Airplane window with the view of the wing over mountains on Air New Zealand

Travel After a Pandemic: What Will It Look Like?

COVID-19 may have brought the world to an abrupt standstill, but even shuttered borders and grounded planes couldn’t stop voracious globetrotters from getting their wanderlust fix.

As travellers, we managed to find ways to bring some facet of the travel experience into our daily quarantined lives — through the food we’ve been eating to the TV shows we’ve been watching and the new activities we’ve been trying.

With every online tour and dose of armchair travel, we held steadfast to the notion that, one day soon, we’d lay eyes on that museum exhibit in person; we’d sip that Aperol Spritz in a sunny Italian piazza; we’d see that virtual vacation play out in real life.

Now that some European countries have announced plans to ease travel restrictions in the coming months, we’re starting to get a tad bit more excited about our future travel plans.

Truthfully, we’ve always known that travel will come back: flights will take off, hotels will open their doors, and restaurants will welcome us back with open arms, but these experiences will be different to what we remember (and that’s not necessarily a bad thing!).

We can’t say for certain what the post-COVID travel landscape will look like, but industry experts have given us an idea of what we can expect on our first trip after the pandemic passes.

Woman standing on the edge of a cliff in Moab, United States
Plenty of backyard adventures await post-pandemic | © Tory Morrison/Unsplash

How soon will it be safe to travel after the pandemic?

The answer to this million-dollar question is unclear: nobody knows for sure. Since so many factors are at play — from local travel advisories to the robustness of healthcare systems — it’s likely that travel will recover in stages. 

What these phases could look like, however, is difficult to predict. Some countries — like Greece, for example — are planning to reopen their doors as early as June, while regions that have been harder hit by the crisis may not be ready for visitors until autumn-onward or even later.

While there’s no clear picture of how the phases of recovery will unfold, many experts foresee domestic travel bouncing back first, followed by international travel at a later point in the future.

Airplane window with the view of the wing over mountains on Air New Zealand
The in-flight experience will be different than we remember | © Peijun Song/Unsplash

What will travel look like post-COVID?

There’s no doubt we will travel again, but travel as we know it will be different. New rigorous hygiene and safety protocols will roll out and soon become a normal – and even welcome – part of the travel experience in the post-lockdown landscape. 

What exactly does this mean for travellers in the real world, though? Here’s a small taste of what you can expect to encounter at each stopping point on your post-pandemic travels.

At the airport

Enhanced health and safety protocols

In addition to comprehensive health-monitoring efforts, airports across the world have already begun implementing new protocols to ensure fliers feel safe and comfortable from check-in to security and beyond.

Thermal cameras are being utilised in many airports for temperature checks, as they’re known to be effective without disrupting the flow passengers.

You’ll likely notice more plexiglass barriers at customer service counters, and increased cleaning measures throughout all terminals. Hong Kong International Airport is even trialling robotic cleaners to keep floors disinfected at all times.

Seamless and touchless travel

One of the most immediate changes could be a shift to contact-less travel from the time you arrive at the terminal until you board your flight. Technology for touchless document scanning and voice commands is being tested as a possible way to reduce the risk of spread at check-in and security counters.

Iris and face recognition might also be introduced as physical fingerprint and hand scanners are slowly phased out.

Three people standing in an empty airport terminal at sunrise
Passengers will be spread more evenly throughout airport terminals going forward | © Artur Tumasjan/Unsplash

On the plane

Cleanliness takes precedence

From upgraded air filtration systems to enhanced deep cleaning regimens, airlines are going above and beyond to protect travellers.

Small changes — like doing away with blankets and pillows — could be implemented in the name of hygiene, and masks will likely be required for both crew and passengers.

The next time you fly, you can rest assured knowing airlines have stepped up their sanitation procedures to ensure everything from your tray table to the lavatories will be spotless and sanitised. 

More room for you with empty middle sets

You probably won’t be rubbing elbows with fellow passengers on your first post-pandemic flight. Carriers like Delta and Qantas have temporarily blocked off middle seats to enforce in-flight distancing (although this is expected to be a short-term solution only).

The interior cabin of an airplane with empty seats
Airline carriers are implementing new health protocols | © JC Gellidon/Unsplash

At your destination

Enhanced hygiene at hotels and restaurants to make you feel comfortable

Along with newly enhanced hygiene and cleanliness standards, hotels too could start digitising the check-in process and reduce guest occupancy to allow more space for social distancing.

Restaurants, on the other hand, plan to seat guests further apart and replace buffets with a la carte menus.

Regardless of where you’re staying or dining, there will be a peace of mind. You’ll see hand sanitisers placed near high-traffic areas, thorough and frequent disinfection of elevator buttons and staircase handrails, and a supply of gloves and masks on offer for guest use.

We’ll likely ease back in with private accommodations and private tours

As travellers seek out cleaner and less crowded accommodation and travel options, industry experts are predicting a surge in demand for private tours, apartment rentals, villas, and private homes, and more one-on-one experiences with local guides. 

Small cabin surrounded by hills and trees
Remote getaways will be top of mind for many travellers | © Lili Kovac/Unsplash

How will people travel when the pandemic passes?

If there’s one thing we know for certain, it’s that we’ll be travelling with purpose on our future trips.

Now that we’ve had downtime to contemplate our post-quarantine adventures — and to think about how immensely lucky we are to have travelled in the first place — I think it’s safe to say we’ll all be pining for slower, deeper, and more meaningful experiences on the road. 

But how exactly will people be spending their vacation time when we’re able to travel again? From backyard exploration to staycations and wilderness-filled escapes, these are the types of trips industry experts are predicting to see in the post-COVID travel landscape.

Two empty chairs beside a lake and long grass and hills
Industry experts foresee loads of nature-filled trips in our future | © Chaz McGregor/Unsplash

Domestic travel is set to make a comeback first

Though so much is up in the air about post-pandemic travel, one thing most industry experts agree on is that regional travel will rebound first. People will be looking to get out and explore after being cooped up for weeks on end, but they’ll likely choose destinations that are closer to home. 

Staycations, nearby national parks and wide-open spaces, and weekends spent road-tripping will help to satisfy many travellers’ thirst for adventure as travel restrictions loosen.

We’ll see a resurgence in road trips and self-guided tours

Your future travel plans may not include music festivals or crowded airports, but one quintessential summertime activity is slated to boom: road trips.

Even for those who are leery to travel post-pandemic, a classic road trip or self-guided tour offers the ideal mix of adventure, safety, and comfort when travellers are ready to hit the road again.

Man standing beside a silver jeep holding a map on the side of an empty road
Road trips will come back in a big way | © Natalie Rhea Riggs/Unsplash

More people will be looking to go off-grid

Without question, people will be gravitating toward expansive spaces and remote destinations to shake off their cabin fever when they resume travelling.

Whether it’s a lodge in the wilderness or a backcountry camping holiday, off-grid getaways will be the perfect way for travellers to reconnect with nature, avoid crowds, and spend time outdoors post-lockdown. 

Family vacations will likely surge in popularity

How many of us have missed special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, or spring break holidays while in lockdown?

Families that have been separated for weeks or months will be looking to multi-generational holidays to make up for lost time and rebuild those familial bonds.

Wellness and active holidays will be top of mind

Another way travellers will be shaking off those lockdown blues is through active pursuits and adrenaline-pumping activities.

In a recent New York Times article, James Thornton, chief executive of Intrepid Travel, was quoted saying, “If 2020 proves to be a year we spend a lot of time indoors, 2021 will be about getting outdoors and getting active, with tours centered around things like cycling, trekking and mindfulness.”

Person riding a bike on a road through the Romanian countryside
We’ll see an uptick in active holidays post-COVID | © David Marcu/Unsplash

Tips for planning your first post-pandemic trip

Despite the uncertainty of the situation, I’m sure, like me, many avid travellers are beginning to wonder: How soon is too soon to begin planning my next trip? 

Whether you’d prefer to wait until travel restrictions have fully lifted or you’re ready to search for your next escape ASAP, it’s never too early to hop on sites like TourRadar and start thinking about all the places you’ll visit once the pandemic is behind us.

After all, mapping out your trip and getting excited about that future getaway is one of the best parts of the vacation experience!

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when planning your first post-lockdown trip.

  • Think longer-term

Even as some European destinations are taking steps to cautiously reopen for cross-border summer travel, your travel will require some careful navigating. When we do get the green light to hop on an international flight, we’ll have to consider how to do it the right way.

At this point in time, it’s probably best to err on the side of caution and start looking at the latter part of 2020 or even into 2021 for your next big adventure. Travel companies are being incredibly lenient with their policies right now, so it’s easier than ever to rearrange your plans should circumstances change.

  • Purchase travel insurance

While most standard travel insurance policies exclude pandemics, you can find added peace of mind with a “cancel for any reason” policy. They cost significantly more than the average policy, but offer more protection should you decide to change your plans.

Some travel insurance companies have made changes to these policies due to the pandemic (which means you could potentially end up being reimbursed with vouchers instead of a cash refund), so remember to pay close attention to the terms before purchasing.

Empty security area at an airport
Airports around the worlds are rolling out stringent health screenings | © Max Van Den Oetelaar/Unsplash
  • Stay flexible

Given the unpredictability of the coronavirus outbreak, postponements are a possibility. The best way to protect your vacation at this time is to remain as flexible as possible, and have a plan B (and a plan C) just in case – rebooking will be your best bet!

  • Take measures to protect your health

Airports, airlines, hotels, and attractions will all be implementing stringent health and safety protocols to ensure guests are safe and comfortable, but there are additional measures you can take to protect yourself when travelling after the pandemic. 

When the time comes to take off, consult official government guidelines and local news sources for up-to-date safety conditions for the destination you plan to visit. Additionally, it might be worthwhile to check if your government offers a service for citizens travelling abroad to enroll with a local embassy or consulate. This will help the embassy contact you in the event of an emergency.

As you start packing for your vacation, be sure to bring a good-quality mask, sanitiser (an alcohol concentration between 60-95% is thought to be most effective), and disinfectant wipes. And of course, continue to practise proper hand hygiene throughout the entirety of your trip.

Ashley is a Content Editor at TourRadar. When she’s not writing, travelling, or obsessively checking flight prices on Skyscanner, you can find her attempting to fine-tune her photography skills or watching a shark documentary.

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