What You Need to Know Before Traveling to Europe This Year

Once upon a time, you prepped for your European vacation by researching the best restaurants, combing through your guidebook for can’t-miss highlights, and comparing prices for the top hotels. These days, your Google search might also include queries about heightened security, favorable exchange rates, and new travel bans. Is it safe to travel to Europe? Can I bring my laptop in my carry-on? And wait, will I need a visa to hop the pond? These are just a few of the questions that might be on your mind when considering a trip to Europe this year. That’s where we come in. To save you an extra search -- and so you can focus on finding those top restaurants, hotels, and sights -- we’ve rounded up five crucial things you need to know if you’re heading to Europe.

There is a travel alert throughout Europe this summer.

The U.S. State Department has -- once again -- issued a travel alert throughout Europe, effective May 1. The alert, which is quite different than a travel warning, was released in light of recent attacks in France, Russia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, and is meant to inform citizens about the possibility for future attacks rather than deter Americans from crossing the pond. The State Department cautioned U.S. citizens to exercise extra vigilance, especially in tourist hot spots, transportation hubs, and congested markets, all of which could be potential targets. The shelf-life for the alert is set through September 1, though we would recommend checking the State Department for any updates or extensions. For more information about the travel alert, as well as safety and security in Europe, check out our latest story.

You may not be allowed to bring your laptops in your carry-on.

Bring a book. Starting this March, U.S.-bound passengers traveling from 10 airports in North Africa and the Middle East (Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the UAE) were banned from having iPads, laptops, or any communication devices larger than a smartphone in the cabin of the plane. The airports impacted include Egypt Air, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Kuwait Airways, Qatar Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordanian Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, and Turkish Airlines. Why? The Trump administration claims the new policy was introduced as a response to intelligence that revealed terrorists are continuing to target airlines flying to the U.S. 

Some airlines have already responded to the ban to minimize inconvenience for fliers. Emirates, for example, introduced a free laptop and tablet handling service, which allows passengers to utilize their devices until just before hopping on the aircraft. Before boarding, folks will be required to “declare and hand over their laptops, tablets, and other banned electronic devices to security staff.” Emirates said in a statement “the devices will be carefully packed into boxes, loaded into the aircraft hold, and returned to the customer at their U.S. destination.”

Now, it seems like this ban is expanding to other destinations. The Department of Homeland Security is rumored to ban laptops and other large electronic devices on board all flights from Europe to the U.S. Currently under consideration, a final decision has yet to be made. And although no U.S. carriers are currently impacted by the ban, expanding it to all U.S.-bound flights originating in Europe could certainly alter that. 

Updated 05/17/17: On May 17, officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the European Union met to discuss information about threats involving air travel, the Associated Press reports. An official who followed the talks stated a ban was currently "off the table." While nothing official has been announced, those traveling to Europe can breathe a sigh of relief -- for now.

Despite rumors, you won't need a visa to travel to Europe.

Recent rumblings about a required visa for visiting Europe spurred concern among U.S. travelers. But you can breathe easy now, as the European Commission will not mandate visa requirements for Americans headed to Europe, despite the European Parliament’s recent vote to end the visa waiver program with the U.S., noting America’s lack of full reciprocity. The European Commission said in a statement, “the temporary suspension of visa waivers for nationals of Canada and the United States would be counterproductive at this moment and would not serve the objective of achieving visa-free travel for all EU citizens.” Counterproductive, indeed, especially as the European Union copes with Brexit, a weak Euro against the dollar (more on that below), and heightened terrorist threats that have already caused many Americans to reconsider booking a trip.

You’ll have it all to yourself.

Okay, not quite, but you can expect to see fewer tourists in some destinations in Europe this year. According to data released by the Paris regional tourism board, 2016 saw a significant drop in tourism, with 1.5 million fewer visitors, a 4.7 percent drop from 2015. These figures suggest that the key reason tourists have shied away from a trip to the City of Lights is fear over terrorism and security in the wake up recent attacks in Paris, Nice, and Rouen. Earlier this year, a 29-year-old man was shot after he attacked soldiers outside of the Louvre, the world’s most visited museum. Shortly after, government officials in Paris announced plans to construct a bulletproof glass wall around the Eiffel Tower out of fear that the iconic landmark might be possible target for terrorism. That said, France still holds the title of top tourist destination in the world -- a whopping 82.5 million visited last year, according to The Local. Belgium and Turkey, two other countries that experienced terrorist attacks in the last year, also saw a dip in tourism numbers. 

Visiting the United Kingdom will be cheaper.

The value of the British pound plummeted -- even lower than it was during the 2008 financial crisis -- as a result of the Brexit vote, which took place last June. Although the United Kingdom might not fully split from the European Union until 2019, travelers can already start taking advantage of the more affordable prices. The British pound reportedly weakened in March, as the United Kingdom formally began the process of cutting ties from the European Union. Many Americans are capitalizing on this, and enjoying a cheaper-than-expected Euro trip. According to CNBC, the pound is down more than 17 percent since the EU referendum in June. For more information, check out our full story on how Brexit might impact your travel plans

Similarly, the Euro has shown a close exchange rate with the U.S. dollar in the last few years. The current exchange rate is $1.09 for every Euro, but rates fluctuate, and the Euro could become pricier if the U.S. raises its interest rates.

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