Here's what you need to know about travel this summer: You'll pay more, worry more, and you might even take a detour or two. But nothing, and I mean nothing, will stop you from taking a vacation.
Nearly three-quarters of American consumers (73%) say they feel "positive" about travel, and more than half (51%) expect to do more domestic leisure travel this year, according to a poll by CarTrawler.com. Practically speaking, that means 73% of Americans will fly somewhere by June, according to a survey by TripIt from Concur. Sixty percent will take a road trip. (There's some overlap because some will do both.)
A defiant 41% of Americans in a poll by World Nomads say nothing will stop them from going – not war, not inflation, not COVID-19. Nothing.
"But the focus for these trips has changed substantially," says Jon Whitby, general manager of marketing for World Nomads. "Travelers have shifted from reconnection with family and friends to exploration and relaxing."
Yeah, this summer will be an interesting time to travel.
"Easing pandemic restrictions has unleashed two years of pent-up travel desire," says Damian Tysdal, founder of the travel insurance site CoverTrip.com. "At the same time, restrictions are not easing uniformly across the board. This will lead to a lot of excited but confused travelers trying to figure out how to manage their trip."
Here's how to deal with the excitement and confusion:
It's not the same old travel industry
COVID-19 changed travel forever. Experts are concerned that travelers will forget the past two years.
"My concern is that many travelers will have expectations that travel will be normal – as in pre-COVID normal," says Lisa Pagotto, director of Crooked Compass, a tour operator. "It's important to remember that many hotels, tour operators and transportation companies have not operated at full capacity for some time."
That means services may be slower while new staff gets up to speed. Hotels may offer reduced services, such as housekeeping and meals. You may still see health and safety protocols, such as mandatory masking and social distancing.
Be prepared to pay more
"Rising airfare costs are top of mind," says Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com.
He says the key is to book early. According to CheapAir.com's 2022 Airfare Study, the least expensive day of the week to take a flight is Wednesday, and the most economical month to fly is August. So there's still time.
Jen Moyse, vice president of product for TripIt, predicts inflation and higher gas prices will push travel costs up this summer.
"Put aside a little extra money," she advises. "It can help you avoid negative and stressful financial situations before or after the trip."
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Gas prices will lead to detours, but not cancellations
Fuel prices have hit record highs in the USA, but instead of nudging Americans into canceling their summer vacations, those prices just cause travelers to modify their plans.
"People will modify their trips," predicts Jessica O'Riley, a spokeswoman for Travel Iowa. "Maybe they won't travel as far or as frequently. Or they'll make trade-offs to compensate for higher gas prices, perhaps spending less on dining or staying with family and friends rather than in a hotel."
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But they will still go. Road trips to Iowa are up nearly 15% from 2019, the last pre-pandemic year. Iowa had the second-highest road trip recovery rate in the country this winter.
"I think people still see travel as a birthright, and they'll make the necessary trade-offs to take the trips they feel they've missed the last two years," O'Riley says.
You'll worry a lot
A survey by the travel insurance company Seven Corners found that Americans will spend a lot of time worrying about travel.
What are they concerned with? Almost half of Americans (49%) planning to travel within the USA listed cost as their top concern. Other fears include getting stuck in another country if they test positive for the coronavirus (13% of international travelers) and the difficulties of keeping up with and following testing requirements (9%).
Worrying goes with the territory. Although there's no way to remove the risk of travel – after all, isn't that what makes it exciting? – you can hedge your bets.
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Angela Borden, a product marketing strategist with Seven Corners, says many travel insurance policies include COVID-19 coverage and can help with expenses related to medical care. If you're a real scaredy-cat, you can pay extra for a "cancel for any reason" policy, which lets you cancel your vacation and recover 50% to 75% of your prepaid nonrefundable costs.
"With 'cancel for any reason' travel insurance, you can cancel your trip because of financial hardship, fear of travel due to COVID, hostilities at your destination or just about anything else you wish," Borden says.
Europe is problematic
Before COVID-19, Europe was one of the top destinations for American summer travelers. This year, Omar Kaywan, co-founder of the insurance app Goose Insurance, says he expects Europe won't be as popular.
"Even though a lot of travel restrictions are being lifted and we are expecting a busy travel season in 2022, the conflict in Eastern Europe has created some concerns for travelers," he says.
Other observers agree that Europe is a problematic destination.
"A primary concern about summer travel this year is the uncertainty surrounding the ongoing war in Ukraine and how it might impact travel plans to Europe," says Mike Hallman, CEO of Medjet.
Most major European tourism destinations are far away from the conflict. (TV reports aren't always great at putting wars into a meaningful geographic context.) Hallman says travelers to Europe should stay up to date on State Department travel advisories and register for the State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, a free service that notifies travelers if something goes seriously wrong at their destination.
How to save on a last-minute trip
It might seem like this is the summer to stay home, but that might be a mistake. If you're flexible with your vacation dates, avoiding the busiest times such as Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, you can find reasonable flights, hotel rooms and vacation rentals.
Christie Hudson, a spokeswoman for Expedia, suggests saving money by bundling your flight, car and hotel. Many online travel agencies offer package deals. On Expedia, she says, travelers save an average of $600 when they bundle.
Flexibility can help you score a lower rate on a vacation rental. Demand for Vrbo properties typically drops after the height of the summer travel season. If you have flexible travel dates, look for vacation homes in late August or September, when the competition is less fierce and prices are typically lower.
Have a great summer vacation
Chances are you'll go somewhere this summer, even if you're not entirely comfortable with the idea. You're more likely to get insurance, and if you play your cards right, you might even end up with a deal.
You'll be in good company. Internal data from tour operator smarTours suggests two-thirds of Americans will plan a vacation, which is in line with other surveys of travelers. The world won't quite be their oyster, though.
"Travelers do not feel safe going to Eastern Europe this year," notes Christine Petersen, CEO of smarTours, "Only 6% of surveyed travelers said they felt safe visiting this region."
Summer travel will be more expensive and worrisome, and you might have to select another destination. But cancel? Not this year.
Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Summer travel 2022: Here's what to expect from your summer vacation