4 ways the pandemic permanently changed my travel habits
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.