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The entirety of 2020 was brutal for most people, and the first few months of 2021 wasn’t exactly the panacea many hoped for. But now, you might've been lucky enough to snag a vaccination appointment — and may be feeling more confident.
Old-Unvaccinated-You wouldn’t get on an airplane, even if airfare was dirt-cheap. New-Vaccinated-You is ready to jump aboard a 40-hour, two-leg journey (plus stopover) in Dubai to finally check that Kenyan safari off your bucket list. You might have a two-year-old vacation fund to spend, not to mention a heckuva lot of stress to let go of. And on that note, a whopping 78% of respondents in the March 2021 American Express Global Travel Trends Report indicated wanting to travel this year to relieve stress from 2020.
Yet even if you’re vaccinated, 2021 travel might not be the stress-reliever you’re hoping for. In many ways, travel has only become more stressful.
Here’s what you can expect when traveling this year — and what you can do to be prepared or sidestep the added stress.
You need proof of a negative COVID test to get into the U.S.
Even if you’re fully vaccinated, all travelers returning to the U.S. must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of boarding their return flight.
Scheduling flights, hotels and activities are stressful enough, but now you’ll have to schedule a COVID-19 test in another country on top of that. Sitting in a doctor’s office isn't probably how you want to spend the final leg of vacation. Plus, if you do test positive, you won’t be allowed on the plane and will have to make further arrangements for your stay abroad.
Solution: Stay domestic. Discover a U.S. city that feels like your favorite international destination. Or get out of the contiguous U.S. by flying to the Caribbean to visit U.S. territories like the U.S. Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico (you can avoid passport and return-COVID testing rules in both places, but since requirements do change, watch for any updates).
Restrictions continue to be eased and reimposed
You probably saw the photos or videos of Miami Beach, where crowds of spring breakers compelled local officials to impose an 8 p.m. curfew. Even though the local hotels remained open — and you could go to the beach during the day — you might be less than thrilled to have to finish dessert before 8 p.m.
Solution: Do your homework before booking. Find out what existing restrictions are and book travel to your comfort level only. But because restrictions could change later, take care to ensure you’ve booked refundable travel.
Many airlines have eliminated domestic change fees, though not all have — and some basic economy fares still cannot be changed later. Likewise, many major hotels have waived fees, but read the fine print; most will refund reservations canceled at least 24 hours out only.
You may feel more vacation anxiety
Maybe you’ve read one too many headlines about the potential dangers of air travel. Perhaps you’ve always been wary of touching the hotel room's TV remote, but now you’re not even sure you want to stay in a hotel room, period.
Solution: If you’re feeling anxious about your first trip post-vaccine, but still desperately want a change of scenery, consider alternative types of travel. You could rent an RV and go on a road trip. Or stay outdoors by camping. If camping is too rustic, try glamping.
Reservations are likely required
You’ve likely always made hotel reservations or booked airfare in advance, but now there’s more to add to your vacation-planning to-do list: Making reservations for pretty much all aspects of a trip, including restaurants and attractions.
You can’t just show up at the gate of the Magic Kingdom Park and expect to buy a ticket; Walt Disney World Resort now requires advance reservations for each of its theme parks. And it’s not just the usually-crowded places that require reservations, even some campgrounds and national parks now require advance booking.
Solution: Use a travel agent. A good travel agent will be familiar with where you’re headed. Not only can they help you make reservations for restaurants or theme parks, but they can also help recommend the best one. Plus, many travel agents have relationships with tour companies and tourist attractions, so they might actually be able to get you a discount, too.
Contrary to popular belief, a travel agent likely won’t cost you anything. Most agents typically make their money from the travel providers, not travelers.
The bottom line
Soon, you’ll be vaccinated (if you’re not already) and traveling again. According to the American Express Global Travel Trends report, a vast majority (87%) of Americans say that having a trip planned in the future gives them something to look forward to, 63% added that planning future travel makes them feel excited and 53% said it makes them feel hopeful.
And after a year where you might have felt less-than-excited and perhaps far-from-hopeful at times, having a trip on the books might be the spark you need to power through another videoconference meeting.
But if this is your first time getting far away from home in over a year, just know that things have changed. Temper your expectations and realize that some aspects of travel in the COVID-era might be more stressful than before.
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