Just thinking about travel is good for mental health: as this dreadful year comes to a close on a note of hope, it might be time to dream again.
By Michael Fraiman
It’s an age-old question that pops up every holiday season: What do you get the person who has everything? The answer—up until 2020—has been as simple as it was exciting: travel.
It’s well known that millennials are spending more on experiences than things, and Gen Z is likely to follow the trend. It’s hard to pin down exactly how much people spend on travel as a gift, but in 2019, the gift card company Blackhawk found travel was one of their most popular categories, and (not surprisingly) topped the list of most expensive gift cards purchased.
And then, of course, the pandemic happened, and within a matter of months the entire travel industry froze—airlines, hotels, restaurants, attractions.
A few diehard patrons bought gift cards to local restaurants or boutique hotels, but most bookings got outright cancelled. In a year already fraught with the politics of xenophobia across the United States and Europe, a novel coronavirus all but outlawing cross-border travel made the collapse of the travel industry all the more gut-wrenching.
But, thankfully, the story doesn’t end there. A lot has changed since that spoiled summer season, and with winter has come hope: not just of a new year, but a new era. The post-pandemic planet.
Several vaccines have passed third-phase clinical trials with more than 90 percent efficacy. What better way to celebrate our return to the outside world than with travel?
Put another way: if you wanted to give someone a feeling of hope this holiday season, is there any better gift than the promise of leaving the house for two weeks in the future—and of course, when it’s safe?
Back in May, National Geographic published a timely piece about how the simple act of planning a trip can improve your mental health, citing university studies from 2014 and 2002 that linked anticipation of experiences (and vacations specifically) to happiness much more than anticipation of new material goods.
This isn’t exactly surprising, but it’s nice to know there’s real psychological science behind the phenomenon of drafting routes on Google Maps and browsing Instagram—and Outpost online—for inspiration.
And there’s a charitable angle to gifting future travel, too: booking vacations in advance, especially with locally run accommodations or independent tour operators, will help them survive the next few months until the world returns to normal. Small businesses have been hit hardest during the global lockdown, and there will be a real push from every tourism authority to shop local once people can walk into stores again.
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Of course, gift-givers might hesitate at throwing down money on commitments in an uncertain world. Here’s one simple solution: refundable tickets. If ever there was a year when paying a little extra for flexibility sounded worthwhile, 2021 is the one.
Airlines, in particular, have been hit or miss about outright refunding trips in 2020 (WestJet finally came around to giving refunds in November; others will certainly damage their own reputations by only offering vouchers), but expect any leeway to disappear after vaccine rollouts bring some semblance of organization back into the world.
Hopefully, refunds won’t even be necessary. If politicians are to be believed (and, Lord, how we want to believe them), December 2021 will be a safe and wonderful time to celebrate the holidays quasi-normally again—assuming you’ve received your vaccination.
Unlike other travel-related vaccines, the one for COVID-19 may not be optional for travellers. It’s a safe bet that, next year, airlines will require travellers to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination before boarding any plane. (Similar to countries that require entry visas, or yellow fever vaccination, this will likely be government-mandated legislation, not dictated by the airlines themselves—which means the same airline will probably enforce different rules for different destinations.)
It’s also definitely worth checking out the websites of travel companies and tour operators now in the marketplace—there are likely travel deals, trip discounts, discount vouchers and unique offers now on sale for both the holiday season, and in (great) anticipation for when the industry comes revving back to life.
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If you’d rather play it even safer, you could bypass air travel altogether—along with international borders. Winter’s not a great time to embark on the Great Canadian Road Trip, but Prime Minister Trudeau recently predicted half of Canadians would be vaccinated by September 2021. (Although we hope this isn’t the case and he’s being over-cautious, supply management can be a fickle beast.)
If the warmer months are anything like these past ones, Canadian travellers can probably bank on a safe summer road trip, even if they can’t get vaccinated in time—accommodations may be less likely than airlines to require proof of vaccination. (Though again, as this is all still unchartered territory, the opposite may also be true.)
Meanwhile, hiking and camping enthusiasts, as they did this past summer, will have no problem escaping into the wilderness for a few days. All these well-grounded scenarios make for great gift ideas: stick to booking restaurants or hotels, buying a VIA train ticket or gift card (a very safe bet), or simply a new tent or backpack, and mark the days on your calendar.
If you really want to be creative—and, ahem, cost-effective—you could literally just jot down an IOU and fold it up into a card: “IOU: One trip to Costa Rica, best before December 31, 2021.”
Worry about the booking later. Don’t fret over refunds or seasonal costs. Let global affairs play themselves out, get vaccinated ASAP, and book the trip once you feel comfortable. After all, the idea of travel can be just as exciting as the down payment itself. If there’s anything we need at the end of this depressing year, it’s just the thought of an escape.
- Michael Fraiman is a contributing editor to Outpost Travel Media.