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Why (and where) Germans are choosing to go on holiday by car this year

The holiday season is already underway in Germany. And this year more people than ever are choosing to travel across Europe by car for their summer getaways. Here's a look at why, where they're going - and the rules.

Why (and where) Germans are choosing to go on holiday by car this year
An old-style VW camper van at the beach in St. Peter-Ording, Schleswig-Holstein in June. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Axel Heimken

After months of lockdown measures, Germans have clearly got the travel bug. But with air travel often coming with a higher risk of catching Covid – plus extra restrictions – lots of people in Germany are choosing to get to their holiday spots by car. 

That’s why hotels and holiday homes in some of the most popular destinations for Germans – Austria and Italy – are already booking up.

So if you are planning a trip to any of these countries, you might find that roads are busy because lots of other people have the same idea. 

But it’s not just foreign spots that are catching people’s eyes – staycations in Germany are popular too. 

Though the Baltic and North seas are top of many people’s lists, the German Hotel and Restaurant Association says that other areas of the German countryside will also be seeing an increase in tourism this year.

READ ALSO: How a rental car shortage across Europe could scupper holiday plans 

Ingrid Hartges, the head of this association, said: “The good weather we’ve seen throughout June had a really positive influence on people deciding to go on holiday in Germany.”

Recently, Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Brandenburg and Berlin all started their summer holiday period, and the rest of Germany’s federal states will follow suit over the next few weeks. 

A major upswing can be seen in the number of people travelling by car for their summer holidays in 2021. According to TUI, Europe’s largest travel company, the most common destinations are in Germany, Austria, South Tyrol in Italy, and Istria, where most of the coveted family rooms in hotels and guest houses have already been snapped up. There will also be a large influx of campers and those with holiday homes in these areas. 

READ ALSO: Where (and why) demand for holiday homes in Germany is soaring

So are roads going to be super packed?

Some people are worried that the increased car travel will lead to major traffic jams this summer, but transport experts assure travellers that this will not be the case. Holidaymakers should expect a fair amount of traffic on motorways and on the common holiday routes, but roads are unlikely to be fully congested. 

Traffic on the A3 south of Cologne on July 3rd. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Henning Kaiser

From mid-July onwards, it looks like car journeys will only get longer especially at the weekends, and particularly for those travelling south. Most people travelling to Italy or Austria will be heading out sometime between now and the middle of August. 

In the summer of 2019, 594 traffic jams that extended more than 10 kilometers were reported across Germany. On the first weekend in August, there were 63 of these ‘mega’ traffic jams in Bavaria alone, with a combined length of 786 kilometers.

The worst of these occurred on the route between Munich and Salzberg. The major holiday destinations that summer were Austria, Italy and Croatia, as well as the Alps. The North Sea, Baltic Sea, Netherlands and France were also popular among drivers. 

Of course, the coronavirus pandemic has proved a challenge to travellers this summer. In many German states, hotels have had to impose a limit on the number of guests they can accommodate, and regular testing or proof of vaccination/recovery is still required to eat indoors in many restaurants. Any further lifting of restrictions relies heavily on the speed of the vaccine rollout. 

Plus some people are not so keen on the idea of driving hundreds of km for their holiday and are still choosing to fly. Now that more of the population has been vaccinated against Covid-19, and that cases remain low in Germany, it is becoming easer to go abroad. The top destinations for Germans travelling by plane are Mallorca, Crete, Antalya, the Canary islands and Greece.

READ ALSO: What are the rules for travelling to some of Germany’s favourite holiday destinations?

What are the Covid rules for entering Germany by car?

Germany changed its travel rules on July 1st due to the current low rate of infection, meaning that it is becoming much easier to travel around Europe and return to Germany.

READ ALSO: How Germany’s latest rules on international travel affect you

In general if you are travelling by land (eg train or car) from a basic risk area (not a high incidence or virus variant area), you can submit evidence of your negative Covid-19 test, proof of recovery or proof of vaccination on the Einreiseanmeldung.de portal within 48 hours of crossing the border into Germany.

If this is submitted, travellers do not have an obligation to quarantine when they return to Germany.

None of Germany’s neighbouring countries are currently listed as ‘high risk’ or ‘virus variant’ areas by the government in terms of the coronavirus and its variants.

If coming from a high incidence area, the vaccinated and people who’ve recovered from Covid-19 don’t have to quarantine – but unvaccinated people will have to complete a 10-day quarantine that can be shortened if they have a negative test on the fifth day. 

In fact Germany’s neighbouring countries of Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Poland, for example, are currently classed as ‘non-risk’ countries, meaning smoother travel to these countries is now possible – you don’t even have to register online when arriving from non-risk countries. 

Of course, the classification of different countries is changing all the time as new variants spread and infection rates rise and fall, so it’s best to keep an eye on the Robert Koch Institute’s list of designated risk areas before you make plans to travel.  

READ ALSO:  EXPLAINED – How to get your digital Covid vaccine pass in Germany for EU travel

Those travelling from ‘virus variant areas of concern’ – such as Portugal, the UK and Russia – are generally banned from entry into Germany. 

Only German nationals and those with residence permits are currently permitted to travel from virus variant countries, and it is currently necessary to both present a negative Covid-19 test result on entry and complete a 14 day quarantine – even if vaccinated. 

If you’re coming from a high incidence or virus variant area by car note that you have to register online before arriving in Germany.  

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READER INSIGHTS

‘Horrible queues’: What Frankfurt airport is really like this summer

A recent survey placed two German airports among the worst in the world this summer for delayed flights. The Local readers told us Frankfurt airport is particularly bad.

'Horrible queues': What Frankfurt airport is really like this summer

It’s well known that flying can be a nightmare at the moment, whether there are delays, cancellations, long queues or lost luggage. 

According to a recent ranking by FlightAware, Germany’s largest airport in Frankfurt saw 45.4 percent of its flights delayed between May 26th and July 19th, while Munich airport had 40.4 percent of flights disrupted. 

We decided to ask The Local readers what their experience of flying to or from these airports has been this summer. 

Around 30 people answered our survey last week – and of those, just over 32 percent said their flight from one of these two German airports had been cancelled. Meanwhile, 60.7 percent of those surveyed said their flight was delayed. 

Missed connections

Frankfurt airport, which is airline giant Lufthansa’s main base, seemed to be the travel hub where people had experienced the most problems. 

The airline has struggled with staff shortages after cutting back its workforce during the pandemic travel restrictions. Around 6,000 flights have been cancelled from Frankfurt this summer. Lufthansa ground crew staff also recently held a strike over pay and conditions. 

Adding to the problem is that many people are off sick in Germany at the moment due to a high number of Covid infections.  

READ ALSO: Why is flying in Germany so expensive and chaotic right now?

Alison Townsend, 49, said: “No problems at Munich but major problems outwards at Frankfurt. Only a 30 minute delay but then hit the 45 minute non-EU passport queue and ridiculous distance between gates.

“I missed my connection so missed boarding my cruise in Athens and had a five-day catch-up to board it after with high hotel costs and expenses. Staffing levels were ok but lines for border control were too long.”

However, Townsend said both airports were “very good in terms of seating and shops plus food outlets”.

Craig, 68, who flew to and from Frankfurt, said: “It was chaos and clueless. No Lufthansa desks were open. And it was the third flight of my scheduled trip to be cancelled.”

Queues at Frankfurt airport in July.

Queues at Frankfurt airport in July. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

Nicolas, 37, flew to Marseille from Frankfurt, and said there were no staff there to tell passengers about their cancelled flight. 

“You feel very lonely in the big airport,” he said. “No one knew the right answer. I travel a lot around the world and I never felt that before.”

Another reader called Anna, 33, said she was put off from flying with Lufthansa after having her travel plans wrecked during recent strike action. Her outbound flight was delayed by 2.5 hours “and I missed the connecting flight”.

“Due to the strike I was left all alone in Munich with a toddler,” she said.

Tom Boon said he experienced lots of problems when flying with Lufthansa from or to Frankfurt. He said his return Lufthansa flight from London was “almost an hour late due to the aircraft not leaving Frankfurt on time to come to collect us in London City”.

Long queues at immigration

Lots of respondents mentioned the issue of waiting in line when arriving at Frankfurt airport. 

Balakrishnan, 41, who flew to Frankfurt from Abu Dhabi in July, said there were problems getting through passport control: “We waited nearly two hours in a long queue to clear immigration.

“Though the queue was too much, only two counters with four immigration officers were opened for non-EU passport holders.”

Paul, 52, flew to Frankfurt Airport at the end of July. He said: “Horrible queues for passport control, two people were there at 7.30am and there were queues of at least 200 people, stretching out of sight down the corridor.”

Source: Statista

Will the problems continue?

At the weekend, Lufthansa board member Christina Foerster told newspapers in the Funke Media group that flight operations were now “stabilised”.

“The low point has passed,” she said. However, Foerster said there were still major issues with staff having to take sick leave. 

Last week it also emerged that hundreds of new temporary employees from abroad, likely to be stationed at Munich, Frankfurt and Nuremberg airports, are set to join teams on the ground later this month. 

READ ALSO: German airports to recruit hundreds of emergency staff ‘in August’

And some readers said it’s not all that bad – even with the current staff shortages. 

Rebecca, 70, flew to Frankfurt airport on July 28th. 

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She said: “Flight arrived early. There was no line at passport control. Baggage arrived on the belt within 30 minutes. Shuttle to Terminal 1 was punctual.”

Steven, 35, said: “Munich had no issues at all, the airport was practically empty around 3pm. No baggage delays, customs did take a few minutes longer than usual. No other problems at all.”

Meanwhile, one reader said his worst experience was actually flying from another German airport – Cologne/Bonn. 

Angad, 28, said: “Security lines that were kilometres long and more than a two hour delayed flight. Fast track security that we paid for did not exist. Horrible, horrible experience.”

Tips and advice

We also asked readers for their suggestions on travelling at the moment. Here’s a summary of what they said:

  • Put a tracking device like an AirTag in checked baggage or only bring hand luggage 
  • Arrive earlier than usual for your flight, and be mindful of leaving time for connecting flights 
  • Wear trainers or comfortable shoes for getting through big airports quickly 
  • Lower your expectations 

Nick, 56, said: “Remain calm, other airports in the world are also going through the same issues.”

Another reader, Fiona, 54, said: “Don’t travel unless you really need to.”

Thank you to everyone who took the time to fill out our survey. Although we can’t include all the responses, we do read all of them and really appreciate you taking the time to share your views with us.

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