Drawn to the outdoors in the post-vaccine summer of 2021, Neal Esserman, 72, of Redondo Beach, California, ventured up to Ketchikan, Alaska, to fish. The trip was so wonderful — he returned home with 70 pounds of filets — that he and his wife are planning to return this summer. But this time they’re going bigger, bringing their daughter and son-in-law along and splurging on a floatplane outing, for instance.
“It was so spectacular and so fun, I’m going to take it a step further,” Esserman says. “After being under house arrest [for so long], I don’t care what it costs. We’re going.”
With COVID-19 restrictions eased, Americans are itching to explore. More than 80 percent of travelers are excited to travel again, according to a March survey of 4,000 Americans by Destination Analysts, a market research firm. Travel advisers and providers report that many are planning trips as big as they can afford — whether they’re ticking off places on their bucket lists, scheduling longer or higher-end trips than usual, or planning special destination reunions with friends and family to make up for lost time.
The online travel agency Expedia calls it the G.O.A.T. — or Greatest of All Trips — mindset and the leading travel trend of 2022.
“Consciously or subconsciously, we’ve adopted a philosophy of how important it is to live in the moment, because we saw how quickly things can change,” says Justin Smith, the owner of Evolved Traveler, a travel agency in Beverly Hills, California. “Many freedoms we take for granted, we lost for a while. It shook a lot of us to the core [and led us] to say, ‘I’m going to make the most of my life. I’m not going to put things off. I’m going to do it now and bigger than before because I’m going to do it right.’ ”
In a survey of 3,000 global travelers, American Express found that 55 percent want to book a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. Depending on the traveler, that can mean a long-imagined trip to an iconic destination like Paris or Rome, or an exotic, faraway adventure. Amadeus, an airline information technology company, for example, reports a 36 percent increase in searches for Tanzania, a popular safari destination, and nearly 50 percent more searches for cities near Machu Picchu in Peru.
Some of these big-ticket international destinations travel advisers say are currently in demand — including Egypt, the Galápagos Islands and Kenya — have been clear about health requirements and arrival procedures, which may make travelers more comfortable about booking.
But not all wish-list destinations are international. Many Americans, still cautious as the pandemic continues, are taking their dream trips to places like Hawaii, New York City and the California coast, says Lauren Doyle, president of The Travel Mechanic, an agency in Raleigh, North Carolina. She notes that she’s been fielding many requests for trips to Yellowstone National Park, which she attributes to the popularity of the TV show Yellowstone. ”People are saying, ‘I want to go and experience the Western lifestyle,’ ” Doyle says.
Tour operators are still trying to keep up with demand for trips to U.S. national parks and other outdoorsy American destinations, whose popularity has grown during the pandemic. Classic Journeys, a walking tour company, has doubled its number of trips to the parks, compared to pre-pandemic departures.
“After visiting most European countries and many cities, we’re now focusing on enjoying nature at its finest,” says Sue Baker, 75, of Lewes, Delaware. Her next stop, later this year: Oregon. It will include a road trip along the coast, a visit to Crater Lake National Park and a cruise on the Columbia River.