As lazy days by the shore have given way to chaotic travel excursions, the key summer vacation essential this year is flexibility.
What used to be seasonal toss-ups like “Fly or drive?” or “Hotel or Airbnb?” have become make-or-break conversations that have some would-be travelers postponing plans or shelving them altogether. Instead of conjuring up images of sailing on the Adriatic, cycling in the Dolomites or shopping along Florence’s Via Roma, many international fliers are instead envisioning snaking airport security lines, flight cancellations and overbooked chaises on Mediterranean beaches.
Travel chaos abounds — but it hasn’t stopped eager vacationers. Instead of scrapping your trip altogether, AskThePilot.com founder Patrick Smith suggests building in a contingency plan.
“The situation in airports right now is a testament to people’s willingness to endure and what people are willing to sacrifice for a vacation,” Smith says. “The ongoing chaos and congestion is encouraging people to revise the dynamics of their vacations to include buffers for when things don’t do as scheduled. Flights are delayed. Flights are canceled. Connections are missed.”
On-time flights have become increasingly unpredictable, and it’s wreaking havoc on quick trip travelers. “If you are going somewhere for three or four days and you end up being a day and a half late getting there, that can throw the whole thing out the window. It’s important for people to build their vacations with contingencies in mind. Have a plan B and a plan C. If a flight is delayed, we do this. If a flight is canceled we do this. Maybe even change the destination at the last second,” Smith says.
Buying tickets that allow for flexibility is worthwhile, according to Smith, and cancelations could provide opportunities to explore new cities. “Above and beyond everything else — be patient and don’t be shocked if things go wrong,” Smith says. “Hopefully, after the summer rush, the industry will begin to stabilize. Staffing levels will improve and things will get better to the point hopefully by the holidays.” (Smith has postponed his plans to visit Asia until the fall.)
In the meantime, the undeterred are forging ahead by plane, by train, by car and by bus. And yes, “bleisure” stays, which blend business and leisure, are a thing. That and revenge travel more than two years into the pandemic are driving bookings for car rentals, according to an Enterprise Holdings spokesman. Florida, Hawaii, California, New York and Nevada are leading destinations for travelers. While fleet availability has improved significantly since last year, the global chip shortage and other supply chain constraints are impacting new car availability, the spokesman says.
Beachgoers, meanwhile, may have a niggling about taking ocean plunges given the media’s zeal for reports of shark attacks. But those brushes with great whites aren’t just clickbait. Last year, there were 71 shark attacks including nine fatal ones, according to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack Files. Last year, Florida racked up the most shark bites — 28 — followed respectively by Australia, Hawaii, South Africa, South Carolina, California, North Carolina, Reunion Island, Brazil and the Bahamas.
Despite the rigamarole that is more likely than not to tie up summer escapes, there is clearly an element of revenge travel underfoot, says Alastair Thomann, who as chief executive officer of Freehand/Generator oversees 15 properties in the U.S. and Europe. Gen Z and Millennials are leading the charge with many of them venturing out to celebrate the end of the school year, graduations or to make up for trips not taken over the past two years.
Further fueling the summer vacation surge are families, many of whom prefer to bunk up together in suites and shared accommodations. Interestingly, many summer vacationers are embarking on city sojourns, bound for 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.
Togetherness is top-of-mind for many, Thomann says, noting that his properties are often rented by groups of friends simply looking to “have a good time together.”
Inflation concerns, the spending crisis and cost-of-living crises have creeped into European markets, and Thomann says there are worries brewing about luxury properties. “Are people going to spend that kind of money for luxury vacations? That is a concern for our industry. At the moment, the world is great but how is this going to develop as the cost of living, inflationary pressures and so on come to hit us over the next few months?”
Potentially less expensive is the road trip option. AAA had forecasted that nearly 48 million would travel 50 miles or more from their homes over the Fourth of July weekend — an all-time record. That rush to the roads was an indication of what people would do for the rest of the summer, says AAA’s Andrew Gross. “That really surprised us because you wouldn’t think that we would be setting records with these high gas prices,” he says.
People may be opting for “near-cations,” he says, which allow them to get out of town without amassing too many miles. For some, that equates to a more affordable route, and for others it’s a way to avoid the hassles of air travel. “If you go by car, you get to choose when you leave. You get to choose the route and who is sitting next to you. You can’t discount that,” Gross says with a laugh. “And you get to throw a lot more stuff in the trunk.”
Gas prices, however, are likely to affect travel by car, Gross says. Approximately 60 percent of respondents to a AAA survey in March said they would alter driving habits or lifestyle when a gallon of gas hit $4, and about 75 percent of respondents said they would at $5. “Well, we hit both of these marks,” says Gross.
Despite the potential for headaches, many are still taking flight, enthusiastically bound for Europe. To safeguard trips, travelers can book airline tickets and hotel stays with reward points and miles, and purchase travel insurance, says ThePointsGuy.com’s global features editor Melanie Lieberman.
”We are seeing people wanting to have more immersive experiences wherever they go. They are generally traveling for longer and staying in a place for longer. Part of this, of course, is due to travel being more complicated. Once people get where they are going they are eager to stay there for a minute,” she says. “There has been so much enthusiasm around travel. They are so eager to get back out there and connect with the people and the places they are visiting.”
After nearly 300 million people flocked to national parks in the U.S. last year, return visitors and newbies should plan ahead. Reservations are required by the U.S. National Park Service for Glacier National Park, Yosemite National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park and other locales. In fact, hikers’ “Carry in-carry out” ode — as in whatever you carry into the woods, you should carry out — would bode well with summer vacationers. Some are trying to embrace streamlining, whether that be carry-ons instead of checked luggage, renting sports gear and buying essentials upon arrival. Remember when high-rollers used to FedEx their suitcases ahead of time?
Long weekend getaways and short spontaneous jaunts have fallen out of favor as people plan further out for financial reasons and less-likely-to-be-delayed options, like early-morning flights, Lieberman says.
“We have seen a lot of schedule cutbacks from airlines everywhere as they try to make sure they can staff and operate the flights that they do have on the schedule. We are reminding people to expect crowds, delays and setbacks,” Lieberman says, adding that many vacationers are bookending their journeys with an extra day or two as a precaution. London’s Heathrow has even told airlines to stop selling some tickets for summer flights.
“What you’re seeing at Heathrow is indicative of what is happening across the industry. The industry is really trying to keep up with demand and stave off problems,” Lieberman says.
Some travelers are looking to trains for getaways, which have seen a surge in ridership.
Amtrak has seen more than 80 percent of its ridership return from fiscal-year 2019 levels nationwide, with its Northeast Corridor stretching from Washington, D.C., to Boston being popular. Services extensions include trains to Burlington, Vermont, and Newport-bound travelers can now hop on a Seastreak ferry from Providence through a new partnership.
Despite travel remaining popular, concerns about COVID-19 remain, and there are still some places with testing requirements.
The Canadian government has reinstated mandatory random testing for those entering Canada by air in four major airports, for example. “When the U.S. dropped its in-bound testing requirement for international fliers, that definitely gave people some peace of mind that they could travel abroad without having to worry about getting stranded. If we’re seeing testing come up again, that has the possibility of deterring some people from traveling abroad,” Lieberman says. “That is something to watch for sure.”