Harry Wenkert has big travel plans. He and his wife just booked a cruise to Venice, the Greek Islands, Turkey and Croatia for September.
September 2022, that is.
As the COVID-19 lockdowns continue, a lot of Americans are asking: Where will I travel when the pandemic ends? And when can I go?
It’s not Wenkert’s only trip. Between now and next year, he hopes to visit relatives in Colorado and California. When? “As soon as it’s safe to travel,” says Wenkert, a retired pharmaceutical industry marketer in Pittsburgh.
Where will you go after the pandemic?
Where will you go? And when will you go there?
“The reality is that the world will reopen in phases,” says Misty Belles, a spokeswoman for Virtuoso, a travel adviser network. “That will likely dictate where and when people travel again.”
Belles already has her first post-pandemic trip selected: She’s visiting Paris.
“I’m using the downtime to brush up on my French,” she says. “I miss Paris, my soul misses Paris. It’s where I return again and again.”
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Virtuoso polled its travel agents about the top destinations next year. Topping the international list: France, Australia and Greece. Closer to home, Mexico, California and Hawaii are on its customers’ itineraries.
I asked a cross-section of travelers where they would go once they get the “all clear.” Their responses ranged from safe to exotic. But they all had one thing in common: They will travel again, and they’ll do it as soon as possible. The urge to travel is stronger than ever after months of lockdowns and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warnings.
Old favorites rank highly for 2021
Sandy Hill is planning a trip to an old favorite: Honolulu.
“Specifically, Waikiki Beach,” says Hill, the director of a nonprofit in San Francisco. “There is something magical about Hawaii. The beauty and scent of the flowers and the incomparable views from every angle take your breath away.”
If these post-pandemic escapes seem a little unimaginative, it’s because they are. They’re a safe bet, and Louisa Gehring, who owns a travel agency in Cincinnati, knows why.
“Travel has been banned for almost a year,” she says. “People understand that a destination may not always be just a flight away. If they only had one more trip, it would be to an old favorite, rather than somewhere completely new and exotic.”
Her clients have booked a lot of European vacations for the second half of 2021, including France, Italy and England.
Someone asked me where I would go when the pandemic ended, and I immediately thought of Hawaii, too. My kids would spend 12 hours on a plane so they could hang out at the Ala Moana Center in Honolulu, the world’s largest open-air mall. I also would love to take them back to Waikiki Beach for an afternoon of bodysurfing and then buy them shaved ice.
But I found myself answering slightly differently. I wanted a quiet week in a cabin near Waimea Canyon State Park on Kauai. No internet, no phone service. It’s highly unlikely I’ll make it, but I can dream, can’t I?
Craving something more exotic after the pandemic ends?
Some travelers are planning something more exotic, at least by our standards. Andrew Cunningham is headed to Thailand. He and his family were supposed to visit last April but had to cancel. “We intend to revive this plan once the pandemic comes to a standstill,” says Cunningham, a pest control expert from Chicago.
Cunningham says Thailand makes more sense than ever – and not just because it has some of the lowest infection rates in the world.
“It offers so much excitement for our entire family,” he says. “We planned on going to see some amazing shows, temples, and even sanctuaries that you will never find here in the United States.”
He’ll need to be patient. Thailand may be one of the last countries to open for tourism. Most foreign nationals are barred from entering the country until further notice.
The travel insurance company World Nomads has seen a lot of demand for far-flung locations, according to Christina Tunnah, its general manager for the Americas.
“People are thinking big and far away to satisfy their pent-up wanderlust,” she says.
World Nomads’ customers, who tend to be a little more adventurous than average, have island fever.
“We’ve seen a spike in sales to French Polynesia, including Tahiti, and the Turks and Caicos Islands,” says Tunnah. “The Dominican Republic and Bermuda are also popular choices.”
A different world awaits
The “when” of travel will be a little more difficult than the “where,” according to Lise Barnard, a health intelligence analyst at WorldAware, a security company.
“The post-pandemic travel landscape will without a doubt look different from the world we left when lockdowns started happening globally in March 2020,” she says. “Defining the end of the pandemic will be different for individuals, As a result traveling and its associated risks will vary between countries and individuals.”
Barnard told me many people might decide against traveling since there may still be a lot of uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 disease projections. Older travelers and people with underlying chronic illnesses who are more susceptible to coronavirus, may want to stay home even if local health authorities allow travel.
Whether you want to experience something new or return to a favorite destination, one thing is clear: The moment you get the green light to plan a vacation, you’ll probably call your travel adviser or open your computer to check rates – if you haven’t already done so.
Where travelers plan to go this year
During the fall, Travel insurance company Generali Global Assistance polled travelers to see which domestic and international destinations they are targeting for post-pandemic trips.
Top 5 domestic destinations
- Florida (27.8%)
- California (15.4%)
- New York (15.1%)
- North Carolina (11.4%)
- Texas (7.3%)
Top 5 international destinations
- France (10.6%)
- Mexico (8.9%)
- Italy (8.9%)
- Germany (7.0%)
- Canada (6.7%)