5 Ways how Traveling has Changed in Europe in the last 10 Years
I remember when I started traveling extensively how complicated many things that we now take for granted when moving from country to country really were. Traveling in Europe has been revolutionized by increased cooperation/integration and technological developments over the last decade.
In this article, I will outline 5 developments in cooperation and integration in Europe that have made traveling easy and cheaper in the last years. In two weeks time, I will publish a separate article outlining the technological improvements that have also contributed to transforming travel in Europe.
In the last 10+ years ongoing initiatives have transformed many aspects of our experience when traveling across the European continent, both in the European Union and outside it.
Here you’ll learn about how developments in the airline industry, train transport, border crossings, phone roaming charges and payments have made traveling in Europe both easier and cheaper to do.
1. Flying across Europe
The number of flight options in terms of destinations and price has been increased rapidly over the last 10 years. The flights offered by established low costs carriers, such as Easyjet and Ryanair, has been supplemented by newer entrants like WizzAir, Vueling and Eurowings.
Routes from west to east (as opposed to north to south) have been the biggest boon for travelers within Europe and today destinations such as Warsaw, Bucharest, Budapest and Riga are easy to get to cheaply from Western Europe.
National flag carriers have also had to revise their business models to deal with the increased competition from low cost airlines. Therefore, airlines such as Aer Lingues (Ireland), British Airways (UK) and Lufthansa (Germany) offer lower fares and a more streamlined service.
Flying used to be the preserve of the rich but now is within reach of even the most low budget traveler, especially when going east to the new Central and Eastern European destinations that are becoming increasingly popular, like Poland, Romania and the Baltic countries.
Low cost airlines have sprung up all across Europe lowering the cost of flying substantially
2. Trains across Europe
I’m a train travel junkie. How about you? I love taking the train over other transport because it’s more comfortable, easier to work from (laptop), doesn’t involve long checkin times or traveling out to remote airports and you can admire beautiful scenery, particularly in mountainous regions.
High-speed train lines have now been expanded in countries like Italy, Spain, Germany, France and even a little more in the east of Europe, in countries like Poland, Russia and Turkey. For example, travelers to Italy can wizz in comfort from Venice or Milan to Florence and then on to Rome and Naples in a matter of hours.
The Eurostar has become the standard way to travel to London from Paris, Brussels and even Amsterdam (though the channel tunnel). Thalys now connects France and Belgium with the Netherlands and Germany at high speed. Many of these trains travel at over 300kms/hour! 😀
Traveling by train in Europe is the quickest point-to-point method. If the train journey is up to 4 or 5 hours then I would definitely take it over a plane ride. So next time you have the option, I encourage you to join me on the train! 😀
Trains have been dramatically improved all over Europe – they are now faster and more comfortable
3. Crossing borders across Europe
The Schengen Agreement means that there is effectively no border crossing between 26 countries in Europe (list of countries below).
In 2007 the area was expanded to include many countries in Central and Eastern Europe that had been cut off from Western Europe during the Cold War.
The removal of border controls in this region was therefore hugely symbolic, as well as, a major event for facilitating travel across the continent.
Me at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, Germany – border crossings no longer exist between Germany and its neighbors
The Schengen Area has a population of over 400 million people and an area of over 4 million square kilometres. It means that you can travel from Malaga in Spain to Tallinn in Estonia without having to show your passport or go through a border crossing. This clearly saves travelers immensely in terms of time and money.
If you do not hold an EU passport and don’t benefit from a visa-free status, the Schengen area offers other additional benefits. Schengen also means that a visa for one Schengen country is valid for all (subject to restrictions), which simplifies traveling across Europe immensely as applying and collecting visas is expensive and seriously time consuming.
The Schengen area has saved me literally hundreds of hours in lost time waiting to cross borders in Europe. A trip overland from Portugal to Estonia meant at least 8 border crossings (pre-Schengen). Now you only notice a welcome sign telling you that you are in a new country. 🙂
Countries currently in the Schengen Area (July 2016): Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
4. Roaming across Europe
Remember how back in the day people bought calling cards and went to phone booths? There was a very good reason for this, especially in airports, even when cellphones first because widespread.
Roaming charges used to be a major problem for travelers in Europe. For example, if you had a French SIM card and you crossed the border into Germany, you would have to pay ‘roaming’ charges for any calls or data that you use there. The cost of these were often prohibitive.
Many travelers chose to turn their phones off (particularly for data). There was a case were a traveler came back from holidays to find a €10,000 bill for having downloaded a film. Quite an expensive movie indeed! 🙁
Consistently over the last decade, the European Commission in Brussels has proposed legislation to cap the prices that mobile phone operators can charge for roaming within the European Union. In fact, roaming charges will technically be eliminated in 2017 after which there will still be some additional charges if you use your SIM abroad the majority of the time.
Considering how much time I spend hooked up online (about 18 hours per day probably 😉 ), roaming charges used to be one the banes of traveling in Europe. I depend hugely on the ability of my smartphone to remain connected when traveling and I always buy a local SIM after one day for this reason (read my article here on smartphones).
From 2017 roaming charges will be a frightful expense of the past in the EU (although they will still apply in the parts of Europe outside of the European Economic Area so be careful of this in countries like Serbia, Russia and Ukraine, for example). Thankfully your phone bill will no longer cause you great anguish upon your return home. 😀
Roaming charges for calls and data have been forcibly slashed across the European Union
5. Payments across Europe
The acceptance of credit cards is now almost universal in Europe (at least for Mastercard and Visa – American Express is not widely accepted). This means that you can avoid been being ripped off by high rates for changing currency at the bureau de change in the airport upon arrival.
Sometimes there are transaction fees (so you need to check those with your bank), including if you choose to pay in your local currency when abroad. For example, if you are in Paris, France and using your American credit card then perhaps you will be given the option of paying in dollars as opposed to euros. There is an additional fee if you choose to pay in dollars so I always check the mid-market exchange rate on my smartphone before deciding in which currency to pay.
There is now also less reason to carry wades of foreign currency on your trips. Credit cards make paying abroad a lot more convenient, as well as, reducing your losses if you are robbed on a trip. In such an unfortunate case, you will have to report your card stolen and pay a fee for a new one but this is a lot better than potentially losing your entire budget for a trip. 😀
Making payments is now relatively easy in Europe
Any other big improvements to traveling in Europe?
Here I’ve outlined 5 significant changes I’ve personally noted while traveling extensively in Europe during the last decade. Have you noticed any other big changes? Write them in the comments section below! I love reading about your travel experiences. 😀