The Latest Holiday Travel Tips and Trends for Winter 2021 - My Family Travels

Eager to travel this season and wondering about the latest holiday travel tips and hacks? We got you covered.

There’s good and bad news on the travel horizon. According to the 2021 U.S. Family Travel Survey conducted by the Family Travel Association (FTA) in collaboration with the NYU School of Professional Studies, 88% of parents are likely to travel with their children in the next 12 months, although eight out of 10 say their travel plans changed because of the pandemic. In more good news for the travel industry, fall and winter travel by air and car are both expected to rise to near pre-pandemic levels. (The AAA predicts that train, bus and cruise travel will increase to 1.02 million travelers, almost triple 2020 levels but still 31% lower than 2019 levels.)

Young girl looking out the window of an airplane with face mask.
Holiday travel tips start with wearing masks on all public transportation and in crowded indoor settings.

In bad news for travelers, AAA is forecasting more than 53 million travelers over Thanksgiving alone, so America’s roads and skies will be busy.

“This Thanksgiving, travel will look a lot different than last year,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel. Therefore, ‘tis the season to plan ahead, be patient and follow the latest public health guidance.

Here’s six holiday travel tips and a quick guide to navigating the new-for-now travel “normal.”

Airports Will Be Busy Over the Holidays

Socially distanced self-help kiosks are a focus at the new LaGuardia Terminal B.
Socially distanced self-help kiosks are a focus at the new LaGuardia Terminal B.

Air travel is expected to rise to 95% of its pre-pandemic volume, according to AAA, to 4.2 million flyers up from just 2.3 million last year. This is due to a few factors.

One key factor is that Nov. 8, 2021, U.S. borders reopened to foreign visitors who are fully vaccinated with FDA approved or authorized and WHO Emergency Use Listing vaccines. Additionally, a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 is required from air travelers. This is big news! Munich Airport, for example, will increase from zero flights last spring to just under 100 flights weekly bound for the US, Canada and Mexico from mid-December onwards.

When traveling within the U.S., fully vaccinated travelers do not need a negative viral test or to self-quarantine. For international travel, refer to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance and your destination’s official tourism website for specific guidelines.

1. Holiday Travel Tips: Allow Plenty of Time at the Airport

Interestingly, in the 2021 U.S. Family Travel Survey, Dr. Lynn Minnaert, Clinical Associate Professor at the Tisch Center, noted that U.S. families “want clear communications from travel businesses: for example, while some families look for reassurance that health protocols are being followed, others want to know in advance if any amenities will be closed or have restricted access.” We are jumping into the perceived void of travel advice.

First tip: Keep your patience handy, you will need it.

An increase in the number of flyers means longer wait times at airports. Get ready for a layer of extra screening procedures to verify the vaccination status and ID of each traveler.

Holiday traffic through airport security is typically slow due to the number of travelers carrying wrapped gifts, foodstuffs and more. Picture families carrying COVID-19 home testing kits and hand sanitizers through X-Ray machines and imagine the delays. Experts recommend allowing two hours’ advance time for domestic flights and three hours for international flights.

Vaccinations and Boosters Increase Traveler Confidence

Lufthansa flight full of vaccinated travelers takes off from Munich Airport bound for the sunny climate of Miami in Southern Florida.
After nearly 20 months of travel bans due to the pandemic, a Lufthansa flight transports beach-goers from Munich Airport to Miami, Florida. Photo c. Flughafen Munchen

Other factors boosting holiday travel are the success of Covid-19 vaccines and new health and safety guidelines enforced by the federal government.

The rising vaccination rate around the U.S. and the world has been crucial to the resumption of all aspects of life. Most students ages 12-17 have returned to in person schooling and activities thanks to the vaccine.

The newly sanctioned children’s vaccine was recently made available. A one-third dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines is now readily available to ages 5-11 – even the American Museum of Natural History in New York is dispensing vaccines free of charge to visitors. When the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) recently surveyed parents with children under the age of 12, 41% said the availability of kids’ vaccines will make them more likely to travel.

Many grandparents are eligible for booster shots that prolong the protective power of the vaccines. As a result, the travel industry is beginning to see the light of prosperity at the end of a long, dark, financially troubled tunnel.

Scientists have determined that the remarkable efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccines keep the vast majority of travelers out of the hospital, even if infected. However, no parent wants to risk exposing their older or younger relatives to Covid-19 and its variants. And if someone does contract the illness while traveling, even if they’re asymptomatic and feeling fine, it may mean quarantine for your entire group. That’s why travel insurance is a must for anyone investing in a vacation or travel package.

2. Holiday Travel Tips: Practice the Latest Public Health Guidance

Multigenerational travelers go through Immigration and show proof of Covid vaccine at PUJ Punta Cana Airport.
Multigenerational travelers go through Immigration and show proof of Covid vaccine at PUJ Punta Cana Airport.

The CDC recently released its recommendations for holiday gatherings and related travel. The best way to minimize the risk of COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. However, mask usage indoors, social distancing and personal hygiene – the health safety measures we have practiced since the pandemic began – all play a crucial role.

Masks are required for everyone – regardless of vaccination status — on planes, buses, trains and other forms of public transportation. This federal mandate applies whether you’re traveling into, within, or out of the U.S. and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.

Road Trips Have Risen in Popularity

Despite gas costing over a dollar more per gallon than this time last year, AAA says 90% of those surveyed plan to travel over the Thanksgiving holiday by car. This figure is up 8.4% over 2020, the pandemic year which saw an unprecedented surge in road trip travel. It is the fastest year-over-year growth seen since the Great Depression.

Families especially like the privacy, affordability, and ease when everyone (increasingly with the family pet) packs into a car. We predict many families will plan a few extra days this year to enjoy holiday festivals and explore mini road trips on the way to and from a relative’s home.

3. Holiday Travel Tips: Follow Our Rules of the Road

Our long-standing rules of the road include carry your own snacks. Traveling with a cooler minimizes exposure to COVID-19 while dining, particularly as you travel through counties without mask mandates or vaccination requirements. Be extra cautious wearing masks in gas stations, truck stops and fast-food restaurants which are high contact areas catering to a variety of travelers from different regions.

If you’re renting a car, note that rental rates have increased 4% compared to last Thanksgiving, averaging $98 per day. Remember the sky-rocketing costs and limited availability of rental cars last summer? While the car rental shortage has subsided, it could return for the holidays. Book your rental car early and choose a refundable option. 

Traffic has certainly returned, and with a vengeance. Wednesday afternoon prior to Thanksgiving and Thursday afternoon prior to Christmas Eve are among the worst possible days to drive notes INRIX, a leader in connected car services and transportation analytics.

Expect heavy traffic over holiday weekends.

4. Holiday Travel Tips: Be Sure Your Vehicle is as Fit as You Are

Flat tire? Dead battery? Not sure how to install your daughter-in-law’s new-fangled car seat? In the U.S. alone, AAA expects to respond to over 400,000 calls for help over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Prevent a lot of issues by getting your vehicle inspected prior to departure. Check key components like the battery, fuel system, tires, brakes and fluid levels. If you, like us, have not been traveling often or very far afield, remember that these systems are particularly vulnerable to deterioration, especially without proper care or maintenance.

The ripple effects from rental car shortages mean fewer staff are working shorter hours. If you’re renting a vehicle, try to download a vehicle manual before you leave the rental station. If that’s not possible, ask the staff on-site for assistance with the wipers, headlights, oil change, battery location and other essentials that may be unfamiliar.

5. Holiday Travel Tips: Save on Airfare with Early Flight Booking

Plan, shop, bake, wrap, pack and smile are all important tasks this season but you must add booking early on your To Do List. Experts advise that flight prices, while nearly one quarter less than a year ago, are going up, up, up due to limited flight schedules and staff shortages.

It is possible to find a last-minute bargain, especially if you can fly on the holidays of November 25, December 25 or 31. Travel agents can also be very helpful at this time of year. If you’re DIY-ing the whole trip, be sure to pick up a telephone and call ahead to verify reservations made online.

Hotels are Reopening Yet Recovery is a Long Way Off

Holiday research by the AHLA reminds us that while business is picking up, only 29% of Americans surveyed say they’re likely to travel for Thanksgiving and up to one-third for Christmas holidays. Of those traveling, two out of three travelers will stay with family and friends instead of a hotel, vacation rental, boat or other.

Tremendous losses during the pandemic, costly hygiene and sanitation upgrades, limited capacity, staff shortages and supply chain issues have contributed to pushing mid-range hotel prices up 39% over fall 2020. Airbnb rentals and yacht charters carry a premium over the holidays as well, so the best advice is to plan ahead.

6. Holiday Travel Tips: Strategies to Save and Be Safe in Hotel & Lodging

Hotel bookers may benefit by using their hotel loyalty points and rewards certificates now, as many of the major chains have announced big changes in redemption rules for 2022. New rules are based on the dynamic pricing software the airlines have been using to charge people different fares based on when tickets are purchased, the flight’s load factor and anticipated demand. Expect the holidays to charge premium redemption rates.

Hotels have done a great job keeping guests safe. We have examined hotels’ public health precautions and AAA is also on the case. As part of their Diamond rating system, AAA enhanced its housekeeping evaluation to include objective, scientific validation of the cleanliness of common surfaces throughout hotels. Hotels that meet these new criteria can be found here.

Please keep the latest holiday travel tips in mind as you plan your winter family adventures and return home healthy, happy and hopeful for the New Year.

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