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4 ways the pandemic permanently changed my travel habits

May 10, 2022
7 min read
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Many travelers are taking to the skies and roads again with the expectation that things are exactly the same as they were prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Others may have thought they’d travel in completely different ways.

For example, TPG’s executive editor, Scott Mayerowitz, recently wrote about how his travel strategy has changed — and not necessarily in the ways he expected.

That's when I found myself evaluating some of my own travel habits. After some reflection, I realized certain things I started doing differently during the pandemic have persisted, even though we seem to be shifting into more of a “post-pandemic” mindset.

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I’m grateful more destinations and attractions are open once again and that we can travel more widely than has been possible for the past two years. But the pandemic has affected some of my travel habits — in some ways, permanently. Here's how.

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I spend more time outdoors

(Photo by Leezel Tanglao/The Points Guy)

In March 2020, stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions put an abrupt end to the upcoming travel I had planned.

After a few months of limiting interactions and staying home except for necessary errands, I was ready to get back out in the world and explore safely. I don’t remember exactly when I first heard the term “social distancing,” but as an introvert, I knew it was something I’d be good at.

I’d been a solo traveler for years, but I didn’t particularly seek outdoor destinations or activities to plan trips around. However, once I wanted to travel again while maintaining my distance from others, outdoor destinations and activities went to the top of my list.

My attention turned to hiking, in particular, which I had rarely done as a solo traveler before the pandemic. Prior to 2020, I had only ever visited two national parks in my life.

In the past two years, however, I’ve visited 10 national parks and numerous state parks. I had previously avoided solo hiking because I was fearful of getting lost, was unsure of my physical fitness and concerned about safety. But I learned how to read trail markers, use the AllTrails app and sift through trail reviews. I also found that, even though I’m hiking solo, I’m not alone, as many busier trails have other friendly hikers along the way.

I also seek restaurants with outdoor dining space, and I’m glad that restaurants have made this more of a priority. Even in cooler weather, many restaurants with outdoor space have heaters or fire pits, which can make outdoor dining more comfortable.

I take road trips or rent a car at my destination

(Photo by Cavan Images/Getty Images)

It may be hard for some people to believe, but I had only ever rented a car while traveling one time before 2020. I have driving anxiety and don’t find driving fun, especially trying to navigate in a place I’ve never been before. So my pre-pandemic travel was mostly to big cities with robust public transportation or walkable areas where I didn’t need a vehicle to get around.

However, during the pandemic, taking road trips and renting a car at my destination helped me to overcome my anxiety and explore more of the outdoors, like the aforementioned national and state parks. I’ve yet to rent a car and drive abroad as that still feels a bit out of my comfort zone, but I’m considering it for a future trip.

I took my first road trip in May 2020, driving five hours from my home in Texas to Hot Springs, Arkansas, for Memorial Day weekend. Since then, I've taken short road trips to Central Texas and Oklahoma. I discovered there was a lot worth visiting even in destinations closer to home. So, while I love traveling abroad, I’ve come to appreciate finding more off-the-beaten-path things to see in my own backyard.

In July 2020, I flew to Las Vegas (my first flight after not flying for five months) and rented a car to visit places such as Red Rock Canyon and Valley of Fire State Park. And in October 2020, I flew to Los Angeles, rented a car and drove to Santa Barbara for a long weekend.

Lack of availability and high car rental rates are a slight deterrent. I visited the Big Island of Hawaii and paid nearly $100 a day for my rental car. It was a short trip, so the expensive rental wasn’t a huge outlay overall. I’d love to visit Alaska, but for now I’m waiting, because I hear car rental prices are through the roof — if you can even find a vehicle to reserve.

I pay attention to cancellation policies

(Photo by Pham Le Huong Son/Getty Images)

Before 2020, I wasn’t too concerned about how to cancel a trip because I rarely needed to. However, now I always review the airline or hotel policies to make sure they have customer-friendly change or cancellation policies.

I was certainly glad for the policy changes during the pandemic because I could book speculative travel knowing that I could cancel or make changes if needed. I took advantage of those policies a few times. I hope the airlines, especially, continue to keep these policies that make it easier to change or cancel travel plans without losing your miles or money.

I don’t plan travel as far in advance as I used to

The Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal. (Photo courtesy of Hilton)

I used to book award travel as soon as the booking window opened. With travel restrictions always changing, though, it was hard to know if a country that was open when I booked would still be open in six months if COVID-19 numbers started to go up. It was also hard to know if a country that was closed to tourism would be open to visitors by the time I planned to travel, even if I was looking a year in advance.

Now, I find myself booking much closer in to my travel dates, and often finding good last-minute award availability. For example, I found standard night availability at the Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal about a month before my trip in December 2021.

As more countries continue to eliminate travel restrictions and testing, I’m getting more comfortable booking travel further in advance and have begun doing so once again. However, many of my trips in the past few months have been booked just one or two months out and I will probably operate that way for some time to come.

While I realize we’re facing a “sold-out summer” of “revenge travel,” which means prices are high, I’m open to booking deals when they pop up. In fact, I just booked a Web Special award with AAdvantage miles for late June and I’m still putting the pieces together for a late spring trip to Europe, including needing some positioning flights and hotels at my destinations.

Bottom line

The pandemic taught me how to be flexible when it comes to travel. It used to be that once I made travel plans, I stuck to them. The pandemic has pushed me to explore new outdoor activities, drive during trips, make more flexible plans and take more short-notice trips, all of which has helped me to step outside of my comfort zone and become a more dynamic traveler.

Featured image by Getty Images
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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  • 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
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Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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Rewards Rate

3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    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 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $95
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent, Good

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.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $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.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • 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