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What Will Travel Look Like When it Opens Up Again?

After a full month where most of us have been staying at home, the wanderlust and restlessness is creeping in. We are all wondering what’s next and just how soon next will come. At the forefront of my mind is when we can travel safely again but most importantly, what will travel look like when it does resume.

First Timers Guide to Bermuda - Rainbow over Hamilton Harbor

I think it’s safe to say things will not go back to “normal” for a pretty long time, especially when it comes to travel. I’m expecting a gradual reopening of the travel world, with most of us taking baby steps as our leaders continuously assess whether the loosening of restrictions is happening at the right pace.

If you are trying to plan for travel the rest of the year and into 2021 like I am, envisioning what travel might look like would certainly help to know what kind of vacations to book and when. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do have some informed travel speculation to share. Here are my predictions for what we all should expect when travel does return. 

9 Ways Travel Will be Different When it Makes a Comeback Again!

1. Outdoor adventures & national parks will reign supreme.

National Parks in Fall - Zion

Solitude in Zion National Park.

When travel shut down several weeks ago, the last kinds of trips we all canceled were the ones in the great outdoors. Many local, regional, and national parks remained open even as places like Disneyland closed. These places were considered safer for staying away from the masses (that is, until the masses descended on the parks and created crowding problems all their own!).

So when travel does return, I fully expect places that are outdoors to be the first to come back online. Parks with plenty of wide open spaces, especially some of the more remote ones, will be smart places to travel. We are keeping a close eye ourselves on national parks in Northern California for some of our first trips. So consider doing the same for your home area.

Close travel cousins RVing and camping are likely to be pretty hot to go along with this trend. They don’t necessitate staying in a hotel room or interacting with many additional people in your travels. So if you have experience with either of these two options, you are already ahead of the game!

2. Expect capacity controls.

Disneyland Crowds Sleeping Beauty Castle

Destinations like Disneyland may have to implement capacity restrictions to control crowds.

When travel does return, most destinations will want to test the waters with something less than full capacity. For attractions that are indoors or that usually draw large crowds, many of them will likely open with significant capacity restrictions at first to be able to keep guests farther apart.

For this reason, I highly recommend making reservations for any experiences that allow you to lock in a spot for your family. I’d also recommend making travel plans that can improve your chances of getting access to a destination if capacity is later limited. For me, this means booking an on-property hotel at Disney parks or booking lodging within a national park at one of the official concessionaire-operated lodges just in case. 

3. Budget trips will be popular.

The stock market’s volatility and the loss of many jobs means that there are a lot of Americans in a much harder place financially than they were a few months ago. More Americans who are able to travel will only be able to do so on a much smaller budget than they previously planned. 

Hone your skills now to learn strategies for saving money on travel expenses like hotels and flights. Start looking for destinations that are affordable alternatives to fancier vacations you may have planned.

If you are a traveler who hasn’t looked into using points and miles to save on travel, now is a really smart time to investigate that. Using these loyalty programs can mean you can get more travel for “free” as well as more luxurious travel for the same price as budget travel. See my guide to the best rewards cards for family travelers to learn about some of the credit cards that can kick off your earning as well as this piece all about the mistakes you are probably making with frequent flyer miles.

4. Travelers will initially prefer road trips over flying.

Airplanes have long been considered great places to catch a bug, so there will likely be many travelers don’t want to fly right away. A lot of travelers may also be hesitant to fly in case they do get sick on a vacation and would be denied boarding when it was time to return. 

For a lot of reasons, I suspect many travelers will be ready to road trip in the safety and comfort of their own car with their immediate family before they board an aircraft. Road trips and staycations will almost assuredly be the way many of us start traveling again. 

Ironically, this very preference for road trips may just keep planes pretty safe places to travel. If planes stay fairly empty for awhile, it would be easy to create separation between passengers, so don’t necessarily write off air travel. Watch and wait (and maybe book a few fully refundable plane flights), as I’m doing.

Empty Airport TSA Precheck Security Line

Even the promise of empty airports may not entice reticent passengers away from road tripping for awhile.

5. Most of us will take additional precautions when traveling to stay healthy.

When we do travel again, most of us will likely take additional precautions to stay healthy on trips. Whether that be wearing a mask in crowded places or wiping down your airline tray table, being a germaphobe these days will be socially acceptable.

Many destinations may even require these additional measures of customers, along with implementing extra cleaning and precautions themselves. So be prepared for things to take more time as some of these extra steps are rolled out.

6. Cruising will be DOA for quite awhile.

No type of travel has become more controversial in the past couple of months than cruises. The Diamond Princess, Grand Princess, and Holland American Zaandam captured headlines and made us all question the risks inherent in cruising. 

There is a real concern not only of easy disease spread on cruise ships, but also that ports around the world will turn infected ships away leaving passengers stranded at sea while sick. Dealing with these cross-border maritime issues will take some time and a lot of hard work to sort out. I expect it may delay cruises from setting sail again until long after many other kinds of travel has resumed.

Disney Cruise Mistakes

We planned to cruise on the Disney Wonder again to Alaska later this summer, but that trip is seeming increasingly unlikely.

If you have cruises on your travel agenda in the coming months (my family personally still has an Alaska trip on Disney Cruise Line planned for August 2020), make backup plans. Don’t book other non-refundable travel associated with getting to those ships, like plane and hotel reservations. It’s worth it to pay more for flexibility.

7. A not-so-insignificant segment of the population still will not travel at all.

After any crisis, there are people who will be nervous, scared, and traumatized by all that has happened. That’s beyond understandable. This means a lot of people still won’t feel ready or safe to travel even when others start to do it. Others will simply be unable to afford travel for awhile too as a result of the economic downturn.

This means that a smaller percentage of the traveling public will be traveling at the start. This might be just what is needed for places that would need to implement capacity restrictions anyway. For those that are psychologically, medically, and financially able to travel, they may have a very different travel experience in some destinations that remain less crowded.

But it also means it will be hard for many travel-related businesses that rely on a certain volume of customers to weather things for an extended period of time. Sadly, expect some not to survive as a result of the slow down.

8. International visitors will be few and far between.

International travelers will be unlikely to visit the US right away, either because they are hesitant to travel or because our borders remain fairly closed for awhile. We will be unlikely to want to risk importing new cases as we get on top of things within our own borders.

Some US destinations that are usually crowded because they are overrun with international visitors may therefore not be too crowded for awhile. My own home city of San Francisco, for example, is one of the most popular places for travelers around the world to congregate. Without those international travelers in town for awhile, you might actually be able to get on to a cable car without waiting in line! I’m also hoping that a dearth of international travelers will help keep crowded national parks from being too overrun as well, especially if some travel does resume during the summer high season.

9. We’ll all make lots of contingency plans and prepare for curveballs before we travel again.

One thing that the unexpected shutdown of all travel in a very short time taught us was just how fast things could change. Many of people found themselves needing to cancel plane flights, get hotel refunds, fly back last minute from remote destinations, and more. The travel lessons we learned from how hard all of this was means most of us will plan better in the future to be able to face these kinds of contingencies. 

Even though I didn’t personally have any travel plans I couldn’t fully cancel and get refunded, I heard a lot of horror stories from friends and colleagues. As a result, I’ll be taking steps to make sure my future travel plans have as much flexibility as possible. This includes the following:

  • Booking only refundable hotel and car reservations (that means a lot of Airbnb and vacation rentals are out for me for awhile.)
  • Booking the more flexible airline fares (including giving more of my business to airlines like Southwest that already have more flexible rules by default).
  • Using travel insurance when applicable.
  • Booking travel with credit cards that offer trip cancellation and delay protections (see which ones offer this in my guide to why every traveler needs a credit card).
  • Having miles and points built up for an emergency last minute travel need.

The Final Word

As you can see, travel is likely going to change in major ways. I certainly hope the transition will go smoothly, but I’m preparing for all contingencies right now, as should you. I’d love to know your thoughts on some of these predictions and any other predictions you may have. Leave a comment to let me know what you think.

Just how will travel change when it resumes later in 2020 and in to 2021? 9 predictions about the changes travelers should expect to see and how to plan for them now!

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