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Traveling in 2021: How to make this summer more adventurous than the last

We talked to St. Louis travel experts on how to make the most of your PTO this year

ST. LOUIS — The Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of the summer, when you might have a vacation on the mind. Last summer plans had to look a lot different — so what does travel look like in 2021?

We consulted the experts: Dea Hoover, owner of Are We There Yet? Tours and author of “STL Scavenger: The Ultimate Search for St. Louis’s Hidden Treasures,” and Limitless Planet Travel’s Shannon Lichti, president and founder, and Mackenzie Taylor.

All advised taking advantage of travel this year, especially with unused PTO or travel budgets from 2020.

“Treat yourself. You know, it's time to do that,” said Hoover.

Taylor said she’s been helping people plan a lot of “bucket list trips,” the vacations they’d put off for years but after a year of lockdown, are ready to make happen

“More and more people are coming to us asking for those trips because like the past year, they either have been saving, or they're just like, well, we don't know what's going to happen next. I might as well just do this trip,” she said.

Whether it’s a visit with loved ones, a much needed getaway with friends, a family vacation to a favorite destination or that bucket list trip, here are their top takeaways for making 2021 more adventurous.

Planning will save you money.

“Booking early is the best way to save money and travel, not just now, but any time,” said Lichti. “Your cheapest prices are going to be about nine months ahead of time, including airfare, and then they'll start to slowly climb up. Particularly with air fare, at about the three month mark, they'll go down, but then after that, they'll skyrocket.”

“If you're basing your travel on your budget, maybe take three small trips instead of one long trip,” said Hoover.

Be flexible with your plans, especially with possible flight changes. 

“Flights are being canceled because if a flight isn't full, they'll cancel that flight they'll use. That could change your arrival dates, things of that nature,” said Lichti.

Check, check, and triple check. 

It's important to revisit the details regularly before the trip, including watching for email updates and checking the airline’s app or website.

“Once you book something, keep confirming,” said Hoover. Tour operators will do that for you, but she knows of a friend who’s traveling independently; she said he and his wife were switched to a  different flight than the one they’d originally booked, and their three kids under the age of eleven were rebooked on a completely different flight.

“And Southwest has got a new system which has really a lot of great features, but it's not sending out emails saying we changed your flight. So you're going to have to confirm and confirm.”

Be COVID-conscious. 

Check with local health departments for the latest COVID-19 guidance--or the state department for international destinations. Some aren't allowing any travel yet, or are limited; many destinations will have requirements for proof of vaccination, quarantine, or a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival.

I do not recommend people travel anywhere even to two hours away without being vaccinated. You're putting all people at risk,” said Lichti.

Opt in for travel insurance that allows you to "cancel any time." 

While it might not have helped early on in the pandemic, changes to most policies mean it's a good option again.

“Travel insurance did not cover anything at the beginning of the pandemic because you are correct, it was ‘an act of God.’ Just like the rest of the travel industry, travel insurance realized they have to do something. And so various companies have added policies,” said Lichti. “So you really need to shop around and make sure that if you cannot be flexible, that you are buying travel insurance, particularly under ‘cancel at any time’.”

Get creative with your ride….

With a shortage of rental cars, prices can be astronomical; try reserving a ride through an app like Turo which allows you to rent someone’s personal vehicle (think Uber for cars). However, know that comes with a bit of unpredictability.

“You’re at the mercy of them showing up with the car,” said Hoover.

…but keep it classic with your lodging. 

When it comes to a place to stay, hotels might be the cheapest as they look to fill rooms again.

“Airbnb is always an option, but I would try to go for hotels right now just because there are so many hotels that need people,” said Taylor. “And so they're doing some really good sales and things like that at the moment.”

You also won’t have to deal with cleaning fees or the headache of a last-minute cancellation from a private rental.

Hoover even suggests saving more money by staying with friends and family on our trips; “I don't think we're unhappy about having people stay with us anymore,” she laughs.

Don’t miss out on trips you’ve already paid for.

If your plans got canceled last year, read the fine print to make sure you don't lose your travel credit.

“My personal opinion is they need to book before December of 2021. You will lose your credits,” said Lichti. “You can go in 2022 or 2023, whenever you can book the flight, but you have to do it before the expiration date,” adds Taylor.

Let your credits plan your vacation. 

“Search when you have time off, and see where [the airline] is flying inexpensively and then they make the decision for you,” said Hoover. “I would suggest going somewhere maybe that you never thought about going and you'll probably really enjoy it.”

Remember that “back to normal" is a journey, too.

Folks in tourism and hospitality make your time off work more enjoyable. Don't make their jobs harder while they deal with changing health and safety requirements and in some cases, staff shortages. 

“Be positive. And if you can't be positive, stay home,” said Hoover.

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