A new year means turning the page on a new calendar—one full of blank squares just waiting to have fun activities penciled into them. It could be a day trip here, a weekend getaway there or even a dream vacation that’s been on your bucket list for years.

Whatever wishes fill your calendar, it’s never too early for travel planning. In fact, research has shown that planning a trip can elevate your mood—long before your departure date. British researchers first reported such findings in 2002, with studies showing that people were happiest when they had a trip planned. Scientists at Cornell University reinforced the idea with their 2014 research that found that the anticipation of an experience—such as a vacation—boosts your happiness much more than the anticipation of buying material things.

Ready to reap the mental health benefits of planning—and going on!—your next vacation? Start with our travel planning guide to what’s new and different in 2021 and beyond. The expert guidance of AAA Travel Advisors along with new safety protocols put in place by our trusted partners will help you make informed decisions and rediscover the joy of traveling with confidence.

6 ways to get away

The type of trip you choose will set the foundation for your vacation experience. Here’s a look at a few favorite ways to travel and how each is evolving.

Professionally led trips and excursions offer an easy way to see the world. All the travel planning—from setting the itinerary to selecting hotels and transportation—is done for you, so you can sit back and enjoy the ride. Plus, local guides provide valuable insight on the places and cultures you’re visiting and can even offer behind-the-scenes access. (Think after-hours tours of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, or afternoon tea at the City Palace of Jaipur in India.)

These days, trips with more than 20 guests can include a well-being director who travels with you, ensuring adherence to local health and safety guidelines. Expect enhanced cleaning and smaller groups that allow travelers to spread out on motor coaches. Prearranged entry at museums and other attractions means less standing in line with other people, and carefully selected restaurants let you avoid crowded venues and offer alfresco dining whenever possible.

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Custom, small-group tours have always been an option, but these days they’re more popular than ever. You get the expert guidance and ease of travel that come with professionally led tours, plus the added peace of mind of going with only the people you choose—trusted friends and family. Some tour operators let you turn just about any standard trip itinerary into a private tour, or you can customize the experience to your interests.

Imagine gathering the family to explore your ancestral roots in a place like Ireland or Senegal, or getting your favorite hiking buddies together to sample some of the United States’ most beautiful national parks, like Grand Canyon or Yellowstone. Whatever’s on your wish list, it’s likely your AAA Travel Advisor can help make it happen with their travel planning expertise.

Get tips and insider advice to make the most of your all-inclusive resort vacation.

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A little surf, a little sand, a little time to spend thinking about, well, nothing at all. Who couldn’t use a getaway to a tropical paradise along Mexico’s Riviera Maya or on a Caribbean island? Better yet, one where everything from your room to meals and activities is covered in one up-front price. Relaxing, indeed.

And all-inclusive resorts are taking extra measures to protect guests from COVID-19. Cleaning and sanitizing of both public and private spaces has been stepped up, and many resorts even allow you to check in virtually before you arrive so you can bypass the lobby and go straight to your room. Increasing physical distance between guests is easier, too, with additional airport transfers that take fewer people per vehicle, more time between visitor check-ins, and elevator trips that are limited to individual couples or families.

Exploring the world on a floating hotel can be super laid back or a thrill a minute—depending on how and where you spend your time. Imagine gazing out from your private balcony onboard a European river cruise at a changing landscape of terraced vineyards or lush hillsides dotted with medieval castles. Or speeding along a zip line on a thrill-packed private island during a Caribbean cruise.

Whatever scenario floats your boat, you’ll see cruise lines taking extra precautions to keep passengers and crew safe. Expect pre-embarkation COVID-19 testing, more space on the ship because of a reduced number of passengers, no-touch food service, medical-grade air-filtering systems, enhanced cleaning and sanitizing protocols, and more. More structured onshore excursions also help guests stay healthy while experiencing the world’s wonders.

Riding a train can be an amazing adventure, one that’s equal parts romantically retro and thoroughly modern. One of the most luxurious journeys is onboard the Rocky Mountaineer, whose glass-domed cars carve a path through the snowcapped Canadian Rockies—along landscapes that can’t be reached by car. Or you could hop on an Amtrak train and be whisked away to national parks or on a coast-to-coast adventure.

Both rail operators have increased safety while preserving the magic of rail travel. Look for online check-in, new seating procedures that allow travelers more space on the train, enhanced cleaning and sanitizing, and upgraded air-filtration systems. It all helps make an unforgettable experience that much more inviting.

From maintaining your car to maintaining your health, make your road trip safer with our right-now road-trip planner.

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Sometimes the greatest travel joys come from simply jumping in the car and hitting the road. You become your own travel director, planning your itinerary to fit your tastes or simply making it up as you go. Plus, road trips are a great way to see the country while reducing your personal contact with strangers and limiting your exposure to people you trust and who have the same philosophy of staying safe while traveling.

Renting a car? AAA partner Hertz is helping make road trips safer with its Hertz Gold Standard Clean. Each vehicle goes through a 15-point cleaning and sanitizing process and is then sealed, so you know no one else has been inside since the time of cleaning. (Plus, AAA Members save up to 20% on rentals and get additional benefits.)

Another way AAA can help: Keep track of COVID-19 restrictions in the states you want to visit with AAA’s interactive map.

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Plan Wisely

In 2020, AAA Travel Advisors helped hundreds of thousands of travelers adjust their plans—and they’re still providing expert advice as members begin exploring the world again. Here are three things to discuss with your advisor.


This story was featured in the
January/February 2021 issue of AAALiving Magazine

Start Planning Your Next Adventure

Your AAA Travel Advisor can help you make informed travel decisions, so you can explore safely and confidently.