This is the time of year when many people start dreaming of and planning for their next trip. The thought of traveling somewhere (anywhere) lifts our spirits and gives us something to look forward to during these dark winter days.

The technological resources that are available make research and planning for vacations much easier. This was the reasoning behind the creation of National Shop for Travel Day.

This year, National Shop for Travel Day falls on January 12, 2021. Founded by the Travel Technology Association as a day to celebrate the joy of travel and the innovative technology that we use to shop and plan our trips, the National Shop for Travel Day is celebrated on the second Tuesday of January since 2018.

Woman enjoying life outside

The Elephant in the Room

I’ve been asked many times about what travel will look like in 2021 and when we might be able to start booking travel this year.

Despite the lingering presence of COVID-19 and the threat of new variants we can look at travel options now. There are some good sales and that makes shopping for travel very tempting.

However, shopping for travel doesn’t always involve buying plane tickets or hotel reservations. I’ve listed some safe travel options you can shop for and ways to shop that will also keep you and your wallet safe.

Online-Shopping

Plan to Explore America’s Natural Treasures

Even though we are eager to travel, health and safety will remain paramount considerations this year. Domestic travel or travel to Caribbean islands that can be reached in a few hours will be popular options.

Because social distancing will continue to be important many travelers will flock to the great outdoors like the U.S. National Parks. Many will travel in the safety of a car or RV and they’ll be able to stay within their bubble and explore the vast lands without the threat of crowds.

As of January 18, 2021, the National Park Service (NPS) is waiving the entrance fees on six days over the course of the year.  This presents a perfect time to start planning your free visit to any of the 423 NPS national parks, monuments, and historical sites.

Currently only 108 NPS sites and parks charge an entrance fee ranging up to $35 per vehicle. So the other 315 NPS sites and parks provide year-round opportunities to explore for free. However, the 108 parks and sites are the most popular destinations (Yellowstone, Zion, Grand Canyon, etc.) and their entrance fees range up to $35 per vehicle.

Grand Canyon.  Photo by Tonya Fitzpatrick
Grand Canyon. Photo by Tonya Fitzpatrick

So take note of the six NPS free days and make some plans to explore the amazing landscapes and important historical attractions without spending a dime. 

  • January 18: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • April 17: First Day of National Park Week
  • August 4: First Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
  • August 25: National Park Service Birthday
  • September 25: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11: Veterans Day

If you’re thinking of visiting several National Parks and sites this year it may be worth considering an American the Beautiful pass. The Annual Pass is $80 but there are discounts available to seniors and members of the Armed Forces.

Book a Virtual Experience

We recently strolled the beautifully decorated town of Ljubljana, Slovenia to enjoy the magical holiday lights and discover an authentic European Christmas market.  Along the way our host told us stories of Christmas traditions in Europe and she shared some of Slovenia’s important historical markers. As we walked along the streets of the Ljubljana we greeted other locals and we picked up a recipe for mulled wine. All the while we took photographs of al of the holiday lights and attractions like the castle.

  • Ljubljana Castle is lit up in the background. Photo: Tonya Fitzpatrick
  • Largest public tree in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Photo: Tonya Fitzpatrick
  • Inside Ljubljana's Government House. Photo: Tonya Fitzpatrick
  • St Nicolas church. Photo: Tonya Fitzpatrick
  • This set of mini trees was part of a film set in Ljubljana's city center. Photo: Tonya Fitzpatrick
  • Our host guide Ivana. Photo: Tonya Fitzpatrick

A month earlier we were cooking up a feast with a chef in Kenya. She regaled us with stories of Kenya’s history as well as the tradition of the recipes we were making. As a good chef does she inspected our dishes to make sure we were on the right track.

Both of these international journeys were done from the comfort of our home. Thanks to innovative technology we were able to explore these destinations in real time with a local.

Amazon and Airbnb have jumped on the virtual travel bandwagon with their Experiences offerings. The prices vary and sometimes the companies will offer substantial discount. (I paid $7 for the Ljubljana tour in December. Today the cost for the same tour is $56.)

There are many virtual travel experiences that will allow you to explore but not all of the virtual offerings are done in real time with a live guide.

Our tour of Ljubljana was not the same as walking the streets on our own but it was the next best thing to being there.

Considerations for International Travel

The decision to travel is a personal choice but it’s one that should not be made lightly. We know that many of our fellow travel journalists depend on travel for their livelihood. We also know that travel is one of the top two things (the other being dining out) that people desperately miss.

So if you’re biting at the bit to take advantage of a great airline ticket or vacation package you found, think very carefully before purchasing any ticket or package that is not fully refundable.  Billions of dollars were lost due to nonrefundable cancellations last year. 

U.S. travel agents have issued over #1 billion airline ticket refunds but there is twice that amount in refunds from airline companies that consumers are still waiting for. Bottom line…read the fine print before making any purchase and make sure that your purchase it is fully refundable.

With respect to access and distribution of the vaccination it is important to remember that not every country is receiving equal treatment. There are many countries that won’t be able to roll out the vaccine and others that won’t have access to any vaccine for another year. So it is imperative that you monitor your health and research local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 before traveling anywhere.

Wherever you travel make sure you have your mask, hand sanitizer and continue to be socially distant.

Beat the Winter Blues

National Shop for Travel Day was created to remind us to start planning our next holiday. After all, we need something to look forward to after the holiday season.

Shopping for our next vacation is a great antidote to the winter blues. With all of the great resources available to help you plan your vacation now is the perfect time to start researching your dream trip.

bahamas-view under a palm

Cover photo of River in Ljubljana, Slovenia taken by Tonya Fitzpatrick