How will we travel in 2022?
I should preface this by admitting: I don't really know. Because no one can predict exactly what 2022 has in store for us.
Just a few months ago you would have forecast this year as the one in which travel snaps back, in which we can all go back to indulging our passion. Europe for summer. Japan for winter. Indonesia for any time. Maybe not back to the way things were, but settling into an enjoyable and predictable new normal.
Then came Omicron. With waves of the new COVID-19 variant sweeping the world, things are far from predictable for the next 12 months. "Safe" destinations are no longer so. Lockdowns are returning. Flights are being cancelled. Travel restrictions are in a state of flux.
With all of that in mind, here's what I foresee for travellers in 2022.
Where we'll be going
In a strictly travel sense, there are pluses and minuses to Australia joining the world of the COVID-infected. The advantage is that Australia's state and international borders are now open, and are unlikely to close again. The disadvantage is that as case numbers spiral out of control here, there's a chance some countries may begin to close their doors to Australian travellers.
Travel will still be a possibility this year, more than it has in the past two. Interstate travel is on, and I would expect to see the few remaining restrictions on movement – rapid antigen tests required to enter some states – dropped within the next few months. And at some stage, maybe not in early February as planned, but soon, Western Australia will join the rest of us.
International travel, too, is a possibility this year, though past favourites such as New Zealand will remain off-limits until at least the middle of 2022, and the likes of tightly-controlled Singapore may become more difficult to access, depending on COVID-19 cases here. Western Europe is looking good for this northern summer, with cases likely to go down in warmer months, and Europeans keen to travel in the same way they have been for the last few years.
For Australians looking to stick close to home, I would be planning to visit Fiji, which is highly vaccinated and already welcoming tourists, as well as Thailand, and probably Indonesia by the time our winter rolls around. That ski trip to Japan isn't going to happen in early 2022, but I would expect, again, that by the middle of the year Japan will have begun to open to international visitors. South Korea, too.
And of course, the US and Canada are open, and are highly likely to remain so. Canada, in particular, is a very attractive option for the northern summer and autumn – picture yourself hiking and camping and canoeing in the national parks of Alberta and British Columbia, and you get it.
How we'll be travelling
Road trip! For the next few months at least, a humble car journey is going to be a popular option, as COVID-19 case numbers hit all-time highs here and the thought of packing up and going camping in the middle of nowhere develops all new appeal. Avoid long, busy flights. Stay close to home.
In fact, I can see people wanting to stay close to home for much of 2022, if not physically then at least culturally. That's why the likes of the Pacific, familiar countries in south-east Asia, classic US and European destinations, and places where travellers have family connections are going to be big.
Road trips are looking good for now, particularly once WA opens up. Single-flight destinations, rather than those that require transfers, are also likely to be big. Single-country itineraries, rather than multi-destination extravaganzas, will also popular. And private, small-group tours will also have appeal.
Issues to deal with
Where do you start? First, there's insurance, and what it will and will not cover. While medical expenses will probably be sorted if you're positive for COVID-19, cancellations due to lockdowns or changes of entry requirements will not. So that's something to factor in when booking a trip in 2022 – what's the cancellation policy? Can you switch your flights and accommodation, or even get a refund?
Then, of course, there's just the general unpredictability of the world at the moment, with countries opening and closing, plans shifting, flights being cancelled, restrictions changing. It's not to say that you shouldn't travel this year, but it's not going to be as easy as it once was.
Gaining entry to a new country can be a time-consuming and expensive process, and will continue to be this year. Movement in certain countries, where you need a local vaccination pass but may not have the proof to get one, is an ongoing problem for Australians. The threat of contracting COVID-19 is ever-present, as is the chance of not being able to get back into Australia if you're positive – though I would expect that entry requirement to be dropped some time this year.
Precautions to take
Get travel insurance: the best policy you can find. Read the fine print carefully and know exactly what you're covered for. Book flights that are at best refundable or, at worst, flexible enough to be shifted if you can't travel on your intended dates. Book accommodation, too, that's either refundable or flexible.
I would be looking to book travel to places you feel safe and comfortable. Maybe that means keeping things within Australia. Maybe it means going somewhere you have family connections or other friends. Maybe it's travelling to countries that are familiar, and in which you know you will have access to good medical care if it's needed.
And perhaps most importantly, have plans in place in case it all goes wrong. Know what you're going to do if you or one of your party contracts COVID-19 – who to contact, where to go, how to deal with the forced changes – or if closures or lockdowns force a change of plan.
Things to bear in mind
Travel is hard right now. Everyone is on edge. There are dangers and annoyances that didn't previously exist. You'll need a lot of patience to travel in 2022. Go gently; tread softly. Assume there will be issues to deal with and lines to stand in and you won't be unpleasantly surprised.
At the same time, large swathes of the world are already open to travellers, with more certain to join over coming months, and there are so many enjoyable, fulfilling and affirming experiences to be had out there. Travel has risks now but it also has huge rewards. If you're keen to get out there and reconnect with your passion, reconnect with the world, then by all means, do it. Travel safe, travel well.
If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it's to grab your chances when you have them.
Are you planning to travel in 2022? Where will you go? What risks or hassles do you foresee encountering? Is there anywhere you wouldn't go this year?