‘I’m going crazy’: Why international residents in Europe will travel this summer despite Covid

Despite ongoing travel restrictions, extra costs and uncertainty over new Covid variants, international residents living across Europe vow to travel abroad this summer. For most it is the need to see family that motivates them.

'I'm going crazy': Why international residents in Europe will travel this summer despite Covid
Why international residents in Europe intend to travel this summer despite Covid (IllustrationPhoto by SAEED KHAN / AFP)

International residents living across Europe are planning to travel abroad this summer, with most aiming to visit their long lost families, if responses to a survey of The Local’s readers is anything to go by.

Some 87 percent of over 1,200 respondents to a recent survey of readers across Europe said they were planning to travel abroad this summer. 

Of those who said they would not travel abroad this summer, the most common reasons were because of worries about the pandemic and ongoing Covid-19 travel restrictions.

Nearly two thirds of those who said they plan to head abroad this summer said that the need to see family and friends was their primary reason. The other 35.9 percent said they simply needed a holiday. 

It’s not surprising that so many people want to travel back to their home countries to see family, with more a third of respondents stating that they hadn’t seen their family in more than a year. Just over a quarter said they hadn’t seen family in more than six months and one in five hadn’t even seen families in more than two years. 

When asked why it was so important to travel this summer and see friends and family or go on holiday some key themes were repeated by readers.

Family matters

Many talked about the need to see ageing parents back home and their fear that time was running out. Many also spoke of the need to take their children back to see their grandparents. Other readers spoke about the need to travel back home to see their grandchildren who they’ve missed.

Tom Bolton, who lives in France, is one reader who spoke about his need to get back to the UK to see his mother. “Not seen my mum for a long time. She has dementia and would like to see her before she forgets who I am,” he told us. 

Susan Erswell, who lives in the UK and is desperate to travel to Sweden, said: “I need to see my three young grandchildren who I haven’t seen in almost two years.”

Some readers had even had babies during the pandemic and wanted to introduce their new arrivals to their family back home. Sarah Martin, who lives in Norway and plans to visit the US this summer, said: “My in-laws are getting old and haven’t met their second grandson yet – we haven’t seen them in over two years.”

Love was also a theme that popped up responses from readers with many couples having been marooned in long-distance online relationships since the pandemic began.

Aravinth Selvakumar, who lives in Canada and intends to travel to Germany and Denmark said: “I have not seen my fiancee for over three years now and we were planning to get married before Covid happened. It was delayed because of travel restrictions. We are hoping to be reunited in case the pandemic extends for years to come”.

As well as simply missing family, many of our readers spoke of the need for family support after enduring difficult times during the pandemic. From family deaths and illnesses to miscarriages and mental breakdowns, many desperately need family around them again to help them get through these difficult times. 

Peter Hulse, who lives in Italy, intends to travel to the UK. His need to return home to see family is motivated by personal loss. He said: “My wife died in 2020 and I am transporting her ashes back to the UK for a family memorial. I have not seen my family since my wife’s death.”

Bernalyn Vitto, who lives in Copenhagen and plans on going back to Germany, had a similar reason for desperately wanting to see family.

“I want to see my sisters. It’s very important to see my sisters, especially since we just recently lost our father,” she said.

Covid taken its toll on mental health

This also ties in with another key theme that we saw, which was mental health. Many respondents said that getting away or going home to visit family was necessary for their sanity.  

Greg Smith, who lives in Sweden and is hoping to get back to the UK this summer, said: “Living in a foreign country with no family is challenging. An overseas holiday to visit family will ease mental health struggles and provide a release from being in Sweden for so long.”

Diane, who also lives in Sweden and wants to get back to Canada, said: “I am going crazy. I live alone here and never expected to be so isolated and alone.”

Other readers were keen to get back and check up on properties and holiday homes that had remained empty for a year. 

Italy was a popular summer destination listed by respondents, with France, Greece, the UK and Spain also featuring prominently.

Germany and Scandinavian countries Sweden and Norway, although not as popular as the Mediterranean destinations, were also popular travel destinations. 

Tests, quarantine and costs

While travelling within Europe has become easier since the beginning of the pandemic, travellers still face many struggles and uncertainties, from quarantines and travel bans to having to fill in complicated health forms and the need for expensive Covid tests.

In fact, over half of respondents said that mandatory Covid tests were one of the biggest complications to travelling this summer. The possible need to spend time in quarantine was also a big concern. 

And with the concern over virus variants rising all the time, many countries have imposed even more travel restrictions.

Norway for example is only letting travellers in from those countries that meet the criteria for low infection levels, unless they are a Norwegian national or a resident. The UK is making all travellers quarantine for 10 days, unless they enter from a country on the government’s green list, which currently excludes most of Europe.

Various countries have also imposed tight restrictions on travel from the UK while non-essential travel to and from most other countries outside the EU is still largely impossible.

But not everyone is planning on staying within Europe if they can travel. Across the continents, the most popular destination among readers was by far the US, with India also featuring high on the list.  

Many Americans resident in Europe were hoping to travel back during the summer, with long-haul travel having been even more difficult over the past year. While travelling there seems less challenging, they face uncertainty when returning to their country of residence with the possibility of quarantines and Covid tests.

But not everyone intends to travel to see family. For many, the understandable need for a holiday after lockdowns and curfews was paramount.

Thomas Brown who lives in Switzerland and is planning on visiting Spain this summer, said: “I just need a break from routine, plus better weather and fascinating culture.”

Irene, who lives in Denmark and is planning on travelling to Portugal, said: “I need sun and to just have a positive experience.”

The Local’s survey was carried out via an online survey that is now closed. Some 1,293 readers responded.

Member comments

  1. The majority of people do not need to travel…and should facilitate genuine people – in desperate need to see loved ones – travelling.

    This whole pandemic – and economic despair – has only been prolonged because of selfish people (with a secure salary, financial means, or benefits) not social distancing, not respecting the rules, not wearing masks (correctly) and TRAVELLING because they believe they are entitled to a holiday.

  2. My fully-vaccinated elderly mother flew from the USA to Germany a few weeks back. We haven’t seen each other in years as I am deployed here. She was refused entry and made to stay in a secure police station in the back of the airport overnight. It was truly inhumane. The only good thing that happened was the police let us go in the holding cell with her and hug her. I brought my children as well to see their grandmother. They didn’t have to let us see each other. Lemonade from lemons I suppose. I do hope they open soon so she can try again. I’d love to see her for a few weeks and not in a holding cell.

    1. She and you knew the position before she flew so why whine about the end result? It’s people with your attitude that are prolonging this outbreak.

      1. We actually didn’t know. Immediate family in the US is defined as your spouse, your children, and your parents. Germany’s rule for travel allows for immediate family members to visit legal residents of the EU, of which I am. They checked all her paperwork at both airports leaving the US. The problem occurred because we found of in Germany, the Germans do not define your parents as immediate family. They are, but only until you turn 18, and then your parents aren’t immediate family anymore. It was a technicality, but they would budge. I’m not sure what attitude you mean. Americans for the most part, especially the ones living here in Germany have been vaccinated since March and April. It seems the pandemic has been prolonged by the fact that many people are still having private gatherings and are not vaccinated. That doesn’t apply to me or anyone I know. How is my elderly, fully-vaccinated mother prolonging a pandemic? What a stupid thing to say. You sound both stupid and cruel. I’m sure it’s because you have no family to visit, surely no family that wants to see you anyways.

        1. Why is it people like you still don’t understand that even with the vaccine one can still be a carrier and pass it on and still become ill with it?
          There is certainly no need to be nasty considering all the unrest in the Middle East you Americans have caused in your relentless push to control the world’s oil reserves.

          1. Clearly, you’ve not been keeping up with the latest medical studies. Vaccination does in fact prevent transmission.




            As to the second comment (insult), it isn’t relevant and typical of hypocritical minds. Especially those who drive cars, ever fly on planes, or use any kind of fossil fuel based transport.

          2. You sound like a priviledged numb-nut that doesnt have any problems in your life. PEOPLE NEED TO SEE THEIR FAMILY, it has been a year and a half already of this bs.

            Who do you even think you are Boggy?

  3. I agree with some of the things LMcK says, I can quite understand people wanting to see family though the journalese of ” … with most aiming to visit their long lost families.” is a bit of emotional rubbish. Most people know a) their families, b) where they are, and c) have been in plenty of comunication. and a year or two though it may be critical in some circumstances is hardly “Long Lost”.
    But I don’t think this is the time to be taking holidays, not if that refers to travelling and staying in hotels and mixing with crowds of other people who presumably think the same and are likely therefor to be risky company. The scientists must be tearing their hair out looking at pictures of dumb dumbs lying side by side on the beach or raving in clubs. We in the West may be lucky in the sense that the current availability of vaccines seems to be keeping, or even winning our health back, the pandemic is very far from over. Heaven knows what mutations it will come up with the longer it roars through the world despite health efforts internationally.

    1. Thank you, Nick-Nack.

      I fully support people travelling – who are fully vaccinated – or, God forbid, needing to.
      I just have an issue with the many people who travel – and potentially put others at risk – because they feel they are entitled to a holiday.

      Stay safe, well and wonderful

  4. This whole pandemic – and economic despair. That kills 0.1% average age 80.

    Furthermore, the burials and cremations in many Englsh cities were lower in 2020 than in the preceeding 5 years.

    Yes absolutely people should be allowed to see loved ones. Covid is with us, will reamain with us and we will have to learn how to live with it.

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How French cities are getting people out of their cars

In an effort to get motorists out of their cars for environmental reasons, France and its cities are trying a number of different stick-and-carrot policies, from parking charges based on weight to free public transport. We look at the various schemes around the country

How French cities are getting people out of their cars

Pay by weight

A number of cities in France are watching the roll-out of new car parking rules in the south-eastern city of Lyon in 2024.

Currently, residents in the city pay a flat rate of €20 per month for an on-street parking permit. But the council has decided that, from next year, residential rates will range from €15 to €45, based on the weight of their vehicle.

Under the new rules, owners of an internal combustion car that weighs less than one tonne, or an electric car weighing less than 2.2 tonnes, will pay €15; for an internal combustion car weighing more than 1.725 tonnes, a plug-in hybrid weighing more than 1.9 tonnes or an electric car weighing more than 2.2 tonnes the price will be €45. 

For vehicles in the middle range for weight, the monthly price for permits will be €30.

READ ALSO French city to bring in parking charges based on car weight

Carshare lanes

An online consultation on reserving one lane of Paris’s notoriously congested Périphérique for car-sharing, taxis and buses was due to end on May 28th.

The results of that consultation should shape plans for the 35km ring-road beyond next year’s Olympic Games, when one lane will be reserved for athletes, officials and emergency responders.

Prolonging the scheme beyond 2024 as part of the games’ legacy would aim to “develop more virtuous and economical use of cars,” Belliard said.

Radars are already being tested that could detect whether a vehicle has multiple passengers and is therefore legally in the car sharing lane, he added — while insisting that the project remains “open to discussion”.

READ ALSO Paris weighs car-sharing lane for crucial ring road

Low-emission zones

France’s environment minister announced last year a major extension of ‘low-emission zones’ that will see certain types of vehicle effectively banned from numerous town and city centres by 2025. 

Those vehicles carrying a 4 and 5 Crit’Air sticker are then banned from these low-emission areas (usually the city centre) or limited to certain times. The exact details of the restrictions are up to local authorities, who have the power to extend the limits – for example Paris intends to also ban Crit’Air 3 vehicles by July 2023. Bordeaux plans to follow suit in 2025.

These zones already exist in 11 French cities – Paris, Lyon, Grenoble, Aix-Marseille, Nice, Toulon, Toulouse, Montpellier, Strasbourg, Rouen and Reims – but by the end of 2025 they will be compulsory for any town that has more than 150,000 inhabitants. In total this will be around 40 towns and cities. In addition, local authorities in smaller towns can create ZFEs, if they want.

READ ALSO Car bans and €750 fines – how France’s new low-emission zones will work

Car-free zones

From next year, Paris plans to ban cars in an area taking in the first to the fourth arrondissements – the area that makes up much of the historic city centre that runs along the Seine and attracts the most tourists.

The plans were first announced in May 2021 and were set to come into effect in 2022, but have been pushed back to allow more time to implement the changes. 

An exact date for the introduction in 2024 has not been set, but Paris deputy mayor Emmanuel Grégoire said it will start at the beginning of 2024, ahead of the Paris Olympics, which will be held in July and August.

The plans as envisaged by City Hall don’t constitute a complete ban on all vehicles in the city centre, and there are many exceptions – including for people who live in the central zones to use cars, as well as allowances for delivery drivers, the disabled, taxis, VTC vehicles such as Uber, buses and car-sharing.

Bordeaux, meanwhile, extended the pedestrianised area of its city centre last November, to include part of the Chartrons district, increasing the size of the existing pedestrian area by 45 percent. The current car-free zone is some 58 hectares, and the plan is to increase it to 100 hectares in the next few years.

READ ALSO MAP: Where and when will Paris ban cars from the city centre?

Low-speed travel

An increasing number of French cities are cutting speed limits to 30km/h in a bid to encourage motorists out of their cars, save lives and – according to advocates – reduce pollution.

Cities recognise that cutting speed limits does not work in isolation. They go hand-in-hand with other so-called ‘soft transport’ measures to reduce reliance on cars in heavily urban areas.

In Montpellier a €150million 10-year mobility plan aims to cut car use and encourage other means of transport. 

As well as the reduction in speed limit, the plan includes new cycle lanes, new bus lanes, and improvements to the city’s tram services – including a new line set to open by 2025.

In 2019, Lille took a step-by-step approach to its speed limit reduction, adding new areas over a period of months, while also improving infrastructure for cyclists and public transport.

READ ALSO Why more cities across France are imposing 30 km/h speed limits

Cycle lanes

During the pandemic, more people were prompted to take up cycling as a means to escape the virus-spreading confines of public transport. In Paris, the rapidly expanding cycling path network was dubbed “corona-pistes”, as commuters shunned public transport for fear of infection.

Images of Paris as an example of how a city can switch transport focus to cycling are regularly trotted out on social media. But it’s not the only city to do this, as government-backed pro-cycling schemes are proliferating across the country.

READ ALSO How France will splash another €250 million on national ‘bike plan’

Free buses

More than 35 towns and cities across France – including Calais, Dunkirk Libourne, Niort, Aubagne, Gap, and Castres – offer permanent free bus travel on in-town routes. 

The idea is to ease congestion on the roads by increasing the number of journeys made by bus, and to reduce the environmental impact caused by cars.

Others – including Rouen, Nantes and Montpellier – run or have trialled free public transport on certain days, notably weekends.

And some have age-restricted free travel, allowing under-18s to travel without having to pay.

Public policy

It’s not just at a local level that France is trying to break the monopoly of car travel. Those commuting in and out of Paris, as well as tourists looking to enjoy a day at Disneyland, are familiar with the region’s extensive suburban train network (RER). According to French President Emmanuel Macron, it might soon be replicated in other French cities in the coming years.

In the latest in a series of short-videos answering constituents’ “ecological” questions, the President responded to the question “What are you doing to develop rail transport in France, and offer a real alternative to [travelling by] car?” by offering plans to duplicate Paris’ RER system in “the 10 main cities” in France.

Macron said that building suburban train networks in other cities would be “a great goal for ecology, the economy, and quality of life.”

He did not give a timeline, but the Elysée later told Le Figaro that the first step would be for “the orientation council for transport infrastructure” to identify which projects could be “launched first.”

READ ALSO Macron wants new suburban train network in France’s main cities


Since 2022, car adverts have been obliged to carry messages that encourage more eco-friendly forms of transport such as cycling and public transport.

All car adverts now contain one of the following messages:

  • Pour les trajets courts, privilégiez la marche ou le vélo – For short journeys, prioritise walking or cycling
  • Pensez à covoiturer – Think about lift sharing 
  • Au quotidien, prenez les transports en commun – On a day-to-day basis, take public transport 

The messages must be clearly visible or audible, and failure to comply will lead to a €50,000 fine.  They must also mention the hashtag  #SeDéplacerMoinsPolluer – which encourages people to choose less polluting forms of transport. 

Car manufacturers and advertisers will also have to mention which emissions class the advertised vehicle falls into.