building, warmed up in the midday sun. The temperature inside was almost unbearable, but the art inside was still captivating.
My contacts at Fauchon reminded me that hotels like theirs do have air conditioning. So if you want to stay comfortable, you might want to check into a European hotel with air conditioning this summer.
A guide to traveling Europe this summer: try these pro tips
Here’s what the experts are saying about traveling to Europe this summer:
Plan as far in advance as possible
This means start planning your trip now. “Europe is busier than ever,” says Roula Noujeim, spokesperson for the Hôtel de Crillon in Paris. “We’re operating near capacity for much of the summer. So the last thing we want is for someone to miss out because they haven’t focused on their bookings and routes. ” Here is my guide to planning a trip.
Give yourself plenty of time
“Arrive at the airport with free time,” says Angie Licea, president of Global Travel Collection. “Don’t wait an hour before departure or you risk missing your flight. Queues are very long at the counter, baggage check and security.” For domestic flights, Licea recommends arriving two hours before departure. For international flights, go to the airport three to four hours before departure. “Anticipate delays,” she adds.
Consider another destination
“To avoid the crowds, consider going to some of the smaller towns, outside of the tourist hotspots,” advises travel consultant Kristin Winkaffe of Winkaffe Global Travel. If you dream of Florence, think of a small Tuscan village like Lucca, she says. “You can still experience the delicious food, the wine and the art – but also enjoy the wonderful views of the city without overwhelming numbers of tourists in your way,” she says. Also try Paxos, Greece instead of Santorini. Thinking outside the box this summer can be the difference between a calm and rewarding vacation and one that goes off the rails.
Know the Hazards
According to Randy Haight, senior director of FocusPoint, the most common travel risk in most European countries is illness or injury. “Travelers should be aware of health risks, which could impact their trip,” he says. Most experts recommend travel insurance, but not all policies cover everything. For example, if your policy covers travel reimbursement in the event of illness, you might still need a medical evacuation policy such as CAP Tripside Assistance, which offers medical evacuation to the hospital of your choice at no additional cost. .
Most tourists, especially Americans who suffer from jet lag, like to sleep and have a leisurely breakfast. Experts say it’s bad instincts, even if it’s your vacation. “In crowded spaces like Rome, get up early to see the main sights,” advises Susan Sherren, founder of Couture Global Trips, a travel agency. “The crowds will overwhelm you if you sleep in and go out later in the day. Ditch those late-night European meals and go to bed early.”
Major European attractions may be busy this summer, but it’s a traffic jam at the weekend. “Try to go to major cities or landmarks on weekdays rather than weekends,” advises Allie Balin, catering manager at Deep Dive Hospitality. She has just returned from a trip to Europe and witnessed almost unbelievable crowds. “Buy tickets to popular landmarks, like the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum, well in advance. Also, make hotel, restaurant and transportation reservations well in advance.” Otherwise, you may have nowhere to go.
This is the advice of Ilia Jones, who has just returned from Spain. “Be flexible with your budget, your schedule, and the expectations of your travel experience,” says Jones, who works for a company that provides expat insurance. “Each country in Europe has handled the pandemic differently, it seems, so staying aware and respectful of each country you visit will make your journey much smoother.” The biggest stressor for travelers right now is the sheer volume of people going overseas. “Do your research and be respectful, flexible and patient,” she adds.
Are you going to Europe? Don’t wait to make your plans
Bottom line: If you’re heading to Europe this summer, plan ahead, opt for other destinations, and be patient.
But more than anything else, don’t wait.
“If you are planning to travel to Europe this summer and your arrangements are not finalized, you will have difficulty finding accommodation and renting cars,” warns Berry Versfeld, travel consultant at Ovation Networks.
It’s going to be an interesting summer. With the lifting of CDC testing requirements for travelers returning to the United States, Europe will be on many Americans’ “must see” list. With a few insider strategies – and a lot of patience – you can still enjoy your vacation in Europe.