Thinking about traveling in 2021? Come up with a Plan B for lockdowns

Christopher Elliott, Special to USA TODAY
Published 7:01 a.m. ET Nov. 6, 2020 | Updated 8:38 a.m. ET Nov. 12, 2020


Holidays are usually for gatherings but many get-togethers are complicated or canceled because of COVID-19.


If you’re planning to travel somewhere soon, here’s a little advice: Don’t listen to the advice.

It’s dated and maybe dangerous. The rules for travel in 2021 have changed. Ignore the talking heads. You don’t need travel tips for next year – you need a survival guide.

“Anything can happen when you’re traveling,” says Daniel Durazo, a spokesman for Allianz Travel

But anything doesn’t have to happen to you. If you take a few precautions and plan ahead, you can avoid most problems. You’ll need the right insurance and a backup plan – and you have to book with the right companies.

So how do you travel in 2021?

Here’s a travel survival guide for next year:

Be careful. That’s the advice of Melissa DaSilva, president of Trafalgar. “Do thorough research to make educated decisions,” she says. “The world is not off-limits, and local economies need your support more than ever. But it’s crucial to be responsible and educate yourself on all guidelines, restrictions and health procedures required along the way.” In other words, 2021 won’t be the year for a spur-of-the-moment trip. Not with the pandemic still with us.

Plan ahead. “This is key,” says Linda Bendt, owner of Pique Travel, a travel agency in Minneapolis. “We’re jamming two years’ worth of travel into six to nine months – assuming things start picking up in the second quarter of next year.” She says during peak times flights will be full, hotels fully booked, and car rental companies sold out of vehicles. If you don’t plan, you’ll be stuck with another staycation.

Know how COVID-19 affected your destination. If you think coronavirus did a number on you, then you should check your destination. “The thing most people are probably not thinking about is how badly the shutdowns have hurt the economies in places that depend on tourism,” says Mike Hallman, CEO of the medical transport and travel security company Medjet. “It’s had an impact on crime in a lot of destinations.” If you’re not sure about the place you’re visiting, Hallmann recommends the latest travel advisories from the U.S. Department of State, which contain detailed information about potential dangers in other countries. Official tourism sites are also good resources since they usually list current travel restrictions for those destinations.

Read the fine print on your travel insurance. Most American travelers don’t know that their medical insurance won’t work overseas unless they make special arrangements, says Christine Buggy, vice president of marketing at Travelex Insurance. “Most U.S. health insurance companies will not provide coverage outside of the country, which can leave a traveler with a hefty bill in the event of a medical emergency,” she says. She recommends looking for coverage that treats COVID-19 like any other sickness and does not exclude the pandemic.

Expect more lockdowns. Do you have a plan in case you get stuck somewhere? Your travel survival guide for 2021 should include one. “Travelers should consider trips that can be planned around staying with friends and family with the option to then lock down in hotels later,” advises Christina Tunnah, general manager for the Americas at World Nomads. Her tip: Sign up for hotel and airline newsletters so you can find the best rate for lodging and transportation if there’s another pandemic lockdown.

Know when to go and when to stay. If there’s a vaccine next year, it will not be an instant cure. Some parts of the world will recover faster than others. “When planning to travel, it’s best to visit areas with low COVID-19 activity,” says Zulfah Albertyn-Blanchard, a health intelligence analyst at WorldAware, a security company. “This will make it less likely you’ll infect someone else – or become infected yourself – during your travels.” So how do you find out if a place is safe? Start with its State Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention travel advisories. And if there’s a travel ban, that’s a good sign that you should wait.

Have a backup plan. Before the pandemic, a lot of travelers took a vacation without a Plan B. Don’t do that in 2021, advises Sherry Sutton, vice president of marketing and communications at Travel Insured International. “Have a backup plan,” she advises. That includes a checklist of what to do if you run into trouble, from emergency contacts to direct numbers for your travel insurance company. And if your destination shuts down, know what you’ll do to salvage the vacation.

Surviving 2021 will require not just new skills, but the right frame of mind as well. Hit the road with a 2019 attitude and you might regret it, say travel experts.

“Traveling in the near future will require flexibility as we continue to navigate this pandemic,” says Jessica O’Riley, a spokeswoman for Travel Iowa. “Pack your patience.”

The best of travel in 2021

The best airlines and hotels: the ones with flexible policies.  “Make sure you have an easy out with anything you book,” says Kirsten Peterson, owner and senior travel consultant at Chicago-based Peterson Travel Group. “Situations and conditions are changing rapidly.” For example, carriers like Southwest Airlines have a well-deserved reputation for being transparent and free of onerous fees. 

The best travel insurance: “Cancel for any reason.”  That’s the assessment of Jeremy Murchland, president of Seven Corners, a travel insurance company. You can cancel your trip for any reason. “You’ll be reimbursed for up to 75% of nonrefundable trip costs if cancellation must occur,” he says. Cancel-for-any-reason insurance is a little pricier, about twice as expensive as regular insurance. But if you have to cancel because of another outbreak, it’s worth it.

The best plan: One made by a professional. Experts say your travel survival guide for 2021 should include a professional travel adviser. An agent can help you navigate the uncertainty of travel next year. Whether you’re traveling out of state or out of the country, a pro can make sure all of your paperwork is in order. “You may need to have negative test results in hand to enter certain states or countries,” says Andrew Williams, managing director of Travel At Will, a Houston travel agency. “Other destinations may have mandatory self-quarantine periods upon arrival.”


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