Stykkisholmur, Iceland, looks picture-perfect when you stop to take in the view as you approach town. If it looks familiar, you may have seen it in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” starring Ben Stiller. (Kassondra Cloos, Special to The Denver Post)
With more than 47% of Coloradans at least halfway to full vaccination, and countries around the world starting to announce reopening plans, the dream of traveling this summer is finally starting to feel real. After well over a year of staying put, the current choices might now seem endless.
So, where to go first, and how to plan a trip? As someone who spent the first half of the pandemic relieved at having some time to sit still after a year of being burned out on travel, and the latter half of it eager to get moving again, I’ve got a few ideas for you.
The first thing you should do, if you haven’t already, is sign up for flight deal email lists, like Scott’s Cheap Flights and Dollar Flight Club. Both offer premium services that will send you high-quality flight alerts regularly for departure airports of your choosing. As an example, they both recently found deals between Denver and Reykjavik, Iceland — which is now allowing fully-vaccinated Americans into the country — under $500 round-trip, less than half what you could normally expect to spend at this time of year.
The more flexible you can be with timing, and the more open you are to jumping on a good deal when you see one instead of waiting for one dream destination to go on sale, the more likely you are to end up scoring international round-trip tickets for less than what you might spend on a weekend in Breckenridge.
Once you’re ready to start planning, my suggestion is to book those cheap fares as quickly as you can. Many airlines, including Delta, United and American Airlines, have eliminated change fares and extended the amount of time you’re able to use the cost of your ticket if you want to cancel your trip for any reason before you fly. So, snag those bargain seats right away to lock in the cheap prices and plan to cancel or change later if necessary.
You’ll want to read all that fine print closely as it can change without much notice, but if you travel often and know you’ll have an easy time repurposing the cost of your ticket on a later trip, my advice is to have fun and go wild. I have personally booked, canceled and changed at least half a dozen international flights in the past year, both with cash and miles or points, and not had any trouble at all salvaging their value. In cases where the airline has changed or canceled my flight, I’ve been able to get full cash refunds for those tickets without issue.
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As for where to go first? If you’re desperate to leave the continent, vaccinated Americans now have quite a few options. Greece, Slovenia, Montenegro, Nepal, Belize, Guatemala and Ecuador are among a handful of countries that have recently reopened borders to vaccinated Americans without a quarantine requirement. Estonia is also open, and recently debuted a brand-new digital nomad visa for remote workers, allowing for stays of up to a year.
My suggestion for a vacation, though, is to take this lull in global tourism to head to Iceland, where in normal years you’d battle crowds of epic proportions at the famous hot springs and waterfalls within an easy drive of Reykjavik. It’s an outdoor playground well-suited to Coloradans eager to road trip through verdant landscapes teeming with hot springs, waterfalls, mountain views and glaciers. June’s the time to go for the best weather and the midnight sun, when it never quite gets fully dark. Going sooner rather than later also gives you a shot at seeing the Fagradalsfjall volcano in action, which started erupting in March after being dormant for thousands of years.
The shoulder season of late August through early September is a good combination for budget-hunters willing to trade a few hours of sunlight and clearer skies for cheaper hotels and camper van rentals and a solid shot at seeing the northern lights. When I visited in September 2016, I was lucky to see the northern lights three nights in a row. Later in the winter, you’ll find fewer tourists, darker skies and higher hopes of aurora borealis sightings. You won’t find a bad time to visit, but it’s definitely not too soon to start planning, so long as you take care to book refundable or changeable options.
While you’re there, take it slow. The Ring Road, which circles the whole island, is one of the world’s most famous drives. It can be done in a week, but don’t rush it. You’ll find hot springs and thermal pools in essentially every town throughout the country, and they’re meant to be savored. Rent a car, buy a paper map, bury your phone in a hidden pocket of a backpack stuffed in the trunk, and just hit the road. You’re likely to find the good kind of uncertainty on a trip like that, full of the best kinds of detours.
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