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Farther, longer, more expensive: Travelers start dreaming about post-COVID ‘revenge travel’

Consumers have a collective $35 billion in airline refunds and credits for flights they canceled, on top of unused frequent-flier miles and vacation days. And many are plotting how to make the best use of them.

Many people are plotting their post-COVID revenge travel.Jacob Ammentorp Lund/Jacob Lund -

Like most Americans, Kim Gatof and her husband have been housebound for much of the last year, cut off from relatives who live in different states and less able to spend time with a new daughter-in-law and soon to be son-in-law.

There’s one thing they’re still doing, however: planning where they’ll go after COVID-19 travel restrictions ease.

“There is this drive to do more now, to be more adventuresome, and a desire to explore and get out of our comfort zone while we can and while we’re healthy,” said Gatof, a retired psychologist who lives in Sherborn.

People may have previously settled for a beach vacation in the Caribbean, she said, “which is nice. But now it’s more like, ‘Let’s go to Iceland.’ It’s more like, ‘Let’s think outside the box.’ Because we’ve been in the box.”


Would-be travelers may still be stuck at home for now, but as they start to imagine a post-pandemic world, appear to be formulating epic bucket-list plans to compensate for canceled trips and missed occasions.

The sentiment has become so big that industry insiders have given it a name. “Revenge travel,” they call it.

“There’s a general feeling of having to make up for lost time,” said Marta Tucci, cofounder of Naya Traveler, whose clients have started planning “ambitious escapes” to places such as Antarctica and Himalayan treks in Bhutan.

Sixty percent of people in an American Express survey said their 2021 resolution was to take more vacation time. A separate survey by found that more than 40 percent expected to travel more than they did before the pandemic; the figures were even higher for Gen Z and millennials.

And nearly half of solo travelers said they will vacation more often, according to a survey by Boston-based Overseas Adventure Travel and the website Solo Travel; a quarter said they will take longer trips and 16 percent that they will spend more.


“We’re seeing inquiries that are quite ambitious, and I think that’s because people have had months to reevaluate their lives and are emerging with a different perspective on things,” said Mark Allvey, CEO of Untold Story Travel, which creates custom high-end trips.

“There’s been almost this introspection, this reevaluation of life,” said Allvey. “There’s a renewed realization that life is short and not everything has to be saved for a rainy day.”

Requests from travelers already planning ahead have been “quite extreme in terms of what they’re looking to do and how much they’re prepared to spend on these trips,” he said.

Two families have hired Untold Story to plan a “desert island survival” competition for them in Panama. A group of friends is renting a castle in Scotland. And three families have commissioned a Mamma Mia!-themed escape to Mykonos.

Custom travel company Globe + Tribe is organizing over-the-top trips for 2021 and 2022 including a fly-fishing excursion to Mongolia for seven and private sailboat rentals in the Mediterranean.

A couple that was scheduled to be married in 2020 but was forced to put off the wedding until 2021 has upgraded the honeymoon to offset the stress of the postponement, the luxury travel company Red Savannah says. Now they’re going to Rwanda, South Africa, Botswana, and the Seychelles.

And a client of the Back Bay travel company TravelLustre also has booked a family trip to Mongolia for late 2021 with a private guide, a dig for dinosaur fossils and stargazing with an astronomer in the desert.


“Clients and our advisers have been discussing how to ‘double down’ for 2021,” said Kristin Chambers, TravelLustre’s founder and managing director.

The pandemic “has pushed people to appreciate the fact that the rug can get pulled out from under us at any time,” said Chambers. Plus, she said, “People have been cooped up for so long. They want to eat a different type of food and meet people from a different culture. They need a change of scenery.”

The vacation rental search engine HomeToGo reports that faraway destinations are trending, based on increased search volume this year over last year; searches for Santorini Greece are up tenfold, for Bali fourfold, and for Cyprus threefold. The luxury custom travel company Original Traveler says half of its 2021 bookings so far have been for long-distance destinations, such as the Maldives, Sweden, and Kenya.

“People just can’t wait. They’re ready to go,” said Jacky Keith, president of Esplanade Travel, which handles only international vacations. “They’re dreaming, ‘Well, I’ve always thought about Antarctica, and maybe this is the time to do something like that.’ ”

The pandemic has made people reexamine their priorities, said Jen Curran, founder and owner of Globe + Tribe. A lot of them “don’t want to put off more bucket-list or aspirational travel that they think may never happen,” she said. And “the longer you’re cooped up, the more your imagination runs wild.”


Marcia Birmingham and her husband had to cancel trips to Ireland and Israel this year. “I don’t think we ever considered that the opportunity to go wherever we want would be taken away from us,” said Birmingham, who moved from Littleton to Vermont during the pandemic and now is planning travel to some of the places she’s always wanted to go but never got around to visiting.

“I think a lot of us say, ‘Well, that trip to Ireland or Scotland or to the Greek Isles, we’ll get to that next year.” Now, she said, “knowing things could change so quickly and unexpectedly — that moves it up on the priority list.”

Chambers has been hearing the same thing from a lot of her customers, she said. “It’s really pushed people to move from ‘Someday I want to go here” to ‘Let’s make a plan.’ ”

Of course, when it comes to travel, there are different definitions of “epic,” said Jane Braun, owner of Saddle Hill Travel in Hopkinton.

“What that means depends on the client,” Braun said. One of hers is planning a family trip to Europe after the pandemic. “The parents want to take children because the children have never been. So to them, that’s epic.”

Gatof and her husband are thinking about visiting Patagonia and Uruguay when they can travel again, and going back to New Zealand. But she’s also thought of other, less exotic places that she’s never been.


“One place I’m going to go to now is the Grand Canyon. I thought about it the other day. I can’t believe that I live in this country and I’ve never seen the Grand Canyon.”

Consumers have a collective $35 billion in airline refunds and credits for flights they canceled, on top of unused frequent-flier miles and vacation days and unspent savings. More than two-thirds of people in that American Express survey said that during the pandemic shutdowns they had saved up more money for their next trip; a separate survey by Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection found that millennials and higher-income travelers planned to spend more.

Before the pandemic, Americans routinely used fewer than the number of vacation days they earned, taking an average 17.4 days off per year, the US Travel Association found — down from 20 days in 2000. Workers leave 768 million days a year of paid time off unused, the association reported last year.

The experience of COVID-19 shutdowns may change that, Chambers said.

“It’s almost a badge of honor that if I have three weeks of vacation, I’ll only take two,” she said. “Now I think travelers are going to take advantage of their vacation time.”

Jon Marcus can be reached at