Editor’s Note: As the pandemic evolves, travel rules can shift at a moment's notice. Be sure to read the health and safety protocols and requirements for visitors to any destination, as well as those of airlines, car rentals and hotels before you book, and again before you travel.
You may have put a lot of your vacation plans on hold as you watched the trajectory of COVID-19, or maybe life has just gotten super busy. Now that New Year's is nearly upon us, it may be time to book a vacation before school starts back up again. There are plenty of places that are ideal for social distancing while celebrating the end of 2021 and the hope of a better New Year.
Here are some suggestions and resources to help you ring in the New Year away from home.
Stay local and check regional visitors bureaus
If you're still worried about flying during the pandemic, pick a close-to-home vacation spot that you can drive to. For example, educators in Jacksonville can easily drive to Cocoa Beach, Destin or Clearwater. Residents of the Boston area don't have to drive far to get to Newport, Rhode Island, or Portsmouth, New Hampshire. This year, consider nearby smaller cities or nearby towns that are an easy drive.
The websites of regional and local visitors bureaus, such as Visit North Carolina and Discover Atlanta, are standbys when you’re looking for last-minute hotel deals. Also check visitors' bureau websites for money-saving offers for everything from restaurants to tours and attractions. If you're not sure what spots in your state would make for a fun New Year's vacation, call the state's visitors bureau and the representative can tell you more about different locations and figure out what's a good match for you and your travel companion.
Use your NEA member benefits
Savings for your New Year’s getaway are a click away with your NEA Member Benefits. Check for last-minute getaway offers and discounts through NEA Travel; you can also earn and use NEA Travel Dollars for greater savings. Through NEA Travel, you can find special offers on hotels and resorts, as well as get access to cheaper rates on car rentals. You can also book airfare and cruises when you’re ready to go on longer trips. Plus, the new NEA Discount Tickets Program gets you less expensive tickets to theme parks, concerts, movie theaters, theater shows and more.
Look at apartment and home rentals
Your choice of lodging is important during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some people feel more confident booking a private vacation home, cottage, cabin or condo where you don't have to share the space with anyone that's not one of your travel companions. This is a great time to take advantage of the inventory of houses and cabins listed by companies such as Airbnb and VRBO. Local companies, such as those that handle summer vacation rentals, are another choice since rates are deeply discounted in the offseason. Websites showing rentals have sophisticated filters to help you find a place that’s right for your family. You can see guest reviews and photos. Another bonus with rentals: With access to cooking facilities, you won't have to eat out if you don't want to or you can order take out and enjoy it in your private space.
Use online discounters
Travel planning takes time, so a last-minute New Year’s trip is the perfect opportunity to use a discounter who has already assembled a trip. At Vacation.com, you can talk to a travel planner, too. If you are comfortable traveling further from home, look to CheapCaribbean.com, which focuses on luxury packages and accommodations at deep discounts. Some deals are all-inclusive, and packages may include air. TravelZoo works with 2,000 companies and offers all sorts of vacation packages or hotel deals. Other resources for late-breaking deals are online travel agencies such as Travelocity, whether you need a hotel room or want a flight and hotel—and a car. Many of these websites have helpful traveler reviews as well.
Take advantage of hotel packages
Don’t overlook hotel websites: These days, chains from Marriott to Hilton are eager to keep you booking with them directly to increase their revenue. That’s excellent news for last-minute New Year’s travel, since chains have plenty of rooms in many destinations and may be ready to offer them at good rates. Join a chain’s loyalty program for even sweeter deals (room upgrades or breakfast for free, for example). Be as flexible as you can about your destination and dates for the best options. You can have a wonderful New Year’s escape in all kinds of places, including a city or region within a few hours’ drive. And, all hotel chains have met the challenge of COVID-19 head-on with new measures to keep guests and staff safe. That often includes contactless check-in through an app, knock-and-go room service delivery and adherence to mask-wearing policies in all public spaces. Independent hotels, inns and bed and breakfasts have also stepped up their cleanliness and safety protocols and most properties will state on their website what their COVID-19 policies are so you won’t be surprised when you get there. Read carefully and don’t be afraid to call or email with specific questions. Chances are, the hotel is eager to cater to your concerns and needs. See what additional steps you can take to guard you and your family in our travel safely article.