Get ready to pack those suitcases. As countries around the world ease border restrictions and reopen to visitors, a travel resurgence is happening. “People are booking travel for 2022 and beyond,” says Micki Dudas, Director of Leisure Travel Sales for AAA. “We’ve had two years where many have had to postpone travel due to COVID-19, so there is a pent-up desire.”
Confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine paired with destinations putting enhanced safety protocols in place has helped to ease travel concerns, says Dudas, with some countries and travel companies also requiring proof of vaccination to further safeguard the experience. Although travel won’t look quite the same way it did in 2019, those who’ve had to put off milestone and/or celebration vacations are making up for that lost time. Splurge-worthy trips for longer durations are popular, says Dudas, with more travelers booking through an experienced travel agent for an extra layer of reassurance amidst a still-shifting travel landscape.
As for where travelers are going in 2022, there’s no need for a crystal ball. Dudas has been monitoring vacation trends and data and shares the destinations that are top-of-mind among those booking with AAA.
All travel is subject to frequently-changing governmental restrictions. Check federal, state, and local advisories before scheduling trips. AAA has compiled some helpful resources here.
Gap of Dunloe, County Kerry, Ireland. Photo by e55evu/iStock.com
“Americans love Ireland,” says Dudas of a country that has become a popular choice for those jump-starting travel plans for 2022. Following the reopening of its borders to non-essential travel in July, the country’s tourism board even launched a campaign, Press the Green Button, to welcome visitors back with enticing travel deals. Small-group guided tours, chauffeured drives and do-it-yourself driving vacations are among the most popular requests with AAA to experience this island nation of castles, cliffs and craic (Irish hospitality).
Local gem: While the Ring of Kerry is a beloved (and heavily traveled) tourist route on most Ireland itineraries, consider experiencing the Beara Peninsula and Dingle Peninsula, which both offer stunning emerald landscapes that hug a rugged and remote coastline.
Rome Italy. Photo by Cristina Gottardi
Once the epicenter of the pandemic in the early stages, Italy has been reopen to visitors for most of 2021, with some restrictions in place. “It’s high on many people’s bucket list,” says Dudas, noting the country’s trifecta of travel pleasures: ancient relics, incredible cuisine, and stunning scenery.
Local gem: While many travelers opt to visit Rome, Venice, and Florence, consider including some of the lesser-traveled destinations within Italy that can provide an authentic cultural experience with fewer tourists, such as Sicily, Alberobello, and Bologna.
Disney World. Photo by Brian McGown/Unsplash.com
WALT DISNEY WORLD
“Bookings to the most ‘magical’ place on earth are indeed up [with AAA],” says Dudas. Families who’ve had to put off their Disney vacation are opting to do so at an opportune time: Walt Disney World celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2022 with The World’s Most Magical Celebration, an 18-month-long extravaganza across its theme parks and resorts. Expect to be dazzled by new fireworks, shows, and Disney character-infused pageantry. Plus, guests staying at a Disney Resort hotel get this special perk: early entry to any Disney theme park.
Local gem: If you want to step away from the theme parks for a day, Florida is home to the only place in the world where it is legal to swim with manatees. Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, a preserve designed to protect this species, is less than 2 hours from Orlando and home to reputable outfitters that will safely take you on snorkeling excursions with these gentle giants.
Berg Lake, Mount Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canadian. Photo by Benedek/iStock.com
We can finally visit our neighbor to the North again. In September, Canada reopened its borders to vaccinated U.S. travelers, making places such as Vancouver, Montreal, Quebec, and Banff National Park options for 2022. Dudas says that urban DIY trips and guided vacations with Rocky Mountaineer, a premier train company that takes travelers through the Canadian Rockies, will be popular with those hesitant to fly overseas for a getaway.
Local gem: Consider a laid-back retreat in Nova Scotia, where coastal hikes and whale watching are some of the simple pleasures of this province, home to forested islands and inlets.
Plains of the Grand Teton national park. Photo by JohnnyGreig/iStock.com
U.S. NATIONAL PARKS
Our National Parks have received a lot of love during these first two years of the pandemic, and Dudas doesn’t expect this to fizzle anytime soon. “People have rediscovered their love affair with the U.S.,” she notes. Not only are the parks accessible by car for most American travelers, which appeals to those still hesitant to fly or families simply wanting to keep transportation costs down, but they allow us to reconnect with nature during an unprecedented time. The key is booking accommodations or campsites early, as you are competing with more people for those coveted spots than in years past.
Local gem: If you’re craving a nature fix, don’t limit yourself to the biggies such as Yellowstone, Yosemite, or the Great Smoky Mountains. Consider the State Parks in your area as an alternative to the National Parks.
Arnardrangur rock on black sand beach in vik, Iceland. Photo by 35007/iStock.com
Iceland is wooing travelers to its glaciers, waterfalls, and rugged coastlines with affordable flights from East coast cities that make it a popular 4- to 7-night getaway. The countless outdoor adventures in wide-open landscapes, where you can experience all four seasons in a single day, make social distancing easy.
Local gem: The world-famous Blue Lagoon gets all the attention, but can be quite crowded and, frankly, underwhelming. Consider venturing into Iceland’s southern highlands to experience Landmannalaugar Hot Springs, where you can soak in warm waters while soaking up multi-colored mountains and, in winter months, the mesmerizing Northern Lights.
Santorini, Greece. Photo by Vwalakte/iStock.com
The Cradle of Western Civilization is eager to welcome back tourists. Greece was one of the first countries to receive visitors who were fully vaccinated or could show a negative PCR test. For those efforts and more, it was recently praised by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) for establishing a safe travel environment that’s attracting visitors to its ancient landmarks, such as the Acropolis and Delphi, and idyllic islands, such as Mykonos and Santorini.
Local gem: Consider spending time on the island of Andros, an island in the Cyclades that is often overshadowed by the ones you’ll find on numerous cruise and tour itineraries. Andros is among the greenest and lushest, and also boasts 70 beaches.
Rhine River with cruise ship in Cologne, Germany ake1150sb/iStock.com
EUROPEAN RIVER CRUISES
River cruises have become more attractive in recent years for those who yearn to sail, but not mingle with masses of people aboard a giant ship, says Dudas. The smaller river vessels mean fewer guests and a more intimate experience in the port towns into which they can navigate. The classic rivers of Europe, such as the Danube, Rhine, and Rhone, weave through a landscape of vineyards, castles, and monasteries that prove memorable year-round, but can be particularly delightful in December, when Christmas markets add a seasonal ambience to a European river journey.
Local gem: Consider sailing the intricate interlinking series of canals, small rivers, and inland seas in The Netherlands with a Dutch waterways cruise. Not only will tulip fields and windmills be among the highlights, but in 2022, Holland hosts one of the world’s most spectacular horticulture exhibitions, Floriade Expo. It’s held every 10 years.
Auckland's skyline in New Zealand. Photo by Georgeclerk/iStock.com
Australia and New Zealand are expected to ease border restrictions by Christmas to allow fully vaccinated travelers into their respective countries. That means, for the first time since 2020, you’ll be able to explore the stunning wonders of Down Under—from the Australian Outback and the Great Barrier Reef to breathtaking Milford Sound and Rotorua’s geothermal marvels—in a region where population vaccination rates are among the highest. Dudas says requests for Down Under vacations have increased as news of border reopenings make headlines.
Local gem: Since it takes some effort to get down this way, consider spending a few days in Tasmania. Situated about 150 miles south of Australia’s mainland, this island state boasts pristine beaches, unique wildlife and incredible mountains—a remote and laid-back setting for a post-pandemic adventure.
Mexico. Photo by Marcos Elihu Castillo Ramirez
“Mexico never went away,” says Dudas, who notes that vacations to Mexico’s Riviera Maya (e.g., Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum) didn’t see many trip cancelations in 2021. While international travel requirements to many other destinations have remained somewhat complicated, Mexico has made getting your passport stamp relatively simple. Plus, it’s appeal as a beach resort destination that’s not too far from home is hugely appealing to the sun-sand-surf seekers.
Local gem: Be sure to slip away from the gorgeous beaches to explore one of Mexico’s amazing natural wonders: cenotes. Many of these spectacular underground pools are surrounded by amazing rock formations, hidden amidst jungle or surrounded by Mayan ruins, and are memorable places for a refreshing swim.
San Juan, Puerto Rico. Photo by Dennisvdw/iStock.com
For those seeking a Caribbean vacation that does not require a passport, Puerto Rico has emerged as an enticing opportunity, says Dudas. What also helps: flights from across the country and English as a widely-spoken language on the island. Puerto Rico offers an upbeat blend of everything you could want in a tropical vacation—from the colonial ambience of Old San Juan to the rainforest adventures of El Yunque National Park and the pristine beaches of Vieques.
Local gem: Explore the roads less traveled while in Puerto Rico. The tourism board partnered with two local travel experts to curate eight “secret” destinations that are safe to travel – and will whisk you away from the crowds to reconnect with nature in beautifully remote settings.
LUXURY AROUND-THE-WORLD CRUISES
Travelers aren’t just talking about taking a bucket list-worthy ocean cruise someday—that day has come. According to Dudas, “A lot of those big destinations that people have been thinking about…they’re now acting on it.” She notes an increased demand for around-the-world cruises, in particular, which bundle many of people’s must-see travel destinations into one epic trip. Some world cruise itineraries have even sold out within days of the reservation window being opened, she adds. The resounding motto for cruising in 2022 appears to be this: Go big or stay home.
If you’re ready to plan your dream vacation for 2022, speak with an accredited travel agent with AAA who can help to customize the best trip for you.