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See Europe as the Europeans do this summer with these pro tips | Cruising Altitude

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Americans are heading to Europe for vacation as much as ever these days, and that means the typical tourist spots like Venice, Paris and London are sure to be crowded this year. But, because this is Cruising Altitude, we’ll look at the aviation angle first.

First and foremost: If you’re really determined to go to Europe this summer and haven’t booked yet, stop reading now and get on it. 

“I’ve never seen a year like this … We’re at the point where there’s no more availability,” Brigitte Armand, President of Eurobound, a tour organizer that specializes in European packages, told me. “Book as quickly as possible.” 

How to get around

According to Armand, trains are generally a great way to get from place to place within Europe, but for farther-flung stops, the continent’s network of low-cost airlines offers travelers a reliable alternative.

“Don’t think of one airline as being your network and entry point within Europe,” Laura Lindsay, public relations director at online booking platform Skyscanner told me.

She said if you’re flying to Europe from the U.S., you may well rely on a large network carrier like British Airways, KLM or Lufthansa to get across the Atlantic and then book your intra-European flights separately.

“You’re suddenly opening up Europe in a different way if you search for different airports and multiple airlines,” Lindsay said. “It’s pretty straightforward to get around, so don’t feel put off by jumping through a few different countries or trying a few different destinations.” 

Tips for European airlines

According to Lindsay, European low-cost carriers like Ryanair, Easyjet and Wizz Air often have stricter baggage policies like American ULCCs Spirit and Frontier.

“(The) top tip would be always make sure you understand the luggage allowance that is part of your ticket,” she said. “More often than not, don’t book the basic fare without checking.”

It’s also a good idea to be flexible with your airports and dates of travel if you want to get the best deals on those shorter flights.

“You’ll get a number of places that have more than one airport,” Lindsay said, noting that Skyscanner has a tool that allows travelers to search for flights to or from nearby airports when choosing a destination. “Just getting a map out and actually looking at where exactly you want to travel and where the nearby airports are.” 

Armand added that if you take the train instead, you may need to secure a reservation in advance, particularly for some of the more tourist-heavy routes like panoramic trains in Switzerland. 

Last week’s Cruising Altitude: There was no Golden Age of flying. We’re in it now.

Where to go

If you really want to summer like a European, you should consider places a little more off the radar for most Americans.

“Albania is somewhere that broke through a couple of years ago as somewhere that people recognized as offering a huge value for money,” Lindsay said. “Sarajevo is reporting its busiest April on record for travelers.”

Armand said it can also be a good idea to try different parts of countries that are already popular if you want a more authentic, less crowded experience.

“We recently arranged a whole trip for some clients in the Abruzzo region of Italy,” she said. “The Abruzzo region, it’s on the Adriatic, people don’t know this region, and I think this is the first time ever we put together a package to get to that region.” 

Data from Skyscanner shows that some destinations in Europe are picking up in popularity with travelers on the continent. Here are some of the trends that are bubbling up year over year from 2023 to 2024.

  • Ljubljana, Slovenia, saw a 188% increase in searches from Spanish travelers
  • Tromso, Norway, saw a 130% increase in interest from Italian holidaymakers
  • Dusseldorf had a 122% spike in interest from Brits

According to Armand, the best last-minute availability seems to be in eastern Europe, like Bulgaria and Poland.

“There are some good deals there perhaps, even the Czech Republic I’m finding some decent space,” she said.

So go on, get packing.

Zach Wichter is a travel reporter for USA TODAY based in New York. You can reach him at zwichter@usatoday.com.

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