Reynisfjara is a world famous black sand beach on the south coast of Iceland.
Luis Cagiao Photography | moment | Getty Images
Iceland has been a focal point of my wanderlust for almost two years.
The country is a dreamscape of natural beauty: the black sand beaches of Reynisfjara, towering icebergs of Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon and the steep, craggy peaks of Vestrahorn.
I had to postpone a meticulously planned trip there in 2020, like so many other globetrotters who are cutting back on trips during the Covid pandemic. Since then I’ve been wondering: when will an overseas adventure be feasible again?
According to travel experts, the outlook for international travel in 2022 is rosier than ever, especially for Americans booking trips in the summer or later. But they should expect to plan more ahead and stay flexible.
“There hasn’t been a promising time since March 2020,” said Sebastian Modak, editor-in-chief of Lonely Planet and the New York Times 52 Places Traveler in 2019, of overseas travel.
“It really comes down to the traveler’s own risk and comfort level when things might go a little wrong,” he added.
The year to grow up
Mouhoub Madina / EyeEm | EyeEm | Getty Images
A large proportion — about 37% — of US travelers are planning both international and domestic trips in the next year, according to an upcoming Expedia report on Travel Trends 2022.
After nearly two years of pent-up travel, more than two-thirds of American travelers are planning to “make it big” on their next getaway — whether it’s a one-time trip abroad or an upgrade to a luxury hotel. according to the report.
While purely domestic travel plans remain the most popular, appealing to 59% of US travelers, interest in overseas destinations is increasing.
G Adventures, which offers guided group tours around the world, saw overseas bookings increase nearly 35% in November over the same period in 2019. The company sees “great demand” for trips to Peru, Costa Rica and Morocco Benjamin Perlo, the company’s US President.
Searches for flights to major European cities have also risen significantly in a short period of time – by 65% from Los Angeles to London and by 110% from New York to Paris between September and October, for example, according to Expedia data.
Warm-weather hotspots near the United States, such as the Riviera Maya, Cancun, Isla Mujeres and Punta Cana, were overall the most popular for American tourists traveling in early 2022, according to Expedia.
“I think 2022 is going to be the year where we’re going to go big and have some of those bucket list moments,” said Christie Hudson, travel expert at Expedia.
“A great tailwind”
Machu Picchu ruins in the Andes, Peru.
Go Ga | 500px Prime | Getty Images
There are many reasons for consumer optimism. For one, Covid vaccination rates are rising, meaning Americans can travel with a relative degree of security.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends vaccinations before international travel, approved vaccinations for children ages 5 to 11 in early November to make family travel more viable.
In addition, travel restrictions are relaxed. Many countries have reopened their borders to Americans, dropping policies like mandatory quarantine periods. New Zealand, which has had one of the longest tourism bans of the Covid era, said on Wednesday it would open its borders again from June 30.
(Testing requirements are still common, even for vaccinated tourists. Travelers can check the U.S. State Department website for country-specific requirements.)
The US lifted its travel ban on most non-citizens on November 8th. It’s also likely inspired more Americans to venture abroad — the proportion who said they avoid international travel hit a pandemic-era low of 55% in mid-November, according to Target Analysts.
“I have been involved in tourism research for almost two decades and [the desire to travel] seems incredibly strong right now – the strongest I’ve seen,” said Erin Francis-Cummings, President and CEO of Destination Analysts.
“I think that’s a great tailwind for all kinds of travel into 2022,” she added. “People seem to be more open to new experiences or international travel.”
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And there could be deals for those booking a trip, experts said. For example, according to a joint annual report released in October by Expedia and the Airlines Reporting Corporation, the average price for an international round-trip flight is 35% below the 2019 cost.
Of course, the health situation can change quickly and disrupt plans. A new Covid variant discovered in South Africa has multiple mutations that could make it more communicable or bypass vaccine coverage, although scientists warned more data is needed for an assessment.
A new wave of Covid infections in Europe has prompted Austria to go into lockdown on Monday; Germany could soon do the same.
Auckland, New Zealand.
Scott E Barbour | The image database | Getty Images
Some countries remain closed to American tourists or have yet to drop strict health guidelines.
This is particularly true for Asian countries, said travel experts. China, for example, requires Americans to quarantine for at least 14 days at a government-designated facility. Japan does not allow tourist travel.
Some travel companies still side with US travel. Fodor’s Travel, for example, limited its annual 2022 Go list to domestic locations due to uncertainties surrounding international travel, but added a degree of optimism.
“Like many of you, we are still looking for international travel,” Fodor wrote. “And foreign travel might still be an option for the intrepid.
“If you can travel there safely and responsibly, do it — go anywhere in the world,” it added.
security and flexibility
Anton Peter | moment | Getty Images
Travelers should take certain precautions, primarily to protect against financial loss.
Experts recommend travel insurance that reimburses travel expenses in the event of trip cancellation or other unforeseen circumstances.
However, there are different types of policies. A “cancellation for any reason” policy is generally the only one that allows travelers to get money back if they cancel a trip for a Covid-related reason, experts said. (Most basic guidelines do not cover this case.)
Even the “Cancel for any reason” option may not offer a full refund, and insurers may require travelers to cancel a day or two before travel. It is important to understand the specific terms of a policy before purchasing it.
Travelers should also consider airfare and hotel options that allow for refunds, travel credits or changes, even if those options cost a little more, experts said.
“I think you can easily book this October trip to Egypt if you have the insurance and maybe booked a flexible flight with airlines,” Modak said. “Make sure you have the opportunity to book the flight for May 2023 when Egypt becomes difficult without incurring any financial costs.”
Many companies have retained additional flexibility compared to their pre-pandemic policies.
For example, G Adventures allows customers to rebook a trip or receive a full trip credit if they cancel up to 14 days before departure. (There used to be a 60-day threshold.) This policy applies to travel in 2022 booked by March 31st.
“These options for businesses before Covid didn’t really exist,” Perlo said.
It’s also important to have a “just in case” budget, Modak said. For example, if a traveler falls ill with Covid abroad and needs to quarantine before returning to the US, how much money might they need to cover the cost of an extra week or two?
It is important that travelers approach a trip abroad with personal flexibility and empathy. Note that certain activities may be restricted or unavailable. A city with legendary nightlife can be tamer than expected, with bars and restaurants closing earlier than expected during the Covid era, for example. Travelers may need to relocate and should research a destination well in advance.
In addition, not all countries or their citizens have had equal access to vaccines, so compliance with mask requirements and other local regulations is of paramount importance.
“It’s still a strange time to travel,” Modak said. “Bring a degree of patience and grace to the travel experience.”
(Correction: An earlier version of this story listed the wrong country for Punta Cana.)