Here's what to expect from the new normal.

By Lisa Milbrand
June 22, 2021
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Travel has been the one thing that most people missed during our year of social distancing-whether it was road tripping to visit family or crossing another spot off our bucket lists.

Now, travel is back. Cruise lines are gearing up for their first voyages since COVID, airports are humming, and rental cars are hard to come by. But it isn't back to exactly what we had pre-pandemic-and some changes are more likely to become permanent than others.

Here's what you can expect now-and what things may never come back.

Airlines may be back to their old tricks, sooner than you think.

For a time, airlines were trying to help encourage space between travelers by keeping middle seats clear, cleaning planes thoroughly between trips, and mandating masks (even when it resulted in increased violence on the planes).

But many of those changes are on their way out already. "My feeling and fear is that we're going to go back to pre-pandemic bad habits," says Peter Greenberg, travel editor for CBS News and host of The Travel Detective With Peter Greenberg-who was calling from a bustling airport. "They're going back to selling every seat, turning their planes around quickly, and reduced cleaning."

More flexibility is baked in.

Postponing or canceling travel was sometimes difficult or costly, but many airlines have started to do away with change fees-at least for all but the very cheapest tickets. For instance, American Airlines and United have done away with them for everyone but basic economy passengers. Keep in mind, though, that you may still have to pay the difference between the original cost of your flight and your new one-and airfares have skyrocketed as the country has reopened.

Breakfast and buffets have been made over.

Buffets are a popular feature of hotels and cruise ships-and while they disappeared for a time, they're coming back in a new and improved form.

"At higher priced hotels and cruise ships, buffets are coming back, but no guest touches a utensil or the food itself," Greenberg says. "You'll be approaching food stations staffed by people who will plate the food for you and give you back your plate or bring it to the table for you."

That service may boost the prices of buffets, but will help decrease the risks of spreading illness. And another side benefit? "I'm no longer going to be overloading my plate," Greenberg says.

Unfortunately, those breakfast buffets at lower-priced hotels are probably over, Greenberg says. "It'll be grab and go now-it will not be a buffet."

Your hotel room won't automatically be cleaned daily.

Pre-pandemic, hotels had already been encouraging you to forgo daily sheet and towel service to help them be more eco-friendly. Now, you may not want people in your room unnecessarily-and the hotel may not have the staff available to clean every room, either. "There's been a huge staffing problem with hotels," Greenberg says. "They've had a real problem getting people in to work-so room cleaning is going to be on request."

Your room may be stocked differently.

Say goodbye to all the extra paper products, like magazines, brochures, and tent cards-those won't be coming back. "Everything that's a touch point there is gone-and that's good," Greenberg says.

What you might see coming back, though, is those cute individual bottles of shampoo and soap, which many hotels replaced with big dispensers to save on costs and packaging. "People are very obsessed with cleanliness now," Greenberg says. And touching the same shower gel dispenser as previous guests may make guests uncomfortable.

You may need to book the gym.

Many hotels have closed their gyms to walk-ins, and allowed people to book time instead-and that ability to reserve your time (and not have to worry that someone else is hogging the treadmill) likely won't be going away, Greenberg says.

Cruises may be the safest way to travel (seriously).

Even before the pandemic, outbreaks of norovirus made headlines on cruise ships-and the stories about people trapped on ships in the early days of the pandemic may have made cruise ships seem even less palatable. But Greenberg is feeling confident that the cruise lines are doing things right to keep passengers and staffers safe. "They're requiring 100 percent vaccination, redesigning the physical structure and floor plan of their ships, and changing procedures-and passengers will love it," he says. "It's a wonderful irony that they may be the safest places to travel."

While some states-like Florida-are trying to force cruise lines to allow unvaccinated travelers, Greenberg doesn't see them winning in the long run. "A state can't legislate that-that mandate will be tested in courts, and the state will lose," he says. And if not, cruise lines can easily shift their ships to travel out of ports that will allow them to require vaccinations.

Domestic travel may be peaking now-expect international travel to follow right behind it.

People are getting their feet wet as they head back to travel-and demand for domestic destinations is high (just ask anyone who's trying to vacation in Hawaii this year). But Greenberg doesn't expect Americans to stay put for long. "For the first five months, we'll be rediscovering America," he says. "But once our confidence returns, we'll go back to our bucket list and be traveling everywhere."