Let’s begin by making an important point perfectly clear: as long as you travel smartly, taking a trip to Europe during the migrant crisis does not have to be any more dangerous or difficult than during normal times. Yes, some European countries have introduced new border and transportation controls as they continue to deal with the massive influx of refugees. These changes have caused some travel restrictions between countries on the so-called Balkan Route, which ostensibly consists of Greece, Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, and Croatia. Several other countries have also introduced changes in policy and enforcement, but with such a large number of people moving through Europe, it’s difficult to predict new disruptions and delays across the continent.
To begin your trip safely, contact embassies of all the countries you plan to visit during your Europe vacation as you finalize your itinerary. These diplomatic missions serve as official representatives of their countries in your home country, and will be happy to provide you with policy information and travel advice, so you’ll know just what to expect once your reach their border. Read on to find out what else you need to be aware of and what other resources you can turn to for the latest travel tips.
Border Checks: Keep Your Passport Handy
Most European Union countries and a few countries on the path to EU membership are party to the Schengen Agreement, which allows for passport-free travel between its member states. This means that visitors only need to show proper travel documentation when first entering the Schengen area, after which they’re free to move from country to country without presenting their passport. The Schengen Agreement does permit its members to reintroduce border checks and impose crossing restrictions due to security reasons. Find out more about this agreement and any current alterations to the free movement policy by visiting Schengen’s official website.
For the most part, regular travelers planning to visit Europe need not be concerned about major disruptions to their plans. Crossing most borders in Europe remains a hassle-free affair, simply requiring the presentation of a valid travel document and perhaps a slightly longer wait. Currently, some of the longest delays occur between Serbia and Croatia, two transit countries crossed by thousands of migrants on their way to Western Europe. Another pressure point is between Serbia and Hungary, where a large number of economic migrants and war refugees continue to cross the border both legally and illegally. These countries have tightened their controls and introduced new laws to punish illegal entry and vandalism of the newly built border fences. Keep your passport handy and prepare to be patient if crossing between the countries on the Balkan Route.
Traveling by Train: Plan Ahead!
Many refugees make their way across Europe by train. Some countries have even introduced regulations forcing these travelers to keep to predetermined routes, serviced by designated rail and bus lines. If you’re planning to travel by train anywhere within Europe, keep a close eye on service availability. Changes can occur at any time and without prior notice, so it’s best to plan ahead and have an alternate mode of transportation just in case. Currently, international train traffic between Croatia and Hungary remains suspended. Tighter border and passport checks in Germany have caused minor disruptions in train connections to and from Austria and Hungary. Remember, however, this can change on a daily or even hourly basis. For the most up to date travel information, check Interrail’s official website, or contact the railway company of each country you plant to visit directly.
Keeping Safe: Here’s What to Do
Taking a holiday in Europe now is really no different from visiting any other part of the world—keeping safe should always be your priority, no matter where and when you choose to go. Keep an eye on your belongings at airports and train stations, paying special attention to all your important documents. Stay away from dark streets and neighborhoods with a questionable reputation, and know exactly where to find your home country’s embassy or general consulate. It’s always a good idea to follow the news and visit a few travel forums, which provide useful info from locals and other tourists. Here are a few to keep in mind:
If you plan to travel to Europe over the next few months, follow the situation and use the resources and tips provided in this article to help create a stress-free and safe experience.