Does Planning Future Travel Fend off the Pandemic Blues—or Just Make It Worse?

New research shows that trip planning can in fact lift our spirits. We can attest it has worked for us.

Does Planning Future Travel Fend off the Pandemic Blues—or Just Make It Worse?

Planning that next trip could get us out of our funk.

Photo by Shutterstock

The past few months of the coronavirus pandemic have been rough going. The situation has not only tested our ability to cope but also to do so without access to one of our best coping mechanisms—travel. However, new research shows that just making future travel plans can boost our spirits, energy, and well-being.

A survey of 263 U.S.-based adults conducted August 21–24, 2020, and commissioned by a coalition of travel companies, revealed that 97 percent of people feel that having a trip planned actually makes them happier, while 71 percent report having more energy when they have a trip planned for within the next six months.

According to happiness researcher Michelle Gielan, founder of the Institute for Applied Positive Research, who oversaw the study, “Booking a trip—even just getting it on the calendar—might be the very thing we need to restore our emotional immune system after months of mounting uncertainty and stress.” (AFAR just launched a quiz with United for you to find your happy place on Aruba, if you’re in the mood for planning a trip).

The stats seem to stand up to anecdotal evidence, too. “Travel planning for postpandemic gives me the ultimate feeling of ‘this too shall pass’,” says Rosalie Tinelli, AFAR’s social media manager. “Any time I’m feeling like I have nothing to look forward to, I continue planning my next trip to Italy—which was originally supposed to have taken place this past May.” Tinelli has rescheduled her Italy trip (to Genoa and Parma) for May 2021 and has already selected some hotel and Airbnb options and set up a tracker for airfares on Google Flights. “All that’s left is to figure out where I’ll be eating my weight in cheese,” she added.

Tinelli isn’t alone in seeing a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel by planning future travel.

AFAR’s SEO manager Jessie Beck confessed that planning travel has helped her get through, too. “I’m a total planner and scrolling through Airbnb listings and checking flight prices has always been a way for me to decompress,” she said. “Over this summer, that turned into researching and eventually going to new camping spots across California.

“Though I also continue to plan and think about my twice-delayed dream trip to Lebanon—for whenever I can make it a reality.”

Inspiring travelers to start dreaming and planning again

Travel companies have banded together to create a new campaign aimed at inspiring future travel.

Travel companies have banded together to create a new campaign aimed at inspiring future travel.

Courtesy of the U.S. Travel Association

The survey findings have prompted travel companies to band together in an effort—officially called “Let’s Go There”—to help inspire would-be travelers to start dreaming of that next trip again and planning future getaways.

The coalition is made up of more than 75 partners, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Disney, Enterprise, Expedia, Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, and United Airlines, among many others.

The participating companies and organizations have committed to promoting and encouraging future travel through the campaign, which is manifesting on social media through the tag #LetsMakePlans.

The hope is that a new normal in the travel landscape, replete with flexible booking options (the major U.S. airlines have all ditched their change fees), gracious cancellation policies, and attractive deals will encourage people to start making up for the months of lost travel time.

“The yearning for togetherness and a change of scenery highlight just how much we miss travel. When travelers turn their wanderlust into plans, emotional excitement grows,” stated Brian King, global officer at Marriott International and cochair of the Let’s Go There coalition.

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There is a lot at stake for the players involved. The travel industry has been dealt a devasting blow by the coronavirus pandemic. One in 10 Americans had worked in the travel sector prepandemic—but more than one-third of those jobs (34 percent) have been lost since March. The travel industry is hopeful that travel demand will return, and when it does it wants to convey the message that the health and safety of travelers and workers are among the keys to restoring confidence.

Indeed, 96 percent of respondents stated that being able to travel and feeling safe while doing so would bring them peace of mind, and 74 percent said that planning a trip would make them feel more in control amidst so much uncertainty.

For AFAR’s senior editor Tim Chester, planning and taking a local trip was exactly the elixir he and his family needed to cure them of the pandemic blues.

Said Chester, “After a couple of fully housebound months, we planned a night away at a friend’s house in the forest in Big Bear. With our usual four walls closing in fast, it was immensely cheering to just think about a change of scene, let alone hit the road and experience it.”

Michelle Baran is a deputy editor at AFAR where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined AFAR in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.
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