Retirees are officially beginning to map out their first “big” travel plans after staying at home for over a year.
For Rick and Jojo Norris of Cape Coral, Fla., next February will mark the beginning of what the two are calling their “revenge travel,” which will consist of 90 days in different areas of Greece, Italy, Switzerland and France.
“Our plan was to travel. Never get tied down to a place again. Get rid of all the junk and clutter and travel until they put us into the old folks home,” Rick explained. “If you want to know our mantra — it’s a one-way ticket to somewhere.”
Many Americans say the pandemic changed the way they live, but for this couple, that sentiment is literal. Rick and Jojo had been living in a different country nearly every month since the beginning of their retirement in 2018, after they sold their house and vowed to explore the world, hopping from one Airbnb to the next.
When the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, the two had to cut short their time visiting Lisbon, Portugal, flying back to the U.S. a day before the first travel ban went into effect on March 14.
Just days before their flight, the two figured the pandemic would last for a while, and so they bought a house in Cape Coral.
“We each came in here with a backpack, and a carry-on. That’s what we had. That’s what we had to go to Europe,” Rick said. “The first night here we slept on the floor. The next day we went and bought an air mattress and slowly went online to Wayfair and Overstock and we now have a house that’s furnished again.”
The pandemic forced them to stay in one place for over a year — and although the two have been eager to get back to their European dream life, the decision to travel came recently, and with lots of planning, as the two know the pandemic will not soon restore the world to the state it was in before.
It’s no question that the travel industry was one of the hardest hit sectors from the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Transportation Security Administration, the highest number of travelers who passed through American airports on a single day during July 2019 was nearly 2.8 million. During the same month in 2020, the highest number of daily travelers dropped drastically, to just 755,000. But now, as people feel safer to travel, the numbers are almost back to what they were pre-pandemic, with over 2.2 million travelers flying on July 18, 2021.
Toni Mallott of Juneau, Alaska, is also set on packing up a suitcase again. Retired in 2003, she loved traveling and going on cruises. Now she says she has plans to visit Barcelona with her son in September. Although she has mapped out her travels, she says it’s all tentative and that she is still concerned about flying.
“I feel a little bit uncertain about things especially because you just don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said, referring to the emergence of new coronavirus variants. “I have that plan for now, and I was looking forward to the trip, but you just don’t know.”
And while public feelings toward long-distance travel remain mixed, smaller trips seem to be the route that a lot of Americans are taking this summer.
RoadScholar, which organizes educational travel programs for older adults, says their trips are being booked up, especially for destinations in the National Parks.
“Overall, we are seeing a lot of people who had plans before the pandemic are eager to continue their journeys of discovery with us,” said Chris Heppner, senior director of communications at the company. “They haven’t given up on their dreams, just delayed them a bit.”
As of recently, Heppner says the state of Utah has been a hot-spot for travel, since Zion, Arches and Bryce National Parks are located there. Zion National Park was the third-most visited National Park in 2020, with 3.6 million people entering the site, according to the National Park Service.
It seems more people have been wanting to see the great outdoors. In fact, camping was so popular last year that the number of first-time campers in 2020 was five times as great as it was the year before, according to Kampgrounds of America’s annual North American Camping Report.
But for many veteran campers, the pandemic posed some inconveniences. LuAnn Beringer, who bought an RV right after she retired 14 years ago, has always been an avid camper and road trip enthusiast. She said that the rising popularity of camping made it difficult to find available camping spots because campground reservations were filling up faster than ever before.
“It was really competitive,” she said. “Some of the campgrounds weren’t available for months.” She added that the convenience of her RV made the last year much easier and safer.
Beringer feels lucky that she already owned her RV before prices spiked due to the high demand brought on by the pandemic. “I think a lot of people have figured out that it’s a really nice way to have a little getaway and not spend a fortune,” she said.
Last year, she and her husband used the motor home “a lot.” So it makes sense that after a year of camping and road tripping, Beringer is ready to go on her first post-pandemic international vacation with a small group of friends, on a European river cruise that starts in Romania and ends in Budapest.
Although taking a cruise during a pandemic sounds like a risky move, Beringer says her group is still being cautious and will be taking all the necessary precautions such as wearing masks and wiping down surfaces. She also explained that the cruise company is taking steps like installing infrared thermometers onboard the ship and will provide frequent COVID-19 testing to minimize the risk of spreading the virus.
“We’ve all had the shots. And yes, even then, you can always catch the virus. So of course, we have some concerns, but most of our concerns have been addressed and we’re prepared with what we’re going to do,” she said. “I think it will be good and I am looking forward to seeing friends again.”