Skip to content
 

Hot Travel Destinations Booking Fast and Prices Rising for Summer 2022

Expedia, Vrbo and others see big interest in Florida and Tennessee, plus other trends

aerial view of Pigeon Forge and Sevierville Tennessee

Kruck20/Getty Images

Aerial view of Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, Tennessee

En español

It’s not too early to start booking your summer travel. Americans appear ready and eager to get out of town and start spending their vacation dollars (and vacation days) as COVID-19 restrictions ease across the country.

In a Vrbo survey, 60 percent of respondents said they planned to book their vacations earlier than usual this year; 43 percent said they planned to book three to five months in advance. JetBlue Vacations' bookings for its summer packages seem to confirm the trend, with the airline saying that bookings are already double what they were this same time last year.

“People are realizing after all we’ve been through that it’s time to get out and make every minute count,” says Marion McDonald, a Memphis-based travel adviser with Brownell Travel.

This increased demand is driving up lodging costs, so you may pay more if you wait too long to book. “Rates are continuing to increase, with U.S. hotel rates upwards of 80 percent over 2019 pricing,” says Misty Belles, vice president of public relations for the Virtuoso travel conglomerate.

Rates for short-term vacation rentals are rising, too. “A four-bedroom, two-bath unit that rented for $200 to $300 a night pretty much anywhere in the country in 2019 is now going for $500 a night or more,” says Jenn Greene, a travel adviser with MEI-Travel in Baltimore.

Expedia is seeing some interest in international travel — especially to Bali, London, Mexican coastal resorts, Paris and Rome — but domestic travel remains more popular, as it was last year, when the pandemic kept many people closer to home.

Destinations in the Eastern U.S. are particularly hot: Resort cities in Florida and Tennessee top Expedia users’ hotel searches for summer 2022 getaways, while Vrbo clients are booking up and down the East Coast — in places like Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and Ocean City, Maryland, as well as along the coasts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and Alabama — and inland in Tennessee.

Travel advisers and other industry experts say the pandemic has played a big role in the growing popularity of Southeastern states. Their warmer climates increase the opportunities for outdoor fun, and their proximity to large population centers pairs well with the increased interest in road trips, given that some people are still uneasy about flying during the pandemic. “The majority of the U.S. population lives within a day’s drive of the Southeast, making those destinations attractive to travelers who prefer to drive rather than fly,” says Carrie Hurst, an adviser with Destinations to Explore in Columbus, Ohio.

Here’s a look at two of the most popular destinations for 2022.

The Tennessee mountains

The neighboring mountain towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge landed the Volunteer State on Expedia’s in-demand list, coming in at number 3 behind two perennial Florida favorites, Orlando and Destin. “Advance bookings are up 25 percent over this time last year, with some groups already booking holiday travel,” says Tom Goodwin of Mountain Laurel Chalets, a Gatlinburg vacation rental company.

Travel advisers say the towns, which are just 8 miles apart, appeal to their clients because they’re both family-friendly and within a day’s drive from major cities such as Atlanta, Cincinnati and Louisville. Another selling point: As gateways to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the two offer a variety of outdoor pursuits — fishing, hiking, rafting, wildlife viewing and more — in a serene setting.

For some visitors, the setting alone suffices. “We love Gatlinburg. It’s our go-to place to get away; we stare at the mountains and just do nothing,” says Ohioan Pam Kesse, 68, who has been visiting the area with her family for 30-plus years. Kesse adds that while she can’t hike due to health issues, just sitting on the porch soaking in the beauty of the surrounding landscape brings her peace.

Gatlinburg is also appealingly walkable, with a compact downtown, centered on a main street called the Strip, lined with kitschy souvenir shops and distillery tasting rooms highlighting the flavors of Tennessee moonshine. Visitors can wander through Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and take an elevator at Gatlinburg SkyLift Park up to the SkyBridge, a pedestrian bridge spanning 680 feet across a 140-foot-deep gorge.

Families tend to favor Pigeon Forge for its kid-pleasing, action-packed attractions, the headliner being Dolly Parton’s Dollywood, an Appalachian theme park where country music meets roller coasters. The kiddos have just as much fun on rustic-themed water rides at Dollywood’s Splash Park. Grownups like the town’s robust outlet shopping scene, budget-friendly chain hotels and casual restaurants.

Families have good reason to base themselves in Gatlinburg, however. “With more people being vaccinated, multigenerational travel is huge this year — and larger groups often prefer short-term rental houses, which Gatlinburg has in abundance,” Greene says.

people sitting in beach chairs with umbrellas on Miramar Beach

Norm Lane/Alamy Stock Photo

Miramar Beach

The Florida Panhandle​

The Gulf Coast communities of Miramar Beach and Rosemary Beach, both currently trending high on Vrbo, also have short-term rentals aplenty, plus white-sand beaches made of pure quartz crystals. But Jamie Jackson, a travel adviser with Charleston-based Wanderlust Travel Boutique, is seeing an increased interest in these communities for yet another reason: “Everybody who wanted to go to the Caribbean and didn’t want to take a COVID-19 test now wants to go to Florida.”

Indeed, COVID concerns prompted Prya Vin, 50, to visit Rosemary Beach for the first time in spring 2020, along with her husband and their two children, then 17 and 19. The family typically travels internationally, but the pandemic prompted them to instead vacation in a destination drivable from their Plano, Texas, home. The Florida Panhandle community so charmed them that they have already returned twice, and Vin now dreams of owning a home there someday. “You feel like you’re in another world, like you’re in the Caribbean, with the style of houses. Everything just feels homey and safe,” she says.

Pedestrian-friendly Rosemary Beach feels so homey because it’s a New Urbanist planned community with cobblestone streets, upscale homes and cozy cottages just a short stroll from a private beach open only to homeowners and guests. Buildings are no more than 50 feet tall, and it offers many green spaces for community gatherings, as well as restaurants and small boutiques you can walk or bike to. The bucolic setting attracts affluent travelers looking for a laid-back beach getaway.

“It’s retro in a way, but with modern-day amenities,” says Lou Flowers, 60, a Memphis resident who has been making regular visits with family and friends since 1997. “People ride bikes, walk their dogs and walk to restaurants, the beach, to church. We park our car when we get there and never get back in it.”

Just 24 miles west, Miramar Beach, which is larger and more spread out (and therefore not as walkable), appeals to a different market: travelers wanting to kick back on the beach but also be active some of the time. It delivers on the latter with a bevy of water adventures not available in Rosemary Beach — Jet Skiing, paragliding, water-skiing and more — and two large shopping centers, one an outlet mall with more than 100 stores.

Another difference: Because Miramar Beach is not a planned community, and thus not as upscale as Rosemary Beach, its short-term vacation rentals (including some high-rises) and chain hotels have typically come with lower price points. But rates are rising. “In 2019, three-bedroom weekly rentals in Miramar Beach were available from $1,800,” Greene says. “Today prices start around $3,300 and are expected to continue to increase in the lead up to the summer months.”

Other travel trends for 2022

Taking bucket-list-trips: “People have survived COVID and are realizing time is precious, so they’re wanting to seize the moment,” says Brownell Travel’s Marion McDonald. As such, more of her clients are checking off bucket-list destinations. An 89-year-old client just booked a cruise on the Mississippi River, something he has always wanted to do.

Spending big on travel with grandchildren: McDonald is seeing more seniors traveling with their grandkids while they’re healthy enough to do so. One client in his late 60s who survived a health scare just booked a ski trip with his grandchildren. He’s getting back on skis for the first time in decades so he can ski with all of them, something he hasn’t done before, she says.

Wanting to do something special with her daughter and granddaughter, another client, who is in her late 70s and has multiple sclerosis, booked a $25,000 girls’ trip to St. Thomas for the three, staying at a Ritz-Carlton. “She feels that time is fleeting and she doesn’t have a lot left,” McDonald says.

Mixing cities with outdoor destinations: Wanderlust Travel Boutique’s Jamie Jackson is booking more trips in which clients fly into a city and perhaps spend a day or two, so they can enjoy all that a metropolitan area offers, but then move on to a more secluded destination for a few days. “They’re still keeping COVID in mind,” Jackson says.

As a luxury travel adviser, she has booked Scottsdale, Arizona, several times and then sent clients to Castle Hot Springs Resort, a high-end boutique property tucked into a remote valley in the mountains about 60 miles north of the city. “It’s a special place in the middle of nowhere,” Jackson says.

Visiting smaller, up-and-coming destinations: Vrbo reports a rising interest in emerging cities, with Cincinnati getting the most attention. It’s appealing because, even though it’s a smaller city, it offers so much of what travelers are looking for these days, including breweries, restaurants, water sports and hiking trails, says Alison Kwong, a Vrbo spokesperson. Yorktown, Virginia, and Niagara Falls, New York, are the other top attention-getters.

Taking big, bold trips: People are booking big-ticket trips with the money they saved from not traveling during the pandemic. McDonald just recently booked a $37,000 African cruise on Silversea for one couple, and another couple has booked a pricey safari in both East and South Africa.


AARP Membership -$12 for your first year when you enroll in automatic renewal

Join today and save 25% off the standard annual rate. Get instant access to discounts, programs, services, and the information you need to benefit every area of your life. 


New York City-based freelance writer Terri Marshall contributes to Girl Camper Magazine, World Footprints.com, TravelingMom.com and other publications and websites.

More on Travel​

AARP Travel Center

Call: 1.800.675.4318

Search Flights

Enter a valid date

Enter a valid date

Child under 2 must either sit in laps or in seats:

Enter a valid date

Child under 2 must either sit in laps or in seats:

Enter a valid date

Child under 2 must either sit in laps or in seats:


Flight 2

Enter a valid date


Flight 3

Enter a valid date


Flight 4

Enter a valid date


Flight 5

Enter a valid date


Add Another Flight

Search Hotels

Enter a valid date

Enter a valid date


Room 1


Room 2


Room 3


Room 4


Room 5


Room 6


Room 7


Room 8

Search Packages

Enter a valid date

Enter a valid date

Child under 2 must either sit in laps or in seats:


Room 1


Room 2


Room 3


Room 4


Room 5

Search Cars

Enter a valid date

Enter a valid date

Search Cruises

Select a valid location

Select a month

Search Things to Do

Enter a valid date

Enter a valid date