The arrival of summer has marked a new chapter in the pandemic. Many Americans are fully vaccinated. Testing and quarantine requirements, stateside and abroad, have continued to ease. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just relaxed its travel guidelines for over 100 destinations around the world.
Many travelers are taking advantage of this newfound mobility, by reuniting with family and friends, returning to old haunts, and finally booking those landmark trips we’ve spent over a year wistfully dreaming of. Summer travel, suffice to say, looks profoundly different that it did last year.
But as many parts of the world remain in the throes of the pandemic, and regions in the U.S. proceed with caution toward a new normal, travel still brings a great deal of uncertainty—from fluctuating flight schedules, to varied reopening timelines, and the many travel requirements and guidelines still in place.
Consider this your guide to all of that and more. Below, we’ve gathered our coverage on all things COVID-19 and travel, from a list of countries that are open to vaccinated Americans, to a look at how cruise ships are using this time to redesign interiors—plus, we solve your travel dilemmas in our Ethical Traveler column (our latest, covering what flight attendants wish you knew about flying right now) so you can move through the world as mindfully as ever.
This article has been updated with new information since its original publish date.
We’re tracking how countries around the world are reopening to American travelers—and what their entry requirements are—from the Caribbean and Central and South America, to Europe. We also have an entire guide to Mexico’s travel guidelines, broken down by region.
A few trends are clear: As vaccination rates increase, many destinations are moving beyond negative COVID-19 test and quarantine requirements, and giving travelers the option to show proof of full vaccination (reaching the two-week mark after receiving a final vaccine dose). To no surprise, vaccine passports, which generated a lot of discussion earlier in the year, are being implemented—throughout the European Union (EU) with the Digital Green Certificate, and in New York City with the optional Excelsior Pass, to name a couple. On the flip side, some destinations are offering COVID vaccines to visitors, as part of larger tourism pushes (not that you needed another reason to visit the Maldives)—though there are a few things to think through before you fly for a shot.
Throughout these destinations, popular experiences have returned. California’s theme parks, including Disneyland, are now open, with reduced capacity and reservations required. Group tours, in the U.S. and abroad, are taking bookings again—in fact, many are selling out. Exciting, new businesses are opening their doors as well. (We’ve rounded up our favorite new hotels, restaurants, and more as part of our annual Hot List.)
Where to go this summer
When you’re ready to hit the road, we’ve got tips on where to start. If you’re sticking local for the time being, consider heading to a nearby watering hole or drive-in movie theater, or try learning how to rollerskate at your nearest park. You can also cool off at a hotel pool without splurging on a full staycation—just purchase a day pass. Even a short weekend getaway from the big city can feel like a grand adventure after the past year.
If the pandemic saw you spending more time outdoors, know that the world only gets bigger from here. Consider trying backpacking for a weekend, or dipping a toe in rock climbing on a via ferrata course, as there are now a number of them in the U.S. Of course, we’re as excited as ever to explore the country’s best state parks, which promise the national park experience, without the crowds. If you do have a national park trip in the works, note that many have reopened, but some of the most popular, including Maine’s Acadia and Utah’s Zion, are requiring reservations.
For those traveling with kids, we’ve got ideas specifically for you, too. Take advice from the experts and plan a family camping trip, or get comfortable at a family-friendly Hawaiian resort. Our list of the 20 best family trips to take this summer has itinerary ideas for summer visits to Monterey and Cape Cod and, if you’re ready to use your passport again, further-flung spots like Costa Rica and Jamaica. (Just remember: If you are traveling with children who aren’t vaccinated, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind when choosing a destination.)
And if that return-to-office date is still months away, consider taking advantage of the freedom and working remotely from another country. A number of destinations have remote work visas that allow Americans to stick around for up to a year. Our complete guide to working from anywhere also has tips on bringing school-age children with you, the gear you need to work on the road, and what those who have worked remotely—by choice—have learned.
For more summer activity ideas, check out our list of 101 ways to have fun this summer.
Air travel right now
Airports are bustling once again, which means travelers are starting to use credits saved from last year. And good thing, since airline vouchers do have expiration dates.
If you are taking to the skies this summer—or planning a trip for later this year—know that cheaper pandemic airfares are already starting to climb (we have some predictions on exactly how long they’ll last). Luckily, nearly all U.S. airlines have gotten rid of change fees for good, which has expanded to international flights. But not all airline policies are created equal. We’ve outlined the best and worst airlines for change fees here, to help you keep track.
There are still some pandemic-era pains when it comes to actually flying, too. Flights are continuing to be rescheduled on travelers, so make sure you know what you’re owed if and when that happens. Airports are also crowded, and check-in lines are long, meaning you’ll need to allow extra time when arriving to the airport. After a year of social distancing, the experience of being in a busy airport can be overwhelming for many travelers.
If you haven’t been on a plane in a while, we’ve got a primer of everything else to expect while flying this summer.
What hotel stays look like
As travel picks up, hotels are getting busier, too. There are a number of exciting new openings, in every part of the world, ready for summer guests. You can expect safety measures like indoor mask requirements and extra sanitization to continue in many hotels for some time—loyalty perks also remain more flexible than ever—though, hopefully, the experience will be a little more comfortable than last summer, thanks to the peace of mind that the vaccination rollout has provided.
Some hotels are offering fantastic “work-from-hotel” packages, if you want to extend your trip into the work week. Or, if you’re looking for a rental—either to pack in more family members, or just stick around for a bit longer, consider using your points at a Marriott Homes and Villas rental (particularly if you racked up Marriott Bonvoy points, which can now be earned on Uber Eats purchases, during lockdown). As you do travel to hotels, businesses that have struggled without guests over the past year, consider stays that have the greatest positive impact on the local community.
A number of cruise lines plan to restart operations this summer, beginning at the end of June. And cruise-lovers are excited: After a year of no cruising, per CDC restrictions, upcoming itineraries are looking better than ever and ships have received major makeovers. Of course, getting on these sailings will require testing and proof of vaccination, among other things. Some travelers are choosing to charter private yachts and sail boats before returning to larger ships.
What to pack
Even as mask guidelines relax stateside, we’re still packing face masks and hand sanitizer wherever we go. Some travelers feel more comfortable with a face shield (Traveler digital director Stephanie Wu swears by this one).
Updating travel documents
Passport renewal services have resumed, but prepare for potential delays. Here’s what to know if your passport expires any time within the next year. (Plus, why a growing number of Americans are looking for second passports.) As of late July, New Yorkers can enroll in Global Entry again. And the deadline to apply for Real ID, a new federally approved identification all Americans will soon need for domestic travel, has been extended.
Ways to travel while you’re at home
Many travelers are excited to fly the coop the minute they’re fully vaccinated—some of us need a little more time to ease back in. Good thing last year taught us how to stoke our love of travel right at home, through virtual events, movies, and food, among other things. If you find yourself in the latter category, take advantage of virtual Airbnb experiences, or add a few foreign language TV shows to your Netflix queue. And hey, working your way through our favorite international recipes (there are a whopping 51 of them on our list) will keep you busy.
Plus, how to support small businesses
Watching our favorite travel brands suffer has been one of the many pains of the pandemic. There are a range of ways to support your favorite hotels, restaurants, and operators in addition to booking travel—keep purchasing gift cards or services in advance, and consider this yourself excused to continue shopping hotel and restaurant merch.
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