The pandemic will impact my travel strategy for a long time — and that’s a good thing

Feb 17, 2021

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Before the coronavirus pandemic, I was accustomed to traveling very often and for very short periods of time.

I frequently flew to Europe (or even Asia) for just a couple of nights, flew home for another night or two and then boarded another flight to the next destination.

While there’s no question I miss the thrill that comes along with international travel, the pandemic has taught me how to slow down and enjoy the destination as much as I enjoy the journey.

After several months of staying at my parents’ house in the early phase of the pandemic last year, I ventured out to Utah and Northern California for two weeks to get a taste of the wide-open spaces and fresh mountain air of the West.

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That’s when I realized how relaxed I felt. There was no frantic rush to see and do things, and I felt like I’d actually traveled somewhere not simply stuck somewhere between flights.

Now, almost a year into the pandemic, we have several highly effective COVID-19 vaccines being distributed around the world as we speak. But, the vaccination campaign hasn’t yet reached a speed at which we could pinpoint a date when the world could simply “reopen” once again.

The bumpy and unequal vaccine rollout, combined with the emergence of more-contagious variants of COVID-19, all but guarantee a continuation of travel restrictions, entry requirements and more that we’ve been living with for almost a year now.

It looks like international travel (to countries farther afield than North America) will likely be mostly off-limits for this year, which means the travel strategy I adopted last summer is here to stay for 2021, too.

Basically, travel for me this year will be characterized by last-minute flights and longer stays within the U.S. or to countries that are easily accessible from the U.S., including Mexico and numerous Caribbean nations.

I started off 2021 with a one-way Delta flight from Michigan to Miami — and haven’t left yet. I was lucky to be able to stay with family members in the area for a little over a month. Since early February, though, I’ve used a combination of hotel points across World of Hyatt, Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors as well as unused timeshare weeks my parents almost forgot about to cobble together a strategy for staying in the sun — and away from the snow — through mid-March without much cash outlay (I’m still paying rent for my New York apartment, after all).

(Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)

I have a reservation booked at The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort in Mexico for early June with the idea that I’d travel there with my family, but no plane tickets have been booked yet, and depending on the vaccination status of my brother and myself (both of my parents have received their vaccines since they work in healthcare), we may decide to postpone or cancel altogether for this year.

Indeed, the one upside for travelers in this pandemic is the newfound flexibility that just didn’t exist before the industry faced an almost total collapse. Hotels allow you to cancel reservations very close to check-in dates and airlines have eliminated change fees altogether on most tickets, allowing travel to be booked on a “just-in-case” basis, which has been my exact operating principle over the last year.

Whatever happens this year, though, I know I won’t be making many (if any) noncancelable plans in advance. There’s too much uncertainty even just a few days in the future, never mind several months.

Who knows what could happen between now and summer with regard to the state of the world. Maybe countries across the globe will make a sudden and dramatic improvement to their vaccination campaigns and summer 2021 in the Greek Islands could actually happen.

That’s highly unlikely though, so I have my sights set on longer trips in the U.S. that I’ve wanted to take for many years, including a proper road trip to see more of this beautiful country we call home or exploring the many beaches and charming towns of New England.

Bottom line

Beyond my stint as a snowbird in Florida, I don’t have much on the books in terms of travel for this year. And for the first time in a very long time, I’m OK with that.

Before the pandemic, I looked at travel like it was a scarce resource; something that would disappear if I didn’t seize every opportunity to take it for myself. Life during COVID-19, however, has taught me, among many other things, that the world will still be there for us when we emerge from this pandemic.

It may not be this month or even this year, but we will still be able to see the Pyramids at Giza, the dramatic limestone formations of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, Machu Picchu in Peru, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and countless other destinations that have drawn visitors for hundreds of years.

So, for now, I’m embracing life in the moment (as best I can, at least), planning on not having a plan and most definitely not booking flights until just a few days before departure.

Featured image by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy

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