The year 2020 is finally coming to a close. All of us are looking forward to a new year more than ever.
I’m going to let you in on a little travel blogger secret that is essential to your travel planning for 2021. Every year on December 26, the traffic on your favorite travel blogs (including yours truly) spikes in a big way. An often even bigger spike happens on January 1.
Before that time, everyone is busy and wrapped up in the craziness and rush of the holiday season. December 26 is the day that many Americans really start to plan for the new year and where they want to go for spring break or summer vacations. That means competition for cheap fares and in-demand destinations all comes rushing back as soon as the Christmas leftovers are in the fridge.
Want to snag a deal or a spot at an often sold out destination for travel in the new year?
You have to be ahead of that curve.
Of course, 2020 is totally different, right? Will people do the same as they look ahead to 2021 travel in these very uncertain times? We are in the midst of a major and concerning COVID surge nearly everywhere in the country. We have all been tiptoeing around future travel planning for months and months, canceling more than we actually traveled.
My prediction? It will be even more important for people who want to travel in 2021 to be booking now before this year’s post-holiday travel planning rush.
There is very positive news of three highly effective vaccines on the horizon soon. We all know travel will be making a comeback in 2021, even if we don’t know quite when. All of us who have been locked down will drive demand, perhaps like never before for some destinations.
So if you want to beat the rush and the competition coming the day after Christmas, here’s what you should be doing now to plan for 2021 travel:
Tips for Booking 2021 Travel Now
1. Book Flexible Travel Reservations
The biggest travel lesson of 2020 is just how important refundability and flexibility is in making travel plans. Many travelers spent the first few weeks of lockdown last March chasing travel companies for refunds and credits. Some of them lost thousands of dollars.
One of the silver linings of the COVID crisis is just how many travel companies have relaxed their previously rigid cancellation policies. For example, most major US airlines have eliminated change fees (no longer just Southwest!) and ski resorts are offering more flexible season passes. There are more generous cancellation windows at hotels and vacation rentals. And customer service agents in many travel companies are more empowered to give you a credit or a refund so you don’t travel when sick.
In short, you have more options than ever to book something that won’t result in a financial penalty to you later if you need to cancel. Read the fine print (maybe even screenshot it and file it away because of how rapidly policies are changing), and then book away for 2021!
2. Start Your Vacation Savings
Finances are tight for so many Americans, and truly desperate for some in industries decimated by the pandemic. Sadly, paying for a vacation simply may not be possible for many families in 2021.
For those families who will have the means to travel in 2021, however, start your vacation savings now. The pandemic has restricted our lifestyles in many ways, so you may not be spending money on things normally in your budget from kids sports and activities to eating out to travel itself. Save that money deliberately for when you can use it for travel spending again!
3. Add to Your Miles and Points Balances
With money tight for many, using frequent flyer miles and points in 2021 is a great way to pay less cash for travel. Even if you aren’t flying or staying in hotels right now to earn miles and points the old fashioned way, there are so many ways to earn them! From credit cards to online shopping portals offering bonuses for holiday shopping, you can add to your points balances without ever leaving your couch.
I write about miles and points often on this blog, so if you are interested in making travel more financially accessible to you in 2021, here’s where to start and what saves my family thousands each year:
- Mistakes You Might be Making with Frequent Flyer Miles
- Best Credit Cards for Family Travelers To Earn Free Travel
- Frequent Flyer Miles for Kids
4. Apply for Passports, Global Entry, TSA Pre-Check, & Real ID
With Americans unable to travel much for the better part of a year, many of us have some important travel documents that need attention.
If you don’t yet have a passport or have one that is nearing expiration, now is a good time to apply or renew. Application volume always increases in January and February as travelers think ahead to summer international travel. My kids both have expired passports at the moment, so this is on our to do list!
If you want to shortcut lines and hassles when you do travel again, consider also applying for trusted traveler programs like TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry. Global Entry backlogs have been pretty epic during the pandemic, so you’ll likely need many months of lead time if you want to join.
Remember too that starting October 1, 2021, anyone boarding a plane in the US will need a Real ID to fly – yes, for domestic travel! I recently got my Real ID in California when I had to renew my driver’s license. Get that task checked off your list before the crunch gets worse as the deadline approaches. Most of the application process can be done online with supporting documents approved and uploaded beforehand to minimize your in-person time in a DMV office.
What 2021 Destinations Will Be the Most Sought After
So what will the most in-demand destinations that you should jump on now for travel planning? Here are my predictions for the destinations that will be the most sought after when travel makes a comeback:
Hawaii reopened to tourism on October 15, 2020. But with a current 72 hour COVID testing requirement that has been fraught with rule changes and hiccups, only a limited number of tourists have been willing and able to return to the islands just yet.
Whether you want to take the family to visit the action of Disney’s Aulani Resort or are searching for a more peaceful retreat on the Big Island, Hawaii is going to be hot when there are more reliable ways to get there. It probably will be pricey too, so lock in deals for peak 2021 travel times – summer, Thanksgiving week, and the winter holidays.
As someone who has personally canceled and rescheduled a Disneyland vacation three times already during 2020, I know that demand for this destination will be massive when it is back. Plan accordingly.
Disneyland is not currently selling new theme park tickets, but you can lock in a hotel and add discounted tickets later with Trips With Tykes partner Get Away Today. Get Away Today has been a customer service bright spot in this pandemic, working overtime to give credits and refunds and keep guests aware of the constantly changing situation in Anaheim. I highly recommend supporting them as a small family owned business doing it right while also saving yourself some money in the process – win/win!
Book with Get Away Today here. Use code TYKES10 to save an additional $10 off all vacation packages of 2 nights or more.
3. National Parks
Wait, wasn’t 2020 the year we all enjoyed the great outdoors at national parks with nearly every other travel destination closed? Yes, but that demand is not going to wane just yet in 2021.
Spring break and possibly much of summer travel may well be of the social distancing variety, and those seasons are often when many national parks are in peak demand anyway. If you want to stay at some of the most iconic national park lodges or go to the most popular parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite, or Zion you need to be booking those trips now.
Remember if you have a 4th or 5th grader this year, the Every Kid Outdoors program (formerly Every Kid in a Park) will get you in free until the end of summer 2021. Check out my other tips if you are a beginner to national parks travel.
It’s going to be awhile before Europe will be welcoming Americans with open arms. But when it does happen, a lot of Americans will want to reschedule their European vacations in droves. If it is safe and permitted to travel there this summer, Europe could well be crowded and pricey in its usual peak season.
On a personal front, my sister and her family moved to the UK during the middle of the pandemic, so I’m counting the days until we can finally make the trip to see them! We have big plans to tour London and maybe even hop on the Eurostar to Paris for a weekend trip to see Disneyland Paris. Fingers crossed!
5. Big US Cities
With the some of the country’s biggest cities being the most hard hit by the pandemic (like New York City) or the most locked down (like my home town of San Francisco), the pent up demand for travel to popular urban destinations is going to be pretty huge too.
Of course, many travelers may not be ready to travel to big crowded cities until COVID is more firmly in the rear view mirror. For that reason, I predict the second half of 2021 is when demand for city vacations return.
What to look forward to and book reservations now for? Whether you want to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in person or ice skate in Rockefeller Center at Christmas or hit the Rose Parade in Southern California for the New Year 2022, start the booking process now!
Have you started booking your 2021 travel yet? What strategies are you using and where are you prioritizing going?