It’s amazing how quickly things can shift. Just a few months ago, we were all making travel plans for 2020, now those grand designs are all on hold. Borders are closed. Hotels are being turned into hospitals. Airports are shutting down entirely. Answers to “When will it be safe to travel again?” are nebulous at best. “We simply don’t know” is the response du jour. The EU is thinking about reopening its borders around May 15th, but that could easily change. In fact, everything is subject to swift and immediate change.
Get used to being adaptable. And when we are actually allowed (and financially able) to get back on the road, expect travel itself to look a lot different. Temperature checks on planes, smaller crowds at clubs and festivals, masks at markets, and mandatory quarantines for people arriving or returning sick are all likely. We’re all going to have to tread lightly and adjust to the world as it presents itself.
Still, having something to look forward to — whether it’s getting to go to your favorite bar with your crew again, staying at a boutique hotel, or finally having the chance to fly to a far off land — is a therapy we could all use right now. And with airlines dropping change fees and hotels offering deals, there are some interesting opportunities available. Though it feels tough to square, it’s true that while a lot of folks are struggling financially and we need to do everything we can to help and support them, traveling to communities around the world and spending money on the road is going to be an essential part of those broader recovery efforts.
Is It Worth Booking A Flight Right Now?
We think the first question you have to ask yourself is “why?” With so many unknowns right now, do you want to lay out some cash for an airline that’s getting billions in bailout money anyway? Help your local restaurants instead. But also, why do you want to go to the place you’re thinking of booking? Do you need to go there?
On the flip side, prices are rock bottom right now. And not just for travel in the near future. Flights all the way into 2021 are also at rock bottom price points. And with most airlines waving their “change fees” across the board on tickets bought right now, the potential for you getting stuck with the bill is slim. So ask yourself this: Is it worth buying a cheap ticket now, holding on to it, and changing down the road if you need to? In the worst-case scenario, if the flight is full-on canceled, you’ll still have a voucher for another flight at a later date. (Though most airlines aren’t offering full refunds, so if you’re worried about going into financial insolvency over the next few months, please don’t risk it.)
For those with savings or few liabilities, it’s not a terrible idea to buy a cheap ticket home for Thanksgiving or even late summer and then taking a wait and see approach. There are people out there tracking flight deals all over the world, right now. Still, with the whole industry — and the status of the entire planet — in flux, don’t count on anything being permanent.
Is It Worth Booking A Hotel/Resort Right Now?
This one is a little bit harder to parse. One, there are huge chains out there that are probably going to be fine because they have someone in Washington, D.C. lobbying for them. And big property collections like Hilton, Marriott, etc. all have free change or cancelation policies right now. But this also comes down to “why?” The big chains aren’t really offering any great deals besides standard 20 percent off early booking discounts. It’s more likely they’ll run sales once things are back up and running in order to entice you in.
On the other side of the spectrum, small and independent properties are hurting and going to continue to hurt (and possibly fail) without real support. You can book rooms at local resorts, B&Bs, or small hotels — likely run by your neighbors and certainly employing them — just to give them some promise for the future. If it doesn’t pan out, it doesn’t. At least you tried to support your local economy (or an economy in a hard-hit area — Italy, Navajo Country, NOLA, etc).
Is it worth it? We’d say “yes,” if you focus on independent spots. Giving small properties a sense of hope right now is a worthy pursuit.
Is It Worth Booking A Package Trip?
This one is even harder to define. Pretty much the entire package tour industry is reliant on commercial airlines and local accommodations, restaurants, and tour guides. That’s a lot of moving parts.
Some companies are only selling trips in 2021 right now. Others are selling trips starting in the summer with money-back guarantees and/or free change fees. Companies like Contiki are offering up to 30 percent off all of their 2021 European trips with solid rescheduling policies in place. And let’s be honest, places like Spain and Italy are going to really need tourists dollars to get back on their feet.
Is it worth it? If you can get 30 percent off a trip in 2021 and a money-back guarantee? Maybe. At the very least, it’ll give you something to look forward to in 2021. Though again, if you feel like you might get to a true financial pinch point in the next few months, do not take any risks.
Is It Worth Making Plans At All?
The travel industry is a vital part of economies in every single corner of the world. Tourism dollars fuel New York restaurants, small fishing villages in the South Pacific, entire industries worldwide, sites in Europe big and small, buskers on the streets of Dublin, craft breweries in Portland, and so much more.
It’s going to be hard for the travel world to recover from this. We don’t know when we’ll be able to freely travel again. There’s a good chance that we may never enjoy quite the same freedom to roam internationally that we’ve had over the last 30 years. But we will get back out there eventually, in some way or another. We just have to make sure we travel safely and wisely. Hopefully, we can continue to learn from our own mistakes in judgment over the past few months and be more aware of why travel is meaningful and what it offers to our lives going forward.