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By The Way
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Europe travel is complicated. Take these 7 tips from travelers who just went.

Rovinj, Croatia, on June 6. (Brian Tan)

As Europe continues reopening its borders to Americans, travelers are jumping at the opportunity to return to the continent. Entry requirements are different depending on the country you’re visiting, but one thing remains the same: It’s complicated to go to Europe right now.

“It seems like every airline and every airport is rapidly trying to keep up and figure out what the rules are,” said Konrad Waliszewski, CEO and co-founder of planning platform Tripscout, who recently traveled to Poland.

Over and over, Waliszewski said he kept receiving conflicting information from airlines and airport employees. Requirements changed depending on whom he encountered.

“Everything worked out just fine, but it seemed like there was always a conversation,” he said.

To help you navigate some of the confusion, we spoke with travelers and travel professionals who recently visited Europe to get their advice.

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Double, triple or quadruple check your flight information

Virtuoso travel adviser Dasha Westerfield, who owns River Oaks Travel Concierge, took a two-week trip to Croatia with her family earlier in June and found the experience “absolutely wonderful,” she said.

While she found people welcoming and day-to-day activities easy, getting to the country came with hurdles.

The day before their trip, Westerfield reviewed their United Airlines itinerary and saw that one of their flights was operated by another carrier, which had canceled.

She called United and the family was given a completely new itinerary. But that caused a panic because of earlier flight times and coronavirus restrictions of the countries they were being routed through. Westerfield’s family ran to the United desk and explained their situation, and they rebooked on a new flight later that day.

“I think everybody is so confused, and they are at the mercy of the check-in counter who may have misinterpreted, misread or misunderstood what is going on,” Westerfield said.

Her advice to travelers is to be overprepared for mishaps by checking country and airline requirements repeatedly before your trip, and, “if you can get a direct flight to wherever you are going, it’s probably going to be the best option,” she said.

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Plan your coronavirus tests scrupulously

For now, traveling to Europe largely requires getting a coronavirus test. It’s required by some countries to enter, but also required to return to the United States.

Dugald McGinness, head of partnerships at Quintessentially, a luxury travel and lifestyle company, recently traveled to Britain, Portugal and France for work and vacation. Although certain parts of the journey were seamless (it only took him five minutes to get from the plane to the baggage terminal in London), testing and quarantining came with headaches.

“The quarantine in the U.K — it was just unnecessarily expensive,” McGinness said.

Before his flight from Britain to Portugal, McGinness needed to take a PCR test within a 72-hour time window. He paid about $150 for one in London, but the test results didn’t come through in time.

“It was a public holiday, so it never even reached the lab,” he said. “So then I had to pay another 200 pounds for a test to receive the results within a matter of hours, a day before my flight.”

Travel influencers Collette and Scott Stohler ran into trouble when the coronavirus tests they took before their trip on a quarantine-free flight to Italy were rejected because of a time-zone confusion at the lab processing their results.

“We heard after talking to customer service that they didn’t check the time zone, so it wasn’t within the 48-hour [requirement],” Scott Stohler said. The Stohlers had to book another test and were accepted.

Both the Stohlers’ and McGinness’s advice for travelers is to be incredibly careful planning any coronavirus testing, and have a backup plan (and backup funds).

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Pack and protect your vaccine card

Just like you’d do for your passport, make copies of your vaccine card and keep them separately from the original. For example, if you have the original one in your wallet, keep a copy in your luggage or carry-on bag.

Brian Tan, founder and CEO of the travel company Zicasso, who traveled from San Francisco to Croatia with his wife earlier in June, stapled his original vaccine card into the back of his passport.

Waliszewski has kept his original card on him and constantly checks to make sure it’s with him throughout his travels. In a close call at the airport, Waliszewski realized it was gone shortly after leaving the check-in counter. He went back to ask if it had fallen on the ground or been left behind, and the airline employee said it wasn’t there. Only after Waliszewski’s insistence did they double check, and they found it on the floor behind the counter.

Moral of the story: Keep tabs on your vaccination passport card. It’s required for entry by some European countries, or it will allow you to bypass long quarantines in a hotel room in others.

You may have to upload your testing or vaccine information into a country’s vaccine passport system (but you’ll still want to carry the original card just in case).

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Don’t expect airlines, or the destination, to tell you everything

As soon as travel writer Angel Fernando Castellanos heard about Italy accepting American travelers on quarantine-free flights, he booked one through American Airlines. But he felt like he was on his own to figure out the exact requirements.

“American Airlines didn’t do a lot of hand-holding to be truthful,” Castellanos said. “They send an email explaining everything, but it’s very vague.”

Castellanos found the Italian government sites to be more useful. That’s where he discovered a trick for booking an appointment for his coronavirus test at the airport, which allowed him to bypass a long line on arrival in Italy.

However, McGinness found that government websites weren’t always up to date and had to check multiple sources for the latest requirements.

“To do the research and find the right the right information … it’s so conflicting and it’s constantly changing,” he said.

Stick to visiting one country

As rules change and airlines scramble to keep up with the latest requirements, transportation can come with added hurdles. Even though many Americans enjoy bopping around to multiple countries during their trips to Europe, Tan doesn’t encourage doing so at this point of the pandemic.

“We recommend people limit the number of countries that you fly and travel to,” Tan said. “You could potentially waste a lot of time in the logistics of the flights, and taking a lot longer to get from one country to the next. … Your transfers are going to affect you.”

While airlines are working out the kinks of reopening Europe, travelers may experience unexpected hurdles at the airport, wasting precious vacation hours in lines. Sticking to one country also reduces stress as coronavirus risks remain present.

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“Covid is so unpredictable,” Tan said. “If an outbreak happens in one country, for example, due to a variant like what’s happening in the U.K. now … then the next country might require quarantine if you’re coming from the other country. That could mess up your plans, right?”

Alice Marshall, who owns a New York-based public relations firm specializing in luxury travel and goods, and traveled to Greece for work in June, agreed.

“I would say going to one country is just easier,” she said. “I was going to go on to France and it just started to seem too confusing to have to put another layer of rules on top of that.”

Expect things to go wrong

En route to Greece, Marshall realized she hadn’t signed part of her entry documents before boarding her Delta flight. Because her Passenger Locator Form was incomplete, she wasn’t given a QR code that vouched for her vaccination status (a.k.a. a vaccine passport or digital covid certificate). Instead, she had to take a coronavirus test before boarding.

“They almost didn’t let me on the plane, but I was not the only one,” she said. “They didn’t make you feel really stupid or anything. They said, ‘Well, unfortunately, you have to go in this other really long line,’ because they were having people have a rapid test.”

Waliszewski ran into trouble transferring flights in London because he didn’t factor Britain’s covid requirements into his travel plans. Tan and his wife nearly missed their flight because of a system error with their reservation.

“They messed up my wife’s data, so they thought she was a 10-year-old child and therefore would not let her get her boarding pass,” he said.

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Appreciate the unique experience

For all of the travelers, the hang-ups were minor in comparison to the joy of taking international trips again.

Without hordes of international tourists, McGinness loved how visiting Europe right now meant seeing it with mostly locals.

“There may be less tourists, but all of the locals are very much out and about after six months of isolation, so there’s definitely a vibe, and it’s still very positive,” McGinness said.

The Stohlers, who visited Paris just as the city’s curfew was extended and outdoor mask mandates lifted, said the energy was palpable.

“It really gave me hope for travel in the future,” Collette Stohler said. “Everybody is itching to get back out and needing that social connection — and that’s ultimately what travel is about: the people. And it’s happening. It’s all happening again.”