Thinking of a summertime trip to Europe? 5 factors to weigh

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Here in the United States, we are sprinting toward normality. More of the population is getting vaccinated and that’s causing a seachange of regulation and policy changes. Just a few days ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) relaxed its indoor mask guidance for vaccinated individuals. Fully vaccinated people no longer have to wear a mask or face covering in most indoor environments, even when in public. (Of course, local mask-wearing requirements may be in place and still need to be observed.)

People are starting to return to their normal routines — going shopping, dining out and attending sporting events. The pace of travel bookings has also quickened. While most of us have relied on staycations or domestic road trips over the past year, loosening travel restrictions to Europe have many of us thinking: Should I head to Europe this summer?

That’s the question I’m asking myself and here are the issues I’m working through to make that decision.

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Is the time right for visitors?

We are all itching to travel and either go back to our favorite spots or resume exploration of new places. But, respect for the local community is my first and foremost concern before booking an overseas trip right now.

Is this place emotionally and tactically ready to welcome visitors? Do they want to? Is summertime the right time for them to juggle not only the welfare of their own community but that of travelers as well?

And, of course, the community may be split on the best course of action. In December, TPG reported on Hawaii’s reopening and the conflicts within the local community. A faction was desperate for the return of tourists to boost the local economy, while others were more conservative and wanted more time to get COVID-19 under control before greeting an influx of outsiders.

As European countries, such as Croatia, Greece, France and Italy, ease travel restrictions and give the green light to American visitors, we must make our own determination if now is the right/best time to travel.

Check out TPG’s country-by-country guide to the return of European travel.

Greece in particular is signaling its desire for Americans to visit and with many cruise ships starting to sail from Piraeus (the port for Athens) this summer, an influx of travelers is expected.

Of course, it’s already mid-May and European countries are just now dipping their toes into the reopening waters. Could it be too late to actually energize people to make plans for this summer? That’s the theory posited by my colleague David Slotnik: Europe’s reopening may come too late to save the summer for airlines and travelers.

Before deciding on a particular country, check with its visitors’ bureau to gauge how ready the country is to welcome travelers.

And, of course, can you get the time off from work? Despite many U.S. businesses adopting remote work environments during the pandemic, most of us still need to ask for time off in advance, arrange for petting sitters and book arrangements with cash or points/miles. Last-minute trip planning isn’t possible — or enjoyable — for some people.

Health concerns: Theirs and mine

Health is the next obvious concern to ponder. I’m one of the 156.2 million Americans that has been vaccinated. With a population of around 332 million, of which 280 million people are eligible to receive a vaccine, 36.7% are fully vaccinated and 47.1% have received at least one dose. (The Washington Post collated this data as of 1 p.m. on May 16.)

I believe in the science and feel much safer post-vaccination — to the point that I am going back out into the world to meet with people to enjoy their company, patronize restaurants, shop, visit museums and more. I still follow all mask and social distancing rules because I respect others and want them to feel as comfortable venturing out into the world as I now do.

However, not every country has made as deep inroads as we have in terms of getting their people vaccinated. Before visiting a country this summer, you can check on its status to see the percentage of vaccinated individuals.

Here’s a chart showing the percentage of vaccinated people in nine of the most popular European countries as compared to the U.S. vaccination rate. (This data was collated by the Washington Post.)

CountryTotal doses given per 100k% of population partially vaccinated% of population completely vaccinated
Britan83,81854.3%29.5%
United States81,57747.1%36.7%
Iceland56,38740.8%18.0%
Germany47,41136.6%10.9%
Spain46,06031.7%14.8%
Italy44,79631.1%14.1%
Portugal43,20631.1%12.1%
France42,45129.5%13.2%
Greece40,05625.9%14.2%
Croatia33,11625.5%7.6%

The infrastructure of the medical community

In addition to knowing how the country is doing with its vaccination program, it’s also important to have an understanding of the country’s medical infrastructure. Are there enough hospital beds, doctors and nurses to care for the COVID-19 patients — and other patients — at hospitals across the nation?

Even if you don’t fall ill due to COVID-19 on an international trip, other issues may make it necessary for you to seek out medical help. Simple slips, trips and falls; car accidents; and food poisoning can all require a trip to the hospital. Does your vacation destination have the capacity to handle these sorts of issues or would you be turned away or possibly take a bed from someone else who may need it far more than you do?

Ease of travel

This has been a crappy year for many reasons for many people. Last year was no great shake either. Simplicity is important to me right now. After months of jumping through certain hoops, I’m looking for travel experiences that don’t require a ton of mental gymnastics (I’m looking at your Disney World and Disneyland with your park reservations, virtual queues and the requirement that I must be a planning Jedi to have a remotely enjoyable trip to the happiest and most magical places on earth right now).

Instead, I want to visit places like the Bahamas that have clear entry processes in place. As of May 1, vaccinated individuals (two weeks or more past their final dose) do not have to present a test result to enter the Bahamas or travel inter-island. The Bahamas has done a wonderful job communicating its changing requirements and I applaud them for finding ways to welcome visitors while keeping its residents safe from COVID-19.

In terms of European travel, first Delta and then American Airlines announced quarantine-free flights from certain U.S. gateways to Milan and Rome in Italy. These flights make it possible for Americans to follow a prescribed predeparture testing regimen that’s followed by rapid tests at the arrival airport, which negate the need to quarantine in Italy for 14 days upon arrival.

Quarantine-free flights build travel corridors that improve the travel experience for everyone while keeping people safe in the departure and arrival destinations.

The experience on the ground

Finally, before booking any trip to Europe this summer, you want to examine what the on-the-ground experience will be like. And, does it match what you’re looking for in your getaway?

Will you need to wear a mask indoor in public? What about outdoors? What is the country’s current stance on social distancing? How may that affect public transportation options?

Find out what will be open and closed. In France, for example, many hotels have been closed throughout the COVID-19 crisis. With the country beginning its reopening process, some hotels are now taking reservations, but others have not yet announced their opening dates. Can you find the right places to stay at a price (cash or points) that works for you?

Will restaurants be open for indoor dining or are you relegated to reduced-capacity outdoor dining or take-away?

Are museums and other cultural institutions that you want to visit open? And, do they require new timed-entry tickets or other reservation schemes you need to know in advance?

If outdoor markets are your thing and you’re assuming you’ll visit them, are you sure they’re reopening? If they are, what additional safety precautions might you have to take to visit?

Envision the experience you want to have and then verify that it’s possible to see and do all those things before committing to the trip.

Bottom line

The summer of 2021 may or may not be the perfect time for a European sojourn. Every country is approaching its reopening differently and it will take some effort to determine if that reopening plan aligns with your expectations.

If you want to support your favorite airlines, hotels and tour guides, you can always make reservations for future travel. The world is going to get back to normal and it’s up to you to decide the right moment for your return to Europe.

Featured image by Florian Wehde/Unsplash

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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