With Europe And Beyond Starting To Open This Summer, Where Should You Go?

Iceland and Greece are open. France says they’ll open this summer, and this was backed up by the European Union. Spain says they’re testing things in May and expect to welcome the world starting in June.

Your destination options are no longer limited to domestic and nearer international like Mexico and parts of Central and South America. Most of Asia is likely to remain largely off-limits, even as Thailand tests welcoming vaccinated visitors to Phuket in July followed by more tourist destinations in October, subject to change.

So where should you go, how should you book, and what should you expect?

Where Should You Go First?

I think the starting point is what kind of trip are you looking to have? Is it to explore cities in a new or different place, or relax at a beach, or some combination (do both)?

Most places that are generally open to vaccinated Americans aren’t going to be particularly weird or dystopian. The Maldives is the same as it ever was, so are the Seychelles, everything is done outdoors anyway (the Maldives is even looking to offer vaccines-on-arrival, they’ve already vaccinated 90% of tourism workers).

Greece and Iceland are already open. I’d bet three months from now even France is pretty normal, but I’ve made predictions during the pandemic that haven’t borne out. For instance I thought Australia might open this fall and it doesn’t appear greater than 50% likely now for 2021.

If you’re waiting to travel long distances until you no longer need to wear a mask, you could be waiting awhile. I have to think the Biden administration extends its mask mandate until ready to the policy’s removal as a symbol of declaring victory against Covid-19. I don’t know when that comes other than it’s sometime between now and the 2022 midterm elections.

Make Sure You’re Eligible To Enter Connecting Cities

If you have to connect to get where you’re going, where you connect matters.

  • you want to be permitted to enter the country you’re connecting in, in case there’s a maintenance delay or flight cancellation
  • you wouldn’t want to be stuck in an airport overnight in a city where you can’t leave the airport.

Be Prepared For Travel Disruptions

Travel this year needs to factor that conditions on the ground could change that makes it difficult to leave wherever you’re at, or for that matter that you test positive when taking the mandatory covid test for flying back to the U.S.

The U.S. will accept any antigen test from anywhere in the world (false positives!), will exempt those recovered from Covid-19 in the past 3 months, but still requires testing for the vaccinated. It’s odd to privilege immunity from natural infection over immunity from vaccination.

Any booking you make, I believe, should be fully cancellable – and I don’t mean paid travel with airlines offering tickets without change fees, I don’t like giving them my money on the assumption I can use it later.

American AAdvantage for instance no longer has cancellation/mileage redeposit fees. You can always cancel a trip booked with their miles without penalty. And make cancellable hotel bookings. Then you can wait and see how this all develops, have something to look forward to, and let circumstances as they develop dictate whether or not you actually go versus putting off to next year.

Things Should Get Progressively Better

To be clear: many of you wouldn’t enjoy Greece today, the country remains under a lockdown of sorts even as it welcomes tourists. That’s going to change. Tourism season begins in earnest around June 1, and they’ll be welcoming folks from most countries in the world by then.

Restrictions just aren’t going to be possible to maintain for locals when foreigners can largely come and go. My bet is that Greece will be a mostly normal place this summer, Like all such predictions, that’s presuming things don’t go sideways again with the pandemic. But come summer they’ll be further along with vaccination, and a lot of life is outdoors. Athens is worth a couple of days if you haven’t been, and the islands are stunning.

Things won’t play out evenly across Europe though. I’m not sure we can expect ‘full normal’ in the UK. Their politics are far from my specialty, but while they’ve been promoting June 21 as the date when people can return to normal life I’m not sure all restrictions (up to and including masks on public transport) will be lifted at that time.

I think you decide what your minimum level of normal is and make bookings that are flexible, so that you can cancel if circumstances on the ground change. Although I do think Greece is outdoors enough that it may be the best summer European bet for normal that combines beaches, bars, and history.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary
    You left out croatia, a stunning destination
    We are probably renting an airbnb in some small greek island so our friends and family in israel can take turns visiting us since israel is requiring nin vaccinated CHILDREN to quarantine so unfortunately it is out of the question for us
    Southern Portugal should be on your list also
    Great beaches and food and if you venture an hour west of Faro airports you will not see any english rednecks and their charter friends

  2. Still not sure, and unlikely to decide for a month or two, but places that seem to want tourists to come back are likely to be at the top. Spain, Portugal, Greece or Croatia (which requires pre-paid accommodation) at this point. I’m not sure that France falls into that category. Germany does not seem to want tourists. I’d be curious when Austria, Hungary and Czech Republic reopen.

  3. Honestly, I’ll let the crazies get it all out of their system this summer and reassess in the fall. Not in a hurry to be part of the feeding frenzy once places reopen.

  4. Stay home selfish people please don’t even consider spreading your germs in clean foreign lands! Follow government edicts! Wear masks all the time!

  5. Willy no body listens to a child running around screaming with their hair on fire. Please do us all a favor and remain in your basement if and until you grow up. In the mean time you are forbidden from using the internet.

  6. Travel will likely be dead, even for vaccinated people. UNTIL the testing requirements before departure and before turn are dropped.
    You really think Greece or Croatia have tens of thousands of tests available each week just for Americans wanting to return home? Think not.

  7. I loved what Yogi Beara said about Venice- “People don’t go there anymore, it’s too crowded.” That’s going to be all of Europe now.

  8. What CW said. No one mentioned Italy tho. I’m waiting for the mad rush to settle down. Let all those who hit foreign shores get fleeced first.

  9. Those labs doing covid tests are a cash cow right now! I always wondered if in some countries those labs may as well just issue all negative test results….. for a fee of course.

  10. Gary,
    “ It’s odd to privilege immunity from natural infection over immunity from vaccination.”
    Really? Is an admission of Biden’s CDC following the science? The shots are not as effective as advertised and in fact some sources state only 39% effective when actually exposed to the CV. Natural immunity does exactly what immunity implies.
    Regardless, I don’t see this administration missing a chance to issue Vaccination Passports and booster shots to keep everyone healthy, I mean SAFE.

  11. Children under 16 are still unable to be vaccinated. Please stop the drumbeat to drop mask requirements until children are vaccinated and herd immunity is achieved.

  12. Having retired to Malta from Seattle two years ago, I can say that this country has been through two tough waves(in spite of the PM saying waves are only in the sea), and has managed to spring back up. Minister of Health and his Coronavirus experts are really on top of their game. As of today, Malta has the fewest cases per hundred thousand in EU. Also first in EU with vaccinations.

    Malta offers beaches, an incredible wealth of 5,000 years of civilization and a very welcoming community. No one expects you to speak Maltese (which is damn hard and is Semitic based). But English is also the second official language.

    Great hotels. All three, four and five star hotels offer tourists a discount if they book directly. The food is great. And it is very easy to get here.

  13. “I’ve made predictions during the pandemic that haven’t borne out.” Maybe that is a sign that you should stop guessing?

  14. @bill
    why the bitterness?
    why do you read this blog?
    is Mrs Bill not performing lately hence your nervousness?

  15. Well, this all sounds great but…. will airlines require people to be vaccinated to fly?
    If so, this defeat the purpose, because, how are we supposed to get there?

  16. I think that the answer is pretty clear, now is not the time to travel. I think that we should all follow the guidance of disease experts. Perhaps enjoy your hometown this summer and wait until the pandemic is over. What is happening in India will spread.

  17. @Bill – most of my predictions have borne out VERY well. For instance I wrote at the beginning of last summer that there’d be an approved vaccine by the end of 2020 and many people would be returning to normal life summer 2021.

  18. Johns Hopkins newsletter April 30: “ Maldives is also setting new national records. Its current daily incidence climbed from 84 new cases per day to 327, 75% higher than its previous highest peak and still increasing rapidly.”

  19. At the end of the day, about 3-4 countries are going to be ok: US, UK, Israel and maybe UAE. And the common factor in these 4 – the manic rush to get as many peeps vaccinated. The rest of the world will be a shitshow well into 2022. Stay in the US, put money into the domestic tourism industry, and be safe.

  20. Kind of odd a guy with a toddler makes no mention of family travel, which is how most Americans travel in the summer. Most of these countries are not open to unvaccinated children so effectively they are closed for vacation as nobody has time for quarantines. Greece is the wonderful exception.

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