10 Travel Trends We're Looking Forward to in 2021

USA, Oregon, Bend, illuminated tent by lake in mountains
Chase Jarvis / Getty Images

It goes without saying that travel looked pretty different in 2020. Border closures, safety concerns, and a general state of uncertainty kept most people inside and close to home. But that doesn’t mean travel came to a screeching halt; instead, we saw new trends emerge as people looked for alternative ways to safely explore their surroundings. Outdoor dining became a staple in cities across the world, people sought off-the-beaten-path destinations (allowing some previously overrun places the chance to recover), and a shift toward remote work allowed for more flexibility in where we log in each day.

There’s no doubt that travel will continue to adapt and evolve in the coming year, and we're excited to see where it takes us. Our team sat down to think about the travel-related trends we are most looking forward to in 2021, and here are our top 10. Some of these emerged during the pandemic and we're hoping they'll stick around, and others are ones we’ve missed that (fingers crossed) will make a comeback this year.

Renewed Love of the Great Outdoors

Last year, I became a camper. I bought a tent, sleeping bags and pads, chairs, campfire cooking equipment, and all the other sleep-under-the-stars essentials. I’ve always been a pretty “outdoorsy” person, but 2020 was different. I (like most people) was confined to my home state, rather than jetting off to another part of the country or world to hike or ski. So I figured I might as well settle in to explore the best of New York State—and boy is it beautiful. I camped and hiked the Adirondacks, road-tripped through the scenic Finger Lakes region, and visited several state parks I had never even heard of pre-2020. And I know I’m not alone; millions of other Americans are falling in love with the natural beauty the U.S. has to offer. Retailers such as REI saw a spike in demand for outdoor adventure gear, and National Parks received record numbers of visitors last year as people craved outdoor escapes. (And the year ended with a new national park!)

While it’s clear the pandemic drove more people to crave the fresh air of outdoor destinations, I’m hoping this trend is here to stay and that people will continue to explore (and respect) the outdoors on future trips, even when travel returns to “normal.” For me, that means I’ll still break out my new camping gear once in a while instead of boarding a flight to a faraway place. —Jamie Hergenrader, senior editor

Revival of the Full Air Travel Experience

My happy place is on a plane, preferably in a lie-flat seat, watching a sappy rom-com that I can’t watch at home out of fear of my husband shaming me. Sound familiar? While I know not everyone is nostalgic for these moments, I am—and I’m confident that flying is going to be better than ever once we’re up in the air again. Last year, we saw airlines cater to consumers in unprecedented ways: change fees were eliminated almost across the board, valuable status was extended, carriers upheld people-friendly policies like new boarding procedures and socially-distanced-cabins, and there were still plenty of luxe touches like chef-inspired meals. These innovations leave me eager to hit the friendly skies once more and get back to chasing that ever-elusive status. —Laura Ratliff, senior editorial director

The Return of Performing Arts

Theater lovers around the world felt collective heartbreak when Broadway was forced to dim its lights last March. The theater has always been a major source of tourism revenue in major cities like New York City and London, whose West End productions recently reopened in early December only to be halted again two weeks later as the United Kingdom entered a national lockdown. Economies aren’t the only ones hurting: while the national U.S. unemployment rate hovers around 8.5 percent, the average unemployment for actors is currently 52 percent. But the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines has spiked optimism, with insiders—Dr. Anthony Fauci among them—recently expressing confidence that Broadway productions may be able to open by the fall of this year. With many in the theater world already leaning fully into experimentation during the pandemic—radio plays, Zoom productions, and a TikTok musical adaptation of Disney’s “Ratatouille” are prime examples—there’s no doubt that when Broadway returns, it will be bigger and bolder than ever before. —Astrid Taran, senior audience editor

New York Governor Cuomo Holds Briefing At LaGuardia Airport
Scott Heins / Getty Images

Upgrades to Travel-Related Infrastructure

Record low numbers of travelers have boarded planes and trains in the past year, but that doesn’t mean that construction on those hubs came to a halt; in fact, many projects sped up due to lower passenger volumes. Some notable achievements in 2020 included the opening of Salt Lake City’s new airport and the renovation of the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. But I’m most excited about some New York City upgrades.

First, the changes to LaGuardia Airport in New York City, which was once considered one of the worst airports in the country. It has greatly improved since the redevelopment began five years ago, but in the past year alone, it hit a few major milestones, such as unveiling the gorgeous new Terminal B Arrivals and Departures Hall and opening up American Airlines’ gates in the Western Concourse. And second, the beautiful new Moynihan Train Hall debuted this month (also on schedule and budget) in the former post office building across from Penn Station. It doesn’t increase the current rail capacity, but it does provide train travelers with a more welcoming and upgraded experience than that of Penn Station, with plenty of natural light, a first-class passenger lounge, free Wi-Fi, and a lot more charging ports. —Jamie Hergenrader, senior editor

Returning to (and Revising) Our Bucket Lists

My mother used to always tell me that I had all the time in the world to travel to Iceland to see the Northern Lights, Kenya to go on safari, and New Zealand for heli-hiking Franz Josef Glacier and kayaking the Marlborough Sounds. But if there’s one thing that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught me, it’s that we actually don’t have all the time in the world. So we have to start crossing destinations off our bucket lists that are within our reach while we still can. With those of us in the U.S. having been largely grounded for nearly a year, domestic travel has been on the rise as Americans have taken to exploring their own backyard. And there are plenty of bucket list-worthy activities this side of the world that are safe to enjoy in an era of social distancing: driving the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to San Diego, waking up early to catch the sunrise over the Grand Canyon, watching the cherry blossoms bloom in D.C., leaf peeping in New England. As for me? After years of hearing my parents talk up Glacier National Park, I finally have my eyes set on Montana. —Elizabeth Preske, associate editor

Re-opening Continues Across Densely Populated New York And New Jersey Areas
Noam Galai / Getty Images

Outdoor Dining Becoming Permanent

One of the few bright spots in my pandemic experience was the arrival of widespread outdoor dining in New York City and the rest of the country. Restaurants expanded their footprints onto sidewalks and into the street, and it was glorious. After months of being cooped up in an apartment 24/7, it was nice to enjoy a summer of alfresco dining with my roommate, especially at the restaurants that brought the indoor ambiance outdoors with potted plants, stained wood barriers, string lights, heat lamps, and more. After a successful summer of outside dining, New York City made the change permanent, prompting restaurants to invest more in their outdoor structures and work on some of the very legitimate accessibility issuesCincinnati followed suit early in December, though other cities like L.A. shuttered outdoor dining to curb the skyrocketing caseload. When summer melted into fall and the second wave descended on NYC, I returned to my life as a recluse, but I’m so excited that outdoor dining will be a new norm post-COVID, and I hope more cities around the U.S. and the rest of the world join suit. —Sherri Gardner, associate editor

The Advent of Bleisure and the "Workcation"

The word “bleisure”—a portmanteau of business and leisure—has been thrown around for years now, but what does it really mean? A jam-packed day of sightseeing after a week of boring meetings in L.A.? If the pandemic has given us one thing, let it be that many formerly office-bound employers have relaxed policies on remote work, finally realizing that productivity need not happen within the confines of a cubicle or an open floor plan, allowing employees to set up shop everywhere from Tulum to Iceland. Many countries have embraced the trend, welcoming Americans with long-term remote work visas, and it seems like it’s here to stay—an Upwork study found that more than 35 million Americans will be working remotely by 2025.  —Laura Ratliff, senior editorial director

Being Able to Visit Loved Ones

Like many people around the world, the long pause of travel has been a painful one. While I am sad that I couldn’t celebrate my 25th birthday in St. Lucia as I planned, the real thing I miss is going home. For the first time in my life, I haven’t seen any of my family in more than a year, and it made an already difficult year even tougher. As such, my first trips post-pandemic will be to visit family and my handful of out-of-state friends. I’m not alone in this desire to visit with family. Airports saw their busiest travel days since the start of the pandemic during the Thanksgiving holiday despite experts discouraging travel and warning of the repercussions. Clearly, many Americans are desperate to visit and connect with their loved ones. The increasing focus on domestic travel means 2021, and the years after will likely see an emphasis on traveling to see family and group trips with friends. —Sherri Gardner, associate editor

Museums Around New York City Re-Open To The Public After Long Pandemic Closure
Michael Loccisano / Getty Images

Required Reservations for Popular Attractions 

As an introvert who gets easily overwhelmed by crowds—and has previously sworn against returning to the Sistine Chapel after a near-panic attack in a mid-June crush of sweaty bodies—I was excited when some of the world’s most highly-visited museums and attractions (including the Tate Modern, the Louvre, and the Met) began requiring timed reservation tickets in an effort to limit the number of visitors at any one time. And I know I’m not the only one—name me one person who truly doesn’t mind being pressed against, breathed on, or made to feel guilty for standing in front of "Starry Night" for more than 30 seconds at MoMA. 

It is certainly possible that museum directors the world over will one day try to counteract 2020’s unprecedented downturn in foot traffic by foregoing timed entry—but if timed entry is still a thing later this year, when NYC is mostly vaccinated and it’s a lot safer to be out and about (and I have no reason to doubt that timed entry will be a thing of the past by then), you can bet I’ll be reserving space at the MoMA so I can fully (and peacefully) bask in Van Gogh’s masterpiece. – Elizabeth Preske, associate editor

That Vacation Feeling

Ultimately, I think we all just want to have that “vacation feeling” again. Staycations are great, but there is nothing quite like traveling somewhere new and breaking out of your routine for a while. I can’t wait for all the little things that add up to create that vacation feeling! From the anticipation you feel while packing your bag to indulging in a 9 a.m. airport beer before your flight, there’s just something about breaking away from your normal responsibilities that gives you both the mixture of excitement and relaxation that is the “vacation feeling.” I can’t wait to be able to unplug and forget what day of the week it is, or wander aimlessly around a new place. I’m sure we all have our own things that contribute to that vacation feeling, but whatever it is, I’m sure we’re all happy that travel is slowly but surely returning in 2021. —Taylor McIntyre, visual editor