With coronavirus cases continuing to spike in America and abroad, travelers with a United States passport remain grounded. To date, just nine countries are open to Americans without restrictions. If Belarus, Serbia, Zambia or any of the other six countries on that list aren’t in the cards, then travelers itching to get on an international flight will have to wait.
How long is still unknown. Elizabeth Becker, author of Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism, notes that the pandemic “decimated” the $8 trillion global travel industry overnight. “Those essential pillars of 21st-century global travel—open borders, open destinations, and visa-free travel—won’t return in the short term or even medium term,” she says.
What does that mean for the future of travel? Despite the turbulence, experts are seeing blue skies. Bruce Poon Tip, author of Unlearn: The Year the Earth Stood Still and the founder of travel company G Adventures, says not only will we travel again, we’ll do it better. “I still believe travel can be the biggest distributor of wealth the world has ever seen,” he says. “This pause gives us the gift of time to consider how we can travel more consciously.”
From a renewed commitment to sustainable tourism to creative ways to globetrot from home, here’s how travel authors, bloggers, and podcasters are navigating.
Sustainability will be a driving force
One silver lining of the pandemic? Consumers are doubling down on sustainability. Becker predicts travelers will take on the role of “concerned citizens” demanding responsible travel policies. The industry will respond with active measures to prioritize a healthy world over profit margins. “Don’t be surprised if countries mandate ‘fly-free days’ and other measures to control climate change,” she says.
Take action: Reduce your carbon footprint by purchasing offsets with companies such as Cool Effect and by staying at certified green hotels. Check sites like Book Different, which rates accommodations for eco-friendliness.
Our journeys will become more inclusive
The Black Lives Matter movement has brought the issue of representation to light in all industries, including travel. That’s overdue, says Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon. The award-winning journalist and TV host says she hopes the industry is moving toward meaningful change but worries that any change may be short-lived. “When the pandemic is past and the hashtags are no longer trending, will industry gatekeepers still be eager to attract, cater to, and celebrate travelers of color?” she writes in an email. “I’m cautiously optimistic but not completely convinced.”
Black Travel Alliance’s Martinique Lewis feels the industry is moving in the right direction and remains hopeful. She notes that companies are addressing the needs of diverse customers and says it’s about time. “For the first time they are considering what a trans female goes through not only when choosing what bathroom to go in at a restaurant, but when she checks into a hotel and her license shows a different person,” says Lewis. “Now plus-size travelers wanting to surf and scuba but can’t because the lack of wetsuits in their size are being acknowledged. Now blind travelers who still want to experience tours and extreme sports while on holiday are thought of.”
Take action: Visit one of the nearly 200 living history museums in the U.S., where historic interpreters portray figures from the past. They shed light on painful issues (such as racism in America) and hidden narratives (such as those of people of color, whose stories have been suppressed).
Small communities will play a bigger role
Travelers can make a difference in small towns that were already struggling economically before the pandemic. Caz Makepeace of Y Travel Blog says she and her family have always traveled slowly to lesser-known areas, “rather than racing through destinations.” Now she’s supporting these places by patronizing local businesses and donating to nonprofits.
Kate Newman of Travel for Difference suggests travelers focus on “global south” or developing countries that depend on tourism. “We need to diversify our locations to avoid mass tourism and focus on the places that really need it,” she says. “Seeing so many communities suffer during COVID-19 has brought [this issue] to light.”
Take action: Turn to sustainable tourism educational and advocacy nonprofit Impact Travel Alliance to learn how to empower locals and protect the environment.
We’ll seek quality over quantity
High-mileage travelers are putting more thought into their bucket lists. “COVID-19 has allowed me to rethink how and why I travel,” says Erick Prince of The Minority Nomad. “It’s given me the freedom to explore travel projects for passion instead of the paycheck.” Rather than focusing on paid gigs, the blogger, who lives in Thailand, says he’ll be embarking on a self-funded project to highlight off-the-beaten-track provinces in his adopted country.
Eulanda Osagiede, of Hey Dip Your Toes In, is putting the breaks on international trips, citing travel as a privilege many take for granted. “Privilege comes in many forms, and the act of recognizing our travel-related ones have called us to think about traveling more intentionally and less often—if ever the world begins to look similar to its pre-pandemic days.”
Take action: Check the Transformational Travel Council for resources and recommendations on operators who can help organize meaningful journeys.
The road trip will kick into high gear
For many, road trips may be the only feasible option for travel right now, and frequent fliers like Gabby Beckford of Packs Light are revving up. Driving across state lines can be just as exciting as flying across international borders; it’s about the mindset. “Road-tripping has shown me that the core of travel—curiosity, exposure to newness, and wonder—[is] a perspective, not a destination,” she says.
Take action: Plan a coronavirus-conscious trip to Colorado, home to superlative stargazing sites—and what may become the world’s largest Dark Sky reserve.
Travel advisors will become essential
Conde Nast Traveller sustainability editor Juliet Kinsman predicts a shift to booking travel through agents and established operators, noting their invaluable knowledge and industry connections. “I think what 2020 has shown and taught us is the expertise and financial protection of booking through a travel agent often outweighs the amount you pay in commission,” she says. Additionally, she hopes that consumers will look to agents who specialize in the environment. “Those who care about where they send their customers can intuitively cut through greenwash and really ensure every link in the supply chain is an honorable one,” she says.
Take action: Find a travel advisor: The American Society of Travel Advisors maintains a database that allows travelers to search by destination, type of journey (such as eco-tourism or genealogy), and cohort (such as LGBTQ+ travelers). Virtuoso, a network of advisors specializing in luxury travel, can help with good deals, convenient itineraries, and tailored experiences.
We’ll appreciate staying closer to home
Some are discovering the benefits of travel even at home. Blogger Jessie Festa of Epicure & Culture and Jessie on a Journey normally travels internationally once a month. These days, online cultural cooking classes, games, and virtual experiences are helping her “to keep the spirit of travel alive by considering the feelings that travel elicits,” she says. Exchanging postcards with her extended travel community is another “beautiful way to ‘experience’ travel again, safely,” she adds.
“When we compare everything to being locked up indefinitely in our respective towers, a walk to the park can feel like travel,” says blogger Chris Mitchell of Traveling Mitch. “Now people are willing to see the magic in a meal on a patio at a restaurant down the street.”
Take action: Get outside, says the Norwegian concept “friluftsliv,” an idea of outdoor living that promises to make the pandemic’s colder months more bearable.
Planning trips will become joyful again
Although some people are making the best of being grounded, this difficult period is reminding them that travel is important for boosting mental health and personal growth. There’s research to back it up. A 2013 survey of 483 U.S. adults found that travel improves empathy, energy, attention, and focus. Planning a trip is just as effective—a 2014 Cornell study showed that looking forward to travel substantially increases happiness, more than anticipating buying material goods.
Joanna Penn can attest to the healing benefits of both. The U.K.-based author and podcaster behind The Creative Penn and Books and Travel normally travels to research her books. “For me my writing life is all about what I learned when I travel,” she said in a recent podcast, “the ideas that come from being someplace new.” Her future trips will include walking the Camino de Santiago in 2022. Studying maps and determining a route makes her feel like she’s working toward a real goal. “I can expand my comfort zone without too much stress, especially if I accept that things might get canceled,” she said.
Take action: Plan a trip now, with inspiration from this essay on why travel should be considered an essential human activity.