Where to Travel in 2021
After spending the majority of 2020 wondering when we would travel again, we have the same question looming this year, albeit travel in 2021 looks more hopeful. With vaccines for COVID already being distributed, is it possible we will be able to hit the road freely again?
We should, but with some stipulations. Qantas Airlines became the first airline to announce in December 2020 that it would require all passengers to show proof of vaccination in order to fly, and several other airlines have followed suit. Countries themselves are debating whether or not to require proof via a vaccine passport. Currently, many with open borders already require proof of travel insurance and a negative COVID test to enter without quarantine. So, it's no surprise that travel experts suggest the "new normal" for travel will be both proof of travel insurance and proof of vaccination.
With that in mind, we're ready to go ... but preferably to off-the-beaten-path places, away from the maddening crowds. Here are our picks for where to travel this year — when we can!
In North America...
With remote work and closed borders being mainstays of 2020, it was finally time to visit America the Beautiful's national parks. What better time to take a road trip and visit Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and all the other must-see parks?
But everyone had the same idea.
This year, avoid the traffic jams and truly get away from it all in national parks that are less visited.
Denali National Park
It's not easy getting to Denali, and that's the point.
Both the name of the mountain and the 6 million acres of land that surrounds it, there is one road into Denali, and it's five hours from Anchorage, Alaska.
But once you are there? Well, you'll have the place practically to yourself, save for the bears, caribou, moose and wolves that call it home.
Isle Royale National Park
The only way to get to Isle Royale National Park in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is to arrive by boat or seaplane, so you just know there won't be a lot of people.
Once on these islands, you have the waters of Lake Superior to enjoy and ample hiking trails for a truly remote vacation in a place designated as an International Biosphere.
Acadia National Park
New England had some of the strictest travel requirements in the country in 2020, and its remote island national park takes a long car ride or a puddle jumper plane to visit — a safe bet, literally.
When you are there, experience any number of the 158 miles of trails, quiet kayaking coves and the charming Bar Harbour village that maintains its Victorian-era buildings.
In South America...
With 40 percent of South America made up of rainforests and the Andes, the longest continental mountain range in the world, you better believe that this continent is filled with lesser-traveled locales.
The unspoiled beauty of the Galapagos Islands has continued to thrive with an abundance of wildlife ever since Charles Darwin surveyed it and formed the Theory of Natural Selection nearly 200 years ago.
The remote islands 600 miles off of the coast of Ecuador require a boat trip to see, but the intimacy of the charters that visit will have you feeling you could be arriving in 1835 with Darwin himself.
At the tip of the continent, Patagonia is the last stop before Antarctica. Stradling Argentina and Chile, there are nearly 550,000 square miles of sparsely populated landscape.
Here, hiking in Torres del Paine National Park will take you to icebergs and glaciers within the Andes.
So remote is the world's largest rainforest that there are estimated to be 400 tribes of natives, some of which have never encountered outsiders.
While we wouldn't suggest heading that deep into the jungle, exploring the area's waterfalls and rivers can be done with small, private tour companies like International Expeditions and Jacada Travel, which will show you some of the world's natural wonders safely.
Africa is so much more than wildlife safaris.
It is a continent that covers more than 20 percent of the Earth's landmass and features coastlines with beautiful beaches, mountains and plateaus, deserts and jungles, and everything in between.
One of the safest countries in Africa is Ghana, which is filled with castles and forts from its historic colonization years.
In 2019, the country welcomed visitors to "return" to the country for the 400th anniversary of the slave trade, but that return is still very much welcome in 2021 for people whose ancestry goes back to those generations who were ripped away from the continent. Use 2021 to uncover your roots.
Explore the Sahara Desert and learn about the nomadic Bedouin culture with a tour in Morocco.
Led by esteemed companies like Nat Geo Expeditions, these tours will have you hiking, riding camels and experiencing desert safaris in camps on a trip unlike any you've ever experienced.
If you have been there and done that in the Caribbean Islands, 2021 is the perfect time to visit this remote island found in the Indian Ocean.
The pristine white beaches are lined with palm trees, and its interior rainforest is reminiscent of those in the Caribbean. But Mauritius is a Hindu nation with an Asian culture set on an African island — meaning it's completely unique.
Travel outlooks have long praised the thriving cities of Asia, the rice fields, the beaches and the jungles.
But now is the time to take a look at inner Asia, where more remote destinations offer spectacular vistas and warm, welcoming people.
You don't have to hike Mount Everest to take in the Himalayan Mountains of Nepal. Tour companies like G Adventures provide tours from the high roads to Tibet as well as hiking tours and wellness retreats.
From trekking to yoga, a vacation to Nepal is self-care for the body and soul.
One look at Mongolia, and you'll realize your luck at exploring a hidden country. From the Gobi Desert to Gorkhi-Terelj National Park and the monasteries and statues scattered across the country, you'll quickly discover it was worth the trek.
Prior to the pandemic, tourism was on a steep rise to Mongolia, growing to 529,000 visitors. Make your way there before the tourism boom returns.
If there ever was a time to plan a once-in-a-lifetime trip, the year after a pandemic would be it. Celebrate the freedom of travel again by going deep into India and visiting the home of the Taj Mahal.
Built in the 17th century, the mausoleum of marble was dedicated to Mumtaz Mahal and was a true labor of love.
Crowds will be contained for safety, providing visitors with a more peaceful experience.
Most of Europe closed its borders to American travelers in 2020, and when they reopen, expect travel to Europe to look quite different than in the past.
Avoid any reopening confusion, attractions with timeslots selling out and continued social distancing practices by venturing away from the tried-and-true destinations. This new year is ideal for sampling countries that don't experience an influx of visitors. One day, these destinations will be the new "it" places to go, so visit early and see them before they change.
Slovakia is one of several Central European nations that were behind the Iron Curtain for decades. That kept travelers away but this relatively new European nation is home to rolling mountains, fairytale castles and the equally storybook capital city of Bratislava.
The country is very safe, and its prices are extremely cheap. You'll get to experience all the charm of a Western European destination at a fraction of the cost.
Often mistaken for Slovakia (and vice versa), Slovenia is located off of the Adriatic Sea. Nature is its best feature, and you'll find stunning national parks with lakes, waterfalls and caves.
In fact, Postojna Cave is an underground network of more than 3 miles of caves that even includes an underground railway to explore it.
It doesn't matter that Iceland has been on the "it" list for the past few years because, even before COVID, you could be in the midst of the nation and not see another person for hours.
Renting a car and road-tripping across this northern island will have you seeing waterfalls, glaciers, thermal lagoons (there are more than just the Blue Lagoon!) and perhaps even the dancing Northern Lights overhead at night.
In the Caribbean...
Long the playground of American travelers looking for a scenic vacation less than a full day's travel away, many Caribbean destinations remained open during 2020, including those along Mexico's Caribbean Coast.
Now, in 2021, venture farther, and experience more of the turquoise waters lapping against wide stretches of beaches.
When tourists head to the Yucatan, they visit Cancun and Riviera Maya. But in the southernmost Yucatan, just over the border of Belize, is a less-frequented but equally fascinating city with Mayan ruins.
Chetumal is worth the extra travel time to reach, as you can also spot manatees in the sanctuary that keeps them protected. This is the capital city of Quintana Roo — the same state with the aforementioned hotspots — which means more of a city vibe and far fewer tourists.
Central America's tourism boost is mainly to Costa Rica and Belize, but their neighbor, Nicaragua, is one of the safest nations. Before the pandemic, it experienced 70 percent growth in visitors in a seven-year span.
From its Spanish Colonial ruins and history to its rainforests and beaches, there is much to see and do in the country that is flanked by the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean.
The islands in the Caribbean are a mix of multiple nations, and in Guadeloupe, you will find an island still under French authority. This means French is the spoken language, and you'll experience an entirely different island vibe than, say, Jamaica or the Bahamas.
When not lounging the days away on a beach or a boat, hike in the national park and visit La Grand Soufriere volcano.
U.S. Virgin Islands
If you want to get away but are still nervous about traveling outside of the U.S., consider the U.S. Virgin Islands. No passport is required to visit the three islands that make up this territory in the Caribbean, the most remote being St. Croix.
You won't have to see a soul if you rent a place and spend your days in ideal snorkel waters with colorful fish visible even without a mask.