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VOL. 46 | NO. 2 | Friday, January 14, 2022

It’ll be your best vacation ever!

This is the year we make up for 2 years of lost travel. Unless, well, COVID

By Catherine Mayhew

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The two words that sum up travel in 2022 are “cautiously optimistic.’’ To be sure, travel is one of the top priorities for many of the pandemic weary. An Expedia report on 2022 travel trends found that more than 68% of American travelers are planning a big trip for their first foray out, whether it be travel to a foreign country or upgrading to luxury accommodations in the United States.

“Since March 2020, there hasn’t been a time as promising as it is now,” Sebastian Modak, editor-at-large of Lonely Planet and The New York Times 52 Places Traveler in 2019, told CNBC of travel overseas. “It really comes down to the traveler’s own threshold for risk and comfort for things maybe going a little bit awry.”

There’s even a new term for this kind of travel – GOAT. It stands for Greatest of All Trips. International destinations of choice include London, Paris, Rome and Bali, Expedia reports. Those who stay within the United States are looking toward warm-weather destinations such as Maui, Panama City, Orlando and Destin.

“People are spending more since many have not traveled in nearly two years,” says Kim Ann Snodgrass of Belle Meade Vacations. “This may be an upgrade to the trip or taking two to three trips where they normally just do one per year.

“Of the family trips I have booked, most are Disney World, cruises, ski or something out West like ranch vacations. Cruising is certainly a trend, and a sub trend of that would be European river cruises. People are also gravitating to ‘small ship’ cruising and privately guided tours, and they are willing to pay for it. Now that most of Europe is open, folks have their bags packed and plans booked.”

Cruising is back?

There was no greater pariah than the cruise ship in the early days of the pandemic. Cruise ships became a breeding ground for the coronavirus with thousands of people packed into tight quarters. The images of ships just out of port with passengers isolated in their rooms still resonates.

The three biggest cruise lines – Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line – lost almost $900 million every month during the height of the pandemic.

And the latest news isn’t good. Royal Caribbean International announced it is pausing operations on several ships due to COVID-19. Some cruises have been canceled while others postponed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised against cruise travel in the coming weeks.

Still, cruising is a popular choice for 2022. Bookings are up, and some cruises are even sold out. Cruise lines offered something that turned out to be a silver lining for would-be travelers – incentives for delaying their trips rather than canceling them.

That’s exactly what Chrysty Fortner decided to do.

Fortner, the director of programs and special projects for Echo Power Engineering in Nashville, had planned a Viking cruise to Prague and Budapest with her sister for August 2020.

“Then COVID came,” she says. “Viking said, hey, you can cancel your trip or you can postpone it and we will give you a 125% credit. So we said, door No. 2.”

Because of the credit, Fortner was able to upgrade her accommodations to a two-balcony suite and will set sail in September.

“My sister and I are trying to do some big trip every year,” says Fortner. “What we ended up doing in lieu of the 2020 travel, we ended up going to Hawaii in 2021. There’s a lot of hoops you have to jump through on testing, but it was well worth an escape on what we thought was the tail end of the pandemic.”

Snodgrass confirms the blooming popularity of cruising.

“I had clients last week trying to book a suite on a specific river cruise,” she says. “We looked from March to November of 2022 and found nothing, so they had to book for summer of 2023.”

School trip

Sharmila Patel’s GOAT trip will take her to Italy in May. The director of grants and procurement for the TMA Group in Franklin, Patel will travel with her husband, Philip Phillips, and a group of MTSU students for two weeks.

“Philip is the associate dean of the honors college at MTSU,” she says. “He heads the honors program study abroad. In 2018, we went to Thailand as part of the honors study abroad. It was the best traveling experience I’ve ever had. We didn’t have to worry about finding a hotel and we had a guide.

“There were so many things we wouldn’t have known how to do,’’ she continues. “We participated in two cooking classes, we went to a real Thai farmers market. We went to one of the temples, and they coordinated a talk with one of the Buddhist monks. There was no stress about being in a strange place.”

They had originally planned their Italy trip with the students for 2021, but the pandemic delayed that. “It gave Philip more time to plan. They’ve added some different spots and changed where some of the day trips are going.”

The stops during the first week will include traveling to Pompeii and Ostia Antica, an ancient harbor city, from their home base of Rome and then moving to Florence for the second week and taking side trips to Venice and the Italian Riviera.

Jennifer Justus, the marketing and events manager at The Nashville Food Project, is in the running for the most exotic GOAT trip of 2022. She’s going to Nepal to combine her love of culture and yoga.

The Food Project’s Growing Together program invites refugee farmers to grow produce native to their own land in gardens off Haywood Lane. Many of them are from countries near Nepal.

“I used to work a lot with the Growing Together program and I got to know the farmers,” she says. “I was feeling interested in that part of the world. And also the yoga part. I’m intrigued with Buddhism. I started to read a book during the pandemic, ‘Awakening the Buddhist Within.’ Then this trip came to be and it seemed like a lot of reasons to go there.”

The participants will practice yoga every day, led by Nashville yoga instructor Cory Bryant of Yoga Shala. They’ll also visit monasteries and venture into the foothills of the Himalayas

Brian Jackson of Nashville moved to Bethel, Alaska, a year ago for wife Angie’s job as a nurse. Winter comes early and stays late in Bethel so the Jacksons are taking their two daughters to Hawaii in February.

“We thought it would be nice to be someplace warm in this cold stretch of winter,” he points out. “Angie found a conference not far from Waikiki. The conference is three days. We’re going to stay there for eight. The company will pay for a bit of the vacation. The first few nights we’re staying in Waikiki and then we’ll travel and hit national parks.”

They hope the third time’s a charm, having canceled two trips previously due to the pandemic.

“We were going to go to Las Vegas, but that’s when we started hitting that second round of COVID and we thought going to Vegas would be a terrible idea with all those people packed in there.”

They also tried to return to Nashville for a visit.

“We were going to go to Nashville in January of 2021 to let the girls hang out with their friends,” he adds. “We had to tell them we’re not going to be able to hang out with everyone we’d want to. We didn’t want to expose the girls. Angie’s in health care, and it would be super irresponsible for giving advice about travel and then go and do it.”

Pandemic caution

Hanging over all these grand travel plans is the threat of the coronavirus. Just as we thought we might have a bit of control over the Delta variant, the Omicron variant emerged. And everyone traveling in 2022 holds their collective breath waiting to see what will happen.

As J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in The Hobbit, “It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near one.”

Snodgrass says your “to do” list is much longer with COVID precautions.

“Logistically, there is more to it,” she says. “For instance, if you are not fully vaccinated, the list of places you can travel to is short. Greece, Belize and Croatia are a few that the unvaccinated can do (as of this writing).

“Most countries require that you do a COVID test, normally three days prior to arrival, and the U.S. requires that you do another COVID test three days from returning. This is easy though as cruise lines and hotels are able to assist.

“I also see more people thinking out of the box as to what they normally do for a vacation, like expedition travel. Even some domestic places like New York City require you download your vaccine card to enter restaurants and Broadway shows.”

Fortner specifically chose a river cruise to lessen the chance of being exposed to the virus.

“I feel very fortunate that we can do this, and part of why we wanted a smaller ship was because there weren’t 9,000 people on it,” she says.

“This is a really small ship. The smaller ship, the fact that we won’t be on open seas if something were to happen. We can easily disembark. And we have a balcony so you have access to fresh air.”

Justus was supposed to go to Nepal last October.

“Now I’m holding my breath for March with this new variant,” she says. “I worry this is going to be a hard trip. It won’t be a walk in the park.”

And Patel is heartened by the fact that everyone on her all-vaccinated trip have been eager to get jabbed.

“Philip feels (positive) based on when he’s gotten his vaccinations at the clinic at MTSU. When he went to get his booster he said there was a steady stream of students and staff. He feels like the MTSU students, generally speaking, support vaccination. We don’t know what the next variant is going to look like next year.”

And Snodgrass has some advice on planning your travel.

“Three things – book early, book early and book early,” she says. “Also, reach out to a travel professional for car rentals, as we can search multiple options and be flexible. Car companies have increased the cost of their cars, in some cases up 80%, and yet demand is still there.

“Of course, booking early is important for air as well and if you want high demand options like a direct flight, frequent flier tickets or business class it’s even more so.

“I would also like to mention the importance of reading the terms and conditions of what you are booking,” she adds. “You need to know your cancel options, staying on top of COVID requirements and purchasing travel insurance. There are many options with insurance and coverage varies so it’s important to understand what you are purchasing when it comes to insurance.

“Remember you need to buy travel insurance before you need it. There is a saying in the industry, ‘You are not allowed to buy flood insurance when you are standing in 3 feet of water.’ Same goes for travel.”

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