At this point, I can’t even imagine taking the trips I had planned for 2020: The quick weekend trip to Atlanta to see a Taylor Swift concert, the birthday week in Nashville where I hear people pack into four-story bars, or a two-week journey through New Zealand and Australia.
The truth is travel has changed, and so has what I want from it. The quick weekend trip that requires a cross-country flight doesn’t seem worth the risk now that we’ve learned that it takes three to five days (or longer) for a coronavirus infection to even show up on a PCR test. I haven’t been to a bar since March, and I’m not sure if I even know what to do there anymore. The South Pacific corner of the world, and my friends who live there, seem farther away than ever, and I’m pretty sure I’m never getting that refund from Qantas.
Don’t get me wrong, I can’t wait to start traveling again, but instead of reverting as if nothing has changed, I’m hopeful that with my 2021 travel resolutions, I can book and embark on trips that I wouldn’t have before.
Go international as soon as it’s possible
I actually haven’t spent a ton of time traveling outside of the U.S. It was too expensive for my big family of six when I was growing up, and I felt like there was so much to see in the U.S. anyway, even in my adopted home state of California.
Now that even Canada has closed its borders to Americans and the government is recommending that people not travel to Mexico, I’m suddenly feeling a profound sense of loss that I haven’t taken much time to explore even our international neighbors. I’m anxiously awaiting the moment I can plan a trip to hike through Banff and ice skate on Lake Louise. Several of my friends went to Mexico City in the months before the pandemic, and they raved about the incredible food and luxurious accommodations.
The cost of international flights will also be much less of a burden in 2021 because I’ve been racking up points and miles at home for the better part of this year. It took a pandemic to make me realize what a privilege it is to be able to travel the world. Armed with my rewards from travel credit cards, I’m going to make sure cost is no longer a barrier to international trips once restrictions and quarantine rules are lifted.
» Learn more: Important credit card tips to take with you overseas
No shame in doing the touristy things
Lake Tahoe is one of my favorite destinations. It doesn’t matter what season it is; whenever my friends and I can get a group together to rent a house, I’m there trying to spot bears, faking that I know how to ski or hanging onto an inner tube for dear life as I get whipped around the lake on a speedboat’s tow line. These cabin weekends are always fun, but we usually have a ton of downtime and spend most of it hanging out in the same ways we would at home.
This past fall, I went to Lake Tahoe with my mom and she put me in charge of planning our activities. I found all sorts of cool, historic attractions that my friends and I have never considered, like the once-booming mining town of Virginia City, the Vikingsholm mansion that looks like a Scandinavian castle, or the museum commemorating the Winter Olympics held near the lake in 1960. These places weren’t all open when my mom and I were there, because the pandemic has forced many of these and other sites to close (some temporarily and some for good). I don’t want to miss out on these touristy locations ever again.
Once attractions reopen, I’m planning to abandon any shame of being a tourist from now on. Sorry, I like going to museums and nerding out on the history of the places I visit. Everyone else can stay at the Airbnb if they want, but I’m traveling my way.
» Learn more: How to find cheap things to do in any city
Book early, often and with hope
Back when airlines charged exorbitant change and cancellation fees, I sure wasn’t booking any trips unless I was absolutely certain. Thanks to the pandemic, those pesky fees are mostly gone and the process of canceling and re-booking is pretty straightforward.
There will still be lots of uncertainty about travel in 2021, especially as the coronavirus vaccines slowly begin rolling out. But with airlines’ new flexibility, I’m all for booking that trip without having all the details ironed out yet. Maybe your friends haven’t confirmed they can get the time off yet. Maybe you’re hoping someone cancels at that booked campground you’ve had your eye on. I’m no longer scared of the hassle or cost of changing plans.
Adaptability was the name of the game in 2020, and my resolution in 2021 is to become a master in aspirational and strategic planning that sometimes works out and turns into incredible trips.
» Learn more: Your end-of-year travel rewards checklist
The bottom line
If you want to know where I’ll be in 2021 when travel resumes in some capacity closer to "normal," you’ll probably find me visiting an international destination, tourism guide book in hand and another trip already lined up. The pandemic has forced me to reevaluate what destinations and goals I had, but I'm going into 2021 with a new optimism about how I want my travel to change.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card