The Ultimate Guide To Traveling To Europe This Summer
You’ve probably seen the pictures of the mountains of luggage at London’s Heathrow Airport. You’ve heard about the heat wave. And maybe you have friends who got Covid while they were in Europe.
With all that’s happening, maybe you need a better guide to traveling to Europe this summer.
“Tourism is back,” says David Corsun, director of the University of Denver’s Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management. “Hotels are full. Flights are full. Restaurants are full.”
Travel by Americans to Europe will soar 600 percent over last summer, according to new projections by Allianz Partners.
Europeans are traveling more, too. A new survey by insurance company Europ Assistance Group found that 71% of Europeans intend to travel during the summer. That’s a 14 percentage point increase compared to 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 heatwave, but experts say that with a little planning and insider strategies, you can sidestep the crowds and high prices — and still have a great vacation.
This is part one of a two-part series on summer travel to Europe. In our next story, we’ll look at how travel has changed based on transportation mode and accommodation type.
What’s new in Europe this summer?
If you haven’t been to Europe in a few years, here are a few differences you might notice:
Europe is less expensive
The euro is at its lowest level against the dollar since 2017. (The euro is worth only $1.06, so, so it’s practically at parity.) “This makes traveling across Europe extremely attractive for the savvy saver,” says Hussein Fazal, CEO of Snapcommerce, an AI-driven mobile commerce platform. “There are some differences in inflation rates, but overall, your dollar should take you further.” Flights to Europe are cheaper, too. A new survey by CheapAir.com shows that the average lowest international airfare to Europe is down 15.1% from last year. Last year, flights to Europe departing from cities across the U.S. averaged $1,070. This year, the lowest average price is $908.
Covid-19 is gone — but it’s still here
Most testing requirements have been dropped this summer, including those for returning to the States. But I’ve heard from many travelers who got sick in Europe and had to extend their trip. “Although you no longer need a negative Covid test to return to the U.S., I believe it has given many a false sense of ease when traveling to Europe,” says Jenna Swan, a luxury travel advisor with Embark Beyond.
Cash is no longer king
During the pandemic, many businesses made a switch to contactless payment systems. Some companies now prefer electronic payments. And some companies, including airlines, won’t accept cash anymore. Suzanne Wolko, a travel expert who just returned from a whirlwind tour of London, Madrid, Barcelona and Paris, says that was the most significant change she noticed. “Everyone is using credit cards,” she says. “I did not use cash during my two weeks of travel in three countries. I did everything with a tap of my credit card.”
Travelers expect more from their European vacation
After sitting on the sidelines for two years, the travelers coming to Europe expect more. “The travelers coming to Europe are different,” says Jérôme Montantème, general manager of Fauchon L’Hôtel Paris, a new boutique property. “They are more demanding.” That means travelers visiting Paris and other large European cities have raised their expectations about a vacation. Guests don’t want to waste any time at the hotel standing in line.
Is it safe to visit Europe this summer?
According to the U.S. State Department, sort of. The government advises a Level 2 “increased caution” for the most popular summer destinations. For example:
- Britain is a Level 2 due to terrorism concerns.
- France is also a Level 2 because of terrorism and civil unrest, mostly in Paris.
- Germany is a Level 2 because of higher Covid infection levels and terrorism.
- Italy also is a Level 2 because of terrorism concerns.
Of course, it depends on where you go and what you do. (Here’s my series on summer travel advice.)
“Preparation is key,” says Alex Twiggs, business development director at World Travel Protection. “Understanding that travel isn’t exactly the same as before the pandemic is important to ensure a smooth journey. With some people traveling for the first time in over 18 months, I’d recommend going back to basics.”
Twiggs says you should remember that different countries are emerging from the pandemic at different speeds. Even though everything appears to be normal, your hotel’s facilities may still be closed. He says if you’re traveling on business and your company has a travel risk management partner, reach out to them before you go to understand any security risks.
This is the hardest part about being in Europe now
I’m living in Paris and have heard complaints about the crowds and long lines in museums and attractions. But with a few expert tips, you can easily avoid those. (I’ll get to them in a minute.)
The hardest part is a combination of weather and lack of amenities. A heatwave scorched Paris last weekend. Temperatures climbed into the high 90s. My small apartment in the 19th Arrondissement has no air conditioning, making things a little uncomfortable. My friends in the U.K. have also been complaining about the extreme heat. They don’t have air conditioning, either.
On the hottest day of the year, I visited the Centre Pompidou, the modern art museum in Paris. The Pompidou’s escalators, which are in plastic tubes outside the building, heated up in the midday sun. The temperature inside was almost unbearable, but the art inside was as riveting as ever.
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 to Europe this summer: Try these pro tips
Here’s what experts are saying about traveling to Europe this summer:
Plan as far ahead as possible
That means start planning your trip now. ”Europe is busier than ever,” says Roula Noujeim, a spokeswoman for the Hôtel de Crillon in Paris. “We are operating at almost full capacity for much of the summer. So the last thing we want is for someone to miss out because they hadn’t focused on their reservations and itineraries.” Here’s my guide on planning a trip.
Give yourself plenty of time
“Get to the airport with time to spare,” says Angie Licea, president of Global Travel Collection. “Don’t wait until an hour before departure or you may miss your flight. Lines are very long at the ticket counter, baggage check, and security.” For domestic flights, Licea recommends arriving two hours before departure. For international flights, get to the airport three to four hours before departure. “Anticipate delays,” she adds.
Consider an alternate destination
“To avoid the crowds, consider going to some of the smaller towns, outside the tourist hot spots,” advises travel advisor Kristin Winkaffe of Winkaffe Global Travel. If you dream of Florence, consider a small Tuscan village like Lucca, she says. “You can still experience the delicious food, wine, and experience the art — but also get the gorgeous city views without an overwhelming number of tourists in your way,” she says. Also, try Paxos, Greece, instead of Santorini. Going off the beaten path this summer can mean the difference between a calm, rewarding vacation and one that goes off the rails.
Know the dangers
The most common travel risk in most European countries is sickness or injury, according to Randy Haight, a senior director at FocusPoint. “Travelers should be aware of health risks, which could impact their travel,” he says. Most experts recommend travel insurance, but not all policies cover everything. For example, if your policy covers trip reimbursement in case of sickness, 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 the Americans who are jet-lagging — like to sleep in and eat a leisurely breakfast. Experts say that’s the wrong instinct, even if it’s your vacation. “In crowded spaces like Rome, get up early to see the major touristic spots,” advises Susan Sherren, founder of Couture Global Trips, a travel agency. “Crowds will swamp you if you sleep in and head out the door later in the day. Forego those late-night European meals and head to bed early.”
Europe’s big attractions may be busy this summer, but it’s gridlock on the weekends. “Try to go to major cities or landmarks on weekdays instead of weekends,” advises Allie Balin, food and beverage director for Deep Dive Hospitality. She just returned from a trip to Europe and witnessed the almost unbelievable crowds. “Buy tickets for popular landmarks, like the Eiffel Tower or Colosseum, well in advance. Also, make hotel, restaurant, and transportation reservations well in advance.” Otherwise, you might not have anywhere to go.
That’s the advice of Ilia Jones, who just returned from Spain. “Be flexible with your budget, timing, and expectations of your travel experience,” says Jones, who works for a company that provides insurance to expatriates. “Each country in Europe has handled the pandemic differently, it seems, so staying aware and respectful of each country you visit will make your trip run much smoother.” At the moment, the biggest stressor for travelers is the sheer volume of people going abroad. “Do your research and be respectful, flexible — and patient,” she adds.
Going to Europe? Don’t wait to make your plans
Bottom line: If you’re headed to Europe this summer, plan ahead, go for alternate destinations, and pack your patience.
But more than anything else, don’t wait.
“If you are planning to travel to Europe this summer and don’t have your arrangements finalized, you will experience difficulties trying to obtain accommodation and renting autos,” warns Berry Versfeld, a travel advisor with Ovation Networks.
It’s going to be an interesting summer. With the CDC’s testing requirements lifted for travelers returning to the United States, Europe will be on many Americans’ “must-visit” list. With a few insider strategies — and a lot of patience — you can still enjoy your European vacation.