By Christie Hudson, on November 16, 2020

The top destinations and tips for travelers in 2021

With COVID-19, it’s important to stay safe and up to date on the latest travel guidance and restrictions. Find out what to expect, how to find flexible travel and other information on the Expedia COVID-19 travel guide.

Americans spent 2020 exploring small towns, scenic drives, nearby lakes and beaches, or in some cases, their own backyards. Today, Expedia released its 2021 Travel Trends Report, analyzing traveler data to uncover the biggest takeaways from an unprecedented year, and what travelers can expect in the year ahead. Whether a 2021 vacation is already in the books or still just a dream, our report is packed with inspiration and practical tips to help travelers get more out of their next trip.

Airfare booking hacks

For six years running, travelers have relied on the annual collaboration between Expedia and the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC), which analyzes billions of flight segments to provide insider tips and tricks for getting the most out of air travel. Considering the atypical year, a new cheat sheet is needed now more than ever.

The analysis shows that average ticket prices (ATPs) are historically low for both domestic and international flights, but prices rise during peak travel periods such as spring break, summer and the holidays. To get the best deal, travelers need to know when to book and start their trip.

  • For the best rates, book flights on Sunday and save between 15-20 percent on domestic and international flights. The highest ATPs were found on Mondays for domestic flights and Fridays for international flights.
  • Start your trip towards the end of the week on a Thursday or Friday to save between 20-25 percent. The priciest days to depart were generally Sundays and Mondays.

Going local and dreaming big

In 2020, backyard beaches and outdoorsy escapes dominated the fastest-growing destinations list as travelers looked for ways to explore closer to home and navigate travel restrictions and safety concerns. Among the top ten trending destinations this year were: Lake Havasu, Arizona; New Bern, North Carolina; The Hamptons, New York; Ocean City, Maryland; Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri; Panama City, Florida; South Padre Island, Texas; Lincoln, New Hampshire; Sun Valley, Idaho; and Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

While nearby escapes and road trips are likely to remain popular as travelers navigate the ongoing realities of life amid a pandemic, search data proves that aspirations persist for grander, far-flung vacations. More specifically, it seems vacation-deprived Americans dreaming of their next trip fall into one of two categories.

Island escapists. Looking at the top 20 destinations, half are islands and another third are popular beach resorts. After a year like 2020, it’s not hard to imagine why so many travelers want to escape to an island the next chance they get.

  • Cancun (#1)
  • Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen and Tulum (#2)
  • Punta Cana (#5)
  • Oahu (#6)
  • Maui (#7)
  • Los Cabos (#9)
  • French Polynesia (#10)
  • Maldives (#11)
  • Montego Bay (#12)
  • Aruba (#13)
  • Puerto Vallarta (#14)
  • Key West (#16)
  • Nassau (#18)
  • Bali (#20)

The urban returner. Larger cities haven’t seen their usual tourist bustle over the past year, but search results make it clear that travelers are eager to return and enjoy all the culture, activities and experiences that you can only find in these iconic U.S. cities.

  • Las Vegas (#3)
  • Orlando (#4)
  • Miami (#8)
  • New York (#15)
  • Los Angeles (#17)
  • New Orleans (#19)

Check out deals to these top-searched and trending destinations here.

Getting the most out of your trip:

  • Flexibility isn’t a “nice-to-have,” it’s required: In 2021, flexibility will continue to be top of mind for travelers, who booked refundable rates 10 percent more often this year compared to last. Luckily, flexibility is more affordable than ever: Expedia lodging data shows average daily rates for refundable bookings were 20 percent cheaper in 2020 compared to 2019.
  • Health and safety advancements: In the year to come, concerns about staying safe while traveling will continue to impact every aspect of trip planning, from what type of accommodations to choose to where to go to who to travel with. Since May, nearly 300,000 properties have added health and cleanliness information on, which includes enhanced cleaning measures, contactless check-in, social distancing and other guest safety considerations.
  • Majority of travelers booking less than a month out: In 2019, the average U.S. traveler booked flights around 35 days in advance of their departure date, but during the onset of the pandemic, that window lengthened to 46 days. The new normal (since August) is just 29 days out, the average advance purchase dropping below the 30-day mark for the first time in years and illustrating how travelers have adapted to the rapidly changing environment. However, with airlines eliminating change fees, travelers may feel more confident booking further out, knowing they can always change their plans down the road.
  • Growth in alternative accommodations: While the most popular lodging type in 2020 was hotels, the types of accommodations showing the best growth compared to last year were castles, ranches, cabins, chalets and cottages.3 These types of retreats, typically found outside of big cities, were the perfect getaway spots for travelers in search of wide-open spaces, nature and privacy. This trend is expected to continue as people look to travel safely amid the pandemic. Whether it’s a hotel, vacation rental or chalet, Expedia lodging data shows the cheapest days to stay are Sunday through Tuesday, so try scheduling a long weekend trip at the start of the week instead of the end.4
  • Maximizing the trip: During lockdown, many travelers relied on virtual tours and activities to satisfy wanderlust. But once able to roam again, whether it was just within their own cities or on a proper getaway, travelers went right back to adding activities as a way to get the most out their trips. These are a few of the top trending activities booked on the nation’s largest and longest-running flower show, this boat tour in Miami’s Biscayne Bay and this ATV and ziplining adventure in the Cenotes.

Where do you dream of traveling to in 2021?