Our Last-Minute Summer 2021 Travel Guide

Our Last-Minute Summer 2021 Travel Guide

Our Last-Minute Summer 2021 Travel Guide

summer 2021 destinations

Some places, types of vacations, and rentals are filling up this summer as Americans get inoculated and start traveling again. Here are some pointers on how to avoid the crowds and what travel choices are still available.

Americans are eager to get out into the world and travel again after more than a year of being pent up. So eager, in fact, that travel bookings for some destinations and experiences have skyrocketed to the point that it’s becoming difficult to book them at all. (If you haven’t heard about the Great Rental Car Shortage of 2021, you’ve been living under a rock, and attempting to find a weekend vacation rental in certain major coastal cities is bordering on absurd.)

This has numerous consequences for visitors who have yet to book part or all of their summer vacations as we approach Memorial Day Weekend, the formal start of the summer travel season—availability may be limited, and costs may be higher than anticipated. But worry not, dear procrastinators: we’re here to tell you which places can cause you problems when booking, what alternatives you should consider instead, and how you can still find amazing rates on summer 2021 travel.
Of course, we’re still in the midst of a pandemic, and many overseas places are closed to visitors this summer, either due to government travel restrictions or because they’re dealing with an outbreak.COVID-19 case surges and/or vaccine rollout issues, or because travelers just aren’t ready to take trips further afield yet and are still opting to stay closer to home. 

That’s presumably why many of the overbooked destinations we’re seeing are domestic vacation spots like Hawai‘i, Montana, and Florida, which don’t face the same pandemic risks as overseas locations.

The other issue is that when demand peaked last year, capacity was severely reduced—airline routes were curtailed, hotels and vacation rentals were shut down, and rental vehicles were auctioned off as travel businesses tried to stay alive. Getting all of that goods back online isn’t going to be easy.


As a result, vacationers will have to be a bit more inventive this summer. It’s been a long 14 months, and we all deserve a break.

Summer travel in 2021: potential danger locations and how to avoid the masses.

These are the travel locations and services that are approaching maximum capacity. However, just because locations are included here does not mean that tourists should give up on them if they have their hearts set on them. You don’t have to give up your 2021 vacation ambitions by being flexible with when you go (midweek is always preferable than weekends) and looking at dates farther away, such as late summer and early fall. If you come across any roadblocks, we’ll suggest some alternate routes.

“Hawai‘i is one large area producing problems,” said John Galante, a luxury travel adviser with Travel Edge in Aspen, Colorado, and a member of AFAR’s Travel Advisory Council (TAC). “It has become so popular that not only are rental vehicles sold out, but hotel concierges are unable to respond to my requests for confirmations on dinners, activities, and airport transfers.”

Galante said he’s having trouble reserving rooms in Honolulu on Oahu’s main island, as well as Kona and Kapalua on Maui. Galante said he’s spending extra hours to assist clients discover other alternatives and answers.

Searches for flights to Hawai‘i (called the Big Island) are also up, showing the island’s appeal this summer, according to Scott Keyes, creator of travel offers weekly Scott’s Cheap Flights.

“Flights to the Big Island were sought by 50% more persons this week than at the same time last year. During the summer, they’ll be fairly full,” Keyes said.

However, visitors should keep in mind that Hawai‘i is a large and diverse island. If the islands of Hawai‘i, Maui, or Oahu are giving you trouble, consider some of the state’s quieter jewels like Kaua‘i, Lana‘i, and Molokai.

“Hawaii is absolutely unique,” said James Ferrara, co-founder and president of InteleTravel. “However, vacationers might experience West Coast natural beauty and ocean beaches in Baja California or San Diego,” he said.


According to statistics provided for AFAR by travel booking service Hopper, two of the top five domestic fly destinations for summer 2021 are in Florida: Miami and Orlando. (Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Denver are the other three.)

“I have never seen [Miami] filled up so tightly,” said Lysa Middleton Phillips, a travel advisor at InteleTravel in Houston, Texas. “In Florida, Destin or Panama City Beach are wonderful alternatives to Miami.”


According to Hopper, hotel availability in Fort Lauderdale is also an issue this summer. However, not all of Florida is off limits.

In Jacksonville, Tampa, Naples, Palm Coast, and Daytona Beach, Florida, Hopper discovered that hotel rooms are still available. St. Petersburg–Clearwater, which has gorgeous beaches and a thriving cultural scene, may have additional possibilities.

Montana, Wyoming, and Utah are three states in the United States.

The popularity of dude ranches is on the rise. National parks are enjoying a renaissance. There’s a trend in wide open places right now. When you add them all up, it’s no surprise that everyone is planning a trip to Montana, Wyoming, or Utah this summer.


“All of the high-end locations near me in the West, like all of the ranches in Montana, Utah, and Wyoming… are all booked,” Galante says. What’s more, if anything is accessible, it’s at a premium.”

If you want to visit Glacier National Park in Montana or Zion National Park in Utah, make sure you’re up to speed on their reservation systems (there’s still time to make reservations—but don’t wait too long).

If you’re looking for a traditional dude ranch experience but can’t find it in Montana or Wyoming, consider dude ranches in California, such as the historic Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort in Central California’s Santa Ynez Valley, Greenhorn Ranch in Northern California’s Quincy, or the 158-year-old Rankin Ranch in Caliente, not far from Bakersfield. (Though we’ve heard that many of these are also running out of room, there is more availability in the second part of the summer and into the fall.)

Alaska is “getting packed up fast” for summer 2021, according to Kate Doty, AFAR TAC member and managing director of Geographic Expeditions, a San Francisco-based adventure travel company. “Ultima Thule, one of our favorite lodges, is already sold out for the season.”

Doty advises tourists who have their hearts set on Alaska to look at a variety of dates, “and if you find out what is available, book it quickly, like within a day or two, or risk losing it.” She also suggests traveling in September, when the fall colors are in full bloom, bears are still roaming, and things are quieter after the hectic summer season—plus, “there will be more availability.”

Another huge possibility for last-minute tourists contemplating Alaska is that, owing to Congress’ recent ratification of the Alaska Tourism Recovery Act, Alaska cruise seems to be back on the table for 2021. If President Biden signs the law, huge cruise ships will be permitted to resume sailings in Alaska this summer, providing passengers with some amazing water-based viewing and visiting options.

Automobiles on rent

We’re not going to sugarcoat the situation. This year, rental automobiles are a concern. What is the reason behind this? When travel fell off last year, numerous automobile rental firms sold hundreds of thousands of automobiles to earn money and weather the storm, according to Keyes.

With travel picking up, there are considerably fewer automobiles available to rent now, according to Keyes. It’s become so terrible that individuals are renting U-haul trucks and vans to go about in Hawaii and elsewhere.

There are, nevertheless, several workarounds. These are some of Keyes’ recommendations, which we’ve seen going about on popular travel forums like Club Bébé Voyage, a family travel platform.


“In my experience, Costco Travel is virtually always the lowest option for auto rentals. If you’re a Costco member, you’ll get access instantly, and it comes with added bonuses like a free second driver,” Keyes explained.

In Honolulu, he recommended using vehicle share programs like Turo, Zipcar, Getaround, or Hui Car Share, as well as renting from a car dealership.

If the location doesn’t need a lot of driving, there’s always the option of using ridesharing services like Uber or Lyft.


Another AFAR TAC member, Cari Gray, proprietor of luxury travel concierge Gray & Co., noted that the high cost of airfares this summer, combined with a lack of rental vehicles, “will imply the self-drive market will continue to be robust” in summer 2021.

Where to go in the summer of 2021 if you don’t want to go to the beach

When you observe everyone sprinting in one direction, you should run in the opposite direction, right? Normally, it is not the case. However, when it comes to summer travel in 2021, this strategy can work in your advantage. Here are some recommendations for places to go for more availability and, as an additional benefit, lower pricing.

Escapes from the city

During the continuing epidemic, we all abandoned the larger cities in search of space and the outdoors, where we could remain safe and socially isolated from the hordes. Yes, the pandemic is still present, but with cities like New York and California announcing full reopenings this summer, and the CDC reporting that 38% of the American population is now fully vaccinated (73 percent of those 65 and older, and 48% of those 18 and younger), a rebirth of the cities we abandoned in 2020 is unavoidable.

“Right now, there’s a strange dynamic,” Keyes explained. “Go to the cities if you want to get a good deal. The same number of people that were present previously are no longer there. This past week, I went in New York and [Washington,] D.C., and I obtained hotel rooms for around $100 or $125 per night, which are typically $200 or $250 per night. Travel to many of these metropolitan places is far less expensive than you may think.”

Summer 2021 may be the ideal time to explore New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and all of the other beautiful cities around the country that we like but were devastated by the epidemic. Places where, while the fine dining scene is likely to be present, will be ready to surprise and delight anew and where museums, cultural institutions, and live entertainment venues will all be buzzing with the excitement and optimism of finally being open for business again.

East Africa and Central America
Geographic Expeditions’ Doty proposes several overseas options if you’re looking for gorgeous, nature-filled getaways.

She suggests visiting Central American countries including as Costa Rica, Belize, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Panama, where Americans are allowed to go during the pandemic and where space is still available.


She also mentions that Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda are all available to visitors, and Geographic Expeditions is now putting up well-curated itineraries for customers to these wildlife-rich destinations.

Check the US State Department’s detailed COVID-19 travel information and country-specific advisories before traveling internationally, and be aware that all international passengers aged two and older flying into the US (including returning US citizens and permanent residents) must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test obtained within three days of boarding their flight to the US.

Europe, Europe, Europe? As a possible alternative? What kind of world do we live in? That’s right, a pandemic. The thing about Europe is this: Yes, it is set to reopen to Americans who have been vaccinated. However, for many Americans, all of the specifics about how they will be able to go to Europe are coming too late for summer 2021 trip plans, or they are simply not ready for foreign travel yet.

When Europe reopens to U.S. travelers for the first time in more than a year (likely in June), it will undoubtedly spark a booking frenzy for those who have been itching to go, but there will almost certainly be some time in early summer, possibly lasting into midsummer or even into the back half of the year, when there will be no rush. when Europe still won’t be welcoming the insane crowds it typically did prepandemic.

For those prepared to be first in line, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit some of your favorite European destinations—Paris, Venice, and Amsterdam—before they become overcrowded once more.

With demand expected to be lower than normal this summer, pricing for Europe travel should be favorable to you as well.


Last but not least, here’s a tip for finding cheap(er) flights:

Summer airline rates are continuing to rise due to increased demand for travel, so some passengers may experience sticker shock if they are only now looking for summer tickets.


Keyes gave us some pointers on how to get better rates.

Keyes stated, “The more flexibility you can offer yourself, the better.” “You have three areas of flexibility in general: where you travel, when you travel, and when you book.”

When it comes to booking, Keyes advises that the earlier the better. If you’re genuinely seeking for a decent price, you should “turn the conventional flight search procedure on its head,” he advised. Why not browse for inexpensive flights and fantastic offers available from your home airport instead of searching for a specific location and time frame?


Airfares, he says, are “very erratic,” and you never know when you’ll see a price reduction. Using booking engines to set price alerts