If you’re thinking of traveling within the next few months my recommendation is to book soon. After over a year of being home, cabin fever has caused a run bookings. Accommodations, flights, car rentals, and experiences in both popular destinations and secluded locations are either completely sold out or have limited availability.
Almost everything is different and will require more time, flexibility, and patience. If you take the necessary precautions, it is possible to get away and enjoy a change of scenery.
Right now flying has more rules and they are strictly enforced. As of this writing, most airlines are no longer blocking the aircraft’s middle seats. The half empty planes of summer and fall 2020 have returned to mostly full flights. As we deplaned on our return to New Jersey, the next crew waiting remarked that our flight was one of many that had all but a few seats occupied. Masks have to be worn at all times unless eating or drinking.
Landing in Phoenix Arizona
Check in and security are still similar processes, but you must remain masked the entire time. When TSA checks your identification, they do ask you to briefly pull down your mask so they can see your nose and mouth.
Throughout most of the pandemic airlines had been boarding the airplanes from back to front. Some airlines like United, have announced they are retiring to pre-pandemic boarding procedures utilizing boarding groups this month.
Service on the flights is extremely limited even cross country; usually just drinks and a prepackaged snack. If you think you will need a meal I would recommend allowing extra time during arrival, as airport services are also more limited. Many things are open but many places are understaffed and wait times are longer than before.
Car rentals right now are experiencing an extreme supply and demand shock. On our last two trips the cost of our rental car exceeded our airline tickets. If you are going to need a rental car, especially in more popular areas, I recommend you secure your rental as soon as possible. Some airport locations have had zero availability for several weekends in a row. Summer demand for vehicles is surging and this is expected to be a problem for several more months at least.
Last year when travel ground to a halt, many rental companies sold off large portions of their fleet to survive. Now as demand surges again, they are unable to replace their cars quickly due to the ongoing microchip shortage causing car manufactures to slow down or stop production.
Cleaning protocols at hotels have absolutely improved, and this is one area of change that I hope will remain after the pandemic subsides. These enhanced cleaning protocols however due come at a cost of time and staff. Early check in and late check out are much harder to accommodate right now. Because we were touring colleges during this past trip the distances required us to move hotels several times. On half of the occasions our rooms were still not ready at the stated check in, patience is definitely required. Staffing also seems to be an issue with regard to services and facilities, especially for dining. Pool towels were sometimes missing, and there are less chairs and tables available outside do to social distancing requirements.
If you are looking to book a hotel to use their amenities, make sure to check the operating hours and procedures. Some pools and gyms now require reservations which are not always available last minute. In Las Vegas it is now as hard to get a pool reservation as it is a last minute new years even table, at some of the popular resorts.
Dining options have limited hours, or are closed. Menu options are scaled back, along with longer waits to be seated and served. Everyone we saw was working very hard non stop but more help is needed. In one hotel we stayed, we unfortunately experienced several service issues. Previously catering more to business travelers who have different needs, the manager admitted to me they were struggling to adapt to what now is almost 100% a leisure travel market.
One last piece of advice. With so many unknowns this past year many, including myself, were booking things very last minute. Sometimes with less than three days before arrival. Do not assume that you will be able to easily do this now. Many popular locations, especially those within a few hour car ride of populous areas are already fully booked.
As an example, the last in person college tour we went on was only opened for booking after I had made all of our travel arrangements. I was able to change everything with one exception, the Grand Canyon. Outdoor destinations have seen huge surges in popularity since outdoor activities are less risky. The Grand Canyon has always been more difficult, since there are not many hotels right at the Canyon that don’t require an hour drive. When I had to cancel and rebook our options were either a studio efficiency about 2 miles from the entrance or a tent, that was it.
Similar to at home, the rules for dining out can change at any time so make sure you check the rules of your destination before travel. If you are traveling with a party larger than 6 or another family, make sure to also check the rules on seating large parties, some locals do not allow tables over 6 even as of this writing in April 2021.
Even with capacity limits in place, this trip it was much easier to find places to eat than when we traveled at Christmas, or during the summer last year. Reservations are still recommend for popular destinations. As long as your dining needs are not too restrictive there are more options for unplanned dining than even a few months ago.
Conclusion & Recommendations
It feels like the debate surrounding if you should travel and when will be going on for the foreseeable future. As more people are vaccinated and begin to feel safe venturing out, others will still be cautious about the risk. My only comment is that you should do what is right for you and your family. If you’re not ready then don’t go, or stay very close to home.
During our last trip we saw most people eager to be traveling despite the drastic changes and new rules. On both our flights we did not have any issues with mask compliance, or people wearing them on their chins, or leaving noses exposed.
But a few travelers still seemed very uncomfortable. They scowled, glared, made comments about people on the plane who were eating, drinking, and getting up to use the bathroom; all of which is allowed. I do not know why they were traveling. but I do know that at times the verbal complaints were making those around them annoyed or uncomfortable, and could have led to a verbal fight. Everyone’s nerves are frayed after this past year, so if you think you’re not ready, it would be better to give it more time.
One final note about the debate of travel and whether it is a necessity or not; I hope everyone keeps this staggering statistic in mind. We all tried to rally to save our local small businesses and restaurants from closing, but please remember one in ten jobs is related to the travel industry. Worldwide, travel and tourism are responsible for 10% of the wages earned on the planet. These jobs usually do not pay well, and the workers who hold them often have no ability to save, and many have been unemployed for over a year, living in countries with no social safety net. If you are comfortable traveling while taking steps to be safe, it helps support so many livelihoods. This last year many employees we encountered expressed gratitude that we had come to stay, visit, eat, or shop.