Europe experienced a tourism renaissance this summer, and Europe was not ready for it. Pandemic-related staff shortages have led to huge queues and flight cancellations at many airports; Meanwhile, hotel and taxi prices have risen sharply.
Then there were record high temperatures that caused roads, tracks and railways to blaze, causing further disruption.
Our family of three took a trip to Europe this summer, our first trip in three years, and despite the challenges, we had a great time. However, climate change, growing crowds and the continued impact of the pandemic are changing our course. If you’re planning a trip to Europe, consider the following tips to save money and have a better experience.
- Explore alternate locations
European capitals – Paris, Amsterdam, Vienna, Rome, etc. – are very popular for good reason. But often in a small town, you can get a better sense of the country’s culture while enjoying lower prices.
For example, Lyon, the third largest city in France, has a beautiful old town, magnificent Roman ruins, world-class museums and excellent restaurants. Even in high season, I found a three-star hotel room for less than $100 a night and didn’t experience the long lines for attractions that Paris can tempt.
We also enjoy Graz, a pleasant and affordable alternative to Vienna, Austria’s second largest city, and beautiful Delft, a canal town just an hour by train from Amsterdam.
European capitals are always worth visiting, but adding a few alternative destinations can save you money and stress.
- Review summer trips
Spring and fall are generally cooler, cheaper and less crowded. If summer travel is your only option, try to get there as soon as possible after Memorial Day, as crowds (and prices) spike in July and August. Scott’s Cheap Flights, a deals website, recommends booking international travel two to eight months in advance to get the best deals.
- Don’t assume – ask
Early in our marriage, not knowing that many old European buildings don’t have elevators, we rented a loft on the Ile Saint-Louis in Paris for a week. Our little garden had a nice view, but after walking around Paris all day it was not pleasant to be faced with six flights of stairs.
Today we also offer air conditioners, which are not yet as popular in Europe as in the United States. Air-conditioned hotels and apartments usually mention this fact in their online listings, but if you’re unsure about air conditioning or lifts, ask before you book.
- Treat Europe like an amusement park
Listen to me. Disney tips sites like Hidden Tourist and Mouse Hacking recommend visiting the parks when they first open. In the afternoon, when crowds and temperatures are at their peak, retire to your hotel and return for the quieter, cooler evening hours.
Consider a similar approach if you’re traveling to Europe in the summer. visit the most popular attractions when they first open, avoid the midday heat, and return when it’s better. If you book an outdoor activity, plan it in the morning or after sunset if possible.
Take refuge from the midday heat in cinemas, ancient stone temples and numerous air-conditioned art museums with paintings. Don’t wait in long lines to buy tickets for anything without online check-in confirmation.
- Prioritize flexibility
Before the pandemic, we often tried to save money by taking one-way trips. These days, we’re happy to pay more for flexibility.
For example, we were due to depart from Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam days after a malfunction in the baggage system stranded thousands of travelers and prompted KLM Royal Dutch Airlines to briefly ban checked baggage in Europe. Even after the baggage issue was resolved, passengers reported long waits at check-in and security due to understaffing.
Instead of enduring the chaos, we decided to take the train to Austria. We have not received our full refund. Austria was charging around $70 per ticket, about a third of what we originally paid, but a refund replaced part of the fare at the last minute.
We could have paid more for a fully refundable airfare, but this “refundable on payment” option was about affordability and convenience.
We also avoided renting apartments or Airbnbs with tough cancellation policies. Hotels tend to have more flexible policies and staff to make travel easier. For example, in Lyon, the receptionist recommended an excellent restaurant serving traditional Lyon cuisine and scheduled my taxi to the train station after three consecutive Uber drivers were cancelled.
- Get travel insurance
There was trip cancellation and delay insurance with the credit cards we used, but luckily we didn’t need it. We also had travel insurance to cover hotels, meals and flights booked in case one of us was quarantined. The policy added about $100 per week to our travel costs, which seemed like a small price to pay for convenience.