Liz Weston, CFP®
Tourism rebounded this summer in Europe — and Europe wasn’t ready. Pandemic-related staffing shortages have led to massive queues and flight cancellations at many airports; meanwhile, hotel and taxi prices have skyrocketed.
Then there were the record high temperatures that caused roads, airport runways and train tracks to blaze, leading to further disruption.
Our family of three visited Europe this summer – our first trip there in three years – and had a great time despite the challenges. Yet climate change, growing crowds and the lingering effects of the pandemic have altered the way we travel. If you’re planning a trip to Europe, consider the following tips to save money and have a better experience.
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1. Explore alternate locations
European capitals – Paris, Amsterdam, Vienna, Rome, etc. – are hugely popular for good reason. But often, you can get a better sense of a country’s culture in one of its smaller towns and still enjoy lower prices.
For example, France’s third largest city, Lyon, has a charming old town, spectacular Roman ruins, world-class museums and incredible restaurants. Even in peak season, I found a three-star hotel room for less than $100 a night, and never encountered long lines for attractions that could make Paris an ordeal.
Likewise, we enjoyed Austria’s second largest city, Graz, a nice, affordable alternative to Vienna, and pretty Delft, a canal town just an hour by train from Amsterdam.
European capitals are always worth visiting, but adding alternative destinations can save you money and stress.
2. Rethink summer travel
Spring and fall are generally cooler, cheaper and much less crowded. If summer travel is your only option, try to get there as soon as possible after Memorial Day, as crowds (and prices) skyrocket in July and August. Scott’s Cheap Flights, a deals site, recommends booking international travel two to eight months in advance for great deals.
3. Don’t assume — ask
Early in our marriage—not realizing that many old European buildings didn’t have elevators—we rented a top-floor apartment on the Ile Saint-Louis in Paris for a week. Our little attic had a great view, but tackling six flights of stairs after walking around Paris all day wasn’t fun.
Nowadays we also ensure that there is air conditioning, which is not yet as common in Europe as in the United States. Air-conditioned hotels and apartments usually mention this fact in their online listings, but if in doubt about air conditioning or lifts, ask before you book.
4. Treat Europe like a theme park
Hear me out: Disney advice sites such as Undercover Tourist and Mouse Hacking recommend arriving at “rope fall” – when the parks first open. Then you can retire to your hotel in the afternoon, when crowds and temperatures peak, and return in the calmer, cooler hours of the evening.
Consider a similar approach when traveling to Europe in the summer: hit the most popular attractions when they first open, escape the heat in the afternoon, and head out again when it’s more pleasant. If you book an outdoor activity, plan it in the morning or after sunset, if possible.
Find refuge from the afternoon heat in cinemas, old stone cathedrals and numerous art museums with air conditioning to protect paintings. Don’t stand in sweltering queues to buy tickets for anything without first checking to see if admission can be purchased online.
5. Prioritize flexibility
Before the pandemic, we often tried to save money by buying non-refundable trips. These days, we’re happy to pay more for flexibility.
For example, we were due to take off from Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam days after its baggage system malfunctioned, separating thousands of travelers from their luggage and causing KLM Royal Dutch Airlines to briefly ban checked baggage on flights within Europe. . Even after the baggage issue was resolved, passengers reported waiting hours to check in and through security due to a lack of staff.
Rather than endure the chaos, we decided to take the train to Austria. We didn’t get all our money back – Austrian Airlines charged a fee of around $70 for each ticket, around a third of what we had originally paid – but the refund made up part of the train fare of last minute.
We could have paid a lot more for fully refundable airfare, but this “refundable for a fee” option hit the sweet spot between affordability and flexibility.
We also avoided renting apartments or Airbnbs with onerous cancellation policies. Hotels generally have much more flexible policies and staff to make travel easier. A front desk clerk in Lyon, for example, recommended a wonderful restaurant that served traditional Lyon cuisine and arranged for my taxi to the train station after three Uber drivers were canceled in a row.
6. Get travel insurance
We also had—but thankfully didn’t need—travel interruption and delay coverage through the credit cards we used. Additionally, we had a travel insurance policy that would have paid for booked hotels, meals, and flights if any of us had to be quarantined. The policy added about $100 per week to our travel costs, which seemed like a small price to pay for peace of mind.
This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.