The time to stop musing about virtual travel and start thinking about actual travel may be finally approaching. Of course, it already was possible before. I’ve told you about my trip back home to Barcelona last summer but also why it didn’t feel like the best of times to go to Europe unless you had family and half your friends there. We’ve also talked about long weekend getaways and road trips as ways of finding some solace and much-needed change of context during the pandemic. And I’ve shared what I learned traveling in pandemic times — pack extra masks.
The travel guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise passengers to be up to date with COVID-19 vaccines before traveling internationally and domestically. The CDC recommends checking the situation at each destination before traveling abroad. There are still great areas of the planet that remain at a very high risk level for COVID-19 — the U.S. being one of them — and the CDC advises not to travel there right now.
But as newly reported cases of coronavirus keep dropping worldwide and as the pandemic is evolving into its endemic phase, hence becoming controlled and more predictable, we may start resuming some of the activities we took for granted in 2019, among them traveling abroad. And hopefully, the CDC will also update some of its guidance regarding destinations.
Maybe don’t rush to the airport just yet, but, after two years of lackluster escapism, you can start planning that lavish big trip for spring or summer. I know I’m doing it — I’m not alone.
According to Expedia’s Travel Trend Report for 2022, “40% of U.S. travelers are more willing to treat themselves and spend money on their next trip.” After canceled and postponed trips, this may be the year to finally splurge on a globe-trotting journey. That being said, domestic destinations, particularly warm-weather ones, keep dominating among U.S. travelers.. Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed for Expedia’s report said they were planning a domestic trip in 2022, and 37% of them both domestic and international. Among the top-searched destinations on U.S. travelers’ wish lists, you can find several Florida spots (Orlando, Destin, Panama City) as well as Maui. The international most-searched destinations include the Riviera Maya, Rome, Bali, London and Paris.
“After nearly two years of the pandemic, consumers have learned how to travel under everchanging circumstances, based on their comfort level and local government and health guidance,” says Expedia Group Media Solutions’ Global Vice President, Jennifer Andre, in the company’s Travel Recovery report for the fourth quarter of 2021.
Traveling in endemic times means choosing your destination carefully and picking a place that is the right fit for you more than ever. For me, that means a place with preferably low COVID-19 cases but also somewhere with strong safety protocols. Take into account your level of risk-aversion. If you still very much always wear a mask indoors, maybe stay away from destinations where face coverings aren’t mandatory in public transportation and other high-occupancy indoor places.
I’ve written about how, because the health emergency is still in flux and it’s difficult to have a pre-COVID experience while traveling, choosing a place that I already knew was my go-to strategy in 2021. Last year I went to my natal Barcelona pre-Delta surge and visited New York and O’ahu — two places I know well — before the Omicron wave. Returning to a spot you’ve already enjoyed in the past also takes the pressure off typical vacation concerns like getting to see all the landmarks.
But 2022 may be the year to start being a little less conservative, travel-wise. Worldwide commercial flights were down 49% as of February of last year compared to the previous one, according to the real-time flight tracking data company FlightAware.com. Fortunately, this year FlightAware.com is seeing U.S. commercial flights rebounding closer to pre-pandemic levels and 66.03% more international flights than this time last year. That means more options for passengers. That also means that my direct flight to Barcelona from San Francisco may hopefully be on the horizon once again soon. The fewer layovers you have, the more chances there are for a more pleasant flying experience, and that was already true in pre-COVID times.
Bear in mind that the CDC requires passengers to wear a mask completely covering their noses and mouths while they’re inside an airplane or at the airport. Passengers can take their masks off for brief periods while eating, drinking or taking medications. Wearing a KN95 mask during the whole duration of a long-haul flight is not a picnic, but you can simply add that to the long list of inconvenient and not-so-comfortable parts of flying commercial.
Even if in the past I was a big planner who preferred to book early, I’ll probably be sticking to the newish trend of booking closer to the desired departure date. Pre-COVID, I tended to reserve my trips 30 to 90 days before departure. But last year I stuck to the 0- to 30-day search window from departure. And, once again this year, I’ll also be favoring plane tickets that can be rebooked and accommodations that can be canceled at no extra cost.
All these small adjustments make the idea of going back to Barcelona this summer, but also tackling some new and unknown destinations, a very welcome break from my daily routine. But in terms of whether this is the time for a big lavish trip abroad for you, be sensible and aware of the updated information from the CDC and at your destination country. Plan accordingly for your needs. As Ask Money notes, it may be a good idea to purchase travel insurance in case you need to change your plans. Keep in mind that things can change at the last minute, but ease into the idea that we may be finally getting back to normal — whatever that means.