After a year of restricted access to Europe, American travelers are finally being welcomed back to the continent.
If you’re one of those optimistic travelers, here’s what you need to know as you book travel to Europe this year.
You can buy plane tickets, but destination regulations could change.
As with anything during the pandemic, what is true today could change tomorrow. While the current outlook for E.U. travel looks hopeful, there’s no guarantee your trip will go according to schedule. Included in the E.U. guidance is an “emergency brake” that will stop travel between places where cases are spiking to reduce the risk of spreading new variants.
Jen Moyse, senior director of product for the travel app TripIt, says travelers should keep their eye on destinations’ infection rates and regulations. Some regions will admit only vaccinated travelers from specific countries, for example. You may want to be wary of near-future bookings to places with high infection rates, because of personal health risks and the strict regulations likely to be in effect during your visit. Additionally, should cases continue to spike, borders may not open or could close again.
In addition to apps such as TripIt, Moyse says, travelers can reference information from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control and Re-open EU to stay up to date on infection rates, entry and exit rules, testing requirements, and local guidelines.
Inventory may be limited, and not all bookings will be flexible.
You’re not the only person ready to book a trip to Europe this year. Not only are rooms and other reservations filling up fast, prices are expected to rise as well.
Danny Finkel, chief travel officer for the travel management company TripActions, says it’s in a traveler’s best interest to book flights and accommodations ASAP, as long as they can be canceled or changed easily. Reserving your tickets or hotel rooms may benefit you from a supply-and-demand perspective, because once they do officially open, Finkel expects an onslaught of bookings.
Once you do find something to book, Alisa Cohen, founder of the Virtuoso travel agency Luxe Traveler Club, says to avoid putting any money down for your reservation unless you know it’s easy to cancel or change without financial penalty.
“I think a lot of people got burned [last year] having to fight for deposits back,” she says. “So I think it gives you so much more consumer travel confidence if you are just making a reservation but you’re not paying for anything.”
Moyse urges travelers to find options that offer as much flexibility as possible. That means flights with no change fees and vacation rentals that won’t penalize a last-minute cancellation due to border closures or illness in your family. Read the fine print of your reservation policy carefully before booking any significant part of your trip.
You’ll need immunization proof along the way.
Depending on the country they’re visiting, travelers will have to prove that they’re either vaccinated, have recently recovered from covid-19 or have taken a PCR test within an approved time window of their trip, or agree to quarantine on arrival.
While there is no one-size-fits-all for entry requirements, you will probably have to show proof of immunization via vaccine passport, which is just another name for a digital portal (i.e., an app) where you input that information for an airline or government. (You can read more about vaccine passports here.)
Moyse says that European countries are more likely to require health documentation than the United States and that many airlines are considering requirements as well. Travelers should be ready to show their official test results and vaccine cards, just as they would a passport.
Your vaccine card is your most prized possession for traveling, Cohen says. She recommends carrying your original card with your passport (or proof of a previous coronavirus infection or required coronavirus test results). She also suggests taking a picture of your vaccine card on your phone and making a printed copy to store separately from your passport. (Side note: Do not laminate your original vaccine card in case you need to get booster shots in the future.)
Finkel recommends that travelers carry some immunization proof with them, and not just at the airport. Countries like France and Italy are now requiring people to show their vaccination status (or recent covid test or documentation of recent recovery) to go to restaurants and bars, museums, events, among other venues.
Many countries are moving away from their mandatory quarantines upon arrival, allowing travelers to skip it if they have been vaccinated, recently recovered from covid-19 or show proof of a negative PCR test, says Adrian Hyzler, the chief medical officer of Healix International, a company that specializes in international security, medical and travel-assistance services.
For example, right now anyone who wants to visit Iceland, Finland, France and other countries, just has to prove that they are fully vaccinated or recently recovered from covid-19 to enter without quarantining.
Coronavirus restrictions will be different everywhere.
Cohen says travelers need to realize that just because borders are open, that doesn’t mean visiting a European country will be the same as a pre-pandemic trip.
The latest E.U. guidance is not binding, so some countries may have stricter policies than others, “whether that’s a curfew or whether that’s restaurants being closed or whether that’s small capacity where it’s hard to get reservations,” she says. “The key is really understanding what the country’s covid requirements are to understand how that would impact your trip.”
Do you want to visit Amsterdam if you can’t get a timed ticket to the Van Gogh Museum? Does your dream trip to Italy include pulling all-nighters at nightclubs? Make sure your vacation desires line up with what is allowed, and consider whether you would still enjoy a trip if the destination has to reinstate restrictions during your stay.
You’ll have to get a coronavirus test after your trip.
Before your flight home, you’ll need to take a PCR or rapid test. At this time, the United States still requires anyone traveling abroad to show their airline a negative test result taken within three days of departure or show proof that they have recovered from covid-19 in the past 90 days.
Have a Plan B.
Avoid heartbreak this summer by having a backup plan should your dream destination close its borders. Lindsey Renken, co-founder and chief executive of the new travel app Airheart, reminds travelers that last year Greece had a reopening plan that it had to change because of worsening coronavirus circumstances.
“And so everyone who was planning on that from the United States had to cancel their flights and hotels,” she says. “Just be aware that that could happen again.”
For peace of mind, Renken says, travelers should have a backup plan. The Airheart app allows users to create a short list of destinations and sends notifications if any regulations change.
Finkel says having a contingency plan doesn’t mean you need to be pessimistic about your European vacation future.
“I think we’re sort of at the tipping point for things to start opening up — for life to return to some sense of normalcy,” he says. “It’s hard because we don’t know exactly when the borders are going to open … but it’s going to happen. And as long as you’re vaccinated, the world is going to become accessible at our fingertips again.”