Families face a dilemma this summer—although the teens and adults may be vaccinated, the under-16s won’t be. For a lot of families, this will impact their travel plans for 2021 and beyond. After a rough year, many people are ready for a much-needed vacation but aren’t quite ready to hop on a flight or head out of the country yet. (According to a survey by vacation rental site VRBO, 59 percent of families are opting to drive to their destination this year instead of flying.) So what will family travel look like in 2021?
Family Travel Is More Important Than Ever
Many families went for more than a year without seeing each other in person, or suffered devastating losses that emphasized how precious time spent with family is. Now that the adults have been vaccinated and the CDC has given okay for fully vaccinated people to hang out in small groups, people are looking to make up for lost time.
Megan Johnson, a Family Vacation Critic editor, definitely feels the need for family time more than ever this year. Johnson’s family has a longstanding tradition of going to Prince Edward Island in Canada every year for a multigenerational vacation. Johnson says, “Last year was the first year I did not go to PEI thanks to COVID-19 and the border being closed. My parents couldn’t even go, even though they own property up there.” This year, Johnson is holding out hope that the border will reopen in time to pick the traditional trip back up this summer. However, her family is being realistic and also considering booking a few cottages in New England as a backup plan.
The last year has made Johnson, like many others, realize how precious reconnecting with family in person is. “I think it is important to us all that we have a family vacation in some shape or form this year,” she says. “For several months, I wasn’t able to even travel to my parents’ house, as I live in a different state than them and the travel restrictions didn’t allow it. I saw my parents in a parking lot to exchange Christmas gifts on December 23, so my siblings and nephews/niece would have their presents for our Zoom Christmas. We are a family who sees each other a lot—to celebrate birthdays, or, really, just to hang out.”
“In 3 weeks, every adult in my family will be vaccinated,” she adds. Spending time together after a year of not spending time together is important. We are going to try and make a family trip happen, even if it is not in our traditional way. PEI will still be there (that is, until erosion takes over), so until then, we will be a little more creative in where we go to create new memories.”
Although the pandemic has foiled plans, Johnson refuses to let that derail a family reunion. Like many travelers, she’s pivoting from a big international trip to something more low-risk. “We were also planning on going to Ireland in 2020 for my parents 50th wedding anniversary, but needless to say that didn’t happen,” says Johnson. “I don’t think any of us are quite ready to jump on a plane to head to Ireland, despite being vaccinated.
Where and When Will Families Travel in 2021?
According to a survey by Bébé Voyage, 30 percent of families are planning their next trip for May 2021 and fifty percent are aiming for a June to September 2021 getaway. The survey found that 70 percent of family travelers are prioritizing destinations with a high rate of vaccination among their population, as well as spots with good healthcare infrastructure.
This doesn’t mean that families want something familiar for their first trip back—81 percent of respondents said they want to go to a new destination rather than an old favorite, according to Bébé Voyage.
Families will also be looking to take a bucket-list worthy trip to make up for a year of minimal travel. According to VRBO, 65 percent of people plan on traveling more than they did pre-COVID, and 54 percent saying that they are more likely to take their bucket-list trip this year. Those trips will likely be domestic and to a beach, mountain, or river town, with 61 percent of families saying that they are more likely to choose an outdoorsy destination over a city for vacation.
Families also have to consider that many destinations will be requiring proof of vaccination to enter, and that rule probably won’t be waived for children who can’t be vaccinated yet. (However, other destinations will allow a negative COVID-19 test in lieu of of a vaccine.)
Demand Will Be High for Family Travel
Since many families will be looking for similar priorities for their vacations, outdoor/warm weather destinations and accommodations are likely to book up quickly. Book as far in advance if you can, especially if you’re planning on visiting a national park this summer. To prevent overcrowding and help maintain social distancing, some popular national parks are requiring tickets (most of which will have to be purchased in advance) for entry.
Xanterra Travel Collection, a company that owns and operates a number of lodges/tours inside national parks, is currently outpacing 2019 bookings for 2021 domestic travel, and many of their lodges are sold out throughout the summer and early fall.
Travelers are continuing the trend of opting for vacation rentals over hotels, to have space for the whole family to spread out. According to an Airbnb survey, 84 percent of travelers are looking for unique and remote lodgings for a 2021 trip, with cabins being the most wish-listed stay type. So if you’re hoping to snag a vacation rental where the whole family can hang out together outside, book early.
No matter what type of family trip you’re planning for 2021, make reservations as soon as you can to avoid disappointment. Carefully read cancellation policies and consider investing in “cancel for any reason travel insurance”, even if you don’t generally insure your trips. Keep an eye on travel rules and regulations both at your destination and upon returning home, and always follow current CDC guidance around travel.
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