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When Will It Be Safe to Book Travel Again? Here’s What You Need to Know

This month, the COVID-19 pandemic marked its grim one-year anniversary. But with the vaccine roll-out well underway and spring in the air, most of us are feeling optimistic and hopeful that some parts of pre-pandemic life may soon start returning. And while there are plenty of encouraging signs that that is the case, we can’t get ahead of ourselves. There are still unknowns about the vaccines’ effects on new COVID strains, questions about how much herd immunity is enough to stop COVID, and concerns that discarding precautions too quickly could have grave consequences. So, even with the future looking bright, we’re still in a pandemic that is impacting millions of lives, and we need to continue being careful.

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But what does that mean for your much-delayed, highly-anticipated post-pandemic trip? We’re all antsy to get out of the house, see friends and family, and treat ourselves to a well-deserved getaway after an incredibly difficult year. Plus, all those insanely-low flight tickets are calling our names. Here’s what you need to know about when and how you can start traveling again.

Can I Travel Now?

The CDC is still recommending against unnecessary travel, especially abroad, and many countries, states, and counties still aren’t fully open for business. So, for the time being, it’s best not to go on big trips until vaccination has become more widespread.

Can I Book a Trip This Coming Summer?

One of the most maddening parts of the past year was the lack of clear, definite answers with regard to timelines. How long would lockdowns last? How long until we would get a vaccine? How long until we reach herd immunity? All that uncertainty was because we as a global society were facing a new threat we’d never encountered before, and we had to adapt, adjust, and pivot as we went along. We had to make fast decisions on little evidence as experts tried to learn more to guide us. With new information from scientists and health authorities, there were new answers. Timelines and rules changed.

With regard to whether you can plan to travel during summer 2021, the answer is, once again, not black and white. The White House has stated that all U.S. adults under 18 will be eligible for the vaccine by May 1, but how long it will actually take to vaccinate enough people to start achieving herd immunity is unknown. Experts are hopeful that summer will be a time of mass vaccinations, allowing some things to start returning to normal, but even then, it’s looking like fall or winter will be a safer bet for travel.

On top of all that, many countries still haven’t opened their borders yet, so you shouldn’t bank on your dream destination being open right away. With all that in mind, if you want to travel over the summer, it’s best to stick to local or regional trips in your area with other vaccinated individuals, as well as follow proper precautions like social distancing and mask-wearing. Stay up-to-date on COVID and vaccination rates in your area and where you would like to go to make informed decisions.

Can I Book a Trip Later in 2021?

The odds are looking good that leisure travel can start again toward the end of the year. Assuming that vaccination efforts around the world continue going well, experts in the travel industry are optimistic that destinations will start reopening come late fall or winter.

It will likely take until 2022 for international travel to truly pick up, but domestic travel continues to be a great option both to scratch your vacation itch and support hard-hit tourism destinations. Traveling domestically, even by plane, will also be safer, with shorter flight times or the possibility of driving or taking a train. Road trips are again expected to be extremely popular this year, so if you weren’t comfortable taking one last year but feel that it’s possible now, thanks to the vaccine, this year is the time to do it.

Granted, it won’t immediately be back to business as usual. Many countries will likely require negative COVID tests or even proof of vaccination before permitting travelers to enter, and some restrictions may still be in place. Airlines, hotels, and local operators and businesses will also likely start by dipping their toes into the water before taking the plunge, operating at reduced capacity for safety reasons. This is to be expected and why it’s a great idea to take this time to plan ahead, research, and make any necessary bookings or reservations well in advance.

And even with travel starting up again, precautions like mask-wearing should still be taken.

Can I Book a Trip Once I Get Vaccinated?

As more and more people become eligible and get their vaccines, it’s easy to get excited that things will soon return to normal. But just because the U.S. and other rich countries are making great progress with their vaccination efforts doesn’t mean every country in the world is. Other smaller, developing countries may take years to properly vaccinate their citizens, and some are just barely getting started on their vaccination campaigns. Even if you’re traveling from a country that’s reaching herd immunity, you can’t assume where you’re headed is on the same page.

And even if you have been vaccinated and waited the necessary two weeks for the vaccine to take full effect, you can still present a threat (yes, even with a vaccine passport). There is a possibility that you can still carry COVID and infect non-vaccinated individuals or even get reinfected yourself by emerging strains. Avoid carrying the virus into under-vaccinated, at-risk countries and regions, as many countries are still battling the virus. For the safety of everyone, keep those big international jet-setting plans on hold until more countries are vaccinated and properly reopening.

If you do want to travel in the immediate future, only do so to a place that’s achieving good vaccination levels and is comfortable enough to open its borders and businesses to non-essential travel. But even then, you should still take precautions like wearing a mask, staying 6 feet apart from others, and avoiding crowded areas.

Can I Book a Trip Now for Future Travel?

Yes, and the travel industry will thank you! Whether you want to travel during the summer or in late 2021, or you prefer to get the full picture and wait until 2022, now is the perfect time to research, plan, and book that dream trip so that it’s ready and waiting for you when the time comes. 

Not only will you have something to look forward to, but hotels, tour operators, and other members of the travel industry that have been hanging by a thread for the past year will have a much-needed financial boost. One in 10 jobs around the world is generated by or related to tourism, so you’re helping support the destination’s tourism economy that keeps people employed, fed, and housed.

For that purpose, many travel industry operators like airlines and hotels have adopted flexible booking policies, allowing you to reschedule or delay trips without fees or penalties so that future travelers feel at ease with paying upfront or putting down deposits. There are still a lot of unknowns in the coming year, so being flexible and accommodating is important for both the industry and travelers.

It’s also never been more important to get travel insurance to cover essentials like flights and hotels. However, some insurance companies don’t cover COVID-19/pandemic-related losses, so it’s important to read the fine print. 

How Will I Know When It’s Fully Safe to Book Travel Again?

Because the vaccine roll-out and pandemic recovery will vary widely around the world, there won’t be one big “Aha!” moment where things are back to normal and fully safe all of a sudden. It will take time and be gradual. That’s why it’s important to continue following the guidelines of your local public health officials for the time being, but stay tuned for updates on the national and international scale about when countries start reopening. To keep on top of updates about travel and COVID-19, follow local and national news and check information from the U.S. State Department, the CDC, and the World Health Organization. 

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Zoe Baillargeon
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Zoe Baillargeon is an award-winning travel writer and freelance journalist based in the Pacific Northwest. She covers travel…
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