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In the post-COVID era, Americans and other tourists from around the world are flooding Europe. In fact, I’m just wrapping up my third trip in the last year, and the differences between visiting now compared to before COVID are stark. Major tourist sites are simply mobbed with visitors.

If you haven’t been to Europe in a while and you’re planning on traveling there soon, now is the time to prepare yourself for what to expect.

1. Start Planning the Details NOW!

crowds at the Eiffel Tower

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I can remember a time when a visitor to Paris, France, could simply stroll up to the Eiffel Tower, purchase a ticket and enjoy it in its magnificent glory. But when I went online to purchase tickets in mid-June, I was informed that all tickets to visit the top of the tower were already sold out for the entire month of July. You may be able to find a ticket as things can change, but thankfully, I was able to purchase two tickets for me and my wife to climb the stairs to the second level, approximately mid-way, and we had a great time. But those who arrived at the tower without tickets faced a long line at best and disappointment at worst.

I’ve recently seen the same dynamic play out at the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, and at the Tower of London in England. The lesson here is that if you’re planning on visiting a major attraction, make sure to purchase your tickets in advance. This will not only allow you to avoid some of the lines, but it may also be your only chance of getting in.

2. Only Purchase Tickets From an Attraction’s Official Website

Hopefully, you’ll take my advice and purchase your tickets online in advance, but don’t be suckered into the numerous for-profit websites that attempt to appear to be official. These websites, with their paid placement on search engines, may heavily mark up the prices for tickets to major attractions, with little or no value added. To get the best deals, ignore the paid search results and make your purchases from the organization in charge of the attraction that you want to visit.

3. Seek Low-Traffic Times to Visit Major Attractions

Seeing the Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris may be only slightly less chaotic than being front row at a Taylor Swift concert. But for many tourists, a trip to Paris won’t be complete without it. When planning to visit a major site, focus on finding the least-visited time of the day and day of the week. For example, the Louvre is open late on Fridays, and it’s known to be the least crowded time.

4. Get Off the Beaten Path

Bayeux, France

Unsplash

I like to say that if you want to spend money in Europe, go to a big city. But if you want to spend time there, visit the countryside. Major sites in big cities are fun, but rural Europe is especially charming. For example, the city of Bayeux in the Normandy region of France is a great base from which to tour the sites of D-Day. But it also features a magnificent cathedral that’s older than Notre Dame in Paris (which is closed for restoration).

And we’ve discovered foodie paradises in rural Italy, France, and Greece. Just remember that the key to avoiding crowds is to discover sites that are new to you, rather than the ones that everyone has read about during their entire lives.

5. Avoid Using Cars Near Cities

It’s pretty hard for most Americans to imagine not being in a car for a week at a time, but you need to wrap your head around that if you’re going to visit a major European city. For example, after traveling from London to Paris by train, we decided to splurge and order an Uber to get us the short distance to our hotel with our luggage. However, Uber was no help, as it repeatedly searched for a driver for five minutes before giving up. Lyft isn't available in Europe, and the taxi drivers wanted over $40 to take us just two miles. Ultimately, we just bought subway tickets for around $2 each, which took us where we needed to go quickly and easily.

In both London and Athens, we found that taking a train from the airport wasn’t just far less expensive than a taxi or a shared ride, but also faster. And whatever you do, don’t consider renting a car anywhere near a major city, as you’ll be faced with high traffic, high gas prices, and parking that’s hard to find, pricey, and inconveniently located.

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6. Pack Light

Once you give up on rental cars, taxis, and shared rides, you have to focus on traveling a bit lighter than you’re used to. On our last two trips, we all successfully packed in just a carry-on suitcase and a backpack each. Doing so allows you to easily use public transit to get around. Skipping checked bags will also save you massive amounts of time checking in for flights at the airport (you simply check-in online) and waiting for luggage when you arrive. It also relieves you of the stress of wondering if your bag will be lost.

It shouldn’t be difficult for you to pack up to a week’s worth of clothes this way, especially for summer travel. And during our most recent two-week trip through London and France, we simply found a neighborhood laundromat near our hotel halfway through the vacation.

7. Watch Out For Currency Scams

atm dispensing Euros

iStock

Credit card processors in Europe have recruited many merchants into a scam called dynamic currency conversion (DCC). The way it works is that you are asked if you’d like to pay for a charge in your home currency or in the local currency. The question may be phrased in a way to make it more attractive to choose your home currency, and, I found, there’s often a claim of a good exchange rate. But because there’s a huge commission added, you will always pay more if you choose to pay in your home currency. Lately, I’ve been noticing this scam infecting ATM machines as well, so beware.

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8. Use the Right Credit Card

Any time you make a charge outside of the United States, you’ll want to use a card that has no foreign transaction fees, which are often 3% of the amount charged. And when you travel, you also want to use a card that offers benefits like trip delay and trip cancellation insurance and lost luggage insurance. Some credit cards do not offer any travel benefits or they are limited, but premium cards from Chase and American Express offer robust travel insurance policies. Capital One also has cards that offer some travel benefits.

Recommended Travel Cards

Chase Sapphire Preferred®

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Secure application on issuer’s website

  • Our Rating 5/5 How our ratings work Read the review
  • APR21.49% - 28.49% (Variable)
  • Annual Fee$95
  • Sign Up Bonus 60,000Chase Ultimate Rewards Points More Info

    Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Dollar Equivalent: $1,380 (60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points * 0.023 base)

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is one of the gold standards for earning travel rewards. It has a generous sign-up bonus and you can earn points on travel and dining expenses. The card does have an annual fee, but you can continue earning points through bonus categories and an anniversary points boost.

Overview

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is pretty flexible as it lets you transfer rewards points into miles or points several airlines and hotel programs. You can take advantage of strong transfer partners such as United, Southwest, Singapore Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and Hyatt. Similarly, you can book any reservation you want through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal. Although the card might not be ideal for the most frequent travelers, it has a built-in upgrade path, so when it’s time to level up your travel rewards game, you won’t have to start from scratch.

Pros

  • Points are easily transferable to airlines and hotel partners
  • Accelerated earnings on dining, travel & household purchases
  • Excellent travel and purchase protections
  • No foreign transaction fees

Cons

  • Not ideal for the highest spenders
  • $95 annual fee

Citi Premier® Card

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Secure application on issuer’s website

Rates & Fees
  • Our Rating 4.5/5 How our ratings work Read the review
  • APR21.24% - 29.24% (Variable)
  • Annual Fee$95
  • Sign Up Bonus 60,000Citi ThankYou Points More Info

    Earn 60,000 bonus ThankYou Points after making $4,000 worth of purchases during the first three months of account opening. Dollar Equivalent: $1,080 (60,000 Citi ThankYou Points * 0.018 base)

The Citi Premier® Card, from our partner Citi, is worth considering if you’re looking for accelerated travel rewards but don’t want to pay a huge annual fee. It’s easy to quickly rack up lots of points on this card. While you can redeem ThankYou points for gift cards, you’ll get more value when you redeem points for flights and hotels, and potentially even better value when you transfer points to travel partners.

Overview

This credit card offers its members a range of incentives, such as bonus points, gift cards and 1:1 point transfers with airline partners. One of the more unique features of the Citi Premier® Card from our partner Citi is that it offers 3x ThankPoints for every dollar spent at supermarkets, gas stations, restaurants and travel purchases. Plus, new cardholders can earn 60,000 ThankYou Points after spending $4,000 during the first three months of account opening.

Perks

  • Earn 3x ThankYou Points per dollar spent on travel, grocery stores, restaurants and gas stations
  • Annual $100 hotel savings benefit. Just book a hotel stay of $500 or more through thankyou.com or 1-800-THANKYOU to earn the discount.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Easily transfer your points to Citi's airline partners

Pros

  • High reward rate on common categories of consumer spending
  • Points are easily transferable to airlines and hotel partners
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Points never expire

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • No standout rewards category
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Best Travel Credit Cards

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9. Be Careful Out There

For the most part, Europe is a very safe place to visit. In fact, I was reminded on several occasions that some Europeans are afraid to travel to the United States due to the frequency of mass shootings. That said, I encountered numerous warnings about pickpockets. I also met an American tourist who had his backpack stolen at an archeological site in Athens. He described taking it off for just a second while seated and placing it behind him, only to find it gone moments later.

Another danger is bicyclists. Traffic in European cities is now dominated by people of all ages zipping around at high speeds on silent, electric-powered bicycles. These are so fast that they are little more than motorcycles with superfluous pedals. So take a moment to look both ways, even when crossing a sidewalk.

Bottom Line

Europe is crowded, but there’s a good reason for that. By carefully planning your trip ahead of time and being aware of your surroundings while you’re there, you, too, can enjoy your European vacation, even if it sometimes seems like the rest of the planet is joining you.

JS

Jason Steele

Jason Steele is a journalist who specializes in covering credit cards, award travel and other areas of personal finance. As one of the nation’s leading experts in the credit card industry, Jason’s work has been featured at mainstream outlets such as Yahoo! Finance, MSN Money and Business Insider.