What to Expect While Traveling for the Holidays This Year

Here, discover an expert's tips to make seasonal travel easier and safer.

After more than a year of scaling back the guest list at family events, major holidays, and milestone celebrations—and with the new availability of COVID-19 vaccines for children as young as five—you can expect an increase in the number of holiday travelers sharing the airport with you this year. "I don't think crowds will be back to pre-pandemic level just yet," says travel agent Diane Sherer of Beyond Travel, "but people are definitely traveling!"

If you're thinking about planning a holiday getaway, the time to start is now. Here, Sherer shares her three top tips for beating the rush this season.

red suitcases next to christmas tree in airport
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Book early.

While it's tempting to wait until closer to your travel dates to firm up plans, Sherer recommends buying flights and reserving hotels as soon as possible to guarantee your spot. "Holiday travel is picking up," she says. "My advice? Book now! It's better to have something on the books than be scrambling for something in December." Just make sure you read the cancellation policies—whether you end up facing a last-minute quarantine, unexpected bad weather, or a spike in COVID-19 cases in your destination city. "Hotels are offering very generous cancellation policies, even at the holidays," says Sherer. "They seem to run anywhere from 30 days to 72 hours depending on the property. Airlines are still mostly offering credits for cancelled flights, as opposed to refunds. I always suggest purchasing travel insurance to make sure you're covered in case of a cancellation."

Plan ahead.

When choosing your destination, you should also research entry requirements and public health guidelines that might differ from those in your hometown. What's the policy on masking at your hotel? Do your theater tickets require a vaccination card? Will you need to show proof of a negative COVID test to attend any of your scheduled activities? "There are different entry requirements and COVID restrictions for each destination," says Sherer. If you're feeling overwhelmed, enlist a professional to help you weed through all the dos and don'ts—especially if you plan to travel internationally. "A travel advisor can help walk you through everything from pre-travel testing to Passenger Locator Forms to testing at your destination for return to the United States," says Sherer.

Get creative.

Booking your favorite hotel for two weeks over the holidays may feel like a welcome return to normalcy, but many properties are still taking precautions, says Sherer. "You can expect to find all hotel and restaurant employees masked, as well as hand sanitizer throughout—more specific restrictions will depend on the property. [But] if you're comfortable traveling now, and especially if you are vaccinated, there are a lot of options open to you!" If you prefer keeping to your bubble, invite your vaccinated and tested friends and family to share a private residence, where you can minimize your exposure while maximizing your downtime. "Renting a villa is a great way to connect with family," says Sherer. "You have the privacy of being at home, but can have a full staff included so you're not spending your time cooking, cleaning, and doing dishes!"

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