Will travel be normal in 2022?

We’re taking a(nother) break from our regularly scheduled goofballery this week to answer the pressing question: “Will travel return to normal in 2022?”

Will travel be normal in 2022

Regular readers of this blog will know that I don’t write consumer travel content very often. It’s just not my thing. What’s my thing? Thank you for asking. My thing is effectively whatever’s on my mind that I can somehow twist into satire, biting commentary and, for food-buying and not-dying-of-exposure reasons, anything having to do with Dracula. (Buy the book, buy the book, buy the book.)

But the internet sorcerers have told me that a lot of you are wondering if/how travel will be normal in 2022 and, honestly, I was wondering the same thing. (I haven’t stepped foot on a plane since January of 2020, which is the longest I’ve gone without flying since I was 17.) I’m not the first or last blogger to tackle this question, but I’m one of the few bloggers who err firmly on the side of caution. Also, I have no skin in the game, so I can share my unvarnished opinion.

No disrespect to other travel bloggers, but their business model lives/dies by travel being normal/abnormal and, conscious or not, their outlooks tend to be rosier than I’m comfortable with. Some could argue that I’m too pessimistic, but I feel compelled to point out that nearly everything I’ve written over the past two years about the climate crisis was deemed “too pessimistic,” and now we know I wasn’t pessimistic enough. So, if you think what I’m predicting below is unnecessarily negative, I invite you to set a calendar reminder for yourself for exactly a year from now to see how my predictions have aged.

Let’s start by touching on the obvious. Predicting anything in this era, particularly covid developments, is inviting failure. Or at best, it’ll only be temporarily correct. Nothing has gone the way we thought. Does that mean predicting anything is foolish? Probably. And you’ll notice that I’m short on concrete details below, because why bother? There’s no way I’ll get the details right with the speed at which facts are going stale lately. But at this stage, with the empirical evidence we’ve collected over the past 18 months, I can confidently predict general developments.

Also for my international readers, I apologize for the US-centric perspective, but that’s all I feel qualified to discuss.

Will travel be normal in 2022? Almost definitely not.

There are two main reasons that travel will not be normal in 2022.

  1. With rich countries hoarding shots, poor countries will continue to have alarmingly low vaccination rates and with a few billion people running around without that protection, virus variants are likely to keep coming and slowly worsening. The Whac-A-Mole misery of variants, each more virulent than the last, requiring yet more vaccine boosters and the accompanying anti-vax hysteria, will solidify into a ceaseless negative feedback loop.
  2. Despite being a midterm election, typically attracting lackluster voter turnout, 2022 is going to be a crucial election year in the US for a variety of democracy-threatening reasons. This means assholes are going to be operating at peak asshole, spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories. They’ll also make time to continue demanding the “freedom” to needlessly suffer and die of covid. These wingnuts will help drive rolling infection surges, similar to the ones we experienced this year, then indignantly wonder why someone hasn’t invented a covid cure yet and probably blame Obama.

That’s it. These two completely avoidable and fixable situations are going to keep the world more or less in its current half-functioning state for the foreseeable future, which includes travel.

Travel won’t completely stop – or if it does, it won’t stop for long. Officials have already demonstrated they’re happy to sacrifice 1-2% of the population to keep the economy spasming along. But travel will experience regular interruptions and slow downs as covid spikes come and go.

Border closures and the entry rules for countries will be in constant flux and any travel plans made more than a week or two in advance will have an even chance of being changed, ruined, shortened or just plain cancelled. (Speaking of, people working in travel insurance will likely have the best year of their lives, in case you’re looking to change careers and get into a growth industry.)

A small number of truculent, entitled simpletons are going to facilitate the continuation of the pandemic until the end of time – or until they all experience untimely deaths while still yelling about liberty and their cherished personal responsibility which they proudly fail to employ. But if you’ve read a news story in the past 18 months, you know that the people who break covid protocols often infuriatingly skate through, while tragically infecting and killing a half dozen innocent people around them.

The irony is that the people who are facilitating the continuation of the pandemic are the same people who lose their shit when the pandemic briefly inconveniences them. They want to eat cake, but don’t believe they should be required to lift the fork to their mouths.

Among the travel disruptions that I foresee worsening are escalating tensions between fliers and flight attendants. And the flight attendants are already sick of it. Completely avoidable incidents like this are going to cause havoc on flight schedules, with flights being delayed, diverted or returning to the gate to bounce unruly passengers. There will almost certainly be drama at hotels, restaurants, attractions and even on public transport and who wants to drop big coin and endure the worst air travel conditions we’ve ever known just to suffer through that?

Short of mass lobotomies, I don’t see this situation calming down any time soon. The only silver lining that I can see is travelers who don’t have the energy for testing, spirit-crushing travel limitations/cancellations and then more testing are going to continue the trend of regional and road trip travel, so destination marketing organizations who cater to those groups may still do relatively well.

If I’ve missed anything obvious, please let me know in a comment below.