It’s no surprise that 2020 shut down many of our grand plans to head to some of the world’s most exotic destinations. But now that we are in a new year, what should we expect?

The COVID-19 pandemic is still very much alive. There is a lot of uncertainty as to how the travel industry will move forward, or if the world will completely shutdown again— especially with a new, more contagious strain making its rounds.

In an effort to help you plan ahead, we put together this guide on what you can expect with 2021 travel. Whether you actually travel, or not, we want to do our part to ensure you are as informed as you can be right now.

Travel requirements and updates

Where can Americans currently travel to? Where to find the latest?

As we approach a full year since the start of the pandemic, there still aren’t very many places American passports are welcomed. As of now, only a handful of places will allow us in, with no proof of a negative test. A full list can be found here, including those countries that do require a negative COVID-19 test before entry.

Mexico has become the hotspot for travelers because of its relaxed measures. As of late-December, the entire country has seen a spike in positive cases, mostly from people being reckless and not adhering to guidelines while there.

Stay up-to-date with American traveler info here.

Courtesy of Getty Images

Vaccine passports: real or fake news?

Since the announcement that vaccines were on the horizon across the globe, destinations have been exploring the idea of requiring proof of a COVID-19 vaccination before entry.

While this all is very new, and many won’t be able to register for a vaccine until later in the year, what we do know is that it’s definitely something that is on the table. Israel has already announced that it will require proof.

The digital passports will contain uploaded vaccine information directly from medical providers. Travelers will have a QR code scanned prior to boarding, or during the customs process.

Airline cancellation and refund policies

With another global shutdown still up in the air, airlines are extending cancellation and refund policies put in place during the height of the pandemic.

Also, before you book note that many airlines are no longer blocking middle seats, with many booking to capacity. Alaska, Delta, Hawaiian and JetBlue seem to be the only ones holding strong on this.

However, all airlines require masks to be worn for the entire duration of the flight. Failure to comply could result in a permanent ban, so don’t get caught slipping.

Courtesy of Getty Images

Here’s the latest:

American Airlines: Change fees will be waived for all new travel booked by Jan. 31, 2021. This includes basic economy and award tickets.

If the airline cancels the flight, customers can request a full refund in the original form of payment.

Tickets previously booked by Sept. 30 may be used to cover travel through Dec. 31, 2021. If you have a ticket that is expiring between March 1 and Dec. 31, 2020, the value of your unused ticket can be used for travel through Dec. 31, 2021.

Delta: Tickets purchased now through March 30, 2021 can be canceled or changed without any fees. New travel must be completed within one year of the original ticket issue date. A difference in fare may apply if you move to a higher-cost flight.

If you booked a ticket before April 17, 2020 for travel through March 31, 2021 you can cancel or rebook with no fee, for new travel completed by Dec. 31, 2022. Tickets issued between April 17, 2020 and March 31, 2021 can be also changed without penalty, but will only be valid for one year from the original ticket issue date. 

If Delta cancels your flight, you are entitled to a refund in your original form of payment.

JetBlue: Tickets booked through Feb. 28, 2021 can be changed or cancelled without a fee. But, you are limited to only one alteration and you may be responsible for any difference in fare.

Southwest: For new and existing bookings, if you cancel, you can opt to receive a credit which is valid for 12 months from the original purchase date.

If Southwest cancels your flight, you can request a refund in your original form of payment.

Spirit: Change and cancellation fees for travel booked by Dec. 31, 2020, will be waived. If you cancel your booking, you will receive a credit that is valid for 12 months. If you change to a new date or route, you may be responsible for a difference in fare.

If Spirit cancels your flight, you may request a refund in your original form of payment.

United: Tickets purchased through Dec. 31, 2020 can be canceled or changed without a fee, but a difference in fare may be required. You cannot get a cash refund, and will not be issued a credit or refund if the new itinerary costs less than the original booking.

If United cancels the flight, and you can’t be rebooked to arrive within two hours of your original arrival time, you can request a full refund in your original form of payment.

Join The Travel Noire Community By Downloading The Travel Noire App

Pandemic travel safety tips

If you travel, what should you pack?

For those who make the decision to travel now, it is important to pack things to help keep you, and others around you safe. You’ll definitely want to have several masks (KN95 masks are said to be the best at protecting against droplets), a disinfectant spray (Lysol and comparable brands are finally being restocked on shelves. You can opt for a large can to go into checked luggage, or travel-sized sprays for your carry-on) and an arsenal of Clorox wipes. Pro-tip: Pack a Ziplock bag full to carry with you on the plane. Wipe down your entire seat area once you board. Naomi Campbell taught us!

We would also suggest packing pens to use for any customs forms when traveling internationally. This mitigates the need for hand-to-hand contact with people not traveling with you.

Courtesy of Getty Images

You should get tested before traveling, here’s how

By now you should know that most international destinations will require proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test for entry. You want to make sure you thoroughly read the country’s requirements, and give yourself enough time to test and receive your result. Some require that the test be taken no more than 1-week prior to travel and others require it less than 48-hours before.

COVID-19 testing sites can vary from city-to-city, but many have gotten pretty efficient in producing results quickly. There are drive-thru sites where you self-administer your test under the direction of a professional, as well as facilities that will administer the test for you. Some airports also offer rapid testing too.

Yes, the nasal swab is uncomfortable, but only for a split second. Even if your destination doesn’t require pretesting, we still HIGHLY suggest getting tested before you travel. You never want to be surprised with a positive result once you arrive, and being forced to quarantine under the destination’s rules.

Social distance-friendly travel

Who currently offers remote-work visas?

When you decide to travel, extended stays are safer and mitigate the need to move through airports. Remote work visas are the latest wave with destinations offering the option as a way to draw outsiders back in, and recoup lost tourism income. Dubai, Barbados, Bermuda and Aruba are a handful of the places you can temporarily relocate to.

The visas are typically available to those who can show proof of income through remote work, as well as retirees. Many allow you to stay from 6-months to one year, with a fee. You could literally sit on the beach while earning money. Umm, yes please!

Photo by Wavebreakmedia for Envato Elements

Lowkey destinations without the crowd

If you absolutely need to get away, for whatever reason, heading to under-the-radar destinations will allow you to safely social distance during your stay.

Looking for an international getaway? Head to French Polynesia where you can lay out on the beaches, enjoy inexpensive accommodations and dine at amazing restaurants. You’ll need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test and take another test 4 days after arrival. 

The St. Regis Bora Bora is the place to be when visiting French Polynesia. 

For those wanting the Mexico vibe without the crowds like Tulum or Cancun, check out Puerto Morelos. It’s only about 25-minutes from Cancun International Airport, but secluded enough to make you feel as if you’re on a private island.

Domestic travelers, you’re in luck. Spend your nights gazing at the stars while at Big Bend National Park in Texas. Big Bend is known to be the best national park for spotting over 2,500 stars with your bare eyes. After a restful night of sleep, go hiking at Santa Elena Canyon or go on a scenic drive to take in the beautiful surroundings.

Interested in a small town mountain feel with great food? Asheville, NC is the perfect destination. It’s nestled in the middle of the Blue Ridge mountains with art galleries, the Biltmore Estate, and did we mention great food?!

You can also check out these off-the-grid destinations, many of which you can drive to depending on where you are.

Photo by: @eleven8 Instagram

Hotels to consider in 2021

Once travel resumes again, you’ll likely want to make up for lost time. This means splurging a little on over-the-top, must-see hotels or accommodations.

Here are a few bucket list worthy hotels for you to consider:

Giraffe Manor: the most Instagrammed hotel in the world, and rightfully so. This hotel, located in Nairobi, lives up to its name. It sits on 12-acres of land inhabited by giraffes. Don’t forget to schedule a breakfast meet up with a giraffe of your choice.

Amangiri: the true definition of luxury. Beyond the suites, 5-star dining and nature experiences this Utah hotel provides— the Aman Spa is the real showstopper. The 25,000-sq. ft. spa includes a water pavilion, saunas, steam rooms, cold plunge pools and outdoor private pavilions.

Secret Bay: located on the small island of Dominica, is this rainforest resort villa experience. With private plunge pools for each room, and on-call staff and chefs, this is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Courtesy of Secret Bay|Facebook via Matador

Royal Mansour: named ‘the most beautiful hotel’ in the world by many. Just footsteps away from the famous Jemaa El Fna square in the Marrakesh, Morocco, they have successfully transported the ambiance of the city into every inch of this hotel.

Tierra Patagonia: remotely located near the mountains of Torres Del Paine National Park in Chile, this place has everything you could wish for in one resort. Patagonia is an adventure spa hotel with emerald lakes, fantastic mountain ranges, and 5-star dining inspired by local dishes and the area’s abundant wildlife.

Alternatives to flying

Rent a car or n RV for a road trip adventure

Renting a car or an RV to drive to your destination, is one of the easiest ways to mitigate COVID-19 risk.

Opting to rent a vehicle means that your risk will primarily come from fellow passengers, so it’s best to travel with people from the same household— as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends. Try to avoid riding in cars with members of different households.

Rental car companies, including National, Hertz, Enterprise, and Alamo, have announced new sanitization protocols and cleaning measures between private rentals.

Courtesy of @livelifewithtola Instagram

Cruise America is an excellent option for RV rentals, as there are more than 120 RV rental locations across the United States and Canada.

Need help planning a road trip?

Kristin Braswell, the founder of Crush Global Travel, creates road itineraries for Black road trippers. She is flexible with every budget and customizes trips based on your interests.

If you’re planning a road trip in an RV, the National African American RVer’s Association (NAARVA) is a useful resource.  NAARVA is a group of professionals that enjoy travel, fun and food through the RVing lifestyle. 

Courtesy of Black Adventure Crew

You can learn more about the best camping grounds, adventures that work best for families, and even meet other Black RV travelers while on the road.

Staycations: travel but not really

Whether it’s a hotel or a private home, a staycation is a great option to break away from your routine. The best part?  Staycations don’t require flying.

Studies show that taking vacation benefits both the mind and body. Vacations lower stress, improve your mood, boost your creativity and heighten your productivity.

You may not be ready to travel just yet, but you can still enjoy the benefits through a staycation.

Photo by Jonathan Cooper

Think about it, when you travel, you escape your normal work routine, and regular life slips away.  During vacation, you’re exploring a new place that forces you to walk around new places, try new food, and speak another language.

All you have to do is take these vacation principles and apply them to your staycation.

Check out our list of the best cities in the United States for the ‘ultimate staycation’ and the best hotels in every state for a staycation.  

Once you have a city picked, it’s time to make an itinerary.  Airbnb experiences is an excellent place to start. The platform has various online and outdoor activities that you can choose from.

Make sure when planning a trip, that you’re familiar with state’s and city’s current visitor guidelines, as some destinations require mandatory quarantine.

Explore the world virtually

Many cultural sites worldwide have transitioned to offering virtual tours, as an outlet to help those combatting cabin fever, and cope as we wait for more destinations to reopen.

So, where can you explore?

Let’s start with Kenya.  Mount Kenya, the sleeping volcano that ranks as Africa’s second-highest peak, can be viewed through YouTuber Milosh Kitchovitch’s channel.

Courtesy of Getty Images

Do you miss France?  Then this virtual experience is for you.

France’s Loire Valley,  known for its outstanding wines, stunning architecture, romantic castles and more, can be viewed through Google Arts & Culture.

How about Bangkok, Thailand? Order from your favorite local-Thai restaurant, and take in all the views of the Grand Palace through a virtual tour here.

Try A Private Charter

We know what you’re thinking. This is supposed to be about alternatives to flying, but hear us out first. Commercial air travel comes with risks, mainly because you don’t have control over the people you encounter at the airports.

Courtesy of Getty Images

Private charters are not exclusively for the rich and famous.  It’s far more accessible, with some charters charging as low as $200 per hour for a private trip. This means you get to mitigate the risks of commercial air travel through airports.

Related: 5 Black-Owned Planners To Get Your Life & Travel Life Together In 2021