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Let’s be honest, travel for the rest of the year has largely been taken off the table, and while the current pandemic has forced us to adjust our daily lives, so too will it adjust the course of future travel.

While domestic tourism is expected to take off first, and direct neighbors may open borders to each other (talks between Australia and NZ are already in progress), an international free for all isn’t likely until at least 2021.

There’s really no certainty about the future of travel, though one thing we do know is that we’ll have to get used to a whole new travel landscape once restrictions are lifted.

So, if you’re planning on 2021 travel, whether that’s a European river cruise, backpacking trip, or even domestic travel, and you’re wondering how the travel experience will change, these are the most likely scenarios you should prepare yourself for.

After a Pandemic: Things You Should Know About 2021 Travel

Mass Tourism to Fade

Traveler female woman RF travel Venice

Mass tourism has been one of the biggest social and environmental issues of the 21st century – tourism numbers to places like Venice, Barcelona, and Bali have reached excessive peaks, which has seen a detrimental effect on both the environment and lives of locals.

More and more destinations have become unable to cope with their own popularity in recent years, and it was becoming a trend for popular destination to limit tourism to fight the strain on their resources.

Though now we’ve seen the issue go from one extreme to the other.

There are many predictions as to why; one being that travel may be expensive for the first year, as the industry tries to find its feet, another being that some demographics (like the older population) may be hesitant to travel again so soon.

Another reason is that many people having lost their incomes across all industries means there won’t be as much disposable income as there once was, for people to be able to afford the luxury of leisure travel.

Either way, mass tourism is unlikely to be an issue for the next year at least.

We can only hope that destinations will use this time to work on developing solid and sustainable tourism strategies to avoid taking the same path in the future. As a traveler this presents a unique opportunity to visit previously over crowded destinations without the normal overwhelm.

Though that doesn’t mean you should expect shorter airport queues …

Increased Safety Precautions

Passport luggage suitcase airport RF

Just as airport security changed dramatically after 9/11, so too will the current pandemic change the landscape for 2021 travel and protocols around transit.

Before the 2001 attacks, we were able to leave our shoes on, kiss our loved ones goodbye at the gate, and bring as much shampoo as we wanted onto the plane. There was also no such thing as a full body X-ray scanner at the airport, or for that matter, the TSA.

The future of travel after this pandemic will undoubtedly see an increase in safety precautions at airports, and things like queues with two meter spacing, health certificates, insurance certificates, and medical screening are all likely to come into play.

Temperature checks and thermal imaging have already started to appear at Asian and Middle Eastern airports, and many are considering mandatory blood tests. And if we’re to learn from recent history, there’s usually no way back from our adoption of new technologies.

At some point in 2021 Governments will have to come together to establish a common international standard for aviation health screening, though it’s likely to incorporate everything that’s already being done.

Social Distancing

Airport RF

Social distancing is a term that’s here to stay, and even though the travel industry will bounce back, there will be a lot less direct contact with other humans than you’ve previously been used to.

Airports around the world are already working to improve their facial recognition systems to move away from the current system of passport checks (the good news is that this should make immigration a lot more faster). And high tech security machines won’t require you to remove your liquids or laptop.

Automation was already a trend before the pandemic, though now it’s been pushed into overdrive, and we’ll likely see automation and AI used not only for efficient security, but also keeping spaces compulsively clean.

Just as our grocery stores have started sanitizing conveyor belts after every customer, travelers moving into 2021 are going to have a heightened awareness to avoid touching common surfaces, and the tourism industry will naturally have to rise to meet this level of anxiety.

Less contact with flight attendants is one of the other probable changes that’s coming, and there’s much uncertainty and speculation as to whether the very design of airplane seating will need to be adjusted (ie the middle seat).

At the start of the year we were all fine with squashing into airplanes and rubbing shoulders with foreign strangers – those days are now gone.

Face Masks

Face mask travel plane airport RF

Wearing surgical face masks in public was already a cultural norm throughout much of East Asia before the pandemic, but there has always been a certain stigma about wearing them in Western countries.

After the Spanish flu in 1918, wearing masks in public became a matter of ethics throughout countries like Japan and China, and this cultural norm was only strengthened by the outbreak of SARS in 2003.

It’s normal for people in these countries to wear masks even if they’re not ill, and seen as a sign of respect, and a sense of security for the people around you. People view wearing a mask as a civic duty.

Even though the science on the efficacy of face masks isn’t there, face masks are likely to become standard across many destinations and airlines. Passenger face masks have already been adopted by Lufthansa and Wizz Air.

Virtual Travel

We’re moving into a very different world of armchair travel right now, and virtual experiences are likely to become an integral part of the industry even after travel resumes to the masses.

Being forced to stay at home has been a lesson in deferred gratification, and instead of hopping on a low cost flight for the sake of it, it’s more likely that we’ll ‘spend more time planning prepping, and squeezing the most out of the anticipation’.

Planning travel will be far more interactive from now on; lockdown has forced destinations around the world to get creative and really embrace virtual travel, and as we said above, there’s usually no turning back once we become used to new technology.

In an attempt to keep people interested, we’ve seen many destinations, cities, and museums move online, and there are some insanely good virtual tours.

The Uffizi in Florence has more than 3000,000 works in their digital archives, and you can actually remote control local tour guides in the Faroe Islands right now!

What do you expect from the travel experience in 2021?

Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Her husband Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; an online magazine dedicated to opening your eyes to the wonders of the wild & natural world.

Having visited 50+ countries across all seven continents, Megan’s travels focus on cultural immersion, authentic discovery and incredible journeys. She has a strong passion for ecotourism, and aims to promote responsible travel experiences.



  1. I think I like to wait a bit longer after its ends, just to make sure there are no traces left and yeah super precautions :)

    • I agree Jared, I think there are many travelers who will take a similar approach and leave a bit of a buffer of time to see how the dust settles after we come out of this :)

  2. I am ashamed that I ised to roll my eyes at people wearing masks, thinking they were trying to be trendy, or just paranoid.I get it now. Your sentence on how wearing masks is a civic duty helped to remind me that it isnt just about me; its my responsibility to make sure I do my part to help keep others safe. Thank you for a great artie, as always.

    • Absolutely, wearing masks in public is definitely something which has previously carried a stigma in Western culture, but it really does make you see the practice in a totally different light when you realize that it’s actually a sign of respect for others.

      Thanks for reading April!

  3. Have a bag packed from the Feb and March canceled trips.

    Wonder if a new type of group travel will develop that offers ‘safe health’ travel? Controls for perhaps scanning daily and accomodations that offer a higher level of sanitization? Custom masks can be a new branding tool………

    • Sadly I was also supposed to have been traveling this past March – I was quite excited about a planned trip to China.

      That’s a really interesting point, so to whether a new group of health focused travel will emerge – I’m sure there would be the demand for it, as this pandemic has definitely caused a lot of fear and anxiety around health and social distancing which I’m sure is going to be embedded into people’s psyche for well beyond the virus itself.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Lee :)

  4. I was the same when I used to see people wearing face masks in the far east…but now things have changed. I won’t be rushing out after the lockdown ends, but I will have a good supply of face masks handy. How times have changed!

    • Absolutely Rick – it appears they were probably more on top of good social interaction before we were in the west with adoption of face masks as part of everyday normal culture :)

      Thanks for reading :)

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