No, it is not safe to visit Europe this summer*

A surging delta variant and vaccine passport uncertainty make a continental vacation iffy

Is it safe to visit Europe this summer? No, it is not.

It's not just the dangerous new delta variant fueling a surge in European COVID cases. There's also widespread confusion about vaccine certification and testing requirements — and the strong possibility of another lockdown.

If you're planning to go abroad this summer, you might want to think twice.

I had hoped to have better news as summer began. I wanted to declare that you have a green light to visit Europe, a favorite destination for Americans. But as 2021 nears the halfway mark, things aren't turning out as we expected.

There's an exception to my "Europe-isn't-safe" rule. I'll get to that in a minute.

What do you think?

But first, back to you: Do you have plans to visit Europe this summer? Are you keeping those plans or postponing? Push the red button to leave your comment.

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Beware of the delta variant

On Friday, I met with the ambassador of a European country, and we had a frank conversation about the risks of traveling to Europe this summer. There's a lot of concern about the delta variant ravaging Europe. Here's the U.K.'s fourth wave, for example:

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Officials told me that they'd taken every precaution they could, even prioritizing vaccines for hospitality workers to reassure visitors. But no one expected this more aggressive and transmissible delta strain. Most alarming is the even newer delta plus variant, which could lift cases even higher. 

Here in the States, health officials are warning Americans to continue wearing masks and practice social distancing as they assess the dangers of these delta strains.

Even so, European officials told me they were welcoming Americans. Most remarkably, they said their certification requirements were minimal. If you show an easy-to-forge CDC Vaccination Record Card, they will trust it and let you into the country. However, you can't qualify for the new EU Digital COVID Certificate, also known as a vaccination passport. So if you go, you may find some public events like festivals or restaurants with indoor seating off-limits to you.

I pressed officials on the safety issue. Isn't it too soon to bring tourists back? Given that some EU countries are already thinking about another lockdown, doesn't it make sense to wait?

No, they told me. This is just one of many risks of travel, and there has always been some risk in traveling.

"When has travel ever been safe?" one official asked me.  

🎧 EXCLUSIVE: Listen to my conclusions about travel safety on my latest podcast.

What are the requirements for travel to Europe?

There's more bad news. The requirements for visiting Europe are constantly shifting. That translates into a greater chance of a vacation-ending paperwork problem.

Take Britain, for example. The State Department revised its advisory this month, making the U.K. a Level 3 country. But it still urges Americans to avoid travel there. The British government's own assessment is downright scary. The U.S. is currently on its "amber" list, and if you come to the U.K., you have to follow the amber list rules, including testing and quarantine.

I told you this was complicated.

Each country in the EU has its own entry requirements. The rules change almost by the hour. The U.K. example I listed will probably be out of date by next week. New entry requirements are expected July 1 for most of Europe.

Generally speaking, if you're traveling to Europe this summer, you'll probably still have to either submit to a COVID test or undergo a quarantine on entry or exit. If the delta variant spreads, you may also get stuck in another lockdown. 

And nothing ruins a vacation like a pandemic lockdown. Believe me, I've experienced it.

Is it too late to cancel your European vacation?

So if you're looking at a summer vacation to Europe and thinking, "This delta variant is scary. I should cancel," I have some good news. If you followed my advice, you've booked a flexible vacation with travel insurance. So this is the time to cancel and take the ticket credit or to call your travel insurance company and invoke your "cancel for any reason" policy. 

Hey, a 75 percent refund is better than nothing, right?

Most folks will just postpone their vacations to later this year or next summer. I'm hopeful that the madness will be over by then. But as with all things COVID, there are no guarantees.

But you're probably wondering about that asterisk in the headline. Is it safe for anyone to travel to Europe this summer?

If you want a sure thing, the answer is: Absolutely not. In our weekly Washington Post live event last Monday, one reader asked me if it was OK to book a nonrefundable train ticket in Germany. I would only do that if you can afford to lose the ticket or if you have a travel insurance policy that covers you.

So who should go? I think if you're fully vaccinated, healthy and don't mind a little risk, there are pockets of safe travel destinations this summer. Germany, France and Spain still have low COVID rates. Some Greek islands are COVID-free. And there's Gibraltar, where most of the eligible population is vaccinated.

It is not safe to visit Europe (and it will never be)

If anyone tells you there's never been a better time to book a vacation to Europe, be skeptical. If you don't believe me, at least read the State Department travel advisory for the country you want to visit. Things are not going back to normal any time soon, unfortunately.

Maybe my European officials are right. It will never be completely safe to visit Europe or any other country for that matter. If you're unvaccinated or have a pre-existing condition, you definitely want to avoid any kind of international travel right now. But if you've had your shots, and you like the adrenaline rush of taking a risk on vacation, the asterisk may apply to you.

Full disclosure: I'm planning to return to Europe, too. But not until 2022.

OK, the comments are open. Do you think the pandemic is over? Or that people are overreacting to the new delta variant? Please be nice to each other.

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