If you’re planning on finally taking a vacation this summer, you’re not alone.
With the peak travel season just starting, vacationers are finding packed airports, sold-out hotels, sky-high prices and long waits for everything from rental cars to restaurant tables.
After two summers overshadowed by COVID-19, Americans seem to be confident about traveling again. Evidence: Three-quarters of Americans plan to take a trip this summer, according to research from Allianz Partners, a travel insurance provider.
All this comes despite average gas prices of $5 and more, airline tickets double and triple the cost of a year ago and thousands of flight cancellations due to staffing shortages.
“Travelers are still eager to hit the road this summer,” says Bob Pishue, an analyst with INRIX, a transportation analytics company working with AAA. “[But] we expect nationwide travel times to increase about 50 percent compared to normal.” In other words, a trip for which you once planned two hours could now take four.
Airport survival strategies
Even as travel surges, airlines have cut back on flights due to a shortage of pilots and other workers. Summer travelers already have seen thousands of flight cancellations. We asked Christopher Elliott, editor of the travel newsletter “Elliott Confidential,” to share his secrets for a smooth journey.
Arrive at the airport early. “If the airline tells you to get there an hour before your flight, give yourself two hours. If you can book an early morning flight to avoid the crush of tourists — do it,” Elliott says.
Download your airline’s app. It will alert you to flight delays, and may even let you rebook a trip before a cancellation is announced at the airport.
Bring your own snacks. “Airport food is pricey and unhealthy,” Elliott says. “Besides, who wants the stress of standing in another long line?” But know what will pass through TSA security. Liquid or gel foods over 3.4 ounces won’t make it.
Think outside the gate. You don’t have to wait at your crowded gate. Keep walking and you may find a nearby spot with plenty of seating.
Sign up for airline perks via email. Air France, for example, has a program called Ready to Fly that allows passengers to upload travel documents before flying. Elliott says on his last trip the check-in line was only five minutes for those who had uploaded their information beforehand.
Consider buying a pass for an airport lounge. But first check your credit card benefits, which may include lounge access.
Interest is high for all types of travel, as different as regional road trips or guided journeys with commercial tour operators.
“We’d anticipated pent-up demand for travel this year, but it has been even beyond our expectations,” says Timo Shaw, president of VBT Bicycling Vacations and Country Walkers, which offer active trips around the globe. “Right now, domestic tours are almost sold out for 2022 — with lots of interest in 2023 as well.”
Across the country, the most popular summer destinations include the Atlantic and Gulf coast beaches, Orlando, Florida, theme parks and Hawaii. Overseas trips are seeing a jump too, fueled by a recent change in federal policy that eliminated COVID-19 testing for U.S. residents returning from abroad, and for other incoming international travelers.
The Allianz study predicts vacation travel to Europe jumping by 600 percent over 2021. Top cities include London, Paris, Dublin, Rome and Reykjavík, Iceland. All this means airports are beyond crowded even in the middle of the week when traffic is usually lighter.
Kirsten Maxwell, founder of the family travel blog Kids Are A Trip, says she has noticed the difference, most recently when she had to fly through London’s Heathrow Airport. “It feels even more crowded than pre-COVID if that’s possible. I imagine that July and August are going to be ridiculously busy.”
It’s the same for beach towns and other drive-to holiday spots near metropolitan areas.
For example, Ocean City, Maryland, and nearby Bethany Beach, Delaware, were among the most booked vacation home destinations for the Fourth of July, according to search data from Vacasa, a rental management site.
This area is particularly attractive to those within a three- or four-hour drive, with most travelers coming from Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia. Other popular sites include Cape Cod, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the Oregon coast and Gulf Coast. Kay Maghan of Alabama’s Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, expects some people to make last-minute plans this summer. “COVID has changed how travelers book trips. They want to make sure they are well and perceive the destination as safe before booking.”
Hawaii is also seeing a rebound. Tourist numbers this spring had nearly returned to 2019 levels and are looking the same for July, when the state typically has the most arrivals, says Debbie Misajon, founder of the Coconut Traveler, which plans high-end trips in Hawaii.
Like other vacation areas, the Aloha State isn’t immune to the staff shortages plaguing businesses. “Activities that were once offered seven days per week are now operating fewer tours on fewer days,” she says. “Some of the restaurants have more dark days and fewer hours.”
During the pandemic, interest grew in outdoors and nature vacations, but cities are seeing strong demand, with numbers up for places like Seattle, Boston and New York, per the Allianz study.
Given the number of travelers, some people may choose to stay at home.
But Larry Snider of Arizona–based Casago Vacation Rentals, says he still thinks travel is worth the hassle. “I am so grateful to be able to get back out there and enjoy a few trips this summer,” he says. “The memories are worth any temporary inconveniences.”
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Virginia native Larry Bleiberg is past president of the Society of American Travel Writers, a frequent contributor to BBC Travel, USA Today and other publications and is the creator of CivilRightsTravel.com.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on June 28, 2022. It's been updated to reflect new information.