Travel booking app Hopper says searches for airfare to Europe spiked 47% after a hopeful forecast for American travelers in April. Then, earlier in May, the European Union announced a road map to allow fully vaccinated travelers to visit the bloc. Now, Europe’s vaccination rates are on schedule to match the U.S. rates by July, the Washington Post reports.
With more countries beginning to conditionally open their borders, and hope on the horizon for more to do the same, here’s what you need to know as you book travel to Europe this year.
You can buy plane tickets, but the country may not be open to you
Despite the confident outlook and the increasing number of European countries open to Americans, there’s no guarantee.
Jen Moyse, director of product for TripIt, says travelers should keep their eye on destinations’ infection rates and regulations. You may want to be wary of near-future booking 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, Moyse says, travelers can reference information from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. And also Re-open EU, to stay up to date on infection rates, entry and exit rules, testing requirements, and guidelines.
Limited inventory, and not all bookings are flexible
You’re not the only person booking a trip to Europe this year. Not only are rooms and other reservations filling up fast, prices will rise as well.
Danny Finkel, chief travel officer for TripActions, says it’s in a traveler’s best interest booking flights and accommodations ASAP. As long as they can be canceled or changed easily. Reserving your tickets or hotel rooms even before borders open may benefit you from a supply-and-demand perspective. Because once they do officially open, Finkel expects an onslaught of bookings. Once you find something to book, Alisa Cohen, founder of 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 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
When European countries begin welcoming American visitors back, we expect that tourists will need to prove they are either vaccinated, have recently recovered from Covid-19 or took 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. This is just another name for a digital portal (i.e., an app) with information for an airline or government.
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. She also suggests taking a picture of your vaccine card on your phone. And making a printed copy to store separately from your passport.
Finkel recommends that travelers carry some immunization proof with them, and not just at the airport. You may need to show it when you check into hotels, for example.
Additionally, some countries still will require mandatory quarantines upon arrival, while others may allow 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 needs to prove that they had both doses of the vaccine or recently recovered from Covid-19. The latest guidance from Britain requires anyone entering (including residents) to submit a public health passenger locator form online within 48 hours of their trip, and provide a printed or digital copy with them at the border, among other testing requirements.
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.
Every country will have its own coronavirus response, “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 go to the Van Gogh Museum? Does your dream trip to France include walking through Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors? Make sure your vacation desires line up with what the destination allows, and consider whether you would still enjoy a trip if the destination has to reinstate restrictions during your stay.
You’ll probably have to get a PCR test before and after your trip
Hyzler says that even if you got both doses of the vaccinate, you will need to get a PCR test no matter where you’re traveling in Europe this summer.
Before your flight home, you’ll need to take a PCR or rapid test, too. 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 planned 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. Booking an alternative. You may be able to salvage your trip to Europe if Germany falls through by pivoting to Bosnia instead. 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.”