Have you started looking for plane tickets to see friends and family or brave the new world again?
Are you scared of booking a hotel and getting stuck somewhere because . . . COVID?
Or maybe you were among the 10 million people in the US screened by TSA during the 4th of July weekend? I was definitely up in the air to attend a long-awaited wedding in LA and enjoy some warmth in preparation for the annual visit by our family friend, Karl the Fog. I also helped set the new pandemic record! That’s something to be proud of, right?
New rules. Old habits.
COVID has drastically changed the rules on travelling from planning trips requiring extra diligent research of destinations, dining and activities, to finding transportation as rental car prices soared to sky-high levels and flights get rescheduled and canceled at higher rates than in 2019.
So many of us are used to relying on guidebooks, filtering the stars and not reading actual reviews, never calling a business out of the belief of an abundance of resources. Even after putting travel on hold for more than a year and seeing the world change, do we really expect to keep playing the travel game by the old rules?
It’s time to learn how to survive in the post-pandemic world and enjoy your experiences.
Top five to survive
I’m a travel designer and specialize in helping people plan their trips to ensure they enjoy their getaways from the moment they decide to go somewhere – be it a family gathering, fun new destination or a desire to unplug and change scenery.
Here are my top five hard rules when planning trips and figuring out logistics in 2021.
1. Travel internationally: do not go
Unless you really need to, I advise all my clients and even my family to wait. There are simply too many unknowns that can go wrong when traveling internationally. Even if you are vaccinated you might be stuck in a different country as they close air traffic due to increased cases.
And if you are thinking “I’m stuck in the continental US, how bad could it be?” – imagine not having the medical insurance or enough time off to support you.
How about if your documents expire or get lost? The expedited option to get a passport right now is twelve (12) weeks. And that is if you manage to submit an application. What if you need to reach the embassy in a foreign country? They are as seriously understaffed as the waiters in your favorite restaurant.
2. Plan ahead – stay sane
Start your planning at least five or six weeks in advance but not more than two to three months ahead. This way you will have time to stress over the crazy plane schedules and settle on the best route while optimizing the prices and hopefully pick the flights that airlines will keep on the books the day of. Travel experts confirm that buying tickets too far in advance yields you about the same price level as last minute bookings.
Starting closer to the date also gives you more accurate information on the destination, restrictions, health trends and overall business operations.
3. Do you need a rental car?
Consider your transportation options and whether you will be needing a rental car. With the surge of travel in 2021, car rental agencies experience a shortage of fleet leading to breaking news of U-Haul trucks used as vacation rentals in Hawaii and Alaska. This trend is spreading through the continental US on the back of cheap prices and comparative availability. At the same time Amtrak is having a comeback as a great option to see the country. And if you still need a car – consider thinking outside the box and look into car share services.
4. Do your due diligence: call and verify
You have probably seen signs near your home indicating that local businesses are closed for good or experience decreased hours of operations due to restrictions or lack of staffing. The same is true everywhere. At home you can at least fall back on your frozen mac & cheese or that one place that never shut down.
But do you have the same comfort when in a new place? Would you rather be prepared by calling the businesses you are interested in (be it dining or fun activities) instead of relying on their website or search engines? They might not have enough people to update that information and you might end up looking at the closed door at 6pm fielding hangry questions from your travel companions.
It takes much more preparation these days to travel safely and comfortably. That’s why I encourage you to call and verify.
5. Get the TSA-precheck (or maybe don’t, and I will keep my short line through security)
If flying is something you do often, you probably already have a TSA precheck or a similar fast track through security. In the current environment it not only saves time, but gives you a piece of mind that fewer people will touch you or your belongings as your shoes stay on and laptops are safely packed in your bags.
If you fly on rare occasions (like big holiday weekends), you might think spending $85 is excessive for your budget. However this 4th of July I was reminded why it is the best investment for everyone.
The regular line in the Los Angeles Airport looked like an entry point to The Magic Kingdom. And not in a good way. I almost fainted thinking it was the TSA precheck one. It twisted and turned so many times before reaching the official start of the line for security… and then I saw my magic kingdom. No people at all. Simply magical.
As an extra perk for reading this far – most credit card companies cover the fee for you, making it free. Now is the time to apply. With extra long wait times you might just get it before you are ready to fly again.
Not all is lost.
The brave new world is ready for you. Embrace the change, hire a travel designer and sit back and relax. Or take the time, read the newest reviews, forget about guidebooks and call, call, call. Afterwards map every place you want to visit so you can see if it still makes sense.
It is not that scary out there – just ask 10 million people who flew over the July 4th holiday weekend. And maybe join in on the fun as Labor day rolls in taking Karl away.