With coronavirus cases continuing to spike in America and abroad, travelers with a United States passport remain grounded. To date, just nine countries are open to Americans without restrictions. If Belarus, Serbia, Zambia or any of the other six countries on that list aren’t in the cards, then travelers itching to get on an international flight will have to wait.
With the decline in air travel from the pandemic, the classic road trip has become more popular in America.
How long is still unknown. Elizabeth Becker, author of Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism, notes that the pandemic “decimated” the $8 trillion global travel industry overnight. “Those essential pillars of 21st-century global travel—open borders, open destinations, and visa-free travel—won’t return in the short term or even medium term,” she says.
What does that mean for the future of travel? Despite the turbulence, experts are seeing blue skies. Bruce Poon Tip, author of Unlearn: The Year the Earth Stood Still and the founder of travel company G Adventures, says not only will we travel again, we’ll do it better. “I still believe travel can be the biggest distributor of wealth the world has ever seen,” he says. “This pause gives us the gift of time to consider how we can travel more consciously.”
Tourists crowd St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy, in 2013. In the wake of the pandemic, experts predict there will be more interest in visiting less-crowded places.
From a renewed commitment to sustainable tourism to creative ways to globetrot from home, here’s how travel authors, bloggers, and podcasters are navigating.
Sustainability will be a driving force
Some high-mileage travelers say they plan to focus on meaningful experiences at out-of-the-way areas, like Chimney Tops in Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
One silver lining of the pandemic? Consumers are doubling down on sustainability. Becker predicts travelers will take on the role of “concerned citizens” demanding responsible travel policies. The industry will respond with active measures to prioritize a healthy world over profit margins. “Don’t be surprised if countries mandate ‘fly-free days’ and other measures to control climate change,” she says.
Combine one silver aircraft hangar, two gargantuan 1980s Pin Art toys, a spark of silver screen, and you’re halfway to imagining this college campus on Los Angeles’s Sunset Boulevard, designed by Morphosis architects in 2008. Platforms and bridges connect dorms to classrooms, offices, cafés, and film labs. Certified LEED Gold, the building features automated sun-shade fins that open and close as needed for heat regulation.
Encompassing 1.9 million square feet of retail, offices, apartments, condos, and hotel space, this Chicago skyscraper soars 82 stories. Blue windows and layers of offset concrete balconies wrap the building, evoking a vertical landscape of soft hills and shimmery ponds. Beyond their beauty, the meticulously designed balconies subdue strong winds, distribute shade, help prevent bird collisions—and, as architect Jeanne Gang explains, “become outdoor threshold spaces” where neighbors can look up or down at one another.
Just north of Chicago in Wilmette, Illinois, this tiered white temple is the oldest surviving Bahá’í House of Worship and the second ever constructed. The religious center’s lacy dome, alcoves, and pillars were designed by Louis Bourgeois and completed in 1953. Crushed quartz and white Portland cement give the building a milky radiance, especially at night. To prevent the concrete surface from appearing cold or industrial, fifth-generation stone carver John Earley allowed larger pebbles to lie partially exposed.
Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado is home to more than 600 cliff dwellings made by the Ancestral Pueblo people, who lived here from 600 to 1300 A.D. The park’s Cliff Palace Loop Road curves from overlook to overlook, allowing visitors to view single-room rattlesnake hideaways; balconies; and the magnificent “Cliff Palace,” a network of 150 rooms and 23 kivas, or round sunken ceremonial spaces. Sculpted from stone and wood, the ancient buildings balance 7,000 feet above the desert and are bound by mortar and chipped-stone chinking.
Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei (creator of the Louvre’s glass pyramid) designed this music lover’s mecca in Cleveland—a bold jumble of glass pyramidoids and cantilevered lines on the banks of Lake Erie. A self-described classicist, Pei traveled to rock concerts with Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner while working on the 162-foot-tall tower and five-story atrium. “I wanted to capture the energy, the rebelliousness of my children’s generation, with forms bursting out,” Pei commented, “My view was not only of the music but of a generation.”
Designed in 1888 by Frank Furness—and hailed by Frank Lloyd Wright as “the work of an artist”—this Philadelphia library houses the University of Pennsylvania’s architectural archives, the Common Press, and the Materials Library. The National Historic Landmark was built from red sandstone, brick, and terra cotta. A drive around the building reveals burnt-orange gargoyles; ornately embossed gables; Victorian greenhouse-looking stacks; an apse; and leaded glass fanlights inscribed with literary quotes such as Francis Bacon’s famous words: “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed.”
Four miles north of the Strip, this Las Vegas outpost of the Cleveland Clinic was designed by architect Frank Gehry under one condition: that in addition to Alzheimer’s disease, the center would dedicate research to Huntington’s, in honor of Gehry’s loved ones afflicted with the condition. Clad in 18,000 individually cut stainless steel panels, the building’s undulating exterior and canopied breezeway reject the typical staid sterility of a hospital and instead aim to instill confidence and comfort for doctors and patients alike.
Presiding over Nashville’s Centennial Park (recently immortalized in song by Taylor Swift), the Parthenon is a full-scale replica of the fifth century B.C. marble original in Athens, Greece. Forty-six Doric columns, all inclining slightly inward, support the structure. Originally erected as the architectural jewel of the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exhibition, the temple was rebuilt by the city in the early 1900s to become a permanent fixture. Casts of authentic Parthenon figures and accompanying fragments were purchased from the British Museum and used to provide accurate detail.
A feathery mélange of cables and curves, the Wisconsin attraction holds more than 30,000 creations and combines decades of work by architects Eero Saarinen, David Kahler, and Santiago Calatrava (the Spanish-Swiss designer of the World Trade Center’s Oculus). A 217-foot wingspan brise soleil clasps and unfolds twice a day to deflect sun above the building’s grand reception hall, pedestrian suspension bridge, and Lake Michigan. Ample green spaces skirt the museum, including Veterans Park to the north and the leaping fountains of Cudahy Gardens immediately south.
Opened in 2016, Washington D.C.’s newest Smithsonian museum offers a bold contrast to the National Mall’s white marble monuments. The most outstanding features incorporated by architect David Adjaye are easily viewed from Constitution Avenue and 14th Street NW, including the building’s sheltered porch and intricate bronze filigree—a tribute to the forged iron craftsmanship of enslaved African Americans in places such as Louisiana and South Carolina. The museum’s triple corona structure recalls the three-tiered crowns seen in West African Yoruban art.
The roughly 10-mile-long highway hugging Manhattan may seem like merely a convenient way to dodge downtown traffic and see the East River, but it’s also the “best architecture tour of the city,” according to architect Katherine Treppendahl (who designed Charlottesville, Virginia’s new Quirk Hotel). “You can see all the classics like the Chrysler Building and Empire State,” she says, “plus true gems like the UN building, the Kahn memorial on Roosevelt Island in the river, Brooklyn Bridge, the super slim 432 Park [Avenue skyscraper], and even the new World Trade Center.”
Now operating as the family-run Two Meeting Street Inn, Martha Carrington’s Queen Anne Victorian home in Charleston’s South of Broad neighborhood is nicknamed the “Wedding Cake House” both for its ornately iced finials and oriels and for the $75,000 house fund given by Carrington’s father to celebrate her 1890 nuptials. “Pretty much everything on the outside is original,” says innkeeper Julie Spell Roberts—from the Arc de Triomphe-shaped chimney to the Tiffany stained-glass windows depicting dogwoods, magnolias, and irises. From there, it’s a quick spin to Rainbow Row (pictured), America’s longest cluster of Georgian row houses.
Shadows of visitors and curators float behind the museum’s latticed facade of paper, resin, and wood veneer. Architect Shigeru Ban placed the entrance foyer inside the rooftop sculpture garden to create the sensation of skiing down a mountain as guests navigate walkable skylights and glass-walled galleries. Ban describes the building as a way for people to feel the particular light, landscapes, and nature of Aspen; by gazing in from the sidewalk, outside viewers unknowingly become an active part of the museum.
Take action: Reduce your carbon footprint by purchasing offsets with companies such as Cool Effect and by staying at certified green hotels. Check sites like Book Different, which rates accommodations for eco-friendliness.
Our journeys will become more inclusive
The Black Lives Matter movement has brought the issue of representation to light in all industries, including travel. That’s overdue, says Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon. The award-winning journalist and TV host says she hopes the industry is moving toward meaningful change but worries that any change may be short-lived. “When the pandemic is past and the hashtags are no longer trending, will industry gatekeepers still be eager to attract, cater to, and celebrate travelers of color?” she writes in an email. “I’m cautiously optimistic but not completely convinced.”
Black Travel Alliance’s Martinique Lewis feels the industry is moving in the right direction and remains hopeful. She notes that companies are addressing the needs of diverse customers and says it’s about time. “For the first time they are considering what a trans female goes through not only when choosing what bathroom to go in at a restaurant, but when she checks into a hotel and her license shows a different person,” says Lewis. “Now plus-size travelers wanting to surf and scuba but can’t because the lack of wetsuits in their size are being acknowledged. Now blind travelers who still want to experience tours and extreme sports while on holiday are thought of.”
Take action: Visit one of the nearly 200 living history museums in the U.S., where historic interpreters portray figures from the past. They shed light on painful issues (such as racism in America) and hidden narratives (such as those of people of color, whose stories have been suppressed).
Small communities will play a bigger role
Travelers can make a difference in small towns that were already struggling economically before the pandemic. Caz Makepeace of Y Travel Blog says she and her family have always traveled slowly to lesser-known areas, “rather than racing through destinations.” Now she’s supporting these places by patronizing local businesses and donating to nonprofits.
Kate Newman of Travel for Difference suggests travelers focus on “global south” or developing countries that depend on tourism. “We need to diversify our locations to avoid mass tourism and focus on the places that really need it,” she says. “Seeing so many communities suffer during COVID-19 has brought [this issue] to light.”
Take action: Turn to sustainable tourism educational and advocacy nonprofit Impact Travel Alliance to learn how to empower locals and protect the environment.
We’ll seek quality over quantity
High-mileage travelers are putting more thought into their bucket lists. “COVID-19 has allowed me to rethink how and why I travel,” says Erick Prince of The Minority Nomad. “It’s given me the freedom to explore travel projects for passion instead of the paycheck.” Rather than focusing on paid gigs, the blogger, who lives in Thailand, says he’ll be embarking on a self-funded project to highlight off-the-beaten-track provinces in his adopted country.
Eulanda Osagiede, of Hey Dip Your Toes In, is putting the breaks on international trips, citing travel as a privilege many take for granted. “Privilege comes in many forms, and the act of recognizing our travel-related ones have called us to think about traveling more intentionally and less often—if ever the world begins to look similar to its pre-pandemic days.”
Take action: Check the Transformational Travel Council for resources and recommendations on operators who can help organize meaningful journeys.
The road trip will kick into high gear
For many, road trips may be the only feasible option for travel right now, and frequent fliers like Gabby Beckworth of Packs Light are revving up. Driving across state lines can be just as exciting as flying across international borders; it’s about the mindset. “Road-tripping has shown me that the core of travel—curiosity, exposure to newness, and wonder—[is] a perspective, not a destination,” she says.
Take action: Plan a coronavirus-conscious trip to Colorado, home to superlative stargazing sites—and what may become the world’s largest Dark Sky reserve.
Travel advisors will become essential
Conde Nast Traveller sustainability editor Juliet Kinsman predicts a shift to booking travel through agents and established operators, noting their invaluable knowledge and industry connections. “I think what 2020 has shown and taught us is the expertise and financial protection of booking through a travel agent often outweighs the amount you pay in commission,” she says. Additionally, she hopes that consumers will look to agents who specialize in the environment. “Those who care about where they send their customers can intuitively cut through greenwash and really ensure every link in the supply chain is an honorable one,” she says.
Take action: Find a travel advisor: The American Society of Travel Advisors maintains a database that allows travelers to search by destination, type of journey (such as eco-tourism or genealogy), and cohort (such as LGBTQ+ travelers). Virtuoso, a network of advisors specializing in luxury travel, can help with good deals, convenient itineraries, and tailored experiences.
We’ll appreciate staying closer to home
Some are discovering the benefits of travel even at home. Blogger Jessie Festa of Epicure & Culture and Jessie on a Journey normally travels internationally once a month. These days, online cultural cooking classes, games, and virtual experiences are helping her “to keep the spirit of travel alive by considering the feelings that travel elicits,” she says. Exchanging postcards with her extended travel community is another “beautiful way to ‘experience’ travel again, safely,” she adds.
“When we compare everything to being locked up indefinitely in our respective towers, a walk to the park can feel like travel,” says blogger Chris Mitchell of Traveling Mitch. “Now people are willing to see the magic in a meal on a patio at a restaurant down the street.”
Take action: Get outside, says the Norwegian concept “friluftsliv,” an idea of outdoor living that promises to make the pandemic’s colder months more bearable.
Planning trips will become joyful again
Although some people are making the best of being grounded, this difficult period is reminding them that travel is important for boosting mental health and personal growth. There’s research to back it up. A 2013 survey of 483 U.S. adults found that travel improves empathy, energy, attention, and focus. Planning a trip is just as effective—a 2014 Cornell study showed that looking forward to travel substantially increases happiness, more than anticipating buying material goods.
Joanna Penn can attest to the healing benefits of both. The U.K.-based author and podcaster behind The Creative Penn and Books and Travel normally travels to research her books. “For me my writing life is all about what I learned when I travel,” she said in a recent podcast, “the ideas that come from being someplace new.” Her future trips will include walking the Camino de Santiago in 2022. Studying maps and determining a route makes her feel like she’s working toward a real goal. “I can expand my comfort zone without too much stress, especially if I accept that things might get canceled,” she said.
Take action: Plan a trip now, with inspiration from this essay on why travel should be considered an essential human activity.