6 new rules for smarter European travel | Business news

This summer, tourism in Europe resumed — and Europe was not ready. Pandemic-related staff shortages have led to massive queues and flight cancellations at many airports; meanwhile, hotel and taxi prices have risen.

In addition, there were record temperatures that caused roads, airport runways and railway tracks to buckle, leading to further disruptions.

Our family of three visited Europe this summer—our first trip there in three years—and had a great time, despite the challenges. However, climate change, growing crowds and the lingering effects of the pandemic have changed the way we travel. If you’re planning a trip to Europe, consider the tips below to save money and have a better experience.

1. Explore alternative locations

The capitals of Europe – Paris, Amsterdam, Vienna, Rome, etc. – are very popular for good reasons. But you can often get a better feel for a country’s culture in one of its smaller cities while enjoying lower prices.

For example, France’s third largest city, Lyon, has a wonderful old town, impressive Roman ruins, world-class museums and amazing restaurants. Even in peak season, I’ve found a room in a three-star hotel for less than $100 a night and never faced the long, excruciating lines at attractions that can turn Paris into an ordeal.

We also enjoyed Austria’s second largest city, Graz, a beautiful, affordable alternative to Vienna, and beautiful Delft, a canal city just an hour’s train ride from Amsterdam.

Europe’s capitals are still worth visiting, but adding some alternative destinations can save you money and stress.

2. Rethink summer travel

Spring and fall are usually cooler, cheaper and much less crowded. If summer travel is your only option, try to go 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 to get the best deals.

3. Don’t assume – ask

Early in our marriage—unaware that many old European buildings did not have elevators—we rented a top-floor apartment for a week on the Ile Saint-Louis in Paris. Our little loft had a great view, but it wasn’t fun to be faced with six flights of stairs after walking around Paris all day.

Today, we also guarantee the availability of air conditioners, which are still not as common in Europe as in the United States. Hotels and apartments with air conditioning usually mention this fact in their online listings, but if you have any doubts about air conditioning or elevators, ask before you book.

4. Treat Europe like a theme park

Hear me out: Disney sites like Undercover Tourist and Mouse Hacking recommend arriving at the rope drome when the parks first open. Then you can go to the hotel in the afternoon, when the crowds and temperature are at their peak, and return in the quieter and cooler evening hours.

Consider a similar approach when traveling in Europe in the summer: visit the top attractions when they first open, escape the heat during the day, and head out again when it’s nicer. If you are booking outdoor activities, schedule them in the morning or after sunset if possible.

Find refuge from the afternoon heat in cinemas, old stone cathedrals and many art museums, which are equipped with air conditioning to protect the paintings. Don’t stand in horrendous lines to buy tickets for anything without first checking to see if you can buy admission online.

5. Prioritize flexibility

Before the pandemic, we often tried to save money by buying non-refundable trips. Today, we are happy to pay more for flexibility.

For example, we were due to fly out of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport days after a baggage storage failure left thousands of travelers separated from their bags and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines briefly banned checked baggage on flights within Europe . Even after the baggage issue was resolved, passengers reported waiting hours to check in and go through security due to understaffing.

Rather than endure the chaos, we decided to take the train to Austria. We didn’t get all of our money back—Austrian Airlines charged a fee of about $70 per ticket, or about one-third of what we originally paid—but the refund did cover some of the cost of the last-minute train ticket.

We could have paid a lot more for fully refundable flights, but this “return with fee” option hit the sweet spot of affordability and flexibility.

We also avoided apartment rentals or Airbnbs with onerous cancellation policies. Hotels usually have much more flexible policies and staff to make travel easier. For example, the front desk clerk in Lyon recommended a great restaurant serving traditional Lyonnais cuisine and organized my taxi to the train station after three Uber drivers in a row refused.

6. Take out travel insurance

We also had—but thankfully didn’t need—travel interruption and delay coverage with the credit cards we used. In addition, we had a travel insurance policy that would cover hotels, meals and rebooked flights if one of us was quarantined. The policy added about $100 a week to our travel expenses, which seemed like a small price to pay for peace of mind.

This article was written by NerdWallet and originally published by The Associated Press.

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