When the subject of where to travel after COVID-19 comes up, Jason Phillips has a ready answer: Jamaica.
“The ambiance is great,” says Phillips, a licensed therapist from Detroit. “The food is delicious, and it gave us a chance to reconnect.”
Seems many Americans have an answer, too — places they’ve already been but plan to return to. Or bucket-list destinations they want to visit.
And now it’s time. The travel boom of 2021 has started. After more than a year of going nowhere, we’re all going somewhere.
The latest Global Rescue survey says Canada, Mexico, Europe, Argentina, and South Africa are the leading international destinations for travelers over the next several months. More than half of those surveyed (53%) expect to travel abroad before the end of the year.
“They plan to take advantage of discounts, take longer trips, and go to places with modern health care facilities,” says Dan Richards, CEO of Global Rescue.
Finding the best places to travel after COVID-19 might be a little tricky. You’ll need to personalize your visit and always keep your safety in mind, say experts. If you want to go abroad, closer is better.
Where to travel after COVID-19
Pinpointing the best places for you to travel after the pandemic can be a challenge. Everyone has advice.
Travel companies publish their own polls that perhaps coincidentally suggest that everyone should visit the destinations they serve. Websites post “please-oh-please-Google-rank-this-on-page-one” listicles. I’ve written one or two myself. Not my finest moment as a journalist.
Then there are the keyword-stuffing travel blogs that mindlessly repeat phrases like “best places to travel after COVID-19” and then try to recommend places like the Gobi Desert.
But here’s some advice that’ll actually work: Before you make any travel plans, consult with someone who knows what the heck they’re talking about.
No computer can beat a human travel agent at recommending a place to visit after COVID. A qualified travel advisor will take the time to listen to you and then make a recommendation based on your preferences. And until they can send an AI on a familiarization trip, that’s how it will always be.
So if you’re ready to go somewhere, find a travel agency on the American Society of Travel Advisors site. Working with a good agent means you won’t have to stumble around on the internet, sifting through useless advice on destinations. (Except for this story, of course.)
A well-traveled friend can be a great resource, too. My nonprofit organization also runs an online help forum for consumers to help people figure out where to go.
But seriously. Get help.
The best places to travel right now in the U.S.
The “best” destination to travel after COVID-19 is a personal choice. That’s because where you go depends on where you live and your interests.
This summer, an overwhelming majority of vacation trips will take place by car or RV. People remain concerned about their safety even though the pandemic appears to be fading. That means they’re choosing places that are close and allow for plenty of social distancing.
In coming up with my suggestion of the best places to travel right now in the U.S., I reviewed lists compiled by companies that should know. For example, Allianz Travel publishes a reliable list of the most popular domestic and international destinations. But as I reviewed their favorite places, I realized that a list tells only half the story. It isn’t where you go that matters, but what the destination represents.
For example, if you wanted a theme park experience, I might recommend Orlando’s attractions — specifically Walt Disney World. It’s been super-careful with protecting guests visiting its parks and hotels, with temperature checks and outdoor mask requirements. (It dropped both this month after updated CDC guidance.) It is the iconic theme park experience. If you can wait until after Labor Day, the crowds will thin and prices will drop.
Orlando isn’t all Disney, of course. There’s no shortage of great shopping in nearby Winter Park or great dining options in Orlando’s Milk District, one of my favorite places to hang out when I’m in town. Bet you didn’t know Orlando had its own arts district.
Stay close if you’re looking for the best place to travel after COVID-19
Another sound strategy for finding a vacation destination: think close.
For instance, if you live in the New York City area, there’s no need to board a plane for a vacation. A destination like Ithaca in upstate New York can be the best place to travel. It’s the cultural and wellness hub of the Finger Lakes region, with plenty of well-appointed spas, outdoor summer theatre, public mural walking tours, and engaging small museums.
“Iowa is especially rich in memorable Americana,” he says. “From the National Hobo Museum and Cemetery in Britt to the Surf Ballroom in nearby Clear Lake, where Buddy Holly sang his last song, to the Field of Dreams in Dyersville. And the rolling hills and rows of corn make you feel like you’re in a Grant Wood painting.”
Speaking of the Midwest, one place I never miss is a short drive from Chicago: Wisconsin’s Dells. Sure, it’s the waterpark capital of the world, but there’s much more to it. Have you ever visited the International Crane Foundation in nearby Baraboo? It’s definitely worth the trip.
The best place to visit depends on where you are now. There’s no shortage of visit-worthy destinations near you.
The best places to travel internationally
When it comes to international travel, the usual suspects are suspect this year. “There are so many unknowns in Italy, France and Germany at the moment,” explains Andrew Steinberg, a travel advisor with Ovation Travel Group. “Our clients want to make sure when they arrive at a destination that restaurants, cultural activities and other points of interest are fully open and ready.”
Some places are open and ready for American visitors. This summer, the Caribbean and Mexico rank highly for international travelers. Prices are affordable since it’s the off-season, and for some families, that’s a green light.
“News that the FDA has approved the use of Pfizer’s COVID vaccine for teens 12 to 15 is going to unleash tremendous pent-up demand for family vacations,” predicts Daniel Durazo, a spokesman for Allianz Travel. “Destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean are family-friendly, have put in place extensive safety protocols and are easy for Americans to reach.”
By the way, I agree with Phillips on Jamaica. As a cub reporter at Travel Weekly, I covered Jamaica, and I loved every minute of it.
But when it comes to Caribbean islands, there are more than just the usual suspects. Consider the Dutch Caribbean island of Saba in the Lesser Antilles. More than 85 percent of the population is vaccinated. The island caters to outdoor activities and ecotourism, and it’s an excellent destination for hiking and scuba diving.
“With nearly the entire population vaccinated and our emphasis on enjoying the natural beauty, Saba is one of the best and safest destinations for those looking to explore and rejuvenate after the past year of quarantining,” says Saba commissioner Bruce Zagers.
Travel after COVID-19: Is the destination safe?
If you’re wondering whether a destination is safe, here’s a pro tip: Check to see if it has a Safe Travel stamp from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). Also, check out my latest story on how to travel safely during the pandemic.
One of the earliest destinations to get the WTTC stamp was Peru. It was just the third South American country to get certified. Other reasons to go: Machu Picchu offers flexible ticket bookings, a departure from its normally strict rules. The site is open at a limited 40% capacity, so there are fewer crowds.
“I have been guiding a few tours there recently with only my small group and no other visitors,” says Michael Lazo Gamarra, founder of Papi’s Treks. “The photo opportunities are incredible.”
Oh, and don’t rule out Europe, at least not entirely. You can get there now — if you know where to go.
“Although much of Europe is still off-limits to Americans for the time being, Croatia and various other Balkan countries, including Albania, North Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro, are open,” says Charles Neville, a marketing director at JayWay Travel.
Stay close and stay safe
The best places to travel after COVID-19 allow you to stay close and stay safe. If you live in the United States, a domestic vacation offers plenty of opportunities to reacquaint yourself with your own country. If you go abroad, this may be the year to visit a nearby destination like the Caribbean, Mexico, or — when it opens back up — Canada.
I’m not just an innocent bystander. I’m about to embark on a six-month road trip with my kids, from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles. We’ve had our shots and are ready to go after a lengthy lockdown.
What are the best places to travel after the pandemic? We’ll find out, and I’ll let you know.