Iceland and Greece are open. France says they’ll open this summer, and this was backed up by the European Union. Spain says they’re testing things in May and expect to welcome the world starting in June.
Your destination options are no longer limited to domestic and nearer international like Mexico and parts of Central and South America. Most of Asia is likely to remain largely off-limits, even as Thailand tests welcoming vaccinated visitors to Phuket in July followed by more tourist destinations in October, subject to change.
So where should you go, how should you book, and what should you expect?
Where Should You Go First?
I think the starting point is what kind of trip are you looking to have? Is it to explore cities in a new or different place, or relax at a beach, or some combination (do both)?
Most places that are generally open to vaccinated Americans aren’t going to be particularly weird or dystopian. The Maldives is the same as it ever was, so are the Seychelles, everything is done outdoors anyway (the Maldives is even looking to offer vaccines-on-arrival, they’ve already vaccinated 90% of tourism workers).
Greece and Iceland are already open. I’d bet three months from now even France is pretty normal, but I’ve made predictions during the pandemic that haven’t borne out. For instance I thought Australia might open this fall and it doesn’t appear greater than 50% likely now for 2021.
If you’re waiting to travel long distances until you no longer need to wear a mask, you could be waiting awhile. I have to think the Biden administration extends its mask mandate until ready to the policy’s removal as a symbol of declaring victory against Covid-19. I don’t know when that comes other than it’s sometime between now and the 2022 midterm elections.
Make Sure You’re Eligible To Enter Connecting Cities
If you have to connect to get where you’re going, where you connect matters.
- you want to be permitted to enter the country you’re connecting in, in case there’s a maintenance delay or flight cancellation
- you wouldn’t want to be stuck in an airport overnight in a city where you can’t leave the airport.
Be Prepared For Travel Disruptions
Travel this year needs to factor that conditions on the ground could change that makes it difficult to leave wherever you’re at, or for that matter that you test positive when taking the mandatory covid test for flying back to the U.S.
The U.S. will accept any antigen test from anywhere in the world (false positives!), will exempt those recovered from Covid-19 in the past 3 months, but still requires testing for the vaccinated. It’s odd to privilege immunity from natural infection over immunity from vaccination.
Any booking you make, I believe, should be fully cancellable – and I don’t mean paid travel with airlines offering tickets without change fees, I don’t like giving them my money on the assumption I can use it later.
American AAdvantage for instance no longer has cancellation/mileage redeposit fees. You can always cancel a trip booked with their miles without penalty. And make cancellable hotel bookings. Then you can wait and see how this all develops, have something to look forward to, and let circumstances as they develop dictate whether or not you actually go versus putting off to next year.
Things Should Get Progressively Better
To be clear: many of you wouldn’t enjoy Greece today, the country remains under a lockdown of sorts even as it welcomes tourists. That’s going to change. Tourism season begins in earnest around June 1, and they’ll be welcoming folks from most countries in the world by then.
Restrictions just aren’t going to be possible to maintain for locals when foreigners can largely come and go. My bet is that Greece will be a mostly normal place this summer, Like all such predictions, that’s presuming things don’t go sideways again with the pandemic. But come summer they’ll be further along with vaccination, and a lot of life is outdoors. Athens is worth a couple of days if you haven’t been, and the islands are stunning.
Things won’t play out evenly across Europe though. I’m not sure we can expect ‘full normal’ in the UK. Their politics are far from my specialty, but while they’ve been promoting June 21 as the date when people can return to normal life I’m not sure all restrictions (up to and including masks on public transport) will be lifted at that time.
I think you decide what your minimum level of normal is and make bookings that are flexible, so that you can cancel if circumstances on the ground change. Although I do think Greece is outdoors enough that it may be the best summer European bet for normal that combines beaches, bars, and history.