But as excited as US-bound travelers may be to reunite with loved ones, attend an IRL business conference or snap selfies in front of landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, they should be equally prepared for a travel experience that’s vastly different these days — and still constantly changing.
First, there are new entry restrictions.
All foreign nationals must show proof of vaccination and a negative test taken within three days prior to the trip (unvaccinated US citizens, meanwhile, will be required to undergo more rigorous testing), as well as comply with enhanced contract tracing measures.
On the ground, safety and health regulations that vary wildly from sea to shining sea (staunchly anti-mask states like Florida versus state mask mandates and vaccine requirements for indoor dining and other activities in New York, for example) are all but guaranteed to generate confusion.
A patchwork of safety measures
“And the reality is, it is many different states with many different personalities, and it will show in health and sanitation protocols more than ever.”
Incoming travelers must be “fully vaccinated,” which according to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention includes those who have received vaccines approved for use in the US as well as those listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization that may not yet have received such approval in the US, such as the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Here’s what else travelers headed to the US for the first time in a while should anticipate, plus insider tips for a trip that’s as safe and smooth as possible (hint: be sure to pack extra patience).
Visitors are likely to find smaller cities such as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, less crowded as the US reopens its borders.
Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images
More people in popular destinations
Hungry to take a bite out of the Big Apple or spot A-listers in Los Angeles? Join the crowd: Domestic tourism in popular US destinations is already rebounding (remember Hawaii’s governor advising tourists to stop coming in August?), even before overseas travelers return to beloved hotspots they’ve missed.
“Now’s the time to stay in Pittsburgh or Minneapolis or Kansas City and visit somewhere where you normally wouldn’t think about,” Tricoci tells CNN. “They have a different culture. They’ve got that entrepreneurial underpinning. And the culinary scenes in many of these cities are world-class — they’re just as good as the restaurants in New York, Chicago and San Francisco.”
Get your wallet ready
Industry insiders say that increased demand from international travelers could drive prices for hotel rooms and vacation rentals higher this season, when domestic holiday bookings are already robust in many US markets.
All of which means that long-awaited Thanksgiving family reunion at a ritzy vacation rental, priceless as it may be, could put a serious dent in your holiday budget.
In light of those widespread labor shortages, Tricoci encouraged travelers accustomed to the high level of customer service the US hospitality industry has traditionally been known for to manage their expectations, a sentiment echoed by many of his peers.
At the same time, he noted that the impending arrival of foreign guests offers another incentive for the industry to adapt to its staffing shortages. “At the end of the day, they’re traveling, they’re spending money, and it’s up to us to solve the issue,” he tells CNN.
Rental cars for visitors to Florida and other popular destinations may be hard to come by.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Rental cars are in shorter supply, too
“Prepaid is not a 100% guarantee, but most operators will prioritize these rental types over pay-upon-arrival rentals,” Meyer told CNN via email.
Navigating differing (and confusing) health regulations and protocols
Restaurants in New Orleans and some other US cities require proof of vaccination.
Mario Tama/Getty Images
In federally regulated spaces like airports and on airplanes, masks are mandatory, as well as on regional and local transport like trains and subways. But the actual enforcement at places like hotels is tricky to assess from afar — which is where a travel advisor or agent can be invaluable.
“Who has taken this down time to renovate and innovate versus who has let things deteriorate? I’m able to stay up to date with what the hotels are truly enforcing, because I have access to agencies that are constantly doing site inspections. It’s one thing to put on your website your policies, and it’s another thing to practice it.”
Limited options for testing
In addition, overseas visitors will need to remember that all passengers, including children two years of age and over, entering the US also will be required to show a negative test. That’s a marked difference from many countries in Europe and elsewhere, which generally exempt children under the age of 12.
Flexibility continues to be key
As celebrated as the news of the relaxed entry restrictions into the US has been for the travel industry, its related complexities underscore a point that industry insiders continue to emphasize: No matter where they’re headed, travelers must stay as flexible (booking refundable airfare, lodging and other expenses) and informed (staying on top of rules) as possible.
Top image: Travelers gather their luggage as they arrive at Miami International Airport on September 20, 2021. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)