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TRAVEL NEWS

How travel between Germany and the USA has become easier

Both Germany and the USA have relaxed travel restrictions recently, while new flights will make it even easier to travel between the two countries. Here's a look at the details.

Travellers boarding a flight to New York from Frankfurt in November 2021.
Travellers boarding a flight to New York from Frankfurt in November 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

What’s happened?

Because the Omicron variant of Covid-19 generally causes less severe illness than other variants, many countries have been significantly relaxing their travel restrictions. Germany and the US followed this path last week by announcing they were dropping entry measures. 

Meanwhile, new flight connections have been announced between Berlin’s BER airport and the US. We break down how travel between the two countries has become much easier and what you should still be aware of.  

What are the changes in Germany?

Germany on June 11th announced that all Covid-19 entry restrictions to Germany were being provisionally lifted.

It means that people can enter German from non-EU countries like the United States for any reason at all, including tourism – and they do not have to be vaccinated against Covid-19. 

However, people living in China still need an important reason to enter Germany. 

READ ALSO: Germany drops Covid restrictions for non-EU travellers

Germany also relaxed the requirement for travellers to show their Covid status before being allowed into Germany. 

That means people no longer have to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative Covid test before coming to Germany – the so-called 3G rule. 

People walk in Frankfurt airport.

Travellers walk in Frankfurt airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hannes P. Albert

Germany has suspended the 3G on entry rule until the end of August. It is unclear if restrictions will be brought in again after this date, but it will likely depend on the Covid situation. 

One thing to keep in mind, though, is that if a country is classed as a ‘virus variant’ area, strict rules can come into place. They include non-German residents and citizens being barred from entry to Germany, and a 14-day quarantine for those who are allowed to enter Germany, regardless of vaccination/recovery status. 

It used to be a whole lot trickier to get to Germany from the States, as the below account by US writer and The Local reader Phil Schaaf shows:

What it’s like travelling to Germany from the US in the Covid era

What’s happened at the American end?

Across the Atlantic, the US government also relaxed its entry rules on June 12th. People arriving in the States now no longer need to show a negative Covid test or proof of recovery before boarding their flight. Everyone – including American citizens – previously had to show a negative test result or recovery details before being allowed to travel and enter the country. 

However, people still need to be fully vaccinated to enter the country, although American citizens and legal American residents do not need to be jabbed.

The US Embassy in Germany said as of June 12th “travellers are no longer required to show a negative Covid-19 test or proof of recovery to enter the United States.

“However, all non-immigrant, non-citizen air travellers to the United States are required to be fully vaccinated and to provide proof of vaccination status prior to boarding an airplane to the United States.”

A flight to Chicago shown on a departure board in Frankfurt.

A flight to Chicago shown on a departure board in Frankfurt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

People can apply for an exemption to the vaccination requirement.

The American CDC says people are considered fully vaccinated 2 weeks after:

  • a dose of an accepted single dose vaccine
  • a second dose of an accepted 2-dose series
  • receiving the full series of an accepted Covid-19 vaccine (not placebo) in a clinical trial
  • receiving 2 doses of any mix-and-match combination of accepted Covid-19 vaccines administered at least 17 days apart

The US says people do not need a booster jab to be considered fully vaccinated. Meanwhile, someone who has had one dose and recovered from Covid is not considered fully vaccinated for travel to the US.

Are there any Covid rules still in place?

In Germany there is still a nationwide requirement to wear a face mask – usually an FFP2 or equivalent mask – on public transport, including planes. That means travellers will have to wear a mask on the flight to Germany from the States, or vice versa. 

Masks also have to be worn in some places such as doctor surgeries and dentists. Individual businesses can also require customers to wear a mask so it’s best to take one with you when out and about. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s current Covid mask rules

People also have to isolate for at least five days if they get a positive Covid test result. Germany still offers free Covid tests for everyone – including tourists – at test centres or stations. This offer is in place until at least the end of June. People can ask for a Bürgertest at a test station, and all they need to do is fill out some details and show ID, such as a passport. 

In the US, states may still have some requirements in place such as mandatory masks on public transport so check the local rules before you travel. 

What’s this about new flight routes?

People flying from the German capital Berlin will soon be able to take more direct flights to the USA. 

The Norwegian airline Norse Atlantic Airways will connect BER Airport with New York and Los Angeles from mid-August, the company announced last week. 

There will be daily flights to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport from August 17th, and three weekly flights to LAX in Los Angeles from August 19th. Cargo services are also to be offered with the Boeing 787 aircraft.

The airline will be competing with United Airlines at BER. The US carrier has been ferrying passengers from Berlin to New York’s Newark Airport since March.

There are direct long-haul connections from BER to Singapore, Doha and, in winter, Dubai. But politicians and businesses in the region have been demanding more long-haul routes for the airport for a number of years. Berlin’s former Tegel Airport only offered a handful of long-haul direct flights.

Passengers flying from the region usually have to change planes for longer connections at busier transport hubs like Frankfurt and Munich.

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TRAIN TRAVEL

Yes, train travel across Europe is far better than flying – even with kids

Hoping to do his bit for the planet, perhaps save some money and avoid spending any time in airports, The Local's Ben McPartland decided to travel 2,000km with his family across Europe by train - not plane. Here's how he got on on and would he recommend it?

Yes, train travel across Europe is far better than flying - even with kids

Summer 2022 has seen the return of people travelling across Europe en masse whether for holidays or to see family, or both.

But it’s also seen chaos in airports, airline strikes and more questions than ever about whether we should be flying at all as Europe bakes under consecutive heatwaves caused by the climate crisis.

But are there really viable alternatives to travelling 2,000 km across Europe in a short space of time – with young kids?

The predicament

We needed to get from Paris to Portugal, or to be more precise the western edge of the Algarve in southern Portugal, for a week-long family holiday.

We didn’t have that much time to spend travelling there and back so the dilemma was how could we get there, fairly quickly?

“We” in this case being a family of four including two children aged 5 and 7, one fairly easygoing mum and a dad (me) who increasingly comes out in a rash when he goes near an airport.

Normally we’d have flown – as we did when we went to the same region of Portugal in October – but the stories of airport chaos, delays, cancellations, strikes and never-ending queues around Europe at the start of the summer made the prospect of taking the plane far less appealing.

Then throw in the climate crisis and the growing feeling that we, as a family, need to make an effort for the cause.

So the thought of flying, during what forecasters say was one of the hottest Julys on record in Europe and as rivers dried up and wildfires burn, just didn’t feel like an acceptable option – to me anyway – when there are alternatives.

There was the option of driving from France to Portugal, as many French and Portuguese nationals living in France do every summer. But driving nearly 2,000 km there and back for just a week’s holiday with two kids strapped in the back for hours on end would have been asking for trouble – either a breakdown or lots of meltdowns.

So that left taking the train. But would it be viable?  Would something go wrong as my colleague Richard Orange had warned on his own rail trip across Europe with kids this summer?

READ ALSO: What I learned taking the train through Europe with two kids

Planning the route

With the help of some really knowledgeable European rail experts like Jon Worth and information from the excellent The Man in Seat Sixty-One website we looked at the various rail routes through France and Spain to southern Portugal.

One problem was the line from southern Spain to the Algarve no longer runs which meant the best we could do was get to Seville and then hire a car.

At one point the best option looked like a night train (fairly cheap with a whole cabin reserved for the family) down to the Pyrenees (Latour-de-Carol) and then a local train to Barcelona before onwards travel to Portugal.

But in the end we settled on the direct train from Paris to Barcelona, spend the night in the Catalan city before taking the train the next day to Seville and picking up the car.

READ ALSO 6 European cities less than 7 hours from Paris by train

It would be mean Paris to Portugal in two days – or to be precise 7 hours to Barcelona, one night in a hotel, before a five-and-half-hour train journey to Seville and a three-hour car journey. It was the quickest way without flying, as far as we could see.

We were about to book the tickets when friend who was travelling by rail through Europe mentioned the Interrail option.

I did Interrailing as an 18-year- old and it was a great way to spend a month travelling around Europe (and Morocco) but had never thought it could be an option for a quickish trip to Portugal and back.

But Interrail has changed a bit since 1996 and indeed since 1972 when it was first launched for under 21s.

Now it offers passes that can be used for 4, 5 or 7 days a month – perfect for travel to a few destinations in a short space of time.

And, this was the clincher – Interrail passes for under 11s are free if they are with an adult.

Well almost free, because in certain countries like France and Spain you still need to pay for seat reservations for anyone travelling.

But the cost of the passes for two adults, plus seat reservations were cheaper than just booking direct trains and much cheaper than flying (more on costs below).

The high-speed train from Barcelona to Seville. Photo: The Local

The Upsides

Let’s start with not having to wake up at 4am and arrive at the train station three hours before the train leaves just to check in a bag and then spend the next three hours queuing in various lines – bags, passport, security, boarding etc..

We arrived at Gare de Lyon around 30 minutes before the train left and boarded without queuing and the train departed on time.

Compare this with having to get a taxi or the RER train to Charles de Gaulle airport and then still find yourself in Paris three hours later as you queue to board. (I know this is not always the case but this summer the advice was to arrive three hours before your flight to check in bags.)

Plus there was no luggage limits on the train and no having to empty your bags at security because you left an old roll-on deodorant at the bottom of your bag.

Although rail stations in Spain do have airport style x-ray machines to check all luggage, they were very rapid and didn’t result in any long queues.

Add to this comfortable seats with leg room, a bar you can walk to and spend hours watching the beautiful French and Spanish landscape whizz by.

You arrive in the centre of town – in our case Barcelona – so there’s no need to get public transport or taxis to and from out of town airports. 

Spending a night in Barcelona was a great way to break the journey – albeit a bit expensive (see below).

And it all ran pretty much on time. Over five train journeys in four days we had 15 minutes of delay. Spain’s high-speed trains were fantastic.

To sum it up: when flying your holiday only really begins when you arrive at your final destination because these days the day spent travelling is one big headache, but with the train the holiday begins as soon as you leave the station.

It’s just far, far more relaxing.

heading back to Barcelona Sants station after a night in the Catalan capital. Photo: The Local.

The Downsides

But what about the kids, you say?

Yep this can be an issue. Travelling for 7 hours on a train is not easy with two young kids but if you come prepared and can think of 75 different ways to occupy them from drawing and playing cards to I-spy and “count my freckles slowly” then it’s possible the journey will be tantrum free. (Playing hide and seek on a train with 12 carriages isn’t advisable.)

And kids adapt, so the following day’s five and half hour journey from Barcelona to Seville was a breeze because they settled into the pace of life and by that point had worked out the code to get into my mobile phone.

One complaint was how long the TGV train took to get along the southern French coast. Does it really need to stop at Nimes, Montpellier, Beziers, Agde, Sete and Perpignan? Can’t local trains serve these stations and the TGV just head straight to Spain?

Another little gripe was the train food. Whilst buffet cars on SNCF and Renfe trains are great for a coffee or a beer they don’t really offer a selection of healthy meals, so you need to come prepared. We weren’t and spent a lot of money on crap food and drink during the trips.

But if you know this in advance you can bring whatever you like onto the train, with no nonsense about 100ml limits on liquid.

Cost comparison

Working out cost comparisons are hard and anyone looking to do a similar trip will need a calculator at hand. 

It’s hard to do a direct comparison between flying and taking the train because so much depends on what the prices are when you book, the route you want to take and how quickly you want to travel and whether to go first class or standard.

But for us at the time of booking (roughly two months in advance) flights from Paris to Faro were about €1,500 for four people, train tickets booked directly with SNCF and Renfe (not interrail) for four people were around €1,200 (this probably could have been much cheaper further in advance), whilst the Interrail option – 4 day passes plus seat reservations was around €810.

So on the face of it travelling by train, especially using Interrail passes, was cheaper – but then add on the cost of two nights in hotels in central Barcelona and there was no real financial benefit of going by train.

But then it was never all about money – what price on not having to spend three hours at Charles de Gaulle airport?

How easy is it to Interrail?

Interrail proved a great option for us, even though it was only a relatively short trip. It’s more suited to those looking to do multiple journeys through various countries, perhaps at a slower pace. But the kids being free was crucial for us, so other families should definitely explore the option.

The one downside to Interrailing through France and Spain is the requirement to book seat reservations for the high-speed trains.

Whilst this sounds fairly straightforward we couldn’t do it through the Interrail app or website so had to be done with Renfe directly. For most countries you can reserve seats through the Interrail app (more on this below).

With SNCF it required a lengthy phone call because we reserved the seats to make sure there were some available before getting the Interrail passes.

For Paris to Barcelona the reservations cost €34 for standard class seats or €48 for first class.

With Renfe it was more complicated although much cheaper (Around €10 to €12 a seat). We were told on the phone that to reserve seats with Interrail you have to do it either at a Spanish train station or by phone but only if you can pick up and pay for the reservations at a Spanish train station within a certain amount of time.

Neither of these were possible when booking from Paris back in May/June. But the helpful website Man at Seat 61 recommended going via the man behind the AndyBTravels website, who charges a small fee. A few emails were exchanged and our reservations for Barcelona to Seville arrived in the post a few days later. 

Renfe and SNCF could make it easier for Interrail passengers.

The Interrail mobile pass on the the Rail Planner app was very easy to use. It was just a case of adding the days when we were travelling and then adding the specific journeys.

This brought up a QR code for each trip but the ticket controllers were always more concerned about the seat reservations we had on paper.

But all went to plan.

 

Conclusion

Those days spent sitting drinking coffee, orange and beer (in separate cups) starring out of train windows at fields, hills, mountains, villages, beach and train platforms were part of the holiday.

I’d say that if you have a day or two to spare then travelling across Europe by train instead of plane is well worth it – yes, even with two young kids.

They might even thank you for it one day if we all help avert a climate disaster. 

Advice

It’s hard to give advice because each person has different requirements that need to be taken into account – whether number of passengers, time needed for travelling, destinations, cost etc.

But plan ahead and do the research to see what’s possible.

One bit of advice if you need to travel quickly is try keep connections to a minimum or give yourself plenty of time to make them.

My colleague Richard Orange had problems on his trip from Sweden to the UK via Denmark, Germany and Belgium because of delays and missed connections.

Useful links and extra info

You can explore Interrail pass options and prices by visiting the Interrail site here. The site offers plenty of info to help you plan your trip and reserve seats on trains if necessary.

The fantastic Man in Seat 61 guide to train travel across Europe is a must-read for anyone planning a trip. It has pages and pages of useful up to date info and can be viewed here.

It also has loads of information on how to use an Interrail pass and calculations to see whether it’s the best option – if you need help with the maths. The page can be viewed here.

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