The pandemic has not only accelerated Americans' desire to travel but changed the types of trips they want to book. Instead of attraction-packed weekends, travelers are looking to take it slow and stay away longer this year, experts say.
There are a few reasons for the change. Travel restrictions are lifting as people get vaccinated, some Americans can still work remotely from vacation destinations, and many people have taken little to no paid time off since the pandemic began. Last summer, 92% of workers canceled, postponed, or didn't book a vacation due to Covid-19, according to reporting by CNBC. In February, HR platform Zenefits told the Atlantic that time-off requests were down 26% year over year. That's been a consistent trend since July 2020.
All that pent-up demand is now coming due: One-fourth of travelers surveyed by SoloTravelerWorld.com said they plan to take longer trips post-pandemic. Michael Bennett, co-founder of Seattle-based travel company Explorer X, is seeing the shift in his business.
Prior to the pandemic, Explorer X's customers took trips averaging 10 days, but "over the past 3 to 4 months, as people begin booking travel for the second half of 2021 and early 2022, we are seeing that jump up to two-plus weeks in most cases," he says. "I can't think of any booking that is less than two weeks that we have planned for 2021 or 2022 over the past few months, with several trips being a month long."
Those longer trips will require more money, and therefore more careful budgeting. If you want to take an extended vacation this year, here are ways to not overspend, according to travel experts.
"Work from a daily budget, rather than weekly or monthly," she says. For example, Meis and her boyfriend break down their monthly rent, food, entertainment, and communication budgets into daily amounts, to know exactly how much money they are spending each day.
"This helps keep your budget top-of-mind, and reduces the frivolous spending that often happens during travel, like coffee and a sandwich at a cafe," she says. "Twelve dollars times five days equals $60. It adds up quickly."
Many travelers pay for transportation and budget for each day at their destination but forget about the travel days themselves.
"Whether you're taking a six-hour flight or a two-hour car ride, travel days can drain your wallet," Meis says. "Offset costs like bottles of water at the airport or between-meal snacks by bringing your own. Budget for expenses that tend to go unnoticed, like taxis from the airport to your lodging and tips for service industry employees."
If you're not using a travel credit card when a majority of your charges are travel-related, "you're throwing away money," Meis says. "Either in lost points that can be redeemed for flights and hotels, or in straight cash back."
Try to get a card that offers flight delay coverage, trip cancellation insurance, and rental car coverage, says Nick Ewen, senior editor at The Points Guy.
Right now, one of Ewen's favorite cards is the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Though it has a $95 annual fee, it offers all his suggested protections and has no foreign transaction fees. Plus, it offers a wide variety of options for redeeming points.
With so many people going on vacation, he adds, cancellation insurance is extra important.
"We're likely going to see packed planes and full airports," he says. "If a flight is delayed or canceled due to weather or circumstances outside an airline's control, you may not be entitled to any compensation, and it could take several hours, or even days, to ultimately get to your final destination. However, [buying plane tickets with] a credit card that offers flight delay coverage or trip cancellation/interruption insurance could minimize these difficulties and out-of-pocket expenses."
Food costs can vary wildly based on your itinerary, says SoloTravelerWorld.com editor Tracey Nesbitt. But there are ways to indulge in one of the best parts of traveling while also staying on budget.
"Splurge on the memorable meals and economize on the others," Nesbitt says. "If fine dining is important to you, offset the costs by booking a hotel with breakfast included, or make your own in an apartment rental."
Remember that dinners are typically more expensive than lunches, she says: "Lunch at a special restaurant will get you the same quality at a lower price point than dinner."
You can also experience local cuisine outside restaurants by going to grocery stores. "Visit local markets and put together a picnic lunch, or stock up on snacks to take with you, so you're not continuously paying out as you explore your destination," she says.
While traveling, it's inevitable that you'll want to visit a restaurant or have an experience that wasn't on your itinerary. Prepare by building in a "slush fund" for unexpected splurges, Nesbitt says.
"So that you don't have to return home regretting missing out, make sure there's some flexibility in your budget to allow you to take advantage of a unique experience," she adds. "These sometimes create the best travel memories."
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