United adding European destinations ahead of summer travel rebound


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Chicago-based United Airlines is adding five new transatlantic destinations in Spring 2022 as it prepares for a potential bounce back in summer travel between the United States and Europe next year.

The expansion would be the largest transatlantic expansion in the company’s history and includes destinations in Spain, Portugal, Norway, the Spanish Canary Islands and Jordan.

“Given our big expectations for a rebound in travel to Europe for summer, this is the right time to leverage our leading global network in new, exciting ways,” Patrick Quayle, senior vice president of international network and alliances at United, said in a Thursday news release. 

United will be the first North American carrier to fly to the five new destinations.  

  • Bergen, Norway: Starting May 20, United will offer flights three times a week between New York/Newark and Bergen on a Boeing 757-200. 
  • Azores, Portugal: Flights between New York/Newark and Ponta Delgada in the Azores begin May 13 with a new Boeing 737 MAX 8. This will be United’s third Portuguese destination, along with flights to Porto (which return in March) and Lisbon (which are being operated from New York and are set to resume from Washington, D.C. next summer).
  • Palma de Mallorca, Spain: Travelers can fly from New York/Newark to the beach destination in the Balearic Islands in a Boeing 767-300ER starting June 2. United will offer flights three times a week. 
  • Tenerife in the Spanish Canary Islands: United is set to launch a new flight from New York/Newark to the Tenerife on June 9, offering service three times a week via a Boeing 757-200. 
  • Amman, Jordan: Flights from Washington, D.C. to Amman begin May 5 with service three-times-weekly with a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner. 

Tickets for Bergen, Azores, Palma de Mallorca and Tenerife go on sale Thursday, and Amman tickets should follow soon after. 

The airline is also adding new flights to five European destinations (Berlin, Dublin, Milan, Munich and Rome) “in anticipation of a resurgence in visitors” and relaunching seven routes that had been paused during the pandemic to Bangalore, Frankfurt, Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, Nice and Zurich, all of which are subject to government approval. 

► US travel ban: US to drop travel ban for vaccinated international travelers starting in early November

► ‘You matter to us’: Southwest quietly issuing goodwill travel vouchers

The expansion would follow the launch of a new air travel system in the U.S. in early November that will ease travel restrictions for fully vaccinated foreign nations.

While international flight capacity saw gains this year, it has a ways to go before catching up to pre-pandemic levels. International passenger demand dropped 76% between 2019 and 2020, the sharpest traffic decline in aviation history according to the International Air Transport Association.

Follow USA TODAY reporter Bailey Schulz on Twitter: @bailey_schulz





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7 European Towns That Are Better In The Winter Than The Summer


I don’t know what it is about winter, but not only is it probably my favorite season, but it also suits certain cities so much better than summer. I admit that this view might be subjective, as all the cities listed in this round-up are also great places to visit during other seasons. But, somehow, the best season to visit, in my mind at least, is winter.

Maybe it has something to do with the season I first visited and got to know each place, and looking at the list again, this is true for quite a few of them, but not all. Whatever the reason, these cities just are much more atmospheric in winter: They are either adorned with snow or are dressed up for the festive season, or they are perfect for walking around while wrapped in a warm coat.  

Why don’t you go and have a look to see if you agree?

Winter in Tallinn, Estonia
Alex Stemmers / Shutterstock.com

1. Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is like a time-stood-still fairy tale city. The old center is snuggled within a sturdy medieval city wall, complete with lookout towers with red pointed roofs, and the cobbled lanes are hemmed with ancient buildings, some half-timbered, others painted in pastel shades. The market square sits alongside the old town hall, which dates to 1404, making it the oldest in the Baltic States. There are shops selling the loveliest local arts and crafts, with those little big-nosed gnomes, also called tomte or tonttu, which originate from Norse folklore, making the cutest addition to your mantlepiece back home.

Now add snow, add cafes and restaurants with large open fires and serving either mulled wine, or glöggi, and decadent hot chocolate, add an ice rink set against a row of colorful old houses, and people warmly dressed simply enjoying being out at the market square filled with stalls during the Christmas season, and you have the perfect winter atmosphere.

Pro Tip: Stay at the Hotel Telegraaf in the heart of the old town. A gorgeous old building, modern amenities, huge open fire, and a great restaurant.

A canal in Strasbourg, France
cge2010 / Shutterstock.com

2. Strasbourg, France

Choosing Strasbourg for this list was a no-brainer because it is the Christmas setting personified. I have never seen a city more decorated at Christmas than Strasbourg. Not one shop window or street is without twinkling lights, window decorations, or market stalls. You can barely take it all in, there is so much to see. Don’t get me wrong, I have visited in summer and enjoyed sitting out by the river, and loving the atmosphere of the old town, but if you only get to visit once, make it December, and take in Christmas in Strasbourg. It has to be seen to be believed. And don’t think that it is too much or tacky. Not at all. It is simply perfect.

Pro Tip: While there are big Christmas markets around the cathedral and on the main square, concentrate on the smaller ones in Petite France, the really old part of the old town, where half-timbered houses, covered bridges, and tiny squares add that extra-special ambiance.

A square in Stockholm, Sweden, decorated for Christmas
dimbar76 / Shutterstock.com

3. Stockholm, Sweden

This is definitely a case of first impressions made in the snow and loved ever since. The first time I visited Stockholm I arrived on a ferry from Germany that had just made its way across the frozen Baltic Sea, landing in Stockholm after it had just snowed. The Gamla Stan, the old town, the palaces in and around the city, the parks, the streets, the roofs, everything was covered in a thick layer of perfectly white snow, making the already lovely setting of countless islands, canals, bridges, and harbors even more special. While Stockholm is great in summer, with its people enjoying the light, warmth, and the chance to enjoy the water, I have always preferred it in the winter. Maybe because the city is set up for winter, and knows how to make the most of it, while also offering creature comforts and making every place snuggly and warm?

Pro Tip: If you are lucky enough to be there when fresh snow has fallen, head straight out to Drottningholm Palace which is particularly picturesque in the snow.

A harbor in Helsinki, Finland
canadastock / Shutterstock.com

 4. Helsinki, Finland

Another northern winter winner delight is Helsinki, and do you know why? Because I fell in love with one particular café/restaurant called Kappeli, which is decked out in countless twinkling lights that light up the entire Esplanade in winter’s dark nights. Walking around the old harbor, visiting the covered market, the arts and crafts huts alongside the harbor, and then turning into the wide Esplanade, the historic Kappeli restaurant — one side lovely café, another side very nice restaurant — stands there like a special Christmas decoration, and it does serve rather good food, too.

And the square in front of the Helsinki Cathedral, just off the Esplanade steps from Kappeli, is another lovely sight, with a huge Christmas tree in front of the white cathedral.

Pro Tip: Finland is known as the land with 5.3 million people and 3.3 million saunas, and while the Finns love them year round, they are even better in winter. Book yourself in and get warm.

Winter at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France
Ekaterina Pokrovsky / Shutterstock.com

5. Paris, France

I have always maintained that winter was my favorite season in Paris, much to the horror of Parisians, who easily get a chill. But not only is Paris more void of people in winter but also, it is possible to walk along the beautiful architecture without the leaves of the trees being in the way of appreciating the scene. Not that I do not like the trees in Paris, it is lovely for the city to be so green, but when you walk along looking up, you often miss the details of the buildings for trees.

And should you get snow that stays on the ground, then head straight for the Eiffel Tower. That might sound like unnecessary advice but trust me. Once it snows properly, all the metros and buses go on reduced service, and no one heads out. I had the entire Champ de Mars to myself, with four other people, managing to take wonderful pictures of a snowy Eiffel Tower without people. Just imagine.  

Pro Tip: Every winter there are lots of ice rinks popping up in Paris, and whether you join in or not, try and go to the Grand Palais. The setting is wonderful, and it serves warm drinks as well as chilled champagne, and you can just watch others fall over.

A view from Calton Hill in Edinburgh, Scotland
ABO PHOTOGRAPHY / Shutterstock.com

6. Edinburgh, Scotland

The capital of Scotland is truly lovely in all seasons, and even if it rains, it still has a certain charm. But Edinburgh pulls out all the stops not just for Christmas, with the steep lanes up to the castle looking particularly lovely, but especially over the New Year. This is the time to come and watch how the Scots party and celebrate Hogmanay. Come prepared and get a torch ready for the torchlight procession down the Royal Mile, and learn the words to “Auld Lang Syne,” which everybody bursts into at midnight.  

Pro Tip: On January 2, when the party is over and the hangover has abated, head to the Botanical Gardens for the last visiting time slots for the light trail. The lights are so pretty.

Decorations on a canal in Hamburg, Germany
Scirocco340 / Shutterstock.com

7. Hamburg, Germany

Hamburg is my hometown and I love all seasons there, in summer the canals and lakes are full of boats and paddlers, and the parks full of picnickers, and it is lovely to have a break from the famous schmuddelwetter, meaning the dirty weather, i.e., the rain that dominates spring and fall. In winter, there is usually another break from the rain, when it turns to snow. And if luck has it, it gets cold enough for the two lakes that dominate the city center to freeze over. When that happens, all of Hamburg gets on the ice — walking, skating, setting up sausage and mulled wine stands, and people basically picnicking on the ice.

Then there are the Christmas concerts, best enjoyed in the modern Elbphilharmonie with its great views, or the truly iconic Hamburg setting of the St. Michaelis Church, the “Michel” as locals call it.

Add to that the great Christmas markets, especially the one in front of the historic town hall, and you will get the idea why this city is just perfect in wintertime.

Pro Tip: Head to Konditorei Lindtner in the Eppendorf neighborhood. This is a traditional old café that embodies the Germans’ famous love of cake. Try the Lübecker Marzipantorte, a cream cake with a layer of marzipan on top. Very decadent, but in winter you burn more calories, so this doesn’t count.

Wintertime in Europe also means Christmas markets:



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Five Things to Know if You’re Road-Tripping This Summer


Rising vaccination rates and pent-up demand are expected to speed up travel’s rebound this summer. Despite Europe’s reopening, lingering skittishness about flying, increasing worries about coronavirus variants and testing requirements for overseas travel practically guarantee that the majority of summer vacations by Americans, like last year, will be domestic, and many taken by car.

In addition to tips from the Before Times — get your car serviced, load up on snacks and be open to the possibility of adventure — here are five things to keep in mind if you’re planning a road trip this year.

Stay-at-home orders, virtual schooling and shuttered workplaces kept streets from coast to coast quiet last year. Driving fell by 13.2 percent from 2019 — to its lowest level in two decades — according to numbers released in February by the Federal Highway Administration.

Although many travelers last summer enjoyed the retro appeal of wide-open roads relatively free of crowds, this summer is likely to have distinctly 21st-century levels of traffic. Data from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees public transportation in the New York City metropolitan area, shows that traffic at the area’s bridges and tunnels has generally been rising over the last few weeks, with a handful of calendar dates even exceeding their prepandemic equivalents.

In a May estimate, AAA, the automobile owners group, put the number of Memorial Day road-trippers around 34 million, an increase of 52 percent compared to 2020 (though still down by 9 percent compared to 2019). According to the report, nine of 10 travelers planned to drive to their holiday destinations.

Although air traveler numbers are ticking up as well, according to Transportation Security Administration checkpoint numbers, a new survey of more than 1,000 respondents by the tire company Bridgestone Americas shows that more than half of Americans plan to vacation only by car this summer, and that nearly 80 percent feel safer in a car than they do on a plane. From May 1 to mid-June, the social media analytics company Sprout Social tracked more than four times the mentions of road trips compared to flights on Twitter.

By now, most states have lifted whatever relics remained of the quarantine and testing requirements that were put in place last year. Some, including Alabama, Indiana and Maryland, have no restrictions at all; others, including Oregon and Rhode Island, are still requiring or recommending various levels of quarantine and testing for unvaccinated visitors while exempting those who are at least two weeks beyond their second shot.

Although road-trippers can more freely cross state lines this summer than last, pandemic laws — and culture — still varies from place to place. Several online tools can help clarify destination-specific rules about masks, distancing, capacity restrictions and more, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Travel Planner and AAA’s Covid-19 Travel Restrictions map.

On Kayak, the travel comparison website, May searches for summer car rentals were up 195 percent over May 2019, with outdoorsy cities like Denver and Orlando among the most-searched-for destinations.

Rental cars are scarce: A recent Enterprise.com search for a rental car for the Fourth of July weekend — with a pickup on July 1 and drop-off on July 5 at the Miami International Airport — showed no availability.

Spokeswomen from Enterprise Holdings and Hertz, in similarly written emailed statements, both acknowledged the high demand and limited availability that have earned the pandemic-era nationwide rental car shortage its nickname: “carpocalypse.”

Kayak search data shows that rental cars are also getting more expensive; the average price in May was up 19 percent from April, and up 102 percent over May 2019.

“Domestic demand for car rentals has significantly increased as more travelers become vaccinated and are comfortable planning their next vacations,” said Steve Sintra, Kayak’s vice president and general manager of North America. “If you want to save money, plan to pick up your car on Tuesday, when the average price is about 9 percent cheaper compared to Sunday.”

Mr. Sintra also recommended booking early: “Two months ahead is the ideal time frame to rent a car,” he said. “It may take more planning, but it could save you some money.”

Be flexible with pick-up location — Enterprise has an online feature that redirects users to nearby options when their first choice isn’t available — and book at neighborhood locations, rather than busy airports.

Alternatives to the traditional car-rental model are another way to go. Kyte, a company that delivers professionally maintained and sanitized rental cars to customers’ doors, now has a foothold in several major domestic cities, including New York, Boston and San Francisco. The company launched in Chicago earlier this month and will roll out to Miami, Philadelphia and Seattle in the months to come.

Also this month, the car-sharing company Turo expanded its Commercial Host program, which allows independent licensed and insured rental car companies to be listed on the platform, to New York, making inroads — and expanding consumer options — in a major East Coast market.

Although major museums around the country, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, are open, most have capacity limits and are requiring timed tickets. Meanwhile, some classic road-trip sites, including Arizona’s Antelope Canyon — an icon of Instagram tourism before the pandemic — are closed indefinitely.

Covid-safety measures in National Park Service destinations vary by park and will likely continue to change in the coming weeks. Certain shuttle bus routes at the Grand Canyon are not operational, for example; some restaurants at the site are closed and others require advance reservations. At Big Bend National Park, in Texas, would-be campers cannot simply show up: Campground reservations are required. Additionally, some National Park lodges are already sold out for the summer and into fall, according to Xanterra Travel Collection, which operates lodges at Yellowstone, Zion and several others.

The key to navigating these roadblocks? Check the individual websites for your destination — and its attractions and restaurants — for the latest health protocols and information about openings and closures, and make reservations as far as possible in advance. And because timed entry tickets are often linked to QR codes — and because lunchtime sustenance often lives and dies by Yelp — invest in a USB car charger.

Construction wrapped up on the Bourne Bridge, the gateway to Cape Cod, just in the nick of time for Memorial Day weekend traffic, and after a year when many infrastructure projects were stalled, this summer is certain to bring roadwork that jams up the nation’s highways and byways.

“It was very common for states to put all sorts of projects on hold last summer because of budget uncertainty, not to mention safety precautions,” said Richard Auxier, a senior policy associate at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. This year, by contrast, Mr. Auxier said, the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill that President Biden signed into law in mid-March, the American Rescue Plan, has allocated funds to state and local governments for transportation and infrastructure investments.

“Now, not only is the economy opening back up, but they have this infusion of federal dollars that will either get them back to where they were before the pandemic or actually let them fund projects they might not have done,” Mr. Auxier said of state transportation departments.

The Federal Highway Administration does not keep a national log of construction projects, and aside from researching planned work on transportation department websites and listening to local news, consumer-facing apps — like Waze and Google Maps, which show real-time traffic and construction — is the best way to keep abreast of what to expect. Long drives and traffic jams also call for ample distractions, so be sure to download the newest audiobooks and podcasts.

Sarah Firshein is a Brooklyn-based writer. She is also our Tripped Up columnist. If you need advice about a best-laid travel plan that went awry, send an email to travel@nytimes.com.


THE WORLD IS REOPENING. LET’S GO, SAFELY. Follow New York Times Travel on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. And sign up for our Travel Dispatch newsletter: Each week you’ll receive tips on traveling smarter, stories on hot destinations and access to photos from all over the world.





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New things to do in New Orleans this summer


“In New Orleans, everything is a good idea,” wrote Bob Dylan, offering the city’s architectural quirks as evidence. It’s still true, and a flurry of new hotels there blend whimsy, eclectic grandeur and funky design to charming effect. And after a crushing year for tourism, a steady stream of visitors is now coming back to enjoy them.



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Summer travel rebound continues at Orlando International Airport


The airport saw more than 3.5 million travelers.

Travelers line up to go through a TSA checkpoint at Orlando International Airport before the Memorial Day weekend Friday, May 28, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Travelers line up to go through a TSA checkpoint at Orlando International Airport before the Memorial Day weekend Friday, May 28, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

ORLANDO, Fla. – Summer travel made an impressive rebound in Central Florida this past August.

More than 3.5 million travelers came through the Orlando International Airport. This is a 210% increase from last year, according to a release from the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority.

[TRENDING: Tropical wave to bring rain to Florida | Should I get the flu shot and COVID vaccine? | Become a News 6 Insider (it’s free!)]

Compared to numbers before the pandemic, traffic decreased by 15%.

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Domestic travel increased by 196.73% in August, and international travel increased by 1,300% in the last year.




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Delta to Add Routes from Boston in Summer 2022


Delta Air Lines will launch five new routes out of Boston next year, including international service to Tel Aviv and Athens, the carrier announced.

Nonstop service to Tel Aviv from Boston will start May 26 followed by service to Athens the next day. Both flights will operate three times per week on Airbus A330 aircraft.

Service from Boston to each Baltimore, Denver and San Diego will begin on July 11, Delta announced. Flights to Baltimore will operate five times per week on Embraer 175 aircraft, while Denver and San Diego service will be daily on Boeing 737-900 and 737-800 aircraft, respectively.

The new routes will bring Delta’s Boston hub to 160 daily nonstop flights to 55 destinations, a 20 percent increase compared with October 2019 levels, according to Delta. The carrier is facing increased competition with American Airlines and JetBlue now partnered and adding service out of Boston, though the alliance currently is facing a challenge by the U.S. Justice Department



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UNWTO detects green shoots of tourism recovery over summer | News


International tourism enjoyed signs of rebound in June and July as some destinations eased travel restrictions and the global vaccination rollout advanced in many parts of the world.

According to the latest edition of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, an estimated 54 million tourists crossed international borders in July, down 67 per cent from the same month in 2019.

However, this is the strongest results since April 2020.

This compares to an estimated 34 million international arrivals recorded in July 2020, though well below the 164 million figure recorded in 2019.

Most destinations reporting data for June and July this year saw a moderate rebound in international arrivals compared to 2020.

Nevertheless, 2021 continues to be a challenging year for global tourism, with international arrivals down 80 per cent in January-July compared to 2019.

Asia and the Pacific continued to suffer the weakest results in the period January to July, with a 95 per cent drop in international arrivals compared to 2019.

The Middle East (down 82 per cent) recorded the second largest decline, followed by Europe and Africa (both down 77 per cent).

The Americas (down 68 per cent) saw a comparatively smaller decrease, with the Caribbean showing the best performance among world subregions.

Meanwhile, some small islands in the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia and the Pacific, together with a few small European destinations recorded the best performance in June and July, with arrivals close to, or sometimes exceeding pre-pandemic levels.

This improvement was underpinned by the reopening of many destinations to international travel, mostly in Europe and the Americas.

The relaxation of travel restrictions for vaccinated travellers, coupled with progress made in the roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines, contributed to lifting consumer confidence and gradually restoring safe mobility in Europe and other parts of the world.

In contrast, most destinations in Asia remain closed to non-essential travel.

UNWTO secretary general, Zurab Pololikashvili, said: “There is clearly a strong demand for international tourism, and many destinations have started welcoming visitors back safely and responsibly.

“However, the true restart of tourism and the benefits it brings, remain on hold as inconsistent rules and regulations and uneven vaccination rates continue to affect confidence in travel.”

Although destinations continued to report weak international tourism revenues in the first seven months of 2021, several did record a modest improvement in June and July, and some even surpassed the earnings of 2019.

Among the larger destinations, Mexico earned roughly the same tourism receipts in June 2021 as in 2019, and in July posted a two per cent increase over 2019.

The same is true for outbound travel.

Among the larger markets, France (down 35 per cent) and the United States (down 49 per cent) saw a significant improvement in July, though tourism spending was still well below 2019 levels.





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Travel scams on the rise following the end of Summer – KION546


SALINAS, Calif. (KION)- People are still catching up on vacation time, even as Summer ends and Fall begins, but next time you book a flight pay close attention to travel scams on the internet.

Experts say timeshare, travel, and vacation scams are on the rise. When booking your trip, there are some key things to look out for to prevent that dream vacation from becoming a nightmare.

As businesses reopen many Americans are ready hit the skies, and many are using travel sites to book their trip.
But all that excitement distracting you could lead to be scammed.

“Avoid some of these sideline internet searches. Stick with the main searches and compare. Once you start to compare you’ll start to weed out some that are not legitimate.”

And sometimes it may be in your best interest to book directly with airline of your choice.

“Airlines for example, a legitimate and licensed travel agent if you want to go that route go directly to the website of the carriers”

And don’t be in such a rush to pack the suitcase, always receive confirmation for your trip.

“Sometimes these guys will promise you over the phone or in texting that you’re all confirmed when in facts its a scam and you’re not gonna get your deposit back”

Steve McFarland says these fraudulent fiends are often more difficult to track down because they’re out of the country. So if you’re planning to leave the country for some relaxation, do your research.

“Scams like this are horrible and they should be stopped. You have to be aware of anyone asking for those personal identifiable information on the internet or even in person you just want to try and be careful and keep those things close to you and quiet as possible”

So bottom line if it sounds to good to be true it just may be. If you have fallen victim to a scam you can file a claim online with the Better Business Bureau.



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Car Maintenance Checklist for a Summer Road Trip





a man checks tire pressure


AndreyPopov / Getty Images

4. Check the tires

Tires are critical for car safety and fuel efficiency, so make sure yours are in road-worthy shape by checking for signs of wear on the side walls. Check that you have enough tread depth and enough tire pressure. You can find out how much air your tires need on the sticker located inside the driver’s door, or in your owner’s manual.

5. Top up fluids

In order to run properly, your car’s six essential fluids — oil, radiator fluid, brake fluid, power steering fluid, transmission fluid and windshield fluid — must be checked and topped up regularly. Have your oil changed every three months or every 5,000 to 7,500 miles, and check it every time you fill up with gas during your road trip.

6. Replace the filters

Air filters prevent dirt, dust and insects from infiltrating the engine and the inside of your car. Clogged air filters decrease your engine’s performance, gas mileage and interior air quality, so it’s important to swap them out for clean ones at least once a year or every 10,000 miles. Cabin filters should be replaced every 12,000 miles.

7. Check belts and hoses

If you look under the hood and see significant damage on your serpentine belt — located beside your engine — it will need to be replaced, O’Dell says.

“Start checking the belt when the car is at 30,000 to 40,000 miles,” he says. “You’ll start to see little cracks in the rubber. And when you see enough of those cracks within an inch or so, I would replace it.”

Check your hoses; if you see any fluid leaks, get them verified by a mechanic. Having a belt or a hose fail in the middle of a road trip could mean major engine trouble, leaving you without a car and with a hefty repair bill.




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Living, partying and travelling with COVID. Aussie expats shed light on their summer of freedom


A sweaty, heaving dance floor, crowds of strangers pressing up against each other fighting to get a drink at the bar – without masks.

This is the level of “normal” Sybella Stevens returned to in Berlin after holidaying in Portugal and Italy earlier this month.

The 35-year-old decided to stick out the pandemic in Germany where she has been living since 2014, despite fears of an uncertain separation from her family in Sydney when the pandemic struck.

“It was a really tough decision because everything was so scary and unpredictable. I was on the verge of coming back,” she said.

Now, having been fully vaccinated since July, she is among the Australian expats who are living what’s been dubbed the ‘hot vax summer’. 

She is having the kind of highly anticipated post-lockdown summer of freedom, filled with chance encounters, reconnections, restaurants and parties, that Australians on the east coast are dreaming of.

Sybella Stevens takes a selfie on a bridge overlooking the canal in Venice.
Ms Stevens endured seven months in lockdown but has been able to travel Europe over summer with a COVID pass. (

Supplied

)

“Life is a lot more normal. In Lisbon, you just showed your COVID pass and it was all very relaxed. It was the same in Venice and Rome,” Ms Stevens said.

“It was very swift; everywhere you went they would just scan your QR code to validate it and then you would go through.”

European member states are allowing travellers to enter with a digital EU COVID Certificate, which serves as proof that a person has been vaccinated, recently received a negative COVID test, or is protected against the virus after being recently infected.

This was Ms Stevens’ ticket out after enduring a rough Berlin winter in a lockdown which stretched on for seven months with infections in the tens of thousands.

“Not only were you living a restricted life in an ugly city, where you couldn’t do the things you were there for, but you could also get COVID. There was a genuine fear,” Ms Stevens said.

“Going on a holiday was the best thing in the world. It recharged me after lockdown.

A chalkboard sign 'geimpft, genesen, getestet'.
Germany’s “3G rule” — translated as vaccinated, recovered, tested — outlines who can enter public venues.(

Pixabay: Gerd Altmann

)

An explosion of rapid testing

The 3Gs strategy – Geimpft, Genesen oder Getestet (vaccinated, recovered or tested) — is also the model Germany has relied on for bars and restaurants to reopen, and gigs and festivals to go ahead over summer.

While masks were still mandatory in most situations, testing had become equally prolific, with pop-up sites on street corners, shopfronts and at venue doors, Ms Stevens said.

Rapid antigen testing, which returns a result in under 30 minutes, has been enough for most venues to allow entry. 

The more accurate polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which take around 24 hours for a result, are required for travel.

Australia continues to rely primarily on the “gold standard” PCR tests, as rapid tests are considered less reliable and still subject to strict conditions hindering widespread use. 

“Rapid testing is one of the additional strategies we have to look at, particularly when we’re not having a COVID-zero viewpoint or even suppression to really low levels,” Peter Collignon, professor of microbiology at the Australian National University, said.

“Having said that, people need to realise that they’re not foolproof.”

A line of people outside a Berlin nightclub against a grafitti-covered wall.
Berlin’s nightclubs have been able to reopen over summer but mask mandates apply for the unvaccinated. (

Supplied: Jascha Mueller-Guthof

)

He added that rapid testing was useful while you’re waiting for people to get fully vaccinated, especially in enclosed spaces like bars and planes. 

“While they may miss some cases equally they pick up cases … That means at least those people are kept away from others.” 

Last week, Health Minister Greg Hunt said rapid antigen tests would “play a big part in Australia’s pathway out of lockdown”.

He said the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has approved 28 rapid tests and the next step will be to consider how they can be made easily accessible for workplaces and use at home.

Partying like it’s 1999

In early August, the German government teamed up with scientists from Berlin’s Charite hospital for the “Clubculture Reboot” pilot scheme to see whether PCR tests could also be used to fully revive Berlin’s iconic nightlife and keep clubbers safe.

Around 2,000 clubbers, who were not required to have been vaccinated, were let loose maskless across six venues over a weekend after returning a negative PCR test.

A week later they were tested again and no new infections were recorded as a result of the event.

Pamela Schobess, chairwoman of ClubCommission Berlin who carried out the trial, said in a statement that the method offered a real opportunity to open clubs “even if incidences and hospitalisations rise sharply in autumn”.

A dark crowded dance floor with laser lights streaming through the space.
Nightclubs have reopened in Berlin, despite Germany having a vaccination rate of around 62 per cent. (

Supplied: Jascha Muelller-Guthof

)

However, the rules around testing continue to shift as Chancellor Angela Merkel pushes to increase vaccination rates to provide “protection for everyone”.

Around 66 per cent of the German population has received one vaccine dose and 62 per cent are fully vaccinated.

Ms Stevens learned first-hand last week that there are new privileges for fully-vaccinated clubbers to get a more authentic experience.

“People who were unvaccinated could be there if they had a negative test, but they had to stay outside in a separate area.

“I was given a wristband to go inside and there was not one person wearing a mask,” she said.

Holidaying ‘like COVID never existed’

Jessica Wong faced a similar lockdown experience in London.

She said being crammed into small sharehouse apartments with “no proper light or gardens” for most of last year was “brutal”.

The 32-year-old had been back in Australia just before the borders closed but returned to London where she had been living for four years due to work.

“Maybe in retrospect, I think I should have stayed in Australia. Especially through last year,” she said.

Jessica Wong and her friends sit on a rooftop in Mykonos with the sun setting over the Mediterranean.
Ms Wong (far right) and her friends were able to travel to Mykonos with vaccine passes and negative PCR tests. (

Supplied

)

“There wasn’t one or two COVID cases here – there were thousands.

“So many people had been touched by death from COVID in some way that they were really grateful to have vaccines available.”

At the first chance she could, Ms Wong left London for a holiday in Greece.

While getting in and out of the UK was a “logistical nightmare,” she said once arriving in Mykonos “it was like COVID never existed”.

“I went to Mykonos the first week it dropped its rules and put music back on … When I was watching my friends and everyone at the parties it was like they had never heard music before. It was so nice to see,” she said.

A group of people stand on a dancefloor with their hands in the air
Britain celebrated its “Freedom Day” on July 19. (

AP: Alberto Pezzali

)

Britain has recorded one of the highest COVID-19 death tolls in the world for its population size, but also has one of the world’s highest vaccination rates.

There have been no rules set for vaccine passports to attend pubs, bars and clubs, and the government has backflipped on plans to introduce them in the future.

Ms Wong says generally people respect mask wearing and testing in workplaces to protect those who can’t be vaccinated, but she is worried about the winter.

“It still feels like everything is temporary,” she said. 

Professor Collignon said Australia would be watching closely to see what happened in the US, Canada and Europe over winter.

He believes Australia is well placed going into summer and is optimistic vaccination rates will keep climbing.

“I think we’ll probably get higher vaccinations in Australia than the UK without the 50,000 deaths they had,” he said.

“I think we’ve been fortunate to not have had much spread of COVID.”

Living with COVID and catching it – twice

For Yasmin Bright, who was initially stuck in Colombia before living out most of the pandemic in a “tiny jungle town” in Mexico, her experience took a different turn.

The 38-year-old caught COVID-19 in Colombia despite being under a strict lockdown where she “didn’t see the night sky for three months”. 

When initial attempts to get a flight back to Australia caused too much stress she decided to stay and move to Sayulita on Mexico’s Pacific coast.

“COVID ripped through there pretty early, but when everyone got it and recovered it was life as normal after that,” she said.

“There wasn’t really restrictions. There were no masks, there was indoor dining and yoga classes. Everything was just like normal.”

Vaccinations were only available for Sayulita residents, so when the tourist town was struck by Delta Ms Bright contracted COVID-19 again. 

This month she has been visiting friends in the US with her COVID-19 recovery status making her eligible to travel for up to 90 days. 

Yasmin Bright sits at a bus stop with the words Las Vegas written above it.
Ms Bright has been taking international flights out of Mexico by showing proof of recovering from COVID. (

Supplied

)

“I’m able to board an international flight in Mexico,” she said.

“You can show a proof of recovery from COVID. And that’s like showing your proof of vaccination for travel.”

Despite her experiences, Ms Bright says she’s still uncertain about whether to come back to Australia. 

“I want to see my family and friends in Australia. But at the same time, I don’t want to fly into Australia and be locked down in the same situation that I was in 12 months ago,” she said.

“A lot of the world is open … you can fly to Europe, you fly to the US and South America. Australia just seems like it’s a little stuck in the past.”

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