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From Alaska to Greece, your return to travel starts with these 5 destinations

March 13, 2021
9 min read
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It's finally happening: People around the U.S. are looking forward to traveling again. More and more of us are getting vaccinated each day and celebrating that fact by booking flights, reserving hotels and vacation rental homes, and drafting lists of all the things we want to see and do when we arrive somewhere new.

In 2021, wanderlust will be a real thing for people who find themselves vaccinated and ready to travel. If that's you, here are some destinations that are calling your name.

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Alaska

Alaska is best for: travelers who want to see this special place at a time when traditional summer crowds will be absent

The coming summer could be a historic moment to be a tourist in Alaska. The state will be mostly open for visitors, but the crowds at such iconic attractions as Denali National Park could be near record lows. That means if you do head to The Last Frontier state, you'll be able to see it in a way that hasn't been possible in many decades.

Tourism is likely to be down in many destinations this summer, of course. But the decline is anticipated to be unusually steep in Alaska. That's because the biggest driver of tourist visits to the state -- the large cruise ships that carry thousands of travelers a week to the state in a typical summer -- might be mostly or completely gone this year.

Related: Cruise lines begin removing Alaska from their schedules for 2021

Denali National Park could be far less crowded than usual this summer. (Photo courtesy of Travel Alaska)

Nearly 60% of the 2 million people who visit Alaska in a typical year come by cruise ship. But a recent cruise ship ban imposed by neighboring Canada for all of 2021 will make it difficult for most cruise lines to visit Alaska this year. Already, several lines have canceled large portions of their 2021 sailings to the state.

Not that cruise lines are completely giving up on bringing travelers to the state this summer. If the idea of a summer trip to Alaska has piqued your interest, you might want to look at one of the new land-based tours that the two biggest cruise lines operating in the state -- Princess Cruises and Holland America -- just announced for the summer.

The tours, which are new for the lines, will include stays at lodges and hotels that the companies own in Alaska and draw on other land-based touring infrastructure that they own in the state, such as the bus-tour company Gray Line Alaska.

Princess and Holland America -- both owned by parent company Carnival Corp. -- normally use these assets to operate land tours of Alaska that are designed as add-ons to cruises.

Related: 8 of the best Alaskan lodges for getting close to glaciers, Denali and more

Bahamas

Bahamas is best for: travelers that want to stay close to home but get out of the U.S.

The Bahamas is one country that's been open to U.S. travelers for quite some time now. And it has a well-communicated set of entry requirements designed to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 within its borders. Visitors are required to present a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within five days of departure. Then, you'll need to apply for a Bahamas Health Travel Visa, where you'll upload your negative test result and pay for the mandatory health insurance, which costs between $40 and $60 depending on how long you stay.

We recommend printing several copies of your test results, as you'll be asked to present them at multiple points throughout the journey, including before your departing flight and upon passing through immigration in the Bahamas.

If you satisfy the requirements above, you're free to explore the islands, subject to local restrictions and regulations.

The Bahamas features plenty of great places to stay; one of the best is Baha Mar, a huge complex of hotels, dining and entertainment venues, casinos, nightclubs and more. TPG's Nick Ellis visited the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar in early 2021 and found its COVID-19 protocols and its "resort bubble" program easy to comply with and effective at keeping guests safe -- or at least feeling safe.

(Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)

Many hotels across the island provide complimentary rapid antigen or PCR COVID-19 tests so travelers can remain compliant with the United States' recent rule requiring proof of a negative test taken within three days of departing for the country.

Greece

Greece is best for: travelers who want to experience the best of European island life

Greece will soon open its borders to all foreign visitors -- including Americans.

The nation's tourism minister said that "tourists will be welcome if before they travel, they are either vaccinated, or have antibodies, or test negative." This is great news for those who are still waiting to be vaccinated but are ready to travel. Exact details of the entry process for Greece are still yet to be revealed. When travel restarted briefly last summer, Greece required all passengers to fill out an online form more than 24-hours before their departure.

The importance of the safety of Greek citizens and potential visitors is clear as the nation is prioritizing the vaccination of its hospitality and tourism industry workers.

A great option from the U.S. to Greece would be a ride on Emirates' recently reinstated nonstop flight from JFK to Athens. Once there, you're only a hop, skip and a jump away from literally thousands of Greek islands, including the paradise that is Santorini.

(Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)

Hawaii

Wailua Falls, Kauai. (Photo by YinYang/Getty Images)

Hawaii is best for: travelers that prefer visiting somewhere with rigorous testing requirements

Even if you are vaccinated against COVID-19, you may still be nervous about traveling once again. If you prefer a destination that requires pre-arrival testing, Hawaii is a good option. Yes, even though you're vaccinated, you'll still need to show negative COVID-19 results from a test taken at least 72 hours before your departure flight. Anyone that arrives without a negative test will be required to undergo a 10-day quarantine.

But, the state is considering a change to the COVID-19 testing policy for those who have been vaccinated. Before your trip, check Hawaii's COVID-19 update page to see the latest requirements for entry.

The fourth-largest and the oldest island of Hawaii -- Kauai -- is known as the Garden Island for its lush rainforests formed over centuries. This year, the island implemented tracking bracelets at properties that are a part of a "resort bubble" as a way to move and enjoy your surroundings while quarantining. For beach hopping on the island, start at Poipu Beach Park, popular for visits by Hawaiian monk seals, while the ocean at Lydgate Beach Park is shielded by a lava rock wall, providing tame waters for leisurely swimming.

Embark on a pandemic-friendly activity: road-tripping solo or with close companions. The 52-mile Hana Highway Route in Maui is replete with tropical views, waterfalls, the Pools of Oheo and coastal landscapes of the Kipahulu District of Haleakala National Park.

In Oahu, Hilton Hawaiian Village, located on the widest stretch of beach in Waikiki, is known for its multi-layered Paradise Pool with dramatic waterfalls and the longest water slide in Waikiki. The resort requires validation of quarantine status using the state's "Safe Travels" QR code.

National and state parks

La Mina Falls in El Yunque National Forest. (Photo by Alisha Bube/Getty Images)

The great outdoors is best for: travelers that still want to preserve as much social distancing as possible

Even with vaccines being here and positive COVID-19 rates dropping, not everyone will immediately hop on a flight headed to the beach. Instead, many grounded travelers have embraced the great outdoors, such as national and state parks, during the pandemic.

National and state parks are likely going to be hot destinations in 2021 because they’re inexpensive or free and it's easy to socially distance from others while you're there. According to a study from Destination Analysts, a travel and tourism market research, over 54% of Americans said they would be interested in visiting a U.S. national park in 2021, while nearly 48% said they would be interested in visiting a state, local or regional park.

If you’re looking for a great park or outdoor vacation, you have tons of options around the country, such as the Grand Canyon in Arizona or El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico.

And the newest national park, New River National Gorge National Park and Preserve in West Virginia, encompasses three existing pieces of land — the Gorge itself, the Gauley National Recreation Area and the Bluestone National Scenic River. The park itself measures about 7,000 acres, while the remaining 65,000 or so is classified as a natural preserve.

Even if you plan to spend much of your trip outside, you should still plan to take a COVID-19 test before traveling and follow the state’s quarantine guidelines. If you’re visiting a national park, federal guidelines require visitors to wear face masks in federal buildings, including historic structures and museums. If you’re outside, face masks are required when social distancing isn’t possible.

Related: 5 things to know about America’s newest national park

Featured image by Michael DeYoung
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

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  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

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  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases