Didn’t the EU Ban American Travelers?

All morning Gerry has been reading tweets coming out of Ireland that a plane landed in Dublin Airport that emanated from Dallas, Texas—a current COVID hotspot. Some of them were wearing MAGA hats and some saying COVID-19 is “all blown out of proportion.” The righteous outrage is all over radio, apparently, in Ireland: “American tourists coming into Ireland and reporter asks politely what brings you here during this pandemic. Am shocked at reply. ‘Nobody tells us Americans what to do.’ That is the state of play here, I’m afraid now.”

Take that reportage for what you will; it’s Twitter, after all. But you know how I feel about Ugly Americans. They ruin it for everyone. And MAGA hats make me lose my shit entirely.

But wait—didn’t the EU ban American travelers? Well, yes, but you have to read the fine print:

The travel ban concerns all 27 EU members bar Ireland, and four who are members of Schengen but not the EU: Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. While not legally bound, they are likely to enforce the ongoing restrictions on American and other arrivals. …

But the ban is based on residency not citizenship. Someone arriving from the U.S., who is a citizen or resident in the EU—or in one of the safe countries—can enter. …

And there are exceptions. Exemptions should apply to:
>EU citizens and their family members
>Long-term EU residents and their family members
>Travelers with an essential function or need, as listed in the “recommendation”. (Read this story for more details on who that includes). …

So this is a reminder to myself and everyone else: don’t stop reading at the headline. Of course there would be exceptions. And tourism generates billions for the Irish economy.


When Can We Travel Again?

Let me tell you, the pair of us are watching the news and wondering if we’ll ever get to use our splendid itinerary for Germany or go back to our favorite hotel in Ireland and throw open the windows and listen to the waves. And up pops this article from Rick Steves: “So, Can I Go to Europe?”

Short answer? No. Not any time soon. And you know why.

This is a longish article from Steves but it’s jam-packed with wise counsel and useful information. And included right up front is the caveat that in pandemic circumstances, things change rapidly, so there are two places to check for updates: The EU’s “Re-Open EU” website, and “Europe’s country-by-country travel restrictions explained” from Politico.

Steves also warns:

The first wave of Americans visiting Europe will, most likely, be hale-and-hearty independent travelers — either people who’ve already recovered from the virus, or those who are simply willing to assume the risk. I would guess that, initially, any American going to Europe will both be tested and be required to quarantine for 14 days. Two weeks takes a big bite out of a person’s vacation, so I imagine the first Americans on the Continent will be on long-term trips. (And Americans should also be prepared for quarantine and other requirements when returning to the US.)

For older folks like us, I’m guessing that European trip is still a year away. At least.

Where in the World Is … Thomas Cook?

“LONDON (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers were stranded on Monday by the collapse of the world’s oldest travel firm Thomas Cook TCG.L, sparking the largest peacetime repatriation effort in British history.”

So began a flurry of stories on 22 September. The 178-year old British travel company Thomas Cook shut down, literally overnight, with some 600K of its customers vacationing around the world. The New York Times told us, “Thomas Cook was no ordinary travel company. Founded in 1841, it changed the face of British travel. Its ubiquitous storefronts specialized in low-cost package holidays that put beach vacations in exotic locales within the budgets of middle-income Britons.”

And not only that. “Around 21,000 Thomas Cook staff globally lost their jobs, including 9,000 in the UK,” the Independent reported.

It’s a sad story on so many levels. But what happened? This sub-headline in the New York Times covers it in a nutshell: “Its package tour business model was successful for 178 years, but as consumer demand changed and moved online, the company did not.” You’ve seen me post about packaged tours; I’ve never been particularly interested. And the market for these types of vacations has grown older, while younger vacationers are very DIY, looking for the bargains here, there, and everywhere. This isn’t all of it—the company had too much debt and had become overextended; additionally, many vacationers were putting off travel due to Brexit—but it’s the most of it. Hate to see it happen.

Travel Tips & Passport, Er, Myths

First I read this article from Reuters: “The European Parliament called on the EU executive on Thursday to force Americans to apply for visas before visiting Europe this summer, stepping up pressure to resolve a long-running transatlantic dispute on the issue.” And then I found this one dated 2 March 2017 from Travel Agent Central, which declared the vote was already a done deal and we’d need visas “by summer.” I read both those articles very carefully and apparently still didn’t understand everything I read.

Oh goodness, I thought. Now we’ll have a tourism slump on both sides of the Atlantic.

Rick Steves set me straight, saying (on 9 March 2017):

A branch of the European Union recently held a symbolic and show-of-hands vote in favor of requiring American visitors to apply for entry visas. This has caused some confusion—especially among those who read headlines instead of details. Let me offer an explanation. And to cut to the chase, there is zero chance that Americans will need visas to travel to EU countries in 2017.

He goes on to point out that the dollar is strong against the euro right now (great for travelers; not great for folks like us trying to move income from Ireland to America), so it’s not likely the EU will rush to keep American travelers out.

So there’s a couple tips for you:

  • You don’t currently need a visa.
  • The dollar–euro exchange rate currently favors American travelers to the EU.

But wait, there’s more. Here’s an article from the New York Times with “Eight Ways to Save on Travel in 2017.” These are all good tips, but note that the Times also mentions the exchange rate—with Britain:

I don’t always feel good about exploiting the weakness of a nation’s currency—but with the United Kingdom (and London in particular), you’ll forgive me for having no such qualms. After Britons voted to leave the European Union, the pound sterling, which was exchanging at over $1.60 just a couple of years ago, plunged to around $1.17 in October, making Britain one of the best travel values in the world right now. Suddenly, that £5 cappuccino on Oxford Street is no longer cause for outright alarm. A quick look at the travel aggregator Trivago shows hundreds of hotel rooms available for under £100 a night for a weekend in mid-April. While London will never truly be a bargain, if you have always wanted to go, this may be as cheap as it’s going to get. As for feeling guilty—an argument can be made that American tourist dollars are exactly what an ailing economy needs.

So there you have it: at least nine tips for traveling in 2017. Just be sure, Yanks, that you can get back in. (We don’t plan to leave the country this year—though we’d certainly love to.)

Travel Reporter? Probably Not.

As I get older, I have started admitting to myself that there are things I will probably never do or be. Thin, for example. Or walk the Great Wall of China.

Great Wall of China near Jinshanling; photo from Wikipedia.

Great Wall of China near Jinshanling; photo from Wikipedia.

I have some hopes for more travel, of course (we’ve already made reservations for a long weekend in October—stay tuned—and we’ll be traveling to Texas next May for a wedding celebration), even some “big” trips. I’ll keep blogging about them—and other aspects of my fortunate life—because I enjoy it.

But I will probably never become a for-real travel reporter. (And that’s OK.) I’ll never be in the New York Times Travel section. But I will keep pointing out some great NYT articles. Here’s one called “Seven Places in Europe We Call Home.” (It’s appropriate because I’m working, again, on getting some of my older trips posted. Like the six days we called an apartment in Paris … “home.”)

Here are the seven locales:

  • Lunigiana (Italy)
  • Paris
  • Sarajevo
  • Istanbul
  • Madrid
  • London
  • Copenhagen

Enjoy these wonderful articles!

No April Fool

I’ve written about this topic once already, but since there’s been some more terrorist activity—this time in Brussels—and since I have two sets of friends traveling in Europe right now, I thought this article from the New York Times was, well, timely:

When Corey Patterson heard about the terrorist attacks in Brussels last week, he had a clear-cut response to people who asked if he was going to cancel a coming trip to Belgium.

“That’s exactly what the terrorists want, so absolutely not,” Mr. Patterson, 45, said on Twitter.

He’s in the Netherlands now, visiting a former roommate and his family, and will head to Belgium in a few days.

“Anything can happen anywhere at any time,” Mr. Patterson, a Texas resident, said through messages on Twitter. “You can’t stop living life, and this world is worth seeing, so I chose to do it.”

Oh, friends, this is how we feel too. I could get hit by a bus before I make it to Spain—so if the opportunity arises, I’m going. (Unless the State Department specifically advises against it.) In the meantime, we’ll “take care,” as this article advises:

  • Log travel plans with the State Department.
  • Know how to contact the American Embassy.
  • Find out how to contact local authorities in case of an emergency.
  • Make sure your phone will work where you’re going.
  • Be vigilant in public places and on mass transit.
  • Give a copy of your itinerary to family members or friends.
  • Understand the differences among travel insurance policies.

Is Europe Safe for Travelers?” the article asks. Yes, it concludes. Read it for a lot more detail.

Lights Out

The day after my 3 August post, there was another World War 1 commemoration in England. Germany declared war on France on August third; on the fourth, the German army invaded Belgium, and the United Kingdom and Belgium entered the war by declaration.

“The lamps are going out all over Europe,” said British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey on the evening of the third. “We shall not see them lit again in our life-time.”

In memory, Britons were urged to dim their lights between ten and eleven o’clock on the evening of the fourth. I found this a very moving demonstration.

The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. © Daily Mail.

The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. © Daily Mail.

The events of the day were covered extensively in photos—in this online article from the Daily Mail and this one from the Guardian (and a photo gallery here).