The annual barrage of destination lists filled with tips on where to go in 2022 is here. We’re travelers, so we love those things. When we’re not inspired by them, we love to argue with their picks and ogle the pretty pictures.
But we are where we are: in a pandemic in the midst of a wave of infections from a dangerously transmissible variant. We’re all tired of Covid’s looming presence and effect on every aspect of life, but it’s no good pretending things are back to normal. A destination list is of no use if you can’t get there — or if you’re being irresponsible in doing so.
Instead of creating our own list, or giving advice on what to do to get past the various and shifting COVID requirements of different destinations, we offer our thoughts on how to approach travel in a year of deep uncertainty.
Obviously, we’re going to tell you to take a domestic trip, so yeah, do that.
Try somewhere within a day’s drive, somewhere self-contained and self-catered. There will be moments for long-distance flights to other parts of the world, but today is not that day. Plus, it’s our raison d’être to remind people how fascinating the US is for travelers. Whether you’re looking for food, history, nature, adventure, sports, or the International Banana Museum, we’ve got it all. Don’t think of this travel as a substitute for the trip you actually want to take — one place can never be a perfect stand-in for another — but as a chance to see something genuinely cool and journey-worthy that you might not have seen otherwise.
Put a trip on the calendar, but not the big dream trip.
Maybe things will look great for travel in the Summer! Or maybe they won’t! It’s probably not the year to put all of your hopes and dreams into one big trip. Getting a trip on the calendar is still a good plan. Having something to look forward to is a great way to lift your pandemic-sagged spirits. And short trips — in distance or duration — can be as satisfying as the biggies. Research backs us up on this: the main effects of a vacation on your health and wellness come from experiences, not from the length of your trip.
Finally take the time to explore that town you always drive through on the way to somewhere else.
A lot of those towns you blow by on the freeway today were more bustling back when transportation was different, in the days when cars got fewer miles per gallon and more people traveled by train. Those little one-time hotspots continue to be interesting in their own right if you give them a chance. The lodging is cheaper, the demand is lower, and if you’re trying to minimize your exposure to crowds, well, why go where the crowds are? Plus, you get to learn about a new place.
Risk tolerances will vary. Take other people into consideration.
As the LA Times’ Matt Pearce recently tweeted: “Everyone taking masking less serious than me is a maniac putting us all at risk and everyone taking masking more serious than me is a threat to our proud social fabric.” Point being, your risk tolerance is just that: yours. Keep in mind that some people are very concerned for their own safety and the safety of their kids and loved ones, while others are ready to jump aboard a maskless Bikram yoga cruise. Wherever you are on that spectrum, don’t forget that others around you might see things differently.
Check before you book and before you travel to see if locals really want you to come.
In 2021, Hawai‘i experienced a spike in infections, an overwhelming crush of mainland tourists, and a labor shortage all at once. The Governor asked people to stay home. Travelers, by and large, did not. If you’re still thinking, “But I really want to go there!!” we’d suggest getting a bit more context by reading this Afar story on Hawaii by Chris Colin. Headline: “Hawai‘i Is Not Our Playground.” This isn’t just a Hawaii issue. Wherever you’re wanting to go, if the locals say no, make new plans.
Expect labor shortages, and understand that might affect you. Tip service workers generously.
It might take longer for your food to arrive or for your vacation rental to be ready. Everyone is doing the best they can under less-than-ideal circumstances.
Speaking of service workers, order takeout.
New Yorkers had this dialed in well before the pandemic, with that pile of menus on top of the microwave. That new place you’ve been wanting to try will pack your food to go, and some places have the reheating instructions right there in the bag. Tip delivery folks well, too, if you go that route.
Step away from the savior complex. It’s just a trip.
If your goal is to help the local people of a destination thrive, find an organization that supports those in need — including when you’re not there in person. Yes, travel is a huge industry and it supports a lot of people, but don’t fool yourself that you’re saving a place by visiting, or that tourism is necessarily a net good even in non-Covid times. Travel economies are complex, and your presence as a traveler can both benefit and endanger the people and the place. You already know this.
Staying home is always an option.
Look, we’re a travel-focused site, but we’re not travel promoters. Exploring America is a wonderful thing to do, but not at the expense of your safety or the safety of others. If travel is going to ratchet up your anxiety, or if it just doesn’t seem advisable to do, that’s okay! Now’s a great time to catch up on your movie-watching, your book-reading, or, if you really need to see the world, your Google Street View explorations (if you need inspiration, try finding a random city using Earth Roulette). And if you’re struggling to find an excuse to say no to travel, The Onion has you covered: What To Say If You’re Not Comfortable Traveling During Covid-19.
This too shall pass. We’ll meet you for breakfast tacos when it does.
– Andy, Pam & Doug