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The unexpected arrival of COVID has already forced me, like so many others, to cancel two 2020 trips I’d planned — and it’s only the start of May. Whether and when those trips will be rebooked continues to hang in the balance, as we inch forward into a new reality where travel restrictions loom large in a significant, extended way. It’s left a lot of people wondering: if not now, when will I be able to travel? And to where?
Essentially all industries have been damaged by COVID. But for travel, transportation and hospitality, the blow has been especially lethal. Travel was one of the first industries to be hit by the virus, as borders across the world closed down, and airlines’ ability to resurrect themselves financially after this is over remains in question. At best, some experts are predicting that air travel will be able to return to its pre-COVID levels in five years. Considering the number of people whose financial livelihoods depend on tourism — a sector that employs as many as 10% of people globally, with that income proving especially critical in many developing areas — that’s a blow to more than our sense of wanderlust.
Between fewer flights, ongoing travel restrictions, and the all-but-guarantee that the coronavirus will continue to emerge in waves, resulting in more restrictions — the odds for travel plans in 2020 don’t look good. And that’s not even to mention the fact we’re at the beginning of what’s expected to be a particularly brutal recession, in which increasing numbers of us may not have the means to travel.
But what does this mean for your specific travel plans? Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer.
If the idea of a 2020 without the possibility of travel is too noxious to accept (frankly, it is for me), that’s understandable. The key in entertaining the idea of still traveling this year is to keep flexibility as the cornerstone of any tentative plans.
For those who’ve already booked trips for later this year and aren’t sure whether they’ll be able to take them, this means having the patience to wait things out for now, as well as the adaptability to change plans down the road if needed. It’s a good idea, too, to go ahead and do some research into what your options for refunds, postponing and rebooking are; many companies within the travel industry are offering increasingly flexible booking and refund policies right now. Give yourself a deadline to have made a decision by, then wait, advises Megan Moncrief, chief marketing officer for a travel insurance site.
"The best thing anyone can do right now is to understand what their options are," Moncrief told Conde Nast Traveler. "The industry as a whole is doing what they can, providing refunds, vouchers, and credits at an unprecedented rate. As a consumer, I wouldn’t feel confident traveling this summer, though I would feel comfortable booking travel in the fall — but I’d want to know my options."
As with so much of life during COVID, the key — in addition to being flexible — is simply waiting.
It’s especially advised to wait awhile longer before booking new travel for 2020, despite today’s deals. Also in conversation with Conde Nast Traveler, Gary Leff, author of ViewFromtheWing.com, recommended not feeling as though you have to jump on the cheap flights being advertised now.
"There isn’t an imperative to jump on good fares now," Leff said. "As flying comes back, it won’t be like flipping a switch and the planes are full. I wouldn't feel a need to jump on a good price today, because there will be good, possibly great, fares later."
But there are mental health benefits to planning travel, too. If you need to know that you’ll take a vacation this year, consider a road trip.
Unlike international travel, which is going to be dependent on the fluctuating states of public health and travel restrictions in two countries, consider traveling somewhere more local. Anywhere you can get to by car is likely a safer plan for 2020 than a trip that requires air travel.
“Once the economy begins to 're-open,' we believe drive travel will outperform air travel, domestic will outperform international travel, and leisure spending will outperform business spending,” confirmed Jared Shojaian, a Wolfe Research analyst, to Quartz.
According to current trends in Google searches, as Quartz reported, some of the options hopeful travelers in the U.S. are considering include the national parks, Cape Cod and the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York.
Ultimately, all travel — including by car — will have to depend on the state of public health and whether that travel poses risk.
I know that I personally am itching to be on the proverbial open road again, and the idea that that won’t be possible before 2021 is not something I swallow easily. But at the end of the day, it isn’t our right to put the health and safety of others at risk simply because we have cabin fever and want to travel. We are still — somehow! — early on in this pandemic, and through a combination of continued social distancing and pharmaceutical advances, hopefully we’ll be able to safely see the world again sooner rather than later. At least we know that when we are able to, we’ll appreciate it more deeply. I know I will.