En español | Sacha Cohen and her husband had planned to take an Alaskan cruise last August, before COVID-19 sank their dream voyage. Now the couple, who live in Arlington, Virginia, are enthusiastically planning future trips. Cohen, 51, is researching everywhere from France to Montana for a possible vacation — maybe in 2022.
Daydreaming about a post-pandemic trip is an exhilarating cure for stir-craziness, says Cohen. “Looking forward to something absolutely helps me stay sane.”
Simply making travel plans, even far in advance, can brighten your mood. In an August 2020 survey from the Institute for Applied Positive Research, 97 percent of respondents said they felt happier when they had a trip planned. And most people find that anticipating an experience such as a vacation is far more pleasurable — as well as “more exciting and less tinged with impatience or anxiety” — than awaiting the arrival of material goods, says Amit Kumar, an assistant professor of marketing and psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, who studies the subject.
That craving for happiness and excitement, as well as newfound optimism with news of the COVID-19 vaccines’ authorization and rollout, may be why some wannabe travelers are starting to consider possible bucket list journeys for 2021 or 2022 — or, for the most eager, as soon as possible. “I have clients who are ready to get on a plane now,” says Cate Caruso, owner and principal travel designer with True Places Travels in Vancouver, Washington. “They don’t care where — they’re like, ‘Tell me where I can go.’ ”
Low prices offer big incentives: From May to October 2020, airfares were about 25 to 35 percent lower than they were during the same period in 2019, according to a recent trends report from Expedia. You can also find unprecedented deals on hotels and tours, says Clint Henderson, senior news editor at ThePointsGuy.com. “It’s a super-great time to book future travel.”
But with the future still so uncertain, building flexibility into your trip is key, Henderson adds. Follow these tips as you start to dream and plan.
1. Take advantage of flexible booking policies
Hotels, airlines and tour companies are making it easier to cancel trips within weeks or even days of your departure date. The nonprofit educational travel company Road Scholar, for instance, is allowing travelers who book new trips by Dec. 31 to get a full refund if they cancel up until 90 days before their program begins. Exodus Travels, a group adventure tour operator, recently introduced Dateless 1st Departures vouchers, which allow travelers to book a trip without a departure date. When a country reopens for North American travelers, those who purchased a voucher are guaranteed a spot on the company’s first tour to that location.
2. Consider waiting to book a cruise — or make sure it’s easy to change your departure date
The cruise industry suffered a blow last spring following reports of passengers stranded on ships rampant with COVID-19 cases, and the industry remains mired in uncertainty. The CDC has lifted its No Sail Order but is now requiring cruise lines to demonstrate that certain procedures and facilities are in place (testing capacity and quarantine areas, for instance) to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 on their ships. Many lines have repeatedly delayed their restart dates, some into spring 2021. “This is one area I would not recommend booking right now,” says Henderson. But if you do, take advantage of lenient cancellation or change policies (not to mention specials, such as the recent 2-for-1 fares on Oceania Cruises). Read the fine print: If you cancel, you may not receive your deposit back — it will instead be applied to a future cruise (as with Holland America).
3. Follow destination-specific advisories and regional COVID policies
The U.S. Department of State and the CDC each maintain travel warnings for different areas of the world. The CDC provides risk ratings by country, from zero to level 3, and is now advising against all unessential travel. The State Department has travel advisory levels from 1 (exercise normal precautions) through 4 (do not travel), and is currently asking people to “reconsider travel” in most areas. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t book travel to places with current warnings, but check in frequently as your trip approaches and prepare a backup plan. Also check your destination’s restrictions; many areas, including in the U.S., are requiring or asking visitors to quarantine or show proof of a negative COVID test.
4. Consider travel insurance
Before COVID, most travel insurance policies didn’t cover pandemics, but that’s no longer true. You can compare policies, receive quotes and read customer reviews at sites such as InsureMyTrip.com, SquareMouth.com and TravelInsurance.com. New policies that cover pandemic-related cancellations tend to be pricey, Henderson warns. You’re likely to spend far less if you forgo the insurance and simply book with providers that allow you to cancel without penalty, he suggests.
5. Consult a travel adviser
Consulting a pro who understands everything from travel insurance to confusing entry requirements may reduce the odds of disaster. “Keeping up on various COVID-19 entry requirements, hotel modifications and cleanliness policies is how I’ve been spending a majority of my time,” says Dana Storr, a California-based travel designer for Luxami Travel, an affiliate of TravelStore. “Things can change fast.”
6. Don’t toss your mask
With vaccinations just beginning, mitigation strategies (mask wearing, social distancing) could be needed for another year to prevent outbreaks, predicts Darrin D’Agostino, an internal medicine physician and executive dean at Kansas City University, a health sciences institution. “We’ll still have to consider wearing a mask on the plane, in airports, any of those places where people can get together,” he says. “The same strategies — washing your hands, don’t touch your face, keeping physical distance — are going to be important.”
7. Prepare for high demand
People are sick of staying home, so the pent-up demand for travel could be huge. Many travelers who canceled plans for 2020 have simply rebooked those same trips for 2021 or 2022. With countries such as Kenya and Namibia once again welcoming Americans, multiple safari companies report that they are nearly or completely booked for 2021. “Without a doubt, people are looking at bucket list destinations,” says Caruso. “We’ve all been through this collective carpe diem moment, so a lot of people are really ready to travel.”