Dreaming of a European summer? It’s about that time of year when flight sales and warmer weather beckon a voyage to Europe. Where you go and how you do it all play role in planning one epic trip to Europe. There are a few tips for a successful trip and I want to share them with you.
Europe has been a second home for me and my family (my family is in France). Every year we make a point to return to Europe for a few weeks. Then oftentimes work brings me back over for a shorter stint. Over the years, I’ve learned a few ways to get the best bookings and plan a trip that is not a logistical nightmare.
If you’re at the beginning stages of dreaming up your European getaway, I want to share these tips with you to help you plan a successful trip. It can be challenging to navigate the several options there are when it comes to transportation. Even considerations for types of accommodations, and deciding on how long to go come to play.
This year in particular brings on a whole new set of challenges for European travel. With entry requirements changing constantly, you’ll want to be up on the know as you plan. All of this and more are covered below. (Plus read on to see whether train or plane is best this summer.)
I just finished planning a 10-week trip to Europe, so I’ve got a few takeaways from the past month I spent researching. It’s with great pleasure to return to Europe for the first time since the pandemic began. And though there may be a few extra hoops to jump through, I know it’s always worth the effort once there.
Tips for Planning a Summer Trip to Europe 2022
1. Know the entry requirements
Before we get started on any travel planning tips, the most crucial topic is, can you enter the country? With the ever-constant changing rules due to COVID, it may feel like a bit of a mess. The short story is if you’re vaccinated, it will be much easier to get in (barring any other major outbreak). If we look at the last two years for summer tourism, Europe has mostly been opened with a few steps for entry.
The key takeaway? Be flexible. If these last two years have taught us anything it’s that anything can change at any time. You can also plan on masks to be required in some countries as well, this is ever-changing too. For example, since I began writing this post, France dropped testing for triple-vaccinated passengers — it is changing that frequently.
Steps for entry are country-dependent. Some are requiring a PCR test for entry, others are not. It’s truly all over the place. If you’re transferring through an airport, say San Francisco to Frankfurt to Mallorca, you need to know the entry requirements for both Frankfurt and Mallorca. The airport website should have this information listed. Remember when transferring at an airport in the EU, you will do customs at your first transfer which may mean the said country will have its own entry requirements.
If you are looking for specific country requirements, the best advice is to go to the country’s tourism site. You can do this by searching “country tourism entry requirements.”
Sources for current information:
Re-open EU (you can select a country and see updated information on local measures)
Politico (this news outlet updates information weekly, I would still double confirm)
Call Your accommodations (call your accommodations to ask what the requirements are for check-in. For instance, most hotels in Italy are requiring proof of vaccination.)
Can you hop between countries in the Schengen zone?
As we stand right now, it seems so. Again this is ever-changing, I would recommend checking this EU site for the most up-to-date information. You may need to be vaccinated or have a negative test to enter from one country to the next.
2. Book with flexibility and read the fine print
Cancellation policies are your best friend this summer. In case you do need to change your travels, I would recommend reading the fine print well. My suggestion is to utilize third-party sites that have good cancellation policies. My list of places I like to book are:
Hotels — Booking.com or Hotels.com provide an extensive inventory of hotels that nearly most offer a flexible cancellation policy. I often see cancel with full refunds up to 48 hours prior for both of these booking engines.
Cars — Kayak.com. My top tip for booking cars in Europe is to book third party. Most car agencies allow you to secure a car reservation with a cancellation policy up to the week of
Trains — RailEurope or Omio. If you are wanting the ability to rebook or cancel, select the right flexible fare for your booking.
Flights — This is SO airline dependent. Most are offering the ability to rebook when it’s a certain fare, doublecheck before you book.
*A note on Airbnb: tread lightly and read the cancellation policy well. I am starting to see more listings offering cancellation policies up to 48 hours before arrival.
3. A private tour, private guides, and advance tickets are worth it
The travel industry is expecting a busy summer as we reemerge this year even more than last year. I’d recommend booking your entry tickets in advance to confirm entry. Another great resource for travel is booking a private guided tour. I think it’s one of the most overlooked travel experiences and it can be such an enriching add-on. Often times private tours get extra perks like early entry so something worth considering as you research.
Where to book private tours and skip the line passes? My preferred tour agency is Get Your Guide. I have personally done three private tours with Get Your Guide in California (they started in Europe). It is always led by a knowledgeable local and there are so many booking options.
On Get Your Guide you’ll find advance tickets for museums and sights, group tours, and private tours.
4. Train, plane, or car?
One of the most common questions is should I take a train, plane, or car? Let’s categorize train and plane in one bucket because these are for longer distances. Cars would be better suited for say a regional road trip through Provence or Tuscany. What should you do for larger distances? Did you know sometimes it’s cheaper to fly than take the train some times?
This summer as I started to do research train itineraries between major itineraries, I was shocked at the prices. They are steeper than ever before. I price compared for instance flying between Paris to Amsterdam vs. taking the direct train high-speed Thalys train. The train was $75 a person and takes about 3hr 20min. The plane was $68 direct on Air France and 1hr 20 min long. When you consider it all together, it’s worth comparing especially when they’re close in price and deciding what is best for you.
When comparing train vs plane I like to consider these factors:
- Do I have a lot of luggage? This may be easier to check on a plane (though it costs money) rather than lugging it onto a train.
- Is the train station conveniently located? For instance, I would rather train to Madrid from Barcelona. The reason being the main station in Madrid is near the center and doesn’t require a taxi from the airport.
- Is the plane faster than taking the train? In Europe you don’t need to show up incredibly early to flights unless it’s the weekend (security lines are typically a breeze in comparison to U.S. airports). So your total time at the airport is perhaps one extra hour or so before a flight. It may be more convenient to fly rather than connecting through several train stations.
Airlines in Europe I prefer for regional flights:
Do not shy away from local airlines in Europe even if you haven’t heard of them! There are several good ones and though they may be budget, it’s perfectly suited for a quick and often cheap flight.
My preferred budget airlines are Ryanair and Vueling. EasyJet is my last choice (notorious for delayed flights). I love TAP Air for Portugal-bound flights and Norwegian Airlines for Scandinavian destinations.
Other transportation options in Europe:
You may have followed this trip I took through Andalucia that I did completely without a car in 2019. I utilized the local bus system in Spain to go from Malaga to Granada and then on to Cordoba. It was an absolute breeze, the buses were clean and had Wifi. You can easily utilize the local buses in Europe to get around, just know that they may take a bit longer. For buses in Spain, use the site Alsa to book your reservations. For other countries, Omio has options for bookings.
5. Car rentals: Insurance, international license, and more
Should you book a car in Europe? Yes! It is one of the best ways to explore regions like Tuscany or Provence, or islands like Mallorca, Sicily, and more. It is quite easy to drive in Europe and there are a few tips to help out:
- Insurance: Did you know major credit card companies like Chase or AMEX offer free international car insurance when you book with their credit card? Many will offer insurance as part of you using your credit card so you can skip the extra insurance there. This will save you a lot of money. Be sure to call your credit card and get firm details on whether or not your credit card provides insurance. We had one incident in Barcelona when we returned our car to Sixt — $600 fine for a small ding. We paid and then our credit card covered the costs as part of our insurance.
- International License: You technically need one to drive a car in Europe. Do they ever check it? Almost never but you should have it. You can get an international license at a participating AAA location, $20 per adult prior to leaving.
- Tolls: They’re everywhere in Europe and should be expected. Carry extra cash or a credit card with you to pay. Note: they can be pretty expensive during the summer months.
My number one tip when renting a car in Europe is making sure you have cellular data to use Google Maps and a translating app. You will want the translation app should you need to understand parking signs especially.
6. Picking the right destination for you
Where should you go? It’s the million-dollar question when there are SO many options in Europe. If you need some inspiration, here are 7 blissful coastal escapes, 12 summer destinations to consider, and a guide on European summer spots.
One consideration when picking a destination is how will you get around? Best budget destinations are always cities as you can utilize public transport to explore. It can be pricey to rent a car to explore more countryside regions (though maybe doable by bus). I personally like a combination of a few spots. My ideal trip is 3-4 nights in a major city and then heading out to the coast or an island for 4-5 nights to relax.
My top picks for summer in Europe this year are:
- an island escape to Mallorca, Spain or Hvar, Croatia
- a city break in Utrecht, Netherlands
- Andalucia without a car
- a road trip in Slovenia
- a seaside stay in Cassis, France
- a coastal trip to Costa Brava, Spain
- a city trip to Helsinki, Finland
7. Utilize your international flight to your benefit
One of the best tips of advice I can give is to always price compare when booking a roundtrip ticket vs an open-jaw ticket when visiting multiple spots. An open-jaw ticket is where you would fly from San Francisco to Paris and then back from Barcelona to San Francisco (different entry/exit airports). If you plan to hop around, this can save you a lot of money instead of just booking a roundtrip out of the same airport.
Use this to your benefit by getting to explore more of Europe for less. One itinerary example may be that you want to visit both Paris and Amsterdam. So you fly into CDG (Paris) from SFO and spend time there first. Then take the Thalys train to Amsterdam to explore. After, your return flight home is from AMS (Amsterdam) instead of paying for another train ticket back to Paris to fly back from Paris. You cut the cost of one direction of travel.
I also have this guide for the best connected in Europe to fly into if you’re looking to maximize more.
8. How to beat the summer crowds in Europe
Crowds in Europe are no joke in the summer months. I actually wrote this entire guide on how to manage the crowds — I’m giving out my tips for how to do it well.
9. When to book everything
When you’ve decided, book. Travel is starting to pick up and even after looking at several hotels, quite a few were sold out already for summer weekends. This summer season in Europe is shaping up to be a busy one so I’d expect prices to rise and there to be limited availability.
10. Make restaurant reservations
Once you get more details of your trip finalized, I would start making reservations for at least dinners. This is for those travelers who have specific restaurants you’d like to eat at. Summer is a busy time for restaurants, so get ahead and secure that spot. And remember, dinner is much later in the evening than dinner stateside.
11. Get travel insurance
We don’t leave the country without it. My preference for travel insurance is with World Nomads.
12. Baby Travel Tips for Europe
We will be embarking on our first trip to Europe with our baby in May. So I don’t want to give any concrete personal advice until we’ve done it ourselves. However, I can share the resources we’ve found helpful as well as our decisions for gear while there.
For the international flight: our daughter will be around 7 months old at the time of travel so for our big international tickets I booked reward tickets with United Airlines and then called to have us be put in bulkhead seats with a bassinet request. (no charge, the bassinet is requested not guaranteed). Had we had more points, we would have purchased her a seat for the extra room.
For gear while there: This is where it gets tricky. While we have a “travel system” where our car seat clicks into the stroller and is super easy to use, it’s not just recommended for Europe for several reasons. Babies should be in a proper stroller if possible and our daughter will be at the age (7 months) where a stroller is more appropriate. It’s also piping hot in the summer in Europe and car seats don’t have ventilation as a stroller does (overheating risk). So here is what we’ve decided to bring for gear (this is what is working for our personal trip):
- Check our own car seat. Yes, technically all US compliant/made carseats are illegal in Europe because of the chest clip and other regulations. Several people I spoke to have always brought their own car seat and I personally would prefer to have safety over the rare occurance of it being an issue. This blog post by Carseat Mama breaks down why you should bring your own and was the determining factor for us given we have nearly 6 weeks of car rentals while there.
- Purchase a travel stroller. We purchased the Cybex Libelle stroller as it folds up and fits in the overhead compartment. I cross checked it with both of our airlines and it still beats the Babyzen YOYO for size. I’m not sure it’s the most sturdy but given we’re on an island and then just a few weeks in a city, it will do just fine.
- Check our own travel crib. We love our Lotus travel crib, she actually sleeps in it now at home. Since we plan to hop around a bit, I want to have her bed with us. I think this is us being completely extra, you could totally use hotel cribs and see if your vacaton rental has a crib option.
Since we won’t be using our car seat that clicks into a stroller, we will be limited to a few options. We can either use our rental car with our own car seat, use public transportation, or book a private transfer that has a car set up with a car seat. This is why we’ve rented a car for our time in Mallorca and why we chose a city in France that has good public transportation.
Resources: Anna Everywhere had this awesome post on Europe with babies.
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PS — Are You Booking a Trip Soon? Use My Booking Checklist!
These are the sites I use most to book my own trips. Using the links below is a great way to support Bon Traveler’s travel journalism at no extra cost to you. If you need help organizing your itinerary, get my free travel itinerary template here.
1. Book Your Flights
Use Skyscanner to find the best flights. It searches 100s of airlines and websites across the globe to ensure you’re not missing out on any route options or deals.
2. Book Your Accommodations
Use Booking.com for hotels and guest houses. They have the biggest inventory and consistently offer the best rates.
3. Book Your Tours & Experiences
4. Book Your Car
Use Discover Cars or Rentalcars.com to find the best car rental deals. I recommend comparing rental agency reviews on Google to ensure you are booking with the best company in that destination, as the reviews are often more accurate than the car rental search engines.
5. Don’t Forget Airport Lounge Access
Get a Priority Pass membership to gain access to 1,400+ VIP lounges and airport experiences worldwide. The Priority Pass app is the first thing I check when I have a layover. I’ve been a member for over a decade, and having a comfortable place to relax before and between flights makes air travel so much more enjoyable.
6. Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
I never leave the country without travel insurance. It provides comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong (ie. illness, injury, theft, and cancelations, etc.). I use it frequently for my travels to stay protected.
My favorite companies that offer the best coverage and rates are: