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Longer, slower, farther: Savoring the prospects of future travels

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Tourists browse a crowded Main Street in downtown Talkeetna, Alaska, in 2018. This summer, streets are pretty quiet in Talkeetna after most major cruise ship companies canceled their tourist seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some Americans are setting their sights on the state as a domestic destination once they feel more safe to travel again.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Tourists browse a crowded Main Street in downtown Talkeetna, Alaska, in 2018. This summer, streets are pretty quiet in Talkeetna after most major cruise ship companies canceled their tourist seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some Americans are setting their sights on the state as a domestic destination once they feel more safe to travel again.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS 
                                Construction workers and journalists gather at the Grand Egyptian Museum under construction in Giza, Egypt, near Cairo, in August 2019. For the first time, the gold-covered sarcophagus of famed boy pharaoh Tutankhamun will be restored, ahead of the new museum’s opening, set for 2021. At top, the empty Giza Pyramids and Sphinx complex during the coronavirus lockdown in March. Below, a cheetah prowls the Namib desert, Namibia.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Construction workers and journalists gather at the Grand Egyptian Museum under construction in Giza, Egypt, near Cairo, in August 2019. For the first time, the gold-covered sarcophagus of famed boy pharaoh Tutankhamun will be restored, ahead of the new museum’s opening, set for 2021. At top, the empty Giza Pyramids and Sphinx complex during the coronavirus lockdown in March. Below, a cheetah prowls the Namib desert, Namibia.

Beth Warren, a middle school history teacher in Lookout Mountain, Ga., had been looking forward to a much-anticipated trip this summer to Egypt, a country she vowed to show her husband and friends after her first visit several years ago. She was deep into organizing the trip with High End Journeys when the pandemic struck and has since shifted the visit to summer 2022, in part to make sure the new Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza is open.

“2022 sounds really far away,” she said. “But once I saw Egypt, I couldn’t get enough of it.”

People have always planned big trips months or even a year ahead of time, but now many are extending that timeline even further. In the travel stasis induced by the pandemic, future travelers have taken to tackling their bucket lists with big trips that are more distant and longer than usual — and planned further in advance. Optimists are targeting 2021. For others, their next big trip will be in 2022.

Before the pandemic, according to the American Society of Travel Advisors, most travelers booked trips six months ahead or more, on average, and longer for elaborate honeymoons or very special events like the solar eclipse passing over South America in December. Some travel companies say longer-term bookings have recently rebounded. For instance, Red Savannah, a British luxury travel agency that organizes custom trips, says it is up 160% over bookings this time last year.

These days, even spontaneous types have more time to think about where they want to go and put a plan in place.

“I’m trying to go big with my trips,” said Rayme Gorniak of Chicago, who is currently laid off from his work managing fitness studio franchises.

Anything short and normally easy to plan might bring disappointment as the pandemic continues, he reasoned, but a far-horizon destination — he’s considering Jordan for June 2021 — offers hope. The trip also represents a personal conquest for Gorniak, who is gay and worried about the persecution of LGBT people in some Muslim countries.

“Jordan’s been on my radar because of the rich history, and off it because of the potential risk I would have,” he said. “But I’ve been doing research on Amman and seeing, as strict religious standards go, it’s a little bit more lax on tradition,” he said.

For Lori Goldenthal of Wellesley, Mass., changing plans meant changing the destination. She had originally planned a trip in and around Vietnam for her husband’s upcoming 60th birthday. But after the pandemic hit, she worked with the agency Extraordinary Journeys to book a two-week trip to Namibia for 2021.

“Namibia was on my bucket list and it seemed like a better idea than going to all these big cities in Asia,” she said.

“I believe we will go, but who knows,” she added, noting generous cancellation policies that made her more comfortable booking the trip. “Having something to look forward to is fantastic.”

Other forward-looking travelers are simply picking up a year later.

After months of reading about the climate and culture of Greenland, Jill Hrubecky, a structural engineer based in Brooklyn, N.Y., was excited for a cruise she had planned there in August with her mother and an aunt and uncle. Working with their agency, Huckleberry Travel, they rebooked the cruise for summer 2021 only after learning that the cancellation policy is flexible.

“I will not make any nonrefundable, permanent plans for the next couple of years,” she said. “But I’m an optimist. Half the fun of traveling is planning and getting excited.”

There are psychological benefits to planning activities, especially travel, according to Shevaun Neupert, a professor of psychology at North Carolina State University. Future-­oriented thinking is equated with proactive coping, a means of reducing stress through detailed planning, such as learning which flights to book to avoid layovers, and gathering the resources — including time and money — to make it happen.

“Being able to think about and imagine something positive in the future has benefits in the present,” she said.

The pandemic, too, may have shown travelers that what they thought they could always do — namely, see the world — isn’t such a certainty.

“Maybe they thought it would always be available, which was previously true. Now we’ve experienced restrictions and realize, oh, I need to make this happen,” she added.

Advance planning is also a practical way to turn vague desires into concrete plans. The travel adviser network Virtuoso offers a program called Virtuoso Wanderlist, an online survey that friends or family seeking to travel together take individually. (Since the pandemic, Virtuoso has made the online planning tool free.)

The program asks where they want to go, their interests and the kinds of activities they prefer. It then compares the results to identify mutual preferences and priorities that a travel adviser will analyze and, in consultation with the clients, use to come up with a five-year plan for tackling the bucket list.

Jim Bendt, the managing director of Virtuoso Wanderlist, equates travel planning with financial planning in the sense that both seek to maximize precious resources. In the case of travel, the currency is time.

“It takes away the stress,” said Karen Walkowski, a health care manager in Eden Prairie, Minn., who took the Wanderlist survey with her husband. “It turns a bucket list into a plan.”

Theirs started with Vietnam and Cambodia last year. This fall, it was to be a small ship cruise in Greece, which has been postponed a year because of the virus. The pandemic, she said, reshuffled their priorities, pushing Tanzania — originally planned for 2021 — farther out, pending a coronavirus vaccine, and moving Alaska up in its place.

“Having a plan takes it from dreaming and conjecturing to actually having things committed on paper, always with adjustments,” she said. “We’ve moved the chess pieces around.”

In addition to compounding their wanderlust, many travelers and planners say the pandemic has revealed travel’s environmental impact and are planning more mindfully.

“Our current situation has made me even more committed to focusing exclusively on sustainability going forward,” Rose O’Connor, a travel adviser in Granite Bay, Calif., wrote in an email.

“On one hand, we have seen how tourism can be vital to conservation efforts in certain destinations,” she wrote, noting the uptick in poaching in Africa in the absence of tourism revenue. On the other hand, she added, traveling from a hot spot like the United States particularly to remote or developing countries “is an ethical issue.”

Jeremy Bassetti, a professor of humanities at Valencia College in Orlando, Fla., has a sabbatical coming up in the fall of 2021 and plans to use miles to get to China and then travel overland to Tibet, Nepal and India for several months. While big trips often accompany sabbaticals, Bassetti has rethought his to “travel longer, farther and more slowly in 2021,” he said.

“Why wouldn’t we want to travel more to connect more” when assumptions about being free to travel are “disappearing before our eyes?” he added. “If you want to experience new cultures, you can’t do it very quickly.”

For others, 2022 presents the possibility of traveling in a time when the virus may be contained and spontaneity can resume.

High school freshmen Scout Dingman, of Miami, and Sophie Brandimarte, of Glen Head, N.Y., had been collaborating on a 2021 trip to Europe, making plans for their families to join. They have marked up maps and are keeping a Google Doc of destinations where they might branch out to from Hamburg, Germany, where they plan to visit a friend, although they are keeping their plans loose.

Because of the uncertainty of the virus, and the possibility of having to cancel and risk deposits, they are delaying the trip to summer 2022 while maintaining their optimism.

“We thought if we pushed it back, then we wouldn’t be disappointed,” Dingman said.

“We have to think of safety measures now,” Brandimarte added. “But in terms of the actual trip, we really want to keep on the bright side and not have to worry about that, too.”

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