European Travel and the Coronavirus
Should you plan a trip to (or within) Europe
this year? We're inclined to say "Yes," once the pandemic has been
contained, but don't plan your trip without reading our updates and advice.
ABOVE: A vaporetto travels up the normally busy Grand
Canal in Venice, Italy. (See our article about the
coronavirus in Venice and Italy.)
Ever since the coronavirus
epidemic spread from China to Northern Italy in February, 2020, tourism in
Europe has taken a massive hit. Flights have been
cancelled, entire countries have been locked down by quarantines, and
travelers have been worried--with good reason--about Europe's ability to cope
with a pandemic. (And yes, it is a pandemic, according to the World
Here's our advice:
1. Take the coronavirus pandemic seriously.
As of April 1, more than 30,000 people have already died in
Europe from COVID-19 infections.
Quarantines and "shelter in place" orders have taken effect in a number of
European countries. Limits on public assembly, funerals, weddings, etc. are
commonplace, and business closings are widespread. In some countries, such as
Italy, police or soldiers are roaming the streets to enforce rules against
non-essential travel (even within neighborhoods).
If you were planning a trip, be prepared to cancel or reschedule.
No one knows when the pandemic will end, or when
coronavirus-related quarantines, flight cancellations, etc. will recede into
If you haven't yet booked a trip, we suggest waiting until
things have settled down and you can make firm plans.
If you've already reserved flights, hotel rooms, holiday
rentals, a cruise, etc., then check with the vendors to learn where you
stand. (Airline schedules are changing by the hour, and as of mid-March, cruise lines
were cancelling upcoming voyages.)
Don't go forward with existing travel plans unless you've
considered the possible consequences. For example:
If you're traveling by air, you run the risk of your return
flight being cancelled. Fewer inbound flights = fewer outbound flights = more competition for seats = more
travelers unable to go home.
Even if you can get home from your holiday destination, you
could face a quarantine after arrival in your own country. (Case in point:
Ireland recently imposed a 14-day quarantine on travelers arriving from
In extreme cases, it may be difficult to get home. (Example:
The U.S. government has ordered a 30-day ban on travel to the U.S. from
all of Europe. American citizens and permanent residents are
exempted, but it's unlikely that airlines will want to maintain flights for
a limited number of passengers.)
3. It's not too early to think about travel later in
The coronavirus pandemic won't last forever. In a few months,
the spread of COVID-19 could ease, and you'll be in a better position to
make plans. We'd expect to see a cascade of travel bargains later in
the year as airlines, hotels, rental firms like Airbnb, tour companies, cruise
lines, and destinations try to make up for a disastrous winter and spring.
Still, we do suggest precautions:
If you're over 60 (and
especially if you have underlying health conditions), use common sense in
deciding whether, when, and how to travel. The risk of coronavirus infection
won't go away overnight.
Be aware of cancellation policies or change fees when you book your airline,
train, cruise, or sightseeing tickets. Airline fares and other transportation tickets vary in
their cancellation and change policies. If you can't afford a fully-refundable
ticket, budget some money for ticket changes just in case. (Good news: Many
airlines have suspended change fees and "no refund" policies during the
When you book accommodation, make
sure that your reservation can be cancelled without penalty. Avoid prepaid,
discounted room rates that have a "no cancel" policy. (Most reservations
through our hotel partner,
are fully cancellable. When they aren't, the rules are clearly spelled out.)
Be especially carefully when renting holiday apartments,
cottages, or villas. Cancellation policies for vacation rentals tend to be
stricter than for hotels, although some of the big rental platforms are loosening their rules
during the coronovirus outbreak.
Finally, don't count on travel insurance to protect you
during the coronavirus pandemic. Most insurers and medevac providers are
treating the outbreak as a "known event," and your claim will be turned down
unless you've bought a high-priced "cancel for any reason" plan.
If the coronavirus pandemic subsides in the next few months, fall (and possibly
even summer) of 2020 could be a great time for
European travel, thanks to discounts and smaller crowds as visitors slowly
trickle back to popular tourism sites.
However, the situation could change, so build
as much flexibility as possible into your travel plans.
Also, if you're in a
high-risk group, don't take chances with your health--or your life.