Will you be able to travel in 2021? Here’s what you need to know:

With the COVID-19 vaccine deploying, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. How can travelers expect to be able to travel again?

With the COVID-19 vaccine rolling out across the world, people are starting to think about booking vacations again. But even with light appearing at the end of the tunnel, should you feel safe about making 2021 travel reservations?“I really want to book a trip so I have something to look forward to, but it feels too uncertain right now,” said Kim Easton, who was a semi-frequent traveler before the pandemic. “I am waiting to be vaccinated and, honestly, for Dr. Fauci to tell me it’s safe.”Plan for later in the year

Most travel experts suggest making plans for later in the year now. Most people currently planning trips are eyeing summer and later departures, says Justin Wood, REI’s Senior Manager of Adventure Travel. If complications arise, clients can always cancel or reschedule, often with no financial penalty. (More on this later.)

Following expert-recommended precautions – mask wearing, social distancing, daily temperature taking, and so on. Even with the vaccine being rolled out, expect most outfitters to continue these practices for at least the remainder of 2021, and maybe a few more pre-booking requirements added. Some companies might mandate quarantining and a negative test right before departure, while others, later in the year, may require proof that the traveler has received the COVID-19 vaccine.

Trips that require gathering in crowded, indoor spaces should probably be avoided for the foreseeable future. Outdoor-adventure trips, like bike touring or hiking a remote national forest, may be the safest option, with the necessary precautions in place.

Where To Go?

Budget Travel recommends planning all 2021 travel within the USA – we’ve been helping people rediscover America since the pandemic began. International borders are largely closed to American travelers, with no timeframes for reopening.

Because of the unpredictable nature of the virus, places that are safe at the time of booking might be hot spots by the time your vacation rolls around. Countries that had done remarkable jobs mitigating the virus early on – Japan and South Korea, for example – saw their number of infections rise as the temperatures fell and people began spending more time indoors.

“My feeling is that people won’t think seriously about booking international tours until we’re reached a critical mass of vaccinated people — not necessarily herd immunity but enough to see all the numbers starting to decrease,” said Jim Johnson, owner of, which offers clients one-stop shopping for nearly 70 bike tour companies across Europe. “Of course, borders need to be open as well. But don’t wait too long to book international tours. Many Americans don’t realize that many European tour companies have at least passable fall seasons. I’d recommend that people book now (after) checking the cancellation and postponement policies of the tour company.”

But domestic travel doesn’t come without risks either. Don’t automatically assume most precautions will be eased or lifted by the end of the year. So far, the U.S. vaccine rollout has gone much slower than anticipated (although that’s likely to change with the new administration) and an unfortunately large number of people have announced they intend to not get the shots. Please closely follow the CDC and the health department of your destination to find out the most up-to-date information on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Focus on Activity, Not Destination

While the pandemic rages, Wood says travelers are booking travel based on activities – say hiking, cycling, and paddling – more so than specific destinations.

“By their very nature, bicycle tours consist of small groups maintaining their distance most of the day,” Johnson said. “This is especially true on self-guided tours where you ride with people you know and choose when and where to stop. Likewise, bike tours take place outdoors in open spaces, and frequently in rural settings. Lower concentrations of people and freer flow of air both reduce contagion.”

Many outfitters already focused on small-group travel before the pandemic, and those groups may get even smaller in 2021.Wood says private departures for families and close friends are increasing popular, as REI has dropped the price, making it comparable to a standard group trip.

Self-guided trips, where individuals or small groups travel on their own using a pre-created itinerary, have also increased in popularity during the pandemic and will likely continue to be one of the preferred ways to travel in 2021, Johnson says. As the pandemic continues to rage on, Johnson established a sister company, Bike the South, that will offer guided, self-guided and supported bicycle tours in the Southeast. That site will launch later this month and start tours in April.

Will You Be Able to Get Your Money Back If Covid is Still Raging?

Most domestic airlines are forgoing change or cancellation fees until at least March 31 (assuming your new departure dates are within a year of the originals) and may extend the policy further into 2021. Be sure to search the airline’s website for specific details before you book your flight.

Many large hotel chains had fairly lenient cancellation policies even before the pandemic. But if you’re staying at an independently owned hotel or airbnb, you may not be able to cancel without incurring a penalty. Likewise, outfitters will have their own individual cancellation policies.

Buying travel insurance might seem like a wise precaution, but beware. While it might help you if you’re diagnosed with Covid before or during your trip, you may be out of luck if you get cold feet because your vacation location is in the middle of a pandemic hot spot. Before buying a policy, be sure to check the policy or discuss with an agent your concerns.

How to Stay Safe During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Fewer Americans say they will be traveling for the holidays, according to a recent Travelocity survey, and of those who are making plans, 80 percent say they will drive.

If you are among them, consider these expert tips for staying safe and lowering your risk of COVID-19 infection both on and off the road.


Now more than ever, preparation is key. “Even if you’ve done this trip multiple times, you need to take the research a step further,” says AAA spokesperson Jeanette Casselano. “You may run into some temporary closures.”

AAA also recommends calling ahead to confirm hotel or other reservations, as well as opening hours and other logistics, to avoid any unwelcome surprises.

Even more important: Check your destination’s most current coronavirus-related restrictions. Some states require visitors (depending on where they’re from) to either have proof of a negative COVID-19 test or quarantine. AARP maintains an updated list of state rules for travelers.

The Federal Highway Administration has a directory of state transportation department websites, which also should have the latest information about state-specific coronavirus-related changes, along with links to other state resources such as traffic and weather alerts.

And make sure your car is in good shape; consider having it serviced or inspected if you’re concerned.


Packing and sanitizing

After planning, get your supplies in order. This includes products for keeping hands and surfaces clean and sanitized. Geriatrician June McKoy, associate professor of medicine at Northwestern Medicine, recommends packing hand sanitizer, disinfecting wet wipes, disposable gloves, sealable disposable plastic bags and tissues.

And you’ll want to wear a mask in all indoor public places, or outdoor spaces where you can’t maintain a 6-foot distance from others, so bring plenty of extras. Also bring a nice stash of water and snacks, allowing you to limit the number of times you need to stop for refreshments.

Filling up

Good hygiene on the road is much like that at home (for instance, washing hands thoroughly with soap and water before eating and after using the restroom) but requires extra vigilance when it comes to high-traffic roadside stops, McKoy says. She suggests that drivers wear disposable gloves while pumping gas, rather than worrying about wiping down the nozzle itself (after you’re done, discard the gloves outside your car or seal them in a plastic bag for disposal later if a trash can isn’t available).

Another tip: Pay for gas with cards, not cash. This eliminates the face-to-face interaction necessary for a cash transaction, and cards — unlike cash — can always be cleaned with a disinfectant wipe after use.

Restroom Breaks

Some public restrooms are closed due to the pandemic; places such as Starbucks or other fast-food establishments may prevent customers from using their bathrooms for sanitary reasons. That means you’ll be relying heavily on restrooms at highway rest areas or gas stations, so be especially vigilant with sanitizing. Be careful not to touch fixtures like the faucet or door handle after washing your hands, which McKoy says “defeats the purpose” of handwashing (instead, use a piece of tissue or paper towel to shield your hands after washing). And, of course, wear a mask.

The good news about breaking at highway rest stops is that many of their bathrooms are designed to be as touchless as possible, with doorless entry, automatic flushing, and motion-sensing faucets and towel dispensers. (For more, see our story on using public bathrooms during the pandemic.)



Many restaurants are open for dine-in service — but expect changes like limits on the number of guests allowed inside and extra space between tables. While it can be harder to find sit-down meals in some areas, takeout service is typically available instead, as are drive-through options at major chains such as McDonald’s and Starbucks. Many restaurants are also moving tables outdoors, which is thought to lower the risk of virus transmission.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that when it comes to preventing the spread of COVID-19, the lowest-risk way to dine out is through “drive-through, delivery, take-out, and curb-side pick up.” Seated dining is more risky, even with tables spaced 6 feet apart.

Before you go

When considering travel during the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests asking:

• Whether COVID-19 is spreading in your community or the area you’re visiting. If so, you may have a higher chance of becoming infected or infecting others.

• If you or a loved one has an underlying condition that might increase the risk for complications from the disease.

• Whether the destination requires that visitors quarantine themselves for 14 days upon arrival, or has any other relevant restrictions.

The CDC also notes that “staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.”

Again, if you bring your own water and snacks — even lunches and more substantial fare — you can avoid some of these interactions.

And note that some hotels are no longer offering their usual complimentary buffet breakfasts, replacing them with grab-and-go options.


If you need to stay in a hotel overnight, call ahead to confirm your reservation, though most hotels are open for business — especially those from major chains that you’ll find along highways, such as Hilton, Hyatt and Best Western.

All are touting their enhanced cleaning and sanitization protocols, while encouraging social distancing in their lobbies and other public areas (posting reminder signs and moving seating apart, for instance), and mask-wearing.

A long list of “Safe Stay” guidelines from the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), an industry group, includes stringent cleaning procedures for everything from elevator buttons to exercise equipment, making hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol available, and, when guests are staying for multiple days, not cleaning their room daily unless requested (to limit contact). And more hotels are implementing contactless check-in and check-out, keyless entry (where you can use your smartphone to unlock your room), and moving lobby seating to keep guests apart.

The big chains are all advertising their new procedures. Hilton’s CleanStay program, developed with input from the Mayo Clinic and the makers of Lysol and Dettol industrial cleaners, for instance, includes removing pens and paper that other guests may have touched, sanitizing things like light switches and the TV remote, and sealing the door of each room with a Hilton CleanStay sticker to indicate that housekeeping has finished and no one else has entered.

Despite such cleanliness promises, McKoy still recommends using your own sanitizing supplies on “high-touch” surfaces in your room. This includes wiping down exterior and interior doorknobs and handles; the TV remote and bathroom fixtures; and any surfaces on which you’ll rest your belongings, like tabletops or the area around the bathroom sink.


For stays of more than one night, find out what the housekeeping schedule is; if the hotel is not already limiting room cleaning for longer-term guests (as the AHLA recommends), McKoy suggests contacting the front desk and asking to forgo daily cleaning, allowing you to control sanitization and limit the number of people who come in and out of your room.

Home rentals are an increasingly popular option, since they require no contact with anyone outside your travel group and they have kitchens where you can prepare your own meals. Airbnb, VRBO and other home rental companies have cleaning and disinfection guidelines for owners, but you might treat the space in the same way you would a hotel room — wiping down high-touch areas with your own sanitizing supplies.


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