Didn't travel at all during COVID-19? How to make up for lost time and lost opportunities

·5 min read

If you like to travel, you probably have a lot of making up to do this summer.

You sat on the sidelines in 2020 while the pandemic raged. Maybe you tried to get out there in early 2021, only to face even more travel restrictions, rules and crowds. Big crowds.

It's time to remedy that, don't you think?

A recent report by the software company Freshworks suggests more people are thinking about travel now than at any time since the pandemic started. Two out of 5 Americans say they'll book a trip this year, making it the top spending category, according to Freshworks.

The top cities for vacation makeups include New Orleans, San Francisco, and New York, according to numbers from Next Vacay, an online booking platform.

"As more people get vaccinated, they are showing more confidence in booking trips," says Julie Hall, a spokeswoman for AAA. "They have money to spend and they are looking to spend more and stay longer on their next vacation."

But how? Travelers are cramming more trips into their busy lives, and travel companies are also making it easy for them to book by offering special incentives. Navigating through all the makeup vacations can be tricky, but there are ways to make it easier.

It's not really about revenge – it's about recapturing opportunities

People have been calling this revenge travel for the better part of a year. But their timing was off and they mislabeled the trend. Most of the experts predicted a surge in revenge travel in early 2021. Instead, they got a surge in COVID-19 cases.

The phrase "revenge travel" is incorrect, too. No one is seeking revenge against the travel industry (although I've written about that a time or two). They're trying to recapture some of the travel opportunities missed during a lengthy pandemic.

Maybe they should call it make-up travel.

"My family and I are so excited to make up for lost time," says E.J. Kritz, a business consultant from Boston. "Over the course of the pandemic, we’ve had about five vacations canceled or significantly altered. Now, it’s time to get back at it!"

Kritz and his family are trying something new this year. They've booked an eight-day Western Caribbean cruise. He and his wife are headed to an all-inclusive resort in Key Largo, Florida. And later this year, they're taking the family to Disney World.

That's a lot of making up.

How travel companies are helping you make up for a lost year

Puerto Rico's Fairmont El San Juan Hotel has customized do-over packages for anyone who had to cancel a special event in 2020.
Puerto Rico's Fairmont El San Juan Hotel has customized do-over packages for anyone who had to cancel a special event in 2020.

Travel companies are trying to help you make up for a lost year, too.

One way is to give away travel. For example, Trafalgar offers a series of virtual experiences, from tasting Chianti with a Tuscan winemaker to touring Costa Rica's cloud forests. If you reserve one of these online events, you're in the running to win $100,000 worth of travel over the next decade.

The Fairmont El San Juan Hotel has customized do-over packages for anyone who had to cancel a special event in 2020. If you've missed a wedding, family reunion, honeymoon, babymoon, anniversary, or birthday, the Fairmont's event planners will pull something together on a make-up vacation to Puerto Rico.

IHG Hotels & Resorts even created a new program called the Department of Epic to help its guests make up for a lost year. In June, the hotel chain announced it would give away 365 days worth of "epic hotel experiences" at various IHG locations, including InterContinental, Kimpton and Holiday Inn Express.

With travel restrictions still in place, how do you plan?

Planning your make-up vacation isn't easy. A lot of travel restrictions remain in place and the most popular resorts are booked solid.

"Travelers have been building their bucket lists for the last year, and those wish lists are now rapidly translating to reservations," says Melody Bostic Brown, a spokeswoman for Wyndham Destinations. She says reservation volume is about three times higher than it was pre-pandemic.

"It's off the charts," she says.

Anne Scully, a partner at Embark Beyond, says you have to prioritize your makeup vacation. Which missed trip was the most important?

"The most wonderful thing I have noticed is that large families are traveling because they haven't seen each other for so long," she says. "Ranches and national parks are all heavily booked, and mountain destinations are also very popular."

In other words, find the vacation with the most meaning to you and book it. Also, work with a brand you trust and a travel adviser who knows their way around these uncertain times.

Make-up vacations are inevitable. What remains to be seen is how long this trend will last. After a surge in bookings, will things calm down, or will we continue booking vacations like there's no tomorrow? One thing is certain: Making up lost travel was never such an adventure.

Tips for the best make-up vacation

Cast a wide net for discounts. With many of the most popular places booked, this is a think-outside-the-box moment. For example, did you know that in East Africa, many safari camps are running up to 25% discounts for the 2021 summer months?

That's according to Marc Christensen, the operations manager at Brilliant Africa, a tour operator. "They're trying to win customers back after the pandemic," he says. Yes, there are still places where travelers can still find generous discounts for their make-up adventure.

Find special deals. Many travel companies offer special packages for subscribers of their email newsletter or members of their Facebook group. For example, Contiki has a members-only travel lounge on Facebook where members get exclusive access to tours. "Among the benefits of joining this group is getting first dibs on the limited spots available on Contiki's Europe trips departing this summer," says CEO Adam Armstrong.

Wait for it. The best make-up vacations happen when fares are low and the crowds are gone. "It's a 'zig when others are zagging' thing," explains frequent traveler Brandon Barron, who works for a timeshare exit company. "How huge crowds can negatively impact a vacation." Like a lot of other smart travelers, he's waiting until fall to start making up for his lost year. That's sound advice.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Vacation travel: How to make up for lost time after COVID pandemic