European Travel This Summer: How To Get There And What To Avoid

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Getting around Europe this summer won’t be easy. There are long lines at airports, possible mass transit strikes, and crowds of visitors.

"Traveling in Europe this summer can present some challenges," says Stephen Anderson, chief marketing officer at FocusPoint International, a travel risk management and crisis response company. "Mass transportation strikes, for example, can create headaches for tourists with preset plans for getting around European cities to take in the culture and landmarks."

Making matters worse: Almost everyone wants to be in Europe this summer. Daniel Durazo, director of external communications at Allianz Partners USA, says Americans' interest in traveling to Europe is "explosive."

"Our latest International Travel Confidence Index also found that a majority of Europeans plan to vacation within their own countries this summer," he adds. "Italians and Spaniards lead the way, packing beaches and countryside destinations with global travelers and likely straining transportation systems during a recovery."

Last week, I shared my ultimate guide on traveling to Europe this summer. In part two of this series, I'm focusing on transportation issues.

What do you need to know about traveling to Europe this summer?

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about traveling in Europe:

Can I vacation in Europe this summer?

Yes. Virtually all of the pandemic restrictions have been lifted in Europe. But getting to Europe might be a challenge. Flights are full and transportation systems have been disrupted because of labor shortages.

What should I avoid in Europe?

You'll avoid a headache if you can steer clear the most touristy areas on the busiest days of the summer travel season. For example, I spent last Saturday in Paris' 1st Arrondissement. It was overcrowded with foreign visitors. Also, if you hear of a transportation strike or an airport that is particularly overcrowded, stay away if you can.

Is it a good time to travel to Europe now?

It depends. If you like warm weather, this is the time to be in Europe. But everyone else wants to be here, too, which means prices are higher. Flights and trains are crowded. If you like quiet vacations, this is definitely not the time to be in Europe.

Will Europe really shut down in August?

Yes. It's the most popular vacation month. So in addition to the foreign tourists, you'll be sharing your hotel with locals. Plus, many local businesses, such as restaurants, cafes and gift shops, may be closed for the month. August could be chaos in Europe if the predictions are accurate.

What you need to know about flying in Europe this summer

You've probably seen the images of the mountains of luggage in London's Heathrow airport or the lines out the door in Amsterdam's airport terminals. That's still happening, and it's making air travel in Europe one of the least desirable modes of transportation.

Michael Stalf, who runs a car rental company in Germany, describes the situation as a "horror story."

"We have summer holidays in some federal states, and all the airports and the airlines are completely understaffed," he says. "It has led to many canceled flights and delays."

There's even some discussion about importing foreign workers to ease the labor shortage.

"Airlines are struggling to keep up with the demand," says Valentina O'Kane, a travel advisor with Incognito Global Travel. "Airlines are rescheduling or canceling flights with little, if any, notice to travelers."

Her advice: Arrive as early as possible for your international flights. Two hours is not enough. You'll need at least three to get through check-in and security. Also, pack a carry-on with two to three days' worth of clothes, in case of an unexpected layover.

My consumer advocacy site has more strategies for dealing with canceled or delayed flights. It will help you get around Europe this summer.

What you need to know if you're taking the train in Europe

Most trains are operating normally in Europe this summer. But strikes are always a possibility. In Athens and Paris, residents with whom I talked always mentioned the fear of mass transit strikes.

"The British rail workers' strike in the United Kingdom may indicate more future strikes throughout Europe to improve their job security," explains Bryn Culbert, a budget travel expert at travel booking platform Wanderu.

She says careful research can prevent your summer trip from getting derailed.

"For example, if you're planning a train trip throughout France, do a quick online search for the country's transportation unions. Check out their social media profiles for announcements of upcoming actions," she says. "You'll quickly see that the SUD-Rail union in France is planning a strike for July, so that might not be a good day to travel by TGV."

If you believe labor unrest could affect your ability to get around Europe, consider a new mode of transportation. That will usually mean traveling by bus or renting a car.

Should I rent a car in Europe this summer?

If you can find one — and if you can afford fuel.

The auto rental shortages that plagued U.S. car rental companies have also affected European operators. Renters report that in some cases, rates have doubled over pre-pandemic levels.

Experts say you should ensure you have a car rental reservation before you leave for Europe — preferably made at the same time you make your airline reservations.

Stalf, the car rental agency owner, says even though cars offer the most flexibility in Europe, they're among the most expensive ways to get around.

"Gasoline prices are at a record high in Germany," he says. "The government introduced a reduced gasoline tax in Germany for June, July and August, but still prices are high. And in the other European countries, it is the same situation."

How expensive is getting around Europe by car? Experts say you should budget around $15 per 100 kilometers just for gasoline.

The bottom line on transportation options in Europe this summer

The summer of 2022 will be one of the busiest — if not the busiest — in modern travel.

If you're going to Europe, you'll want to choose your mode of transportation carefully. Each one has its downside. Air travel is fast but crowded and often unreliable. A rental car offers flexibility, but it's expensive. Mass transit is better for the environment and more cost-effective — but watch out for labor unrest.

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