- The 2022 international travel outlook is rosier than ever during the Covid era, according to travel experts.
- Consumer confidence is rising as Covid vaccination rates increase and countries ease restrictions for American tourists.
- Travel abroad isn't yet risk-free, however. Americans should take some extra steps to protect themselves financially.
Iceland has been a focal point of my wanderlust for the better part of two years.
The country is a dreamscape of natural beauty: the black sands of Reynisfjara, towering icebergs of the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and the steep, jagged peaks of Vestrahorn.
I was forced to shelve a meticulously planned trip there in 2020, like so many other globetrotters who set aside excursions during the Covid pandemic. Since then, I've wondered: When will an adventure overseas be feasible again?
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The 2022 outlook for travel abroad is rosier than ever, especially for Americans booking trips in the summer or later, according to travel experts. But they should expect to do more advance planning and remain flexible.
"Since March 2020, there hasn't been a time as promising as it is now," Sebastian Modak, editor-at-large of Lonely Planet and the New York Times 52 Places Traveler in 2019, said of travel overseas.
"It really comes down to the traveler's own threshold for risk and comfort for things maybe going a little bit awry," he added.
The year to 'go big'
A large share —about 37% — of U.S. travelers are planning both international and domestic trips next year, according to an upcoming Expedia report on 2022 travel trends.
After almost two years of pent-up wanderlust, more than two-thirds of American travelers plan to "go big" on their next getaway — whether that be taking a once-in-a-lifetime trip abroad or upgrading to a luxury hotel, according to the report.
Though domestic-only travel plans remain most popular, appealing to 59% of U.S. travelers, interest in overseas destinations is climbing.
G Adventures, which offers guided group trips around the world, has seen overseas bookings jump nearly 35% so far in November versus the same period in 2019. The company is seeing "big demand" for trips to Peru, Costa Rica and Morocco, according to Benjamin Perlo, the company's U.S. managing director.
Flight searches to major European cities have also grown significantly in a short time span — by 65% from Los Angeles to London and 110% from New York to Paris, for example, between September and October, according to Expedia data.
Warm-weather hotspots close to the U.S., like the Riviera Maya, Cancun, Isla Mujeres and Punta Cana have been most popular overall for American tourists traveling in early 2022, according to Expedia.
"I think 2022 will be the year of going big and having some of those bucket-list moments," Christie Hudson, a travel expert at Expedia, said.
'A great tailwind'
There are many reasons for consumer optimism. For one, Covid vaccination rates are climbing, meaning Americans can travel with a relative degree of safety.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends vaccination before traveling internationally, authorized shots for children ages 5 to 11 in early November, making family trips more feasible.
Further, travel restrictions are easing. Many countries have re-opened their borders to Americans and dropped policies like mandatory quarantine periods. New Zealand, which has had one of the longest Covid-era bans on tourism, said Wednesday it would open its borders to vaccinated non-citizens starting April 30.
(Testing requirements are still widespread even for vaccinated tourists. Travelers can find country-specific requirements at the U.S. State Department website.)
The U.S. lifted its travel ban on most non-citizens on Nov. 8. That's likely also inspired more Americans to venture abroad — the share who reported avoiding international travel hit a pandemic-era low in mid-November, at 55%, according to Destination Analysts.
"I've been in tourism research for almost two decades, and [the desire to travel] seems incredibly strong right now — the strongest I feel like I've ever seen," said Erin Francis-Cummings, president and CEO of Destination Analysts.
"I think that's a great tailwind going into 2022 for all types of travel," she added. "People seem more open to new experiences or going back to international travel."
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And there may be deals for those who book a trip, experts said. For example, the average price of a round-trip international flight is 35% below 2019 costs, according to a joint annual report published by Expedia and the Airlines Reporting Corporation in October.
Of course, the health situation can change rapidly and disrupt plans. A new Covid variant detected in South Africa has several mutations that could make it more transmissible or capable of evading vaccine protections, though scientists cautioned more data is needed to make an assessment.
A new wave of Covid infections in Europe pushed Austria to go into lockdown on Monday; Germany may soon do the same.
Some countries have remain closed to American tourists or have yet to drop strict health policies.
That's especially true for Asian countries, travel experts said. China, for example, requires Americans to quarantine for at least 14 days at a government-selected facility. Japan isn't allowing any tourism travel.
Some travel companies are still erring on the side of U.S. travel. Fodor's Travel, for example, limited its annual Go List to domestic locations in 2022 due to uncertainties around travel abroad, though it added a measure of optimism.
"Like many of you, we're still jonesing for international travel," Fodor's wrote. "And traveling abroad may still be in the cards for the intrepid.
"If you can travel there safely and responsibly, do it — go anywhere in the world," it added.
Safeguards and flexibility
Travelers should take certain precautions, largely in the interest of safeguarding against financial losses.
Experts recommend travel insurance, which refunds trip costs in the event of a trip cancellation or other unforeseen circumstance.
There are different types of policies, however. A "cancel for any reason" policy is generally the only one that lets travelers recoup funds if they cancel a trip for a Covid-related reason, experts said. (Most basic policies don't cover that eventuality.)
Even "cancel for any reason" options may not offer a full refund, though, and insurers may require travelers to cancel a day or two ahead of one's trip. It's important to understand a policy's specific conditions before buying.
Travelers should also weigh airfare and hotel options that allow for refunds, travel credits or changes, even if those options cost a little more, experts said.
"I think you can feel comfortable booking that October trip to Egypt if you have the insurance in place and maybe booked a flexible flight with airlines," Modak said. "Make sure you have the contingency where if things get tough in Egypt, you can book the flight for May 2023 without suffering any financial cost."
Many companies have retained extra flexibility relative to their pre-pandemic policies.
G Adventures, for example, lets customers rebook a trip or get a full travel credit if they cancel up to 14 days prior to departure. (Previously, there was a 60-day threshold.) That policy will remain in place for 2022 trips booked by March 31.
"Those options for any company pre-Covid were not really there," Perlo said.
It's also important to have a "just in case" budget, Modak said. For example, if a traveler gets Covid abroad and must quarantine before returning to the U.S., how much money might they need to cover an extra week or two of costs?
Importantly, travelers should approach a trip abroad with personal flexibility and empathy. Recognize that certain activities may be limited or unavailable. A city with legendary nightlife may be tamer than expected if bars and restaurants close earlier than expected during the Covid era, for example. Travelers may need to pivot, and should do ample research on a destination ahead of time.
Further, not all countries or their citizens have had equal access to vaccines, making the respect of mask mandates and other local rules of utmost importance.
"It's still a strange time to travel," Modak said. "Bring a level of patience and grace to the travel experience."
(Correction: An earlier version of this story listed the wrong country for Punta Cana.)