Reynisfjara is a world-famous black sand beach located on the south coast of Iceland.
Luis Cagiao Photography | Moment | Getty Images
Iceland has been the focal point of my desire to hike for more than two years.
The country is a dream landscape of natural beauty: the black sands of Reynisfjara, towering icebergs in the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and the steep, jagged peaks of Vestrahorn.
I was forced to shelve a carefully planned trip there in 2020, just like so many other globetrotters who set out on excursions during the Covid pandemic. Since then, I have wondered: When will an adventure abroad be possible again?
The outlook for 2022 for travel abroad is more rosy than ever, especially for Americans booking travel in the summer or later, according to travel experts. But they should expect to do more pre-planning and remain flexible.
“Since March 2020, there has not been a time as promising as it is now,” said Sebastian Modak, editor of Lonely Planet and the New York Times 52 Places Traveler in 2019, about traveling abroad.
“It really comes down to the traveler’s own threshold of risk and comfort for things that might go a little awry,” he added.
The year to ‘go big’
Mouhoub Madina / EyeEm | EyeEm | Getty Images
A large percentage – about 37% – of U.S. travelers plan both international and domestic travel next year, according to an upcoming Expedia report on 2022 travel trends.
After nearly two years of pent-up hustle and bustle, more than two-thirds of American travelers plan to “go big” on their next flight – whether it’s going on a unique trip abroad or upgrading to a luxury hotel, according to the report.
Although domestic-only travel plans are still most popular and appeal to 59% of U.S. travelers, interest in overseas destinations is growing.
G Adventures, which offers guided group travel around the world, has seen overseas bookings jump almost 35% so far in November compared to the same period in 2019. The company is experiencing “high demand” for travel to Peru, Costa Rica and Morocco, according to Benjamin Perlo, the company’s US CEO.
Flight searches to major European cities have also grown significantly in a short time – with 65% from Los Angeles to London and 110% from e.g. New York to Paris between September and October, according to Expedia data.
Hotspots in hot weather near the United States, such as the Riviera Maya, Cancun, Isla Mujeres, and Punta Cana, all in Mexico, have generally been most popular with U.S. tourists traveling in early 2022, according to Expedia.
“I think 2022 will be the year we grow big and have some of those moments on a to-do list,” said Christie Hudson, a travel expert at Expedia.
‘A big tailwind’
The ruins of Machu Picchu in the Andes, Peru.
Go Ga | 500px Prime | Getty Images
There are many reasons for consumer optimism. First, the number of Covid vaccinations is rising, which means Americans can travel with a relative degree of safety.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends vaccination before traveling internationally, approved shots for children ages 5 to 11 in early November, making family travel more feasible.
Travel restrictions are further relaxed. Many countries have reopened their borders to Americans and dropped policies such as mandatory quarantine periods. New Zealand, which has had one of the longest Covid-era tourism bans, said on Wednesday it would open its borders to vaccinated non-citizens from April 30.
(Test requirements are still prevalent even for vaccinated tourists. Travelers can find country-specific requirements on the U.S. State Department website).
The United States lifted its travel ban on most non-nationals on November 8th. It has probably also inspired more Americans to venture abroad – the proportion who reported avoiding international travel hit a pandemic era low in mid-November, at 55%, according to Destination Analysts.
“I’ve been in tourism research for almost two decades, and [the desire to travel] seems incredibly strong right now – the strongest I feel I’ve ever seen, “said Erin Francis-Cummings, President and CEO of Destination Analysts.
“I think it’s a great tailwind in 2022 for all types of travel,” she added. “People seem more open to new experiences or returning to international travel.”
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And there may be deals for those booking a trip, experts said. For example, the average cost of an international return flight is 35% below 2019 costs, according to a joint annual report published by Expedia and Airlines Reporting Corporation in October.
Of course, the health situation can change quickly and disrupt plans. A new Covid variant discovered in South Africa has several mutations that may make it more transmissible or able to avoid vaccine protection, although researchers warned that more data is needed to make an assessment.
A new wave of Covid infections in Europe pressured Austria to go into lockdown on Monday; Germany can do the same soon.
Auckland, New Zealand.
Scott E Barbour | Image Bank | Getty Images
Some countries have remained closed to American tourists or have not yet dropped strict health policies.
This is especially true for Asian countries, travel experts said. China, for example, requires Americans to be quarantined for at least 14 days at a government-elected facility. Japan does not allow tourism travel.
Some travel companies still err on the side of travel to the United States. For example, Fodor’s Travel limited its annual Go List to domestic locations in 2022 due to uncertainty about travel abroad, though it added some degree of optimism.
“Like many of you, we are still embarking on international travels,” Fodor’s wrote. “And traveling abroad may still be in the cards for the intrepid.
“If you can travel there safely and responsibly, then do it – go anywhere in the world,” it added.
Security and flexibility
Anton Petrus | Moment | Getty Images
Travelers should take certain precautions, mainly to protect themselves against financial losses.
Experts recommend travel insurance, which reimburses travel expenses in the event of a travel cancellation or other unforeseen circumstances.
However, there are different types of policies. A “cancel for some reason” policy is generally the only one that lets travelers get money back if they cancel a trip for a Covid-related reason, experts said. (Most basic policies do not cover this eventuality.)
Even “cancel for some reason” options may not provide a full refund, and insurance companies may require travelers to cancel a day or two before one’s trip. It is important to understand the specific terms and conditions of a policy before making a purchase.
Travelers should also weigh airline tickets and hotel options that allow for refunds, travel credits or changes, though those options cost a little more, experts said.
“I think you can feel safe booking that October trip to Egypt if you have the insurance in place and maybe booked a flexible flight with airlines,” Modak said. “Make sure you have the contingency where, if things get tough in Egypt, you can book the flight for May 2023 without suffering any financial costs.”
Many companies have retained extra flexibility in their pre-pandemic policies.
For example, G Adventures lets customers rebook a trip or get full travel credit if they cancel up to 14 days before departure. (Previously, there was a 60-day threshold.) This policy will remain in place for 2022 trips booked before March 31st.
“These opportunities for any business before Covid were not really there,” Perlo said.
It is also important to have a “just in case” budget, Modak said. For example, if a traveler gets Covid abroad and has to be quarantined before returning to the United States, how much money do they need to cover an extra week or two of the costs?
It is important that travelers approach a trip abroad with personal flexibility and empathy. Recognize that certain activities may be restricted or inaccessible. A city with legendary nightlife can be tamer than expected if bars and restaurants close earlier than expected during the Covid era, for example. Travelers may need to pivot, and should do ample research on a destination in advance.
Moreover, not all countries or their citizens have had equal access to vaccines, making respect for mask mandates and other local rules of utmost importance.
“It’s still a strange time to travel,” Modak said. “Bring a level of patience and grace to the travel experience.”