How to Handle Traveling in Europe During a Strike

Imagine yourself in one of Europe’s great cities, right in the middle of a once-in-a-lifetime trip across the continent.

Let’s say Vienna.


You’ve just enjoyed breakfast—complete with one of the city’s famous Wiener Melange coffeesat a grand hotel downtown, checked out and made your way to the city’s central train station.

You shuffle into the station and since you’re traveling with a first-class rail pass, you make a beeline to the lounge to kill some time before your train. The lounge is located upstairs and enjoys sweeping views of the bustling station including the massive digital departures board, so you grab a window seat.

As you sip on a complimentary bottle of Austria’s signature soda Almdudler and survey the scene, something grabs your attention: a big yellow Breaking News-style banner at the bottom of the departures board.

In the next breath, the banner switches from German to English to reveal this message: “The railway union has announced Austria-wide strikes for Monday. For this reason, there will probably be no trains running throughout Austria”.

The penny drops.

You’ve come face-to-face with one of the worst villains in the travel world this side of a nasty winter storm: The Strike.

If you haven’t guessed, this is a true story.

It happened to me last November during the middle of a two-week trip to Europe. Luckily for my wife and I, we were able to quickly scramble our itinerary (cutting our stay in Graz a night short in order to beat the strike) to prevent the work stoppage from throwing a complete monkey-wrench into our trip.

But it wasn’t a fun few hours.

An itinerary that had been painstakingly pieced together for months was tossed aside in a matter of seconds.

Instead of just relaxing and enjoying the views outside the train window as we gained elevation and crossed the stunning Semmering Pass, I spent the journey stressed out and staring at my phone.

Strikes are a small part of the European travel dynamic in the best of times, but rising inflation and other issues have recently increased the strain between union members and their employers in several sectors of the European travel sphere. Therefore, it’s looking like the spring and summer of 2023 are going to see more of this “industrial action” across the continent as walkouts are scheduled for multiple airports and transportation networks.

So, how do you handle traveling during a strike?

Be Prepared

It may sound overly simple, but simply being psychologically prepared to deal with a potential strike will make dealing with the real thing more palatable if it happens.

Also, the dates of strikes are often publicized well in advance and can be searched for online (a simple web search for something like “strikes in France” will pull up almost all the pertinent information you need). For rail travel, a comprehensive list of current rail travel disruptions can be found here.

Vienna main station, Wien Hauptbahnhof
Departures board at Vienna’s main train station. (Photo by Scott Hartbeck)

Work With a Travel Advisor

As I was firing off e-mails and trying to call hotels in-between tunnels last November, I remember thinking that it sure would be nice if there was somebody to help with those calls and e-mails.

Well, there is and they’re called travel advisors.

If a strike comes up last minute (which happened to me in Austria) a good travel advisor will probably know about it before you do.

Ashley Les, Luxury Travel Advisor at POSTCARDS from … an affiliate of Protravel International explained “We have an AMAZING air team at Protravel and multiple times a day, at least 3, we get updates on everything happening involving air travel, rail travel, weather, cancellations, strikes, etc. They keep us up to date on anything they know and hear of so that we can preemptively move our clients’ trips to ensure they are not caught in an unexpected strike”.

In regards to what a travel advisor can do for a client in the event of a strike, she added “Sure, there are times that we don’t know about them prior, but for most of them, we have at least a week’s notice to then look through client trips and adjust where needed.

“Sometimes that’s getting a rental car instead of the train, sometimes it’s a flight instead of the train, sometimes it’s shifting dates, or sometimes it’s just making the client aware that it’s happening around their dates and we can see how the scenario plays out- but just ensuring that they know what could possibly happen puts their mind at ease”

Take a Deep Breath

If you’re navigating the situation on your own, you shouldn’t completely panic.

Strikes are nothing new in Europe (especially in Italy and France) and you should take a little solace in the fact that the strike you are caught up in is not the first—nor will it be the last—event of its kind on the continent.

Why should this put your mind at ease? Because it means that there are usually contingency plans in place.

In some countries, skeleton transportation services may still run during a strike and many of the strikes are short-lived—like the one or two-day variety. Not always, but often.

Most importantly, staff at train stations, airports and bus depots have experience with this sort of thing and will be able to offer advice and assistance.

Be Insured

A good friend of mine once told me, “if you can’t afford travel insurance, then you can’t afford to travel”.

That’s always good advice, and it could come in extra handy if you run into a strike.

Search for a travel insurance policy that will protect you best from strike-related expenses. Almost always, transportation tickets for journeys that have been canceled by strike action are refunded as the European Union and the United Kingdom have robust protections for air and rail passengers. But travel insurance can possibly help you recoup funds associated with the unexpected re-arranging of hotel stays, replacement transportation and other costs associated with abrupt changes in itineraries.

Some travel insurance won’t cover things if a strike was announced before you bought it, so it’s best to check on your particular policy.

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