As lazy days by the beach have given way to chaotic travel excursions, the top summer vacation essential this year is flexibility.
What used to be seasonal hits like “Fly or Drive?” or “Hotel or Airbnb?” have turned into conversations that make some potential travelers postpone plans or shelve them altogether. Instead of conjuring up images of sailing the Adriatic, cycling the Dolomites, or shopping along Florence’s Via Roma, many international fliers are envisioning airport security lines, flight cancellations, and sunken chairs on Mediterranean beaches.
Travel chaos abounds – but that hasn’t stopped eager holidaymakers. Instead of canceling your trip altogether, AskThePilot.com founder Patrick Smith suggests building a contingency plan.
“The situation at airports right now is a testament to people’s willingness to endure and what people are willing to sacrifice for a break,” says Smith. “Continued chaos and overcrowding is encouraging people to rethink their vacation dynamics to include buffers when things don’t go as planned. Flights are delayed. Flights have been cancelled. Links are missing.”
Flight times have become increasingly unpredictable and are wreaking havoc on fast-travel travelers. “If you’re going somewhere for three or four days and you end up being a day and a half late getting there, that can throw everything out the window. It is important that people build their vacations with contingencies in mind. Have a plan B and a plan C. If a flight is delayed, we do. If a flight is cancelled, we do this. Maybe even change the destination at the last second,” says Smith.
Buying tickets that allow flexibility is worthwhile, according to Smith, and cancellations can provide opportunities to explore new cities. “Above and beyond anything else—be patient and don’t panic if things go wrong,” says Smith. “Hopefully, after the summer rush, the industry will begin to stabilize. Staffing levels will improve and things will pick up to the mark, hopefully from the holidays.” (Smith has postponed his plans to visit Asia until the fall.)
Meanwhile, the untouchables are moving forward by plane, train, car and bus. And yes, “pass-through” postures, which combine business and leisure, are a thing. That and revenge travel more than two years after the pandemic are driving rental car bookings, according to an Enterprise Holdings spokesman. Florida, Hawaii, California, New York and Nevada are the top destinations for travelers. While fleet availability has improved significantly since last year, global chip shortages and other supply chain constraints are affecting the availability of new cars, the spokesman says.
Meanwhile, beachgoers may be wary of taking a dip in the ocean, given the media’s zeal for reports of shark attacks. But those brushes of brilliant white aren’t just bait. Last year, according to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack Files, there were 71 shark attacks, including nine fatal ones. Last year, Florida racked up the most shark bites – 28 – followed by Australia, Hawaii, South Africa, South Carolina, California, North Carolina, Reunion Island, Brazil and the Bahamas, respectively.
Despite the rigamarole that more likely than not connects summer getaways, there’s clearly an element of revenge travel underfoot, says Alastair Thomann, who as chief executive of Freehand/Generator oversees 15 properties in the US and Europe. Gen Z and Millennials are leading the charge, with many heading out to celebrate the end of the school year, graduation or to make up for missed trips in the past two years.
Further fueling the growth of summer vacations are families, many of whom prefer to stay together in suites and shared accommodations. Interestingly, many summer vacationers are starting their city breaks, with destinations like New York, Miami, Dublin, Madrid, Barcelona and London. Part of the interest in European cities comes down to people being able to travel by train or car, Thomann says.
Community is top of mind for many, Thomann says, noting that his properties are often rented out by groups of friends just looking to “have a good time together.”
Concerns about inflation, the spending crisis and cost-of-living crises have dragged into European markets, and Thomann says there are concerns about luxury properties. “Will people spend that kind of money on luxury vacations? This is a concern for our industry. Right now, the world is great, but how will that play out as the cost of living, inflationary pressures and so on hit us over the next few months?”
The least expensive option is the road trip. AAA had predicted that nearly 48 million would travel 50 miles or more from their homes over the Fourth of July weekend—an all-time record. That road rush was an indication of what people would be doing for the rest of the summer, says AAA’s Andrew Gross. “It really surprised us because you wouldn’t think we’d be setting records with these high gas prices,” he says.
People can opt for “close-cations,” he says, which allow them to get out of town without racking up too many miles. For some, this equates to a more affordable route, and for others it’s a way to avoid the hassle of air travel. “If you drive, you have to choose when to leave. You have to choose the route and who is sitting next to you. You can’t put that down,” Gross says with a laugh. “And you can throw a lot more stuff in the trunk.”
Gas prices, however, are likely to affect car travel, Gross says. About 60 percent of respondents to a March AAA poll said they would change their driving habits or lifestyle when a gallon of gas hit $4, and about 75 percent of respondents said they would change by 5 dollars. “Well, we hit both of those marks,” Gross says.
Despite the potential for headaches, many are still fleeing, enthusiastically, to Europe. To protect trips, travelers can book airline tickets and hotel stays with rewards points and miles, as well as purchase travel insurance, says ThePointsGuy.com Global Features Editor Melanie Lieberman.
“We’re seeing people who want to have more immersive experiences everywhere they go. They usually travel longer and stay in one place longer. Part of this, of course, is due to travel being more complicated. Once people get where they’re going, they’re eager to stay there for a minute,” she says. “There’s been a lot of excitement about travel. They’re so eager to get back there and connect with the people and places they’re visiting. .”
After nearly 300 million people flocked to US national parks last year, repeat visitors and first-timers alike need to plan ahead. Reservations are required by the US National Park Service for Glacier National Park, Yosemite National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park and other areas. In fact, the hiker’s ode to “Carry in-carry out”—as in anything you carry in the woods, you should—would do summer vacationers a favor. Some are trying to embrace simplification, whether it’s carry-on instead of checked luggage, renting sports equipment and buying essentials upon arrival. Remember when high rollers used to FedEx their suitcases ahead of time?
Long weekend getaways and short spontaneous hikes have fallen out of favor as people plan further for financial reasons and less likely to be delayed options like early morning flights, Lieberman says.
“We’ve seen a lot of schedule cuts from airlines everywhere as they try to make sure they can staff and operate the flights they have on schedule. We’re reminding people to expect crowds, delays and disruption,” Lieberman says, adding that many holidaymakers are booking their journeys with an extra day or two as a precaution. London’s Heathrow has even told airlines to stop selling of some tickets for summer flights.
“What you are seeing at Heathrow is indicative of what is happening across the industry. The industry is really trying to keep up with demand and avoid problems,” Lieberman says.
Some travelers are looking to escape trains, which have seen an increase in ridership.
Amtrak has seen ridership return more than 80 percent from fiscal year 2019 levels nationwide, with its Northeast Corridor that stretches from Washington, D.C., to Boston proving popular. Service expansions include trains to Burlington, Vermont, and Newport commuters can now board a Seastreak ferry from Providence through a new partnership.
Although travel remains popular, concerns about COVID-19 remain and there are still some countries with testing requirements.
The Canadian government has reinstated mandatory random testing for those entering Canada by air at four major airports, for example. “When the U.S. lifted its in-border testing requirement for international fliers, that obviously gave people some peace of mind that they could travel abroad without having to worry about lockdown. If we’re seeing testing come back up, that has the possibility of preventing some people from traveling abroad,” says Lieberman. “This is something to watch for sure.”