Nancy Aronson is already thinking about traveling in 2023. She and her husband, Jules, have their sights on a Danube River cruise in April, with stops in Passau, Germany, along with Vienna and Budapest, Hungary, to see the spring blossoms.
“We may meet up with relatives,” says Aronson, a retired manager for a nonprofit who lives in Bethesda, Maryland. “So we’ll also rent a car.”
Planning a trip beyond winter in 2023 may seem a little premature, but it’s not. Flights are filling up fast. Some hotels are close to sold out, travel experts say. Next year, the travel industry is supposed to return to normal after three pandemic years, and demand is high despite economic worries.
People planning to go abroad face a minefield of possible mistakes. Take Aronson’s spring trip. It’s a popular time for a river cruise, so fares will be pricey. And even though the car rental shortage is easing, rates remain high, particularly in Europe. You’re almost always better off taking the train.
So what do you need to know about traveling in 2023? This is the year everything is supposed to go back to “normal” — which most experts say will look a lot like 2019. Most importantly, don’t expect to get a last-minute deal (or maybe any deal) for next year’s trip.
“Demand remains high,” says Pam Young, executive vice president at Internova Travel Group. “I don’t expect prices will drop in 2023.”
Don’t assume pandemic travel trends still apply
Experts say predictable travel patterns will finally return next year, with more people vacationing during the traditional seasons around spring break, summer and the winter holidays.
Limor Decter, a travel consultant with EMBARK Beyond, expects a return from the “major shift” in how people traveled during the pandemic. That means no more booking trips at the last minute and fewer offseason adventures to avoid crowds.
Travelers will be far less likely to find a desirable vacation on short notice, a luxury afforded to them in 2021 and early 2022, when hotels were still half-empty.
Darryl Newby, co-founder of the Australian tour operator Welcome to Travel, says the strategy isn’t working in late 2022 — and probably won’t work at all next year.
“We’ve already had to turn people away,” he says.
Don’t trust pre-pandemic thinking, either
In 2023, the rewards will go to contrarian travelers. Thinking differently could be the key to a better trip.
Everyone may be talking about the normalcy of travel in 2023, but make no mistake: It won’t be a carbon copy of 2019. With the war in Ukraine, inflation and economic uncertainty, anything could happen. Or, as Jessica O’Riley with Travel Iowa says, “expect the unexpected.”
Even the Aronsons are pursuing a contrarian strategy by avoiding peak summer travel season. It’s risky. Spring is still busy (for best results, try mid- to late-fall). The couple may have warm weather and calm sailing — or it could snow. But Nancy Aronson says she doesn’t want to wait. She’s already canceled a European river cruise twice during the pandemic.
Some destinations have been slower to reopen, particularly in East Asia, and that’s an opportunity for savvy tourists.
“Early 2023 offers a rare chance to experience Japan before the crowds return,” says Jeff Krevitt, vice president of marketing for the Americas at InsideJapan, a tour operator. In fact, Japan is already seeing a rebound in travel. “Life in the country is normal, everything is open — but there are only a handful of tourists.”
Don’t go where everyone else does
Travel insurance companies say many of their customers are headed for the same tried-and-true destinations, perhaps making up for lost time. That means you can expect high prices and large crowds.
“Early bookings for 2023 spring and summer travel suggest a rush to popular destinations,” says Stan Sandberg, the co-founder of TravelInsurance.com. “Spring breakers are heading to the Caribbean and Mexico in 2023, followed closely by Italy, the United Kingdom and France.”
Tim Dodge, vice president of marketing at insurance company Arch RoamRight, says his policyholders’ popular destinations are recycled from 2019. “Mexico, Italy and the Caribbean are among popular international destinations,” he says.
Tour operators have also noted a return to same pre-pandemic booking patterns. Marcelo Novais, general manager of North America at Ker & Downey Africa, says their customers are traveling at the same times they used to.
“For 2023 bookings, we are seeing the bulk of the requests returning to the usual high season dates,” he says.
Bottom line: It would be an error to book the same old vacation in 2023 — because everyone else is.
Don’t wait too long to book
Rooms and flights are selling out fast, according to experts.
“If you’re traveling next year, it’s more important than ever to plan and book ahead for all aspects of your trip,” says Daniel Jones, a spokesman for Haversham & Baker Expeditions, which specializes in golf tours to Europe. “It’s no longer enough to book your flight and hotel and then figure out the rest once you arrive. In this environment, leaving your restaurant reservations, sightseeing and other arrangements to the last minute may lead to disappointment.”
Don’t be fooled by the strong dollar
The strength of the dollar will translate into lower prices overseas. But that doesn’t mean you’ll always pay less.
“The recent U.S. dollar surge versus other currencies means more Americans may want to travel overseas next year,” says Mercedes Zach, a travel expert at ASAP Tickets. But she warns that inflation may offset the price declines — meaning higher prices at home could neutralize the amount of money you save on a more favorable exchange rate.
Don’t assume you always have to fly
Don’t just reflexively book an airline ticket, says Tracey McGoughy, a travel adviser at Carib Compass Travel and Wellness.
“The best way to try to ensure that your trip goes smoothly is to try to control how you get to your destination as much as possible,” she says. “Once you book a flight, the airlines have most of the control over when you get there.” She recommends driving or taking the train, which in 2023 is the contrarian way to get there.
Don’t sleep on 2024
Some tour operators say demand is so strong that it stretches beyond next year.
“We’re seeing bookings for as far as 2024,” says James Newcombe, co-founder of river cruise booking site French Waterways. So if you find that your favorite vacation spot is already booked up, set your sights on 2024. It’s not too early to ensure you go where you really want to.