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May 10, 2021

Safer Summer Travel As Vacation Planning Heats Up

By Sarah Netter

Vaccines, travel insurance, and road trips are on the horizon.

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Sourdough bread, boozy Zoom trivia nights and staycations are so 2020. With vaccinations opened up to every American ages 16 and up, the long awaited itch to travel again is starting to get scratched.

Nearly half of Americans surveyed by travel insurance comparison firm Smashmouth, about 48 percent, said they are planning to book a summer getaway within the U.S., up from just 19 percent at the same time last year. 

That matches up with data from American Hotel & Lodging Association, which reports that 56 percent of Americans say they expect to travel for leisure sometime this year. That’s up sharply from the 33 percent who reported traveling for leisure between the March and August of 2020.

A sampling of trips

Heidi Gilmore, a social worker from Enfield, Connecticut, is heading by car to Cape Cod this summer—her family’s first vacation since the pandemic started.The Cape has always been special to Gilmore after years of childhood summer vacations on Massachusetts’ easternmost coastline. Now she’s ready for some restorative fun and relaxation with her husband and their six children ranging in age from 2 to 18.

“The last year has had a negative effect on our mental health. Distance learning, seclusion from friends and extended family, quarantining after exposures has created so much emptiness within us,” she says. “I feel like my kids deserve a nice get away after so much seclusion.”

Their itinerary includes kayaking, watching the seals follow the fishing boats into the pier, trips to their favorite ice cream store, side trips to Provincetown and a lot of time at Mayflower Beach. 

“With vaccines being administered, we feel like it is much safer than before,” Gilmore says. She and her husband have been vaccinated and the family wears masks at all times in public. And they hope others will follow suit. 

“I feel that if the local and state rules are to wear masks, then everyone should wear them,” she says. 

Vaccines and safety measures are top of mind for most summer travelers this year.  More than two-thirds of Americans recently surveyed by travel insurance company Allianz Partners said receiving the vaccine makes them feel safe enough to travel again. 

Vaccines are giving peace of mind to Hudsonville, Michigan high school teacher Becky Black who is taking road trips this summer to the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and to Maine. 

“I’ve been fully vaccinated since February, my husband was fully vaccinated [in April]”, Black says. “We try to spend most of our time participating in outdoor activities, which I’ve always felt are quite low risk.”

Black, her husband and their two children, ages 5 and 9, plan to hike in and around the Tennessee mountains and explore Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky on their drive down.

“Vacation No. 2  is a road trip to Maine and a do-over from last year’s cancellation,” Black says. “We will stay in a yurt in Vermont and a hippie bus in Maine.”

Despite uncertainty, more people want to travel 

While the ability to travel is tantalizing, there’s still a fair amount of uncertainty as people test the waters.

Squaremouth reported that 35 percent of people looking to insure their summer trips chose a COVID-19 filter that showed only policies with COVID-19 cancellation policies or medical benefits in case you test positive while traveling. And 27 percent purchased policies allowing them to cancel for any reason, up from just 8 percent pre-pandemic. 

While both Gilmore and Black have chosen road trips over air travel this year, travel industry reports show that many summer vacationers are considering flying to their destination.

 Flight bookings are improving as more people get vaccinated and more places ease travel restrictions. Flight searches have skyrocketed nearly 60 percent, according to travel company Hopper.

But another pandemic travel wrinkle may force many would-be air travelers to make 2021 the year of the road trip. In what’s being called “a perfect storm,” the rebound in travel is causing massive rental car shortages, especially in popular warm weather destinations like Florida and Hawaii. Car rental companies that were also devastated financially by the pandemic, some selling off a large portion of their inventory to cut costs, are now scrambling to reshuffle their fleets to accommodate the surge in demand. And that’s creating shortages in less populated parts of the country, creating a cycle of inflated costs and unhappy customers.

Experts say the best way to deal with that shortage is to book your rental car before your flight and be flexible with your days—a few days extension in either direction can help with availability and pricing. 

Costs expected to climb

While the price of airfare and hotels is inching higher again with more people venturing out of their house, you can still snag a good deal. Hopper is predicting an average, round-trip domestic ticket price of $251 for July, which is 35 percent higher than last year, but still 15 percent lower than 2019.

Hotel occupancy is still expected to be low — only about 52 percent this year — so there are good deals to be found. But AirBNB rates are quickly rising with demand. The forecasted daily rate is $212 by October, compared to just $179 per night last year. 

Gilmore and her husband have been saving their tax return money to pay for their summer vacation. They budgeted about $4,500. They rented a house for about $2,000 for the week. They plan to save money by buying groceries and making their own breakfast and lunch, but have budgeted about $1,000 for meals out.

“With eight people, our restaurant bills tend to be a bit high,” she says, also adding in another few hundred dollars for snacks, souvenirs, ice cream and activities. 

Black’s family has been saving for their return to travel all year long, taking money out of their paychecks each month and using portions of their tax returns and stimulus payments. They plan to spend about $1,500 in Tennessee and $2,500 in Maine.

“I am so excited to get back to travel,” Black says. “After months of things being so tough and stressful, I think that this will be a joyful return to more normalcy.”

Written by

Sarah Netter

Sarah Netter is a is a freelance contributor for Stash Learn, based in New Orleans. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and ABC News.


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