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4 Ways Travel Will Change in the Future

Road trip

Travel definitely took a big-time hit in 2020, thanks to the pandemic, with spending down a whopping 42% from 2019. 

Some U.S. destinations were more severely affected than others. As you might expect, popular vacation state Hawaii suffered the biggest dropoff in its travel economy, 60% year over year.  

So what does 2021 have in store? Has travel hit bottom, and what will the recovery look like? What new opportunities will it present to the would-be traveler who’s itching to get out of the house after a year of lockdowns and quarantines? 

We still don’t know when travel restrictions will be lifted, to what extent, and in which regions, so plenty of things are still in flux. It’s likely that any transformation “back to normal” will be gradual, and many of the adjustments we’ve already made will continue to apply. In any case, we can look at the trends so far and get an idea of what to expect in 2021 and beyond. 

Road trip
Road trip

Road trips will remain a smart option

After dropping by 72% in April, road travel improved to 20% of previous levels in the summer. By Labor Day, road trip frequency had risen to just a 5% downturn from the previous year and held at 6% lower during the winter holiday season, according to the Arrivalist Trend Tracker.

By contrast, air travel was down significantly —and stayed down — with TSA screenings dropping 96% in April and remaining low at 70% of original numbers over the summer. 

These statistics indicate that travelers were aware of CDC guidelines cautioning the use of public planes, trains, buses, and passing through transportation hubs like airports would likely increase the risk of contracting COVID-19. These trends may well continue through 2021, with Dr. Anthony Fauci suggesting a return to “normality” is possible by the end of the year.

Even so, the rate of vaccination and effectiveness of vaccines against emerging virus variants makes any timeline uncertain. Road trips offer the advantage of built-in social distancing within your own car or RV. The trends could continue for some time beyond the end of the pandemic, as accommodations shift and travelers rediscover how much fun highway travel can be. 

Preparation will continue to keep us safer

RV Camper Boondocking
RV Camper Boondocking

Throughout the pandemic, people have learned to travel prepared, with supplies of masks, gloves, disinfectant wipes, and hand sanitizer on board at all times, among other precautions.

  • We’ve made it a habit to wipe down gas pumps and keypads before using them, and to sanitize our hands afterward.
  • We stock up on supplies so we don’t have to stop as often. 
  • We wear masks whenever we enter an establishment (and now we’ve learned that wearing two masks can make us even safer).

We’ve learned to prepare in other ways, too. Many travelers have begun to collect the proper paperwork to have handy when traveling, in case of medical needs or another emergency, such as a car accident. And soon there may be new paperwork to add to the mix, in the form of potential “vaccine passports.”

And logistical preparations will always endure. RVers already knew how to be prepared, bringing along portable stoves and fire pits, pots and pans, bedding, portable Wi-Fi, and a backup power source

Flexibility is likely to endure 

The pandemic has forced businesses to become more flexible to ease the concerns of potential customers wary of traveling. Even once the health crisis eases, consumers may demand many of these steps continue. (After all, they help protect people from the flu and other respiratory viruses, as well.) Some of the changes that may endure include:

  • More “touchless” options for hotel and airport check-ins.
  • A greater emphasis on cleanliness and hygiene at restaurants and inns.
  • Continued flexible cancellation policies at hotels and motels.

Scenic America will still be a draw  

Stream and mountain scenery
Stream and mountain scenery

Thanks to the pandemic, many travelers have steered clear of traditional destinations such as amusement parks and crowded beaches. Now that many have been exposed to the wonders of secluded destinations and the open road, its allure is likely to continue.

And it’s likely we won’t just visit the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls. We’ll look for more hidden gems, such as the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs; the Avenue of the Giants in California’s redwood forest, the Tufas of Mono Lake, and the nearby ghost town of Bodie; and Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin. We’ll likely seek out isolated campgrounds where we can sleep under a million stars we can actually see. 

Far from closing down, our options and itineraries have expanded, opening up new possibilities — the opposite of what you’d expect during a pandemic, which by its very nature imposes limitations on travel and other activities. But if we open our imaginations and turn our expectations inside out, we might wind up enjoying our vacations more than we ever expected. 

For more information about the average cost of domestic air travel, check out this guide

This post was authored by By Molly Barnes, Digital Nomad Life

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Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc is a travel host and writer with a popular travel show, The Design Tourist, and a companion lifestyle blog. As a widely published travel journalist and content creator, Karen is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association. She also serves as the Design and Travel editor of the national lifestyle magazine, LaPalme. Karen believes that every destination has a story to tell through its local art, architecture, culture, and craft. This immersive creative exploration begins with authentic accommodations where the narrative of place unfolds through art, accessories, accouterments, furnishings, fixtures, and food. 

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