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Americans Are Jetsetting to Europe. Now, They’re Getting Pushback

Brett Holzhauer's image
Brett Holzhauer
Brett Holzhauer's image

Brett Holzhauer

Content Contributor

51 Published Articles

Countries Visited: 22U.S. States Visited: 29

Brett is a personal finance and travel junkie. Based out of Fort Lauderdale, he's had over 100 credit cards and earned millions of credit card rewards.
Edited by: Stella Shon
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Stella Shon

News Managing Editor

106 Published Articles 738 Edited Articles

Countries Visited: 25U.S. States Visited: 22

With a degree in media and journalism, Stella has been in the points and miles game for more than 6 years. She most recently worked as a Corporate Communications Analyst for JetBlue. Find her work in ...

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Americans are pointing their plane noses headed due east to Prague and Paris, rather than New York City or Miami, at record levels.

Domestic travel is slumping, while international travel is up sharply compared to pre-pandemic levels. A study from Going found that 54% of people planned to increase their amount of international travel in 2024, while only 35% indicated they would take more domestic trips. The same survey asked where people wanted to go, and Europe was in first by a landslide, with 83% indicating it was on their list.

Americans are traveling with — and spending — a historically strong U.S. dollar, according to The Wall Street Journal, which is creating an economic boom in Europe. Nearly three-quarters of Spain’s recent growth and one in four new jobs are linked to tourism, and one-fifth of economic output in Lisbon, Portugal is attributed to tourist activity, The Wall Street Journal recently found. This windfall has brought tax revenue to levels where the Mayor of Lisbon slashed local income tax for residents.

However, where prosperity emerges, difficulties and hardships aren’t far behind as European residents and governments grapple with the realities of overtourism.

International Travel Roaring Back From Pandemic

2024 is the year that tourism finally returns to normal traffic numbers after the pandemic. TSA checkpoint numbers for 2024 are pacing with 2019, prices are pulling back from inflationary highs, and pandemic-related mandates are all but history. However, the palate of American travelers today is vastly different than pre-pandemic.

In 2011, international travel rose in popularity after the economic recovery from the Great Recession. Simultaneously, airline prices were moving downward, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. This drove a wave of passport applications.

Applications briefly dipped in 2019 before falling off during the pandemic. After the dip, numbers have roared back. 2023 saw the highest number at just over 21.5 million, and 2024 applications will certainly eclipse that as the U.S. State Department opens 6 more offices to process applications.

Number of passport applications received
Number of U.S. passport applications received per year since 2000. Image Credit: U.S. State Department

Not only do nearly half of Americans have a valid passport, but they appear to be using it. Here are the figures for U.S. citizens flying internationally so far this year, according to the U.S. State Department:

  • January 2024: 4.64 million
  • February 2024: 4.91 million
  • March 2024: 6.42 million
  • April 2024: 5.54 million
  • May 2024: 6.67 million

Each of these figures is higher this year than they were in the last 5 years.

Travelers Are Powered by Strong Wanderlust and Greenbacks

Despite airline prices returning to pre-pandemic levels, a European jaunt is certainly not the most cost-friendly vacation for someone to take.

If you factor in economy flights, hotels, food, and activities for 2 people, without using points and miles to visit Europe, you can estimate spending between $5,000 to $8,000. Despite the price tag, it hasn’t scared away travelers as they salivate with a hunger for travel and a strong U.S. dollar.

One of the terms coined during the pandemic was “revenge travel,” noting how people were itching back to see the world after the shutdowns. Some have said they’re cutting back on travel because of inflation, while others say it’s a non-negotiable. 82% of respondents from Going’s State of Travel 2024 survey said that travel is “critical” or “highly important” for their happiness.

Hot Tip:

An effortless way to save on expenses during your European vacation is to use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. This helps you avoid pesky currency exchange fees, as well as potentially earn credit card rewards along the way.

Delta Air Lines says their customers are putting their money where their mouth is. In its 2023 earnings call, Delta president Glen Hauenstein said, “Revenge travel, I think, has years to go, particularly in long haul international. When you look at the aging of the demographics, that people in their retirement years want to travel, and they were robbed of the ability to travel for 3 years. I think that’s the continued accommodation of that for the next several years until that revenge travel catches up.”

Add the strong desire on top of a strong American dollar, it makes for a powerful combo. The U.S. dollar is currently the 10th strongest currency in the world, with the Euro in 9th place, according to Forex.com. Despite inflationary pressures, the strong greenback is a key factor for some to travel. Maggie Rauch, Deloitte transportation, hospitality, and services research lead, told Upgraded Points about 1 in 10 international travelers said the strength of the dollar in their destination was a motivating factor for where they traveled to. Younger travelers – Gen Z and Millennials – are more than twice as likely to say this as older travelers.

Wandering the streets of European cities, you will find basic purchases are notably cheaper than in the U.S. That coffee you paid $7 for this week in Miami will cost you roughly $2 in Lisbon at a local cafe. You can find a glass of wine in Spain for 2 to 3 Euros (roughly $2-3 USD), where you will pay $9-14 in Boston.

This isn’t a trend unique to Europe, either. Japan has seen a wave of Americans as the Yen has reached a 30-year low against the U.S. Dollar. Indonesia, Colombia, and Australia have seen similar trends. This combination has led to Americans pouring their wallets into international travel. In 2023, Americans spent an estimated $217 billion on foreign travel according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis — a 27% increase from the year prior.

Foreign Travel US Citizens
Americans are putting their native country in the rearview for travel. Image Credit: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Unfortunately, this tsunami of European vacationers has caused significant overtourism and skyrocketing living costs for locals, causing many to strike frustration at governments and demand intervention.

Too Much Tourism Too Fast

Tourism has long been marked as a positive economic driver, especially for a place that has gone through economic turmoil. In 2011, the European Sovereign Debt Crisis hindered economic growth after Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and Greece — among others — needed financial bailouts to survive. Years later, the pandemic shut down much of the EU, serving an economic 1-2 punch in less than a decade.

Fast forward to 2021, pandemic-related travel restrictions eased, and travel has blossomed once again. It doesn’t appear to be slowing down as the World Tourism Organization predicts that by 2030, over 2 billion people will travel outside their home countries. With that many people moving around, issues are bound to arise.

The Fight Against More Foot Traffic

The problem of overtourism isn’t a post-pandemic phenomenon. Before the COVID era, it was a concern gaining attention. Protests began in 2017, with locals resorting to slashing the tires of tourist bikes and buses, and continued up until the pandemic.

Now, the pushback is far-reaching — as Venice, Barcelona, Berlin, Brussels, Lisbon, Prague, and Vienna have all implemented tourist taxes in recent years. Amsterdam recently announced a ban on new hotels, all to slow down the number of visitors coming in. And it’s not just governments taking action, impacted locals are making their message heard by explicitly telling tourists to “go home” in vulgar ways, and it’s not solely to Americans either. Amsterdam has started their own campaign against rowdy Brits, telling them to stay away if they plan for a rowdy weekend.

This stark pushback from locals comes down to 2 core factors: housing prices and quality of life.

Housing prices have skyrocketed in many small European cities as landlords look to cash in on short-term rentals, pushing locals out in the process. The mayor of Barcelona announced plans to ban short-term rentals entirely by 2029. Last year, Florence, Italy banned any new short-term rentals, citing rising housing costs. In response, Airbnb announced in early June that it’s now working with the EU to develop a “more sustainable tourism future” through data sharing and partnering in enforcing local regulations.

This housing crunch raises concerns about the quality of life of those who call these tourist cities home, driving some to extreme measures like hunger strikes to get their voices heard. A 2018 European Parliament study suggests that overtourism is becoming an existential crisis. It says, “There are many examples where the cultural and natural heritage of a place is at risk, or where costs of living and real estate have substantially increased and caused a decline in quality of life.”

Tips For Your Next European Adventure

Neil Schloth, a Brooklyn, New York resident, spent 25 days in June on an adventure from the U.K., Ireland, Germany, Croatia, Slovakia, and Poland. He thoroughly enjoyed his travels, although he noticed a few instances of overtourism. “Most [of the] crowding was definitely in London and Frankfurt,” he said.

Neil Schloth Europe Travel
Neil in Slovakia. Image Credit: Neil Schloth

One tip he mentioned is to avoid much of the crowds is to use Google Maps to find restaurants off the beaten path. “Don’t eat at the restaurants with pictures of all the food along the major tourist streets”, he said. He added you’ll likely find better local food, and potentially pay less.

He also mentioned that as he bounced between countries in Europe, he took advantage of his Priority Pass membership with The Platinum Card® from American Express (enrollment required). “Don’t spend money in airports when you can eat and drink for free at most major airports across Europe, cocktails included,” he said.

Visa Laws Will Be Changing in 2025

Americans can visit Schengen countries for up to 90 days without a travel visa. Those countries are: Germany, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

Starting mid-2025, you will need ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorization System) authorization. You can apply for this clearance online. As of now, the cost is €7 (~$8) for each application. The fee applies only to those between 18 and 70 years old.

Final Thoughts

I’ll be visiting Ireland, Germany, Portugal, Iceland, and Spain over the next few months. Living on the East Coast, it makes for a simple hop over the pond.

This isn’t a story to scare or guilt you away from traveling to Europe, but it’s equally important to know that when you’re traveling, it’s someone else’s home. The spending and activities you do in that city impact the local economy and the well-being of those residents.

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.

Brett Holzhauer's image

About Brett Holzhauer

Brett is a personal finance and travel junkie. Based out of Fort Lauderdale, he’s had over 100 credit cards and earned millions of credit card rewards. He learned the tricks of the trade from his mom, and has taken many steps forward. He wasn’t exposed to much travel as a kid, but now has a goal of reaching 100 countries in his life. In 2019, he sold all of his possessions to become a digital nomad, and he says it was one of the best decisions he ever made. He plans to do it again at some point in his life.

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