FILE - A Delta Airlines aircraft takes off as passengers await the boarding process, Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, in Atlanta. For another year, summer travel plans are up in the air even as more people are ready to take to the skies. Summer vacations are roaring back, but you still need Plans A, B and possibly C to make sure you get away. Book flights and lodging early and take advantage of more generous change and cancellation policies. If traveling internationally is on your wish list, match your pandemic risk tolerance to the rules in other countries. Most importantly, be flexible since you never know when the next COVID-19 wave may upend even the best-laid plans.(AP Photo/Mike Stewart, File)
After two years of cancellations, deferments and marathon sessions with airline customer service, many travelers are hoping to book summer trips that actually pan out this year.
“I had the month of May 2020 completely off work,” says Katharine Ng, an engineering program manager in Los Angeles . Ng planned to visit Europe and Morocco but had to cancel and rebook for the following year, 2021. Those new plans were eventually scuttled because she wasn’t yet fully vaccinated by May, and travel restrictions got in the way.
“Thankfully, canceling the trips was easy because of the COVID cancellation policies,” Ng says. Yet while getting a refund was nice, it didn’t scratch the itch for taking an actual vacation.
Many travelers, twice bitten by summer plans gone awry, remain shy of making them again this year. Even the experts have given up trying to predict what twists the pandemic will take next. But regardless of what happens, travelers can maximize their chances of summer travel success with a few simple steps.
BOOK FLIGHTS SOON
Travel isn’t just coming back. It’s roaring back.
“We’re already at 2019 prices for airfare,” says Adit Damodaran, economist at Hopper, a travel booking app that tracks airfare trends. “We’ve already exceeded our initial forecast for prices.”
Prices are rising in part because of increased consumer demand, but volatile oil prices may be playing an even bigger role. When the Ukraine conflict caused some travelers to pull back on Europe travel, prices didn’t follow suit.
“In Europe, demand is decreasing, but prices haven’t dropped with it,” Damodaran says. “In fact, they have increased. Airlines could be preemptively adjusting fares for fuel price changes.”
Regardless of the cause, airfare costs are unlikely to drop significantly before peak summer travel. So booking sooner rather than later might help you avoid getting priced out of this travel season.
KEEP IT FLEXIBLE
The pandemic has ushered in one consumer-friendly change: Most airlines and hotels now offer more flexible booking options. And if the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that no trip, however well planned, is safe from disruption.
The best way to find flexible booking options depends on a host of factors, but a few simple rules apply.
— Avoid basic economy airfare as it doesn’t allow changes or cancellations.
— Choose hotel rooms with free cancellation. Sometimes these rates are slightly higher than their nonrefundable counterparts.
— Read vacation rental policies carefully. Services like Airbnb and Vrbo generally let hosts choose the cancellation policy.
Data from Hopper shows that the number of basic economy bookings made on its platforms dropped significantly in 2021 after airlines introduced more flexible options for other fares. Now, these bottom-of-the-barrel fares make up only 20% of total bookings compared with nearly 40% before the industry change.
CHOOSE DESTINATIONS WISELY
Even if COVID-19 cases drop throughout the spring and summer, it could be some time before all international travel restrictions follow suit.
“I was planning a trip to South Korea but I couldn’t deal with a seven-day hotel quarantine,” says Ng, citing the country’s strictly enforced rules . Ng opted to visit Europe this summer, where such restrictions aren’t currently in place. She feels more confident that COVID-related rules won’t suddenly change right before or, worse, during her trip.
When choosing a destination, start with the countries that have restrictions that match your risk tolerance and work backward.
Of course, these restrictions can be avoided by sticking to domestic travel, but many travelers are eager to head abroad.
MAKE A BACKUP PLAN — OR SEVERAL
Even with all these precautions in place, anything can happen. Another surge, variant or military conflict could upend even the best-laid plans, which is why it’s important to make a backup.
First, after planning your main trip, consider making a few fully refundable bookings for a second, separate trip. These can be a hedge to ensure you don’t have to book everything last minute during peak season. Just don’t book airfare unless it is truly refundable — most main cabin fares are refunded as vouchers with the same airline, which aren’t as good as cash.
Second, sketch out an idea for a third trip, with the intention to book it at the last minute if original plans fall through. This step can help psychologically to avoid losing steam when plans change.
Finally, consider taking multiple shorter trips during the summer rather than one long trip to a single destination. This approach not only protects against potential destination-specific lockdowns, but could also help make up for lost visits during the pandemic.
World famous Duval Street is where the party starts. Duval awaits visitors with plenty of bars, live music, restaurants, art galleries, hotels and guesthouses and shops selling clothing —from high-end island attire to $5 T-shirts — along with cigars and souvenirs.
The 1.25-mile-long Duval Street stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.
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This waterfront spot downtown is possibly Key West’s most photographed attraction, claiming the southernmost point in the continental United States and a landmark “90 miles to Cuba.” You will likely have to wait in line for a turn to stand before the giant marker located where Whitehead and South streets meet. Enjoy the view.
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The famous Conch Tour Train, which dates back to 1958, is an easy way to see the major sights in Key West and learn the island’s history.
The ride starts at the “depot” on Front Street and ends right behind it in Mallory Square. It’s a 75-minute trip that makes a loop through Old Town.
Tours run daily and the first starts at 10:15 a.m.
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The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, named for one of the most famous treasure hunters, lets you step back into the martime history of Florida and the Caribbean.
While the museum at 200 Greene St. isn’t involved in the ongoing searches at sea, its collections feature artifacts recovered from the Spanish galleons Nuestra Señora de Atocha and Santa Margarita of 1622.
The museum’s staff also takes deep dives into maritime archaeology and has created exhibits on slave ships and the 1860 African Cemetery at Higgs Beach.
Admission is $17.50 for adults and $8.50 for children.
Looking for a peaceful spot? The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, 1316 Duval St., is just the place on the quieter, upper end of Duval.
The attraction is centered around a lush, glass-enclosed space filled with butterflies, birds and two pink flamingos named Rhett and Scarlet.
Among the flowering plants, trees and waterfalls are 50 to 60 butterfly species from around the world plus more than 20 exotic bird species. The flamingos are known for their friendly personalities.
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You can easily rent a bicycle in Key West to tour the island.
Daily rentals range from $10 to $20 a day for a beach cruiser. Some shops will even bring them to you and pick them up when you’re through. Some streets in Key West’s Old Town have dedicated bike lanes. Helmets and locks are also available.
But remember to use caution on the busy island where traffic also includes delivery trucks, cars, scooters, stand-up electric scooters and skateboards.
The Key West Cemetery was created in 1847 after a disastrous hurricane unearthed the beachside cemetery, according to the city’s website. Between 80,000 to 100,000 souls rest inside the fenced 19 acres. From simple markers to elaborate mausoleums with statues, the centrally located cemetery displays the history and diversity of the island’s residents.
There are also several well-known wry epitaphs. The grave of B.P. “Pearl” Roberts famously reads, “I Told You I Was Sick.” Another states, “If You’re Reading This, You Desperately Need A Hobby.” And one says, “I Always Dreamed Of Owning A Small Place In Key West.”
The main entrance and sexton’s office are at the intersection of Angela and Margaret streets.
Ernest Hemingway’s old estate, with luxurious grounds and dozens of six-toed cats, is at 907 Whitehead St.
The National Historic Landmark is open daily, 365 days a year, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Guided tours of what was the legendary author’s home in the 1930s take about 20 to 30 minutes and also include his writing studio beside the house.
Then there’s the tale of the in-ground pool, which the museum says was a first in Key West, costing $20,000 to build between 1937 to 1938. There is a penny lodged in the cement by the pool, memorializing the claim that Hemingway shouted to his wife Pauline that she had spent all but his last cent.
Admission is $17 for adults and $7 for children 6 to 12. Take note: the museum only takes cash.
Key West Historic Seaport Facebook
Key West’s old seaport is a gem: a waterfront harborwalk with shopping and dining in the middle of a marina that features fishing charters, sunset-sailing catamarans and tall ships. The 20-acre complex is a place to mix with locals and visitors and take in exceptional dockside views.
Sure, Key West has an astounding number of things to see on land. But the ocean access is its most prized feature. Even if you’re only on the island for a few hours, you can still squeeze in time to spend on the stunning waters surrounding Key West.
Take a two-hour kayak tour or go parasailing for amazing views from the sky. Parasailing will take about an hour. Some watersports companies have snorkel trips that may fit into your schedule.
You can walk up 88 steps to the top of the Key West Lighthouse, which opened in 1848 and was decommissioned by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1969.
Today, it’s a museum dedicated to Key West’s maritime heritage, honoring those who kept the light shining through trying times. In addition to the view, the museum includes belongings, photos and memories of the lighthouse keepers and their families.
General admission is $14 but there are discounts for those 62 and older, retired military and children.
This state park on the southern edge of Key West boasts some of the best ocean views in Key West. Fort Taylor predates the Civil War and is a National Historic Monument.
It’s also home to the best beach on the island. You’ll have to pay admission fees, but in addition to the beach, you can check out the red-brick corridors of Fort Zachary Taylor, past cannon and gun ports, or roam the grounds, where tree names are marked and butterflies are known to visit.