After being grounded for the better part of two years, many families are itching to travel. And with Covid-related restrictions loosening across the globe, booking summer adventures is a top priority. In fact, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) projects U.S. travel will approach pre-pandemic levels this year.
But navigating the world in 2022 won’t exactly be business as usual. “In the past, travel was something where parents could plan schedules and activities on the fly,” says Kim DelleCamelie, a travel advisor based in Long Island, New York. These days, things look a little different. Keep these five things in mind as you plan this summer’s travel schedule.
1) Planning ahead is critical.
The combination of fuel costs skyrocketing and Covid restrictions loosening means that road-tripping is actually taking a backseat to air travel (though the cost of oil is also impacting air travel prices). The rub: There are fewer flights in circulation than there were in pre-pandemic days — and that means more overbooking, higher prices and less flexibility when flights get canceled.
So, 1) book your trip as far in advance as possible, 2) select a direct flight even if it’s pricier, and 3) book a flight that departs early in the day so you don’t get stuck overnight due to delays. Also, build in time for a meal at the airport so you don’t have to worry about missing your flight. “If you’re willing to pay extra, some airports offer express check-in so you can bypass security lines,” DelleCamelie says.
Need a rental car when you arrive? Book it at the same time as your flight and expect prices to be steep. Rental cars are scarce and family-size vehicles are first to go. Depending on location, shuttles, public transportation and Uber will get you where you need to be without the rental car headaches.
Travel Tip: Check your documents. Passports take longer to process than in years past. Instead of a six-week waiting period, it may be three months before you get your documents. Keep in mind that passports need to be active not only when you travel but for six months after the date of your trip, so check your expiration date before you book. Traveling to a destination that requires proof of vaccination? Make sure the name on your vaccination card is identical to the name on your passport. If you’re Libby on your passport and Elizabeth on your vaccination card, you could run into trouble.
2) Activities often require reservations.
If you’re visiting a national park or a theme park, find out whether they require reservations. Popular parks like Disney still require reservations to protect guests against Covid-19. “I can’t tell you how many families arrive at the Magic Kingdom after spending hundreds of dollars on travel only to discover they can’t get into the park,” DelleCamelie says.
Right now, it’s good practice to research any points of interest in advance. Maybe the resort you’re visiting closed its on-site restaurant. Or maybe the pool isn’t open, or it’s open but keeping different hours. If some part of the experience is important to you, call and make sure it’s operating as expected.
3) Have a backup plan.
If you’ve traveled with kids, you know things happen! Your nine-year-old catches a stomach bug the night before you’re supposed to leave. Someone in your family tests positive for Covid-19. Or a loved one suddenly needs you at home. Your best bet: Pay attention to cancellation policies — and read the fine print if you purchase travel insurance. Some policies don’t cover for Covid-19 and others only kick in when your trip is underway.
The good news, according to DelleCamelie: “A lot of resorts, cruise ships and airlines have extended their cancellation policies, so now you can cancel 30 days before your trip where it used to be 150 days pre-Covid-19.” But you still should have some general game plan for what you’ll do if someone gets sick on vacay, or if you’re forced to stay home after weeks of planning and preparation.
Travel Tip: If you’re staying at a home rental, shop online for groceries in advance. That way your groceries are ready to pick up curbside or be delivered before you arrive. This is nice for all kinds of reasons, including simply that you don’t have to worry about dining out after a long travel day with kids.
4) Cruising gets a bad rap.
While cruises have long been praised as a family-friendly travel option, the industry ground to a halt during the pandemic. Now it’s making a comeback. In fact, Sandy Clark, a travel advisor in Plano, Texas, feels that cruises are one of the safest — and most convenient — ways to travel, with cruise lines setting up many protocols to ensure safety.
“Cruise ships are one of the only types of travel that are required to share information when someone gets sick on board,” Clark says. “Airlines, rental car agencies, hotels and resorts don’t have any sort of required reporting.” Plus, in many cases, cruise ship staff monitor dining room entrances to make sure everyone washes their hands before entering. They also wipe down surfaces and handrails around the clock.
Travel Tip: Review the itinerary and learn about restrictions for the various ports you’re visiting. “Each country has different restrictions,” Dellecamelie says. “Make sure you’re able to disembark at each port so you get the full value of the trip.”
5) Travel advisors are back in vogue.
There’s more research required for travel today than there was two years ago. Travel advisors can help you sidestep headaches and research vaccine and testing requirements for you. “The biggest misconception about using a travel advisor is that there is a cost to you, the traveler, to use one,” DelleCamelie says. “If you price something out at Disney and I get you the same room, it’s the same price. My commission is built in on the supplier side.” A bonus: A travel advisor can also book and re-book flights if you get stranded, and help you avoid unnecessary change fees.
Travel Tip: If you covet your friend’s Instagram #vacay pics, ask her if she used a travel advisor. Alternatively, you can identify qualified travel professionals through Travel Leaders’ Find a Travel Agent. Still want to go it alone? Visit www.covidcontrols.co before you go to uncover quarantine rules, mask mandates, infection rates and proof of vaccination requirements for whatever your destination.