Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer, illustrated just how eager Americans are to start getting out again.
With about half the country at least partially protected with vaccines, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said that 7.1 million people were screened at U.S. airport checkpoints during Memorial Day weekend. In 2020, only 1.3 million were screened at U.S. airports during Memorial Day weekend.
As you look toward fall travel plans, Christmas and even next summer, it’s important to plan ahead, get COVID-19 updates for your destination – and try to build flexibility into your schedule.
While planning usually leads to lower fares and better hotel rates, in 2021 and 2022 making early reservations may be the difference between successfully booking a trip and coming up empty.
It’s simple math. Demand for planes, trains, rental cars and hotel rooms is spiking following severe capacity limitations during the past year. The ability of companies to meet this pent-up demand remains to be seen. For a variety of reasons, many travel and entertainment businesses are having difficulty hiring employees. In all likelihood, reservations of all types will be tight and in high demand throughout 2021 and into the summer of 2022.
The first step when considering any international destination is to have the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about COVID in that country, at the CDC’s COVID-19 Travel Recommendations at cdc.gov/travel.
The risk levels are split into categories: Very High, High, Moderate, Low and Unknown. For each country there are specific recommendations and whether there are entry requirements: a negative COVID test and/or quarantining. This information is in constant flux, so check often right up to your point of departure.
Domestic and regional travel
With the risks and complications that are involved in international travel, domestic travel destinations will be the top choice for many families, especially road trips. A trip by car is easier to plan, and itineraries are easier to adjust.
Nevertheless, complications will still exist at destinations in the U.S. For instance, national parks have varying policies. At Glacier National Park in Montana there are ticketed-entry reservations required for all visitors through Sept. 6, according to the National Park Service. And at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado entry reservations extend through Oct. 11. But the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Grand Canyon National Park do not currently require timed-entry tickets.
If national parks are on your travel plans, check their websites early and often to see if they add or subtract from their entry requirements.
Flexible cancellation policies
During the summer of 2020, airlines, tour operators, cruises and hotels had to completely change their cancellation policies and become more consumer friendly, eliminating cancellation charges and extra fees.
What these policies look like as we move into a time of fewer COVID complications will vary. The important thing for travelers is to check with each company about their policies related to changes and cancellations.
Depending on where you plan to go and the types of reservations that you are making, you may want to consider travel insurance. Prior to COVID, most insurance policies did not cover pandemics, but that’s no longer the case. But new policies that cover pandemics tend to be pricey.
But your best bet may be to forgo travel insurance and make reservations that have generous and flexible cancellation policies.
Don’t toss your mask, continue to wash your hands and keep in mind physical distancing when in a crowd. Many countries still have low vaccination rates.
Vacations are possible again, but it will pay to plan, do research and protect you and your family with sensible precautions.