2020 is finally over and 2021 has arrived. But even with vaccines starting to be distributed, the pandemic is still going strong, both in the United States and elsewhere around the world. As transmission rates and a harrowing death tally climb ever higher, in addition to the new, more contagious strain of COVID-19 starting to pop up around the world, the CDC and most government and health organizations are still cautioning against unnecessary travel, especially overseas. However, you may have heard the rumblings that travel could start picking up again come summer 2021 or toward the end of the year and are wondering if you could start planning or booking a trip in that time frame. This has largely emerged as an option since infectious disease experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci have said that, should enough people start receiving the vaccine once it’s more widely available, the U.S. could start to see early signs of herd immunity come spring or summer, which opens the door to travel and the beginning of a return of “normal” life from the summer onward. But that’s all still a big “if” as it depends on wide-spread vaccination and people continuing to follow guidelines like wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and staying home as much as possible.
After a long year stuck at home, though, it’s completely understandable that you want to know when you can take a well-deserved vacation. And the thought of planning a once-in-a-lifetime trip so far in the future with so many unknown variables is hard; why plan and book a trip months in advance when one can just wait and see how the next six months play out and make plans then? Sure, you can do that, but there are actually many good reasons to go ahead and start planning and booking a trip for mid-to-late 2021 or 2022.
First, do your research
Before doing anything, it’s important to make sure you’re up-to-date on the current COVID situation where you are and where you’re interested in traveling. The CDC website has a comprehensive map showing COVID-19 risk levels in countries around the world, divided into “Very High,” “High,” “Moderate,” “Low,” and “Unknown” levels. Clicking on each country, you’ll see whether the CDC recommends travel there, as well as any entry requirements the country may have, such as a negative COVID-19 test or requiring that all in-bound travelers quarantine after arrival. This information is continually being updated so that you can stay informed and make educated decisions.
With overseas travel being riskier than traveling locally, national or regional travel will once again be a top travel trend for 2021, especially road trips. With local travel — especially by vehicle — being easier to plan and make itinerary changes on than a large international trip, traveling safely within your region or state is likely to be a popular option.
Above all, always listen to what health and safety experts in your area and around the world are recommending in terms of travel. While travel advisors and the overall travel industry have been equally thoughtful and cautious about recommending travel, not wanting to put lives at risk or create unrealistic expectations about timelines, listening to experts is a must. For any kind of travel, national or international, refer to CDC guidelines for their health and safety recommendations. And whether traveling for work, necessity, or fun, always wear a mask, practice social distancing, and wash your hands.
You may be thinking, “If I want to travel in 2021 or 2022, why should I book now? Shouldn’t I wait to see what the situation is?” While the second part of that rhetorical question is answered below, the answer to the first is because of availability. When COVID-19 hit, a wave of cancellations swept through the travel industry, but many people were also willing to push their travel dates into 2021 or 2022. That means there may be entire weeks to months at hotels, resorts, and popular destinations that have already filled up. So if you want to guarantee good travel dates and access to the accommodations and activities of your choice, it’s better to book soon to guarantee availability.
Flexible cancellation and postponement policies
Everyone from airlines to cruises to tour operators have changed their policies pertaining to booking, postponing, or canceling a service, making them more flexible than ever. The exact policies vary by company, but the gist with most is that, within a set amount of time, you can easily cancel or change dates for your travel with no extra fees. You can even find “book now and decide later” policies that allow you to book a trip without set dates and just wait and see when the best time to travel is. The new policies are extremely consumer-oriented and make it extremely easy to adjust your travel plans for these rapidly changing times; if there’s a sudden surge of COVID-19 cases in your area right before your trip or the destination you were planning to visit decides to shut down again, you can change plans. Knowing that you’re not going to be saddled with fees and extra charges for changing travel dates makes it easier to take the jump and book a trip.
Great deals and rates
Every sector of the travel industry is desperate for travelers and the money they bring right now, so in looking to next year and beyond, many hotels, tour operators, airlines, and cruises are offering great deals to entice travelers to reserve a trip in advance. From special discounts or rates during select time frames to great perks, you’re bound to find some amazing deals out there if you start looking.
Support the travel industry
Another key reason why you should invest the time and money in booking a future trip now: It helps support the travel industry in the meantime. The big hotel chains, resorts, cruises, and airlines may be able to survive a tough year, but what about the small boutique hotel with slim margins? The family-owned-and-operated tour company? The workers and communities that depend on annual tourism revenue? Studies have shown that one in eleven people works in a job related to tourism, and with nearly the entire industry shut down due to COVID-19, that’s millions of people out of work for the foreseeable future. Booking a future trip provides a direct cash infusion to all the different sectors of a destination. Book a tour and you’ll be supporting trip planners, tour guides, drivers, and more. Book a hotel and you’ll be helping the hotel stay afloat and retain staff. If we want to be able to get back out there and travel once it’s safe to do so, there needs to be an industry there to support that demand, so booking now for future trips throws the travel industry a lifeline during these turbulent times.
Gives you something to look forward to
The thought of finally packing your suitcase, heading to the airport, walking down that jet bridge, settling into your seat, and feeling the anticipation of an adventure wash over you … we all want that right now. We’re going to have to be patient for longer, but do you know what makes the waiting easier? Having something to look forward to. Even if it’s still some ways in the future, knowing you have a great trip already planned, booked, and paid for means that you’ve done your part. You can spend the beginning of 2021 safely at home, following local health and safety mandates and waiting for your turn to get the vaccine, and when the time arrives, you’re all good to go. Counting down the months and weeks to a new trip helps the time fly by, so even if the thought of booking a trip for later this year or even early next year feels like an exercise in torture, you’ll reap the benefits come travel time.