Travel is going to be complicated this summer.
More Americans will probably travel than at any time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The World Travel & Tourism Council and Oxford Economics project that domestic travel spending will reach more than $1.1 trillion for the year, surpassing pre-pandemic levels by about 11%.
“All indications suggest things will be moving back to the pre-pandemic era for travel this summer,” says Mahmood Khan, a professor in Virginia Tech’s hospitality and tourism management department.
But Khan says the war in Ukraine, high inflation and soaring gas prices have added uncertainty to the travel landscape, making it more likely that out-of-practice vacationers will make mistakes.
“Travelers are taking a lackadaisical approach to travel as COVID restrictions loosen up,” says Manny Fernandez, vice president of global operations of FocusPoint International, a global assistance company for travelers. “They aren’t paying attention to the basics of travel preparation as they did pre-pandemic.”
I’ll be on the road with you this summer: I plan to travel to Turkey, Greece, Ireland and Britain. I hope I don’t embarrass myself. Here’s how you — and I — can avoid the biggest summer travel pitfalls of 2022.
Waiting too long to book
“Some mistakes people are making right now,” says Amy Jones, a travel adviser based in Rock Hill, South Carolina. “They are not preplanning and reserving accommodations or purchasing flights now, and they’re waiting until the last minute for that deal.”
But Jones says that deal isn’t coming this summer. Most hotel rooms and vacation rentals are already close to being sold out in high-demand areas. Even if you’re thinking of postponing your vacation until October or November, you’ll still find high occupancy levels.
Failing to research security
“Today, more than ever before, security is a key issue,” says Carrie Pasquarello, chief executive of Global Secure Resources, a security consulting firm. The coronavirus remains a major concern in many places, and some countries still have pandemic restrictions and testing requirements in place.
Pasquarello says anyone traveling this summer needs to do a deep dive on health and safety at their destination. That includes researching crime, the risk of contracting the coronavirus and other potential hazards. She recommends starting by looking up your destination on the State Department’s Travel Advisories page and checking its coronavirus testing requirements on Sherpa, a database of travel restrictions.
Forgetting the basics of travel
For many Americans, it’s been a while since their last vacation. And that means they’re a little out of practice when it comes to travel.
Rani Cheema, chief executive of Cheema’s Travel, a culinary travel agency, says the basics are simple. Make sure you have at least six months of validity left on your passport. “If your passport expires within six months of your departure, you need to renew it immediately,” she says. And “constantly” check your flights, paying close attention to any emails or text messages you receive from your airline. “There’s a high chance that your flight has changed due to the lack of crew, pilots or even seats sold,” she says.
Assuming your plans won’t change
“Travel regulations, along with airline and event schedules, are still in flux,” warns Kimberly Greulich, founder of KG Travel Club, a luxury travel agency. COVID-19 restrictions may feel as if they’re over, but the effects are still with us.
Greulich also says you shouldn’t assume that every amenity at an airport or hotel will be available this summer. Labor shortages may mean restaurants are operating with reduced hours. Hotel housekeeping might be unavailable. If there’s something you’re counting on at your destination, ask before you arrive.
Travelers often assume their travel insurance or medical evacuation membership will cover anything that might happen to them. But it might not — and this isn’t the summer to find out. For example, earlier this year, Covac Global, a company that offers coverage for travelers who get infected with the coronavirus while they’re away, added a new evacuation requirement to its list: The company must consider the evacuation “medically prudent to avoid hospitalization.”
If you’re renting a car, here’s some expert advice: Talk to your insurance company before you leave. Christopher Seabrook, an insurance agent for Country Financial in Atlanta, says travelers often overlook the specifics of their auto policies, specifically whether they have roadside assistance coverage. “Generally, your auto policy should apply to the rental vehicle while driving within the United States, including your deductible,” he says. “Always read the contract carefully, and ask the rental agent to explain anything if you’re unsure.”
Kate McCulley, a travel blogger who lives in Prague, says Americans are needlessly worried about security in central Europe. “Over and over, I’m getting messages from Americans saying things along the lines of, ‘We’re not going to central Europe because of the unrest right now,’ ” she says.
Just one problem: “There is zero unrest. Zero. Prague, Budapest [in Hungary], Krakow [in Poland] and numerous other cities are functioning normally, only with more yellow-and-blue flags hanging from windows,” she says. This could be the one area where deals are still available, so you might miss an opportunity to save money.
Visiting the wrong place
If you’re still unsure where to go this summer, try someplace that just reopened for tourism. That’s the advice of Carlos Grider, an expert on remote work who publishes a blog about being a digital nomad. He recommends heading to places such as Thailand, Vietnam or Indonesia, which recently reopened, rather than destinations such as Mexico, which had more lax pandemic regulations.
“Use the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of this summer to aim for classic destinations that are just recently opening,” Grider says. “You can experience them in a pleasant, uncrowded, welcoming and inexpensive state that likely will not happen again.