Why I’m Only Planning Last Minute Summer Travel

Filed Under: Travel

While I’ve long been a fan of last minute travel planning, in the coming weeks and months I’ll be planning any trips I take even more last minute than before, and in this post I wanted to take a closer look at why.

The types of places I’d consider traveling

We’re seeing more and more countries outline plans to once again welcome tourists. As you’d expect, not all plans are equally well thought out — some countries are doing widespread testing and contact tracing, while other countries hope prayers are the answer.

As we learn more about how countries plan to open to tourists, I’m increasingly considering various options for summer travel. I think that soon enough it’s reasonable to travel again, if taking the right precautions. As I view it, this includes only traveling to places:

  • That are actively welcoming tourists
  • That have a good track record for containing COVID-19
  • Where testing is possible and encouraged (or ideally mandatory)
  • Where social distancing is easy, meaning traveling to places with a focus on the outdoors

Why my travel planning will be very last minute

I’m leaning towards going to Iceland when the country opens in mid-June, but I haven’t actually booked anything. As a matter of fact, I plan on waiting as long as possible, both for planning this, and for planning anything else that may come up. Why?

Rules are constantly changing

Quite a few countries plan to open to tourists in the next couple of weeks, but despite that haven’t actually published finalized details about who is and isn’t allowed to visit, as well as the precautions that will be taken.

Even though Iceland is working hard to get organized for welcoming tourists as of June 15, there are still some important questions:

In the case of Greece, we saw the country outline one plan for welcoming tourists this past Friday, and then a completely different plan on Saturday.

I only want to commit to a trip when I fully know what I’m getting myself into, and this applies here as well.

We’ll have more information as time goes on

One of the biggest challenges with the current pandemic as it relates to travel is the information disadvantage we’re at. That’s another reason I only want to plan last minute:

  • We don’t know how this pandemic will evolve, if cases will spike again, or what
  • In general I feel most comfortable traveling somewhere shortly after they open to tourists, rather than several weeks later, since we don’t really have a sense of how problematic travel will be; for example, I’d feel safer going to Greece on June 15 than on August 15, based on what we know as of now
  • If I’m not going to go right when a country opens, then I want to be able to hear the experiences of those who have gone, get a sense of what COVID-19 cases are looking like at that destination, etc.
  • We’re starting to see some airports make COVID-19 tests readily available, and if visiting multiple destinations planning around that could make a lot of sense

Planning travel is kind of annoying

Generally speaking a lot of the enjoyment we get out of travel comes from the process of actually planning it. I’d argue that’s not really the case right now.

While many travel brands have generous booking policies at the moment, I’d argue that planning travel in advance at the moment is kind of annoying:

  • Expect to see lots of airline schedule changes, as airlines continue to optimize their schedules
  • In situations where you need to contact a travel brand and can’t self-service your booking online, expect really long hold times
  • We’ve seen all kinds of airlines and hotel brands play games when it comes to refunds, and you probably don’t want to essentially be giving a long-term loan to an airline or hotel

Miles are ideal for this kind of travel

Ordinarily planning last minute travel would be costly, though the way I view it this is the beauty of miles and points:

  • There’s lots of award availability on many flights this summer, and often the best time to redeem miles is just a couple of days before departure
  • In general hotels are pretty readily available, given that we’ll ultimately still see a huge reduction in the number of travelers, while in many destinations hotels will be operating at normal levels
  • When redeeming points for flights and hotel stays you’re generally not tying up any cash, and you’re less likely to have issues getting a refund

Bottom line

While I’m optimistic that responsible travel will make a significant return in the coming weeks, personally I’m waiting as long as possible to actually book anything. Rules are constantly evolving, and I think there’s significant value in being able to make a split-second decision about your comfort level going somewhere.

While planning summer travel last minute can usually be challenging, I don’t see that being the case this summer. Miles are perfect for last minute travel planning, and I’m also largely finding hotels to have lots of points availability.

Now, let me be clear — none of this is stopping me from generally mapping out what I’m considering. I’m just not booking anything yet.

If you’re intending any travel this summer, what’s your approach to planning it?

  1. We have planned a road trip to Yellowstone end of June through early July. 10 nights in a cabin just outside the park. I’m going. If it gets too full, too crazy, too many people, I’ll just sit on the deck and enjoy the serenity of nature. Certainly different setting from large town California.

  2. @Kevin National parks are going to be twice the zoo they normally are in the summer. Good luck.

  3. @Rico I was at Mr. Rushmore on May 19 and I had the thing to myself. Parking was free and there were probably less than 50 cars there.

  4. Mexico planned for July 4th. Used miles and booked Hilton – both are cancelable up to the day before. Will cancel if covid conditions change, I get sick, or even if the weather is looking crappy. My only worry is NOT going.

  5. Finished up most of the 50 states last two months, doing domestic stuff for June (I’m trying to do every non-stop route out of my home airport, so, lots of 2 day trips and stuff for In-N-Out burger and what not.

    Zip up to Alaska for a couple days.

    Hitting airport hot spots like: ONT, BUR, EUG, RDM, JNU… All the big ones :p

    Then in July, going full turbo for the next 11 months.
    40+ Countries, with two full circuits around the world starting early August to June 2021.

    Already talking to Finance about doing it again 2021-2022, another 9 months around the world.

    So, in short, all 2020 is mapped out, traveling every week.
    Most of 2021 is mapped out
    2022 is coming together.

    Never thought it would be this much work to see all the countries of the world, but, it’s like a full time job!

    Going 10000% full throttle right now, booking flights as fast as I can.
    Points balances are getting pretty low, but, whatever, that’s what they’re for!!

  6. You list four criteria for choosing places to which you might travel. I think you are missing the most important criteria:

    That location’s ability to manage a COVID19 outbreak – that your arrival might initiate.

    Your other criteria tend to be more self-centered, me-me-me items: they provide benefits to YOU (ie, they help you reduce your chances of catching the virus). What’s missing from your list is the crucial question of how well prepared is your destination to manage and contain the virus if a tourist – you – happens to bring it there and it gets loose in the wild? This is a serious issue and one that every tourist should be considering.

    It’s one thing to fly to, say, Denmark, and visit large cities, where the health care infrastructure is strong, a prosperous place where the government will be relatively transparent, will can and will take effective steps to contain an outbreak, and where you can feel OK about not bringing an undue risk to large numbers of vulnerable people there.

    It’s quite another thing to fly to someplace that has a fragile, already-saturated health care system, where the government is mostly concerned with pumping tourist money and less worried about poor people (who may have little or no access to quality health care even in the best of times) who might be devastated by a virus flare-up (ie, much of the developing world).

    Don’t be a tourist who shrugs off any sense of responsibility to residents of their vacation destination besides paying the bill.

    In many (most?) cases, tourists just shrug and say “if the government will let me in, that’s all I care about, I’ll be on the first flight – it’s their government, it’s not my place to second guess that country’s leadership.” Just look at the leaders of Brazil, Tanzania, even the UK, and yes, our own USofA…you think just because the local Grand Poobah has decreed his hotels and restaurants sanitized and open for business, you think that’s responsible to just follow whatever he says? (Imagine your country is lead by some corrupt goon who owns a bunch of hotels and doesn’t give a damn about the people he steps on while stuffing his pockets…go ahead, that shouldn’t be too hard to envision…).

    Now, in your example, Ben, Iceland would appear to be a fairly responsible bet to make. Nordic country with a high standard of living, solid health care system, no large underclass without access to medical resources, reasonably transparent government, etc. But I would not blithely book an early trip to some developing world, tropical beach resort that does not tick all those boxes. As much as I long to go back to places in the developing world (I was dreaming of a trip to Mexico next winter), I’m going to give them some time.

    Not because I can’t book a flight there (I can do that right now). Not because the beautiful beach and reef or the resort I love isn’t open (they are or will be soon). And not because I’m afraid of catching COVID19. I’m not going for a good long while because I know their health system is fragile, currently at (or over) capacity, and a virus flare-up could result in a disaster for those who live there. I’m choosing to be responsible and I’m not going because I don’t want to contribute to a virus outbreak there that would devastate the locals (yes, even if those same locals invite me to come and spend money).

    Your upcoming trip to Iceland (and it seems pretty obvious you have decided to go) may be OK and fairly responsible compared to many alternatives you could pick (although I still think nobody should just be traveling for leisure for a good while still – I’ve decided not to go anywhere for the rest of this year). But the criteria – is it responsible to go to this specific place, based on their ability to manage a virus flare-up – ought to be the first consideration on any responsible traveler’s list. It shouldn’t be an afterthought at best (most people won’t think that far).

    Try not to breathe on the flight.

  7. Ahh yes, stay in the US. The country where 30% of all COVID cases are and continue to increase…

  8. Here in Canada, We have restrictions for travelling domestically, unlike most of the US. It’s not just the US-Canada border that’s closed.

    Domestically, there are lots of provinces that are off limits to out-of-province residents this summer. For two months I couldn’t cross the river from Ontario to go to Quebec. My family had to scrap their plans to visit Prince Edward Island in June because tourists aren’t allowed in.

    And even in provinces that will be open to non-resident tourists, there will be restrictions.
    Manitoba and Nova Scotia will require 14-day quarantine periods (like Hawaii), rendering week-long trips impossible. In British Columbia, only BC residents can reserve campsites in Provincial Parks this year.

    So I’m mostly looking at trips within my own province.

  9. Icelandair is horrendous. I had business-class tickets booked over Memorial Day. First, they wouldn’t refund my tickets when Iceland’s government extended the quarantine past May 15. Then, they canceled my flights WITH NO NOTICE and NO REBOOKING. To date, I’ve received no email from them saying my flights were canceled or even offering an option. I complained to Icelandair and after 5 days received a form letter response offering me a credit toward a future flight. I demanded a refund. Still no response. So, I disputed the charge with my credit card company. No final determination yet. I also filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

  10. Lucky can you comment on “In general hotels are pretty readily available, given that we’ll ultimately still see a huge reduction in the number of travelers, while in many destinations hotels will be operating at normal levels”

    When looking at Marriott properties I see that award levels in July/August are pricing out at Peak redemption levels with the odd standard. If hotels are more empty shouldn’t we see standard and saver dates more available.

  11. We’re planning a road trip to a spot on the coast a day’s drive away. We rented a house in a small enclave of about 8 other houses on an inlet, each with a little dock. The house comes with kayaks, and the only way to get to the beach on the barrier island is by boat. It’s a 20 minute paddle from the house. So all the elements are in place to not just for social distancing, but outright isolation.

    Of course it’s possible that we’ll get sick during the vacation and contribute to stress on the local healthcare system. But it’s just as likely that we’ll get sick here and stress the system where we live. Travelling definitely means we could be vectors for transmitting the virus more broadly. But on the whole we think the risk of this kind of travel to others and to us is low, because we will stay off public transit and airplanes, and consciously maximize social distance.

  12. Or just go for a road trip in USA. I jumped in a car and driving in Europe (from UK). I don’t plan flying any time soon, because I don’t want to go through all the hassle at the airport and on the plane, don’t want to wear masks, etc. I will wait it out.

  13. Iceland is collapsing right now without the tourist money. Please come here soon.

  14. The eco warriors did not make me feel guilt or selfish for travelling. But during a pandemic, I consider non essential travel selfishly decadent.

  15. Lucky, I’ve gotta second Dick Bupkiss here. I don’t see any consideration in your post about the fact that while some countries are slowly reopening with varying degrees of precaution, those countries may exclude Americans from visiting in the early stages due to the way the U.S. has handled the COVID-19 situation relative to other countries. If I were deciding which countries’ nationals could visit upon reopening, I’d also feel inclined to leave America off the list for right now.

    Like other countries were quick to cut off travel from China when China was the COVID-19 hotspot, don’t be surprised to see other countries treat the U.S. similarly for a while.

  16. You have a great deal of influence. Hope you are doing this only if that’s what you would want everyone else to be doing also. Lots of respect for you, but I do disagree strongly with this particular decision. This is unnecessary congregating, and enough of this type of activity is going to make matters worse.

  17. I had a familly trip planbed for Halifax but unless Nova Scotia drops the 14 day quarantine…really no point in going for 10 days. Anyways, most restaurants will probably still be closed as will most attractions…

    I did book a ski trip to Switzerland in late Feb 2021 for me and some friends, but that can all be cancelled last minute. Scored an insane deal with the hotel and plenty of availability to use up the stash of points I have.

  18. Cute that you think countries are going to allow people from the US, w/ almost 2 million confirmed cases, to enter their country for tourism in a few weeks.

    If I were youd id roadtrip in the US and visit the hotels you want to (like Amagiri)

  19. I would have to disagree with your point about miles being ideal for this kind of travel. Often given the relatively cheap tickets we have been seeing then it doesn’t make sense to use points. Also note that the airline of Iceland is not partnered with major alliances (except for being able to use credit card points).

  20. @George
    Don’t think anyone here is BELIEVING a single word of what you posted. Are you an Alice in Wonderland character?

  21. I agree 100% with Lucky’s strategy. I am not planning any o/s travel for the rest of this year though, and am being kept busy cancelling existing bookings as they approach.
    I have had a deep and meaningful talk to my luggage, and told them they are not going anywhere this year.

  22. @George

    Please tell us which countries you plan on visiting? I would love to hit the road for months like I have done since 2016 but I am not aware of even a handful of countries that are opening for American tourists. Many countries do not even plan on opening their airports for months to come.

  23. It is also worth considering the possibility of the country to close its borders and shut down air travel with little warning while you are visiting. Then you can be stuck there for weeks or months and then need to shell out big cash for a lousy economy seat on a charter evacuation flight as happened to travelers all over.

  24. I’m booked to Europe in September (miles ticket, so easy to cancel). I have no idea at this point what country we will end up in, but I suspect there will be somewhere that will make sense. I’ve been having a crappy year and all I wanted to do was escape, but had to cancel the original May trip, and I needed something to look forward to. Our only requirement for travel (aside from Covid considerations) is that we can bike. If we get stuck somewhere so be it; I don’t have a job to get back to, and I have money.

  25. Well, we’d like to go to fla. in nov and dec 2020 ….but, why go there if you have to continue to wear a mask and gloves!? Same with cabo in feb. and march! I do think it is so important to wear gloves and and a mask but certainly not on vacation!

  26. Well, we’d like to go to fla. in nov and dec 2020 ….but, why go there if you have to continue to wear a mask and gloves!? Same with cabo in feb. and march! I do think it is so important to wear gloves and and a mask but certainly not on vacation! And, what about the 14 days of isolation?

  27. Travel making a return in the coming weeks? Surely you jest. With mass scale protests and a extreme levels of crime across the country its only a matter of time until the virus overtakes us and shuts the country back down or turns us into a country where no other country will allow us within their borders. I get its a travel blog but you need to give up this fantasy that leisure travel is returning soon. Not for the US its not.

  28. @Bill

    We can only hope now that herd immunity is reached soon. If not cases may continue to increase for months if not longer. There will be no second wave as the first wave will not subside.
    I am not even in the US but I see most countries opening up to certain nationalities without any concern for actual travel history.
    For me it has been particularly difficult because I prefer continuous travel for months on end. I am not much for short trips to one destination.

  29. And who wants to plan any trips to the US any time soon ? A place to avoid – unstable government, rioting , looting , mass unemployment, high crime , covid The castle on the edge of a precipice

  30. I think all of your plans will definitely be last minute as any country opening their borders to the USA are playing Russian roulette with their citizens – isn’t there enough to see in the “Land of the free home of the brave”

  31. All those questioning @George … think he is passing his own judgement on Lucky’s plans and taking the p*ss while he does it.

  32. Go ahead @Carolyn; take your summer holidays without a mask and gloves! The coronavirus will no doubt be taking a summer break too, so no worries!
    @Alan~ you had better read up on so-called ‘herd immunity’ before you wish for that. A tiny inconvenience is that it involves culling the herd substantially (survival of the fittest and all that). An don’t be an ingrate by forgetting to say goodbye to mom and pop, grandma and grandad, and the kid sister with asthma. They would all die an awful death if your plan takes off.

  33. @glenn t

    I only mention herd immunity because with the number of protests and zero social distancing among the participants what other hope is there? Many of them are millenials who often still live with their parents. Just a handful of asymptomatic protesters could infect hundreds who of course infect thousands
    more. This could easily result in hundreds of outbreaks similar to the Florida spring breakers.

  34. @Dick & Chris,

    Dick Bupkiss clearly laid the considerations for travel, and they make sense to me.

    Chris, you are right about virus spread in the U.S.; however, staying at home is not equivalent to traveling domestically or overseas as risks are different.

    I think Ben is a responsible and certainly very experienced traveler, and Iceland may be a reasonable compromise if all precautions are taken seriously. That said, I am personally not flying anywhere for another 3-4 months at least and observing what domestic and international COVID-19 data tell us.

    And I do think Bolsonaro is Trump’s younger brother – time to open Brazil – U.S. travel corridor? 🙂

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