The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the travel industry in countless ways.
As people started emerging from lockdown, there was skyrocketing interest in RV travel and road trips to allow for distance from others. National parks began to report record numbers of visitors, and vacation rentals were in high demand. Then came talk of “revenge travel,” with the rollout of vaccines and renewed optimism about exploring the world again.
Now, with viral variants and outbreaks around the world continuing to shape people’s travel plans, another practice has taken hold: trip stacking.
What is trip stacking?
“Trip stacking is a term coined for designing a solid travel backup plan,” travel blogger Rocky Trifari told HuffPost. “This practice grew in popularity amid the pandemic because of the ever-changing travel restrictions surrounding global travel. Even the U.S. Department of State recommends coming up with a backup plan.”
Basically, trip stacking refers to the strategy of booking all your reservations ― from flights to accommodations to restaurants to activities ― for multiple vacations during the same time frame. That way, you have backup options if something disrupts your primary travel plans.
“By booking two or more trips, it becomes much easier to avoid finding yourself stuck when sudden travel restrictions require a last-minute change of plans,” Trifari noted.
Why is it popular now?
While extra-prepared travelers might have engaged in this practice prior to 2020, the volatility of life in a pandemic, and increased flexibility among travel vendors, have made trip-stacking quite appealing.
“The pandemic forced the travel industry to be more flexible with bookings,” said Jessica van Dop DeJesus, founder and editor at The Dining Traveler. “For example, many airlines no longer offer change fees and hotels offer free cancellation until your last minute. Given that restrictions can change overnight, it’s good to have a backup plan, especially if your vacation days are not flexible.”
Vacation time is precious, especially in times like these when so many workers are feeling burned out. With COVID creating a high risk of travel plan disruption, people don’t want to have to waste the time off they set aside for a special trip.
“Rather than place all their annual-leave eggs in one basket, travelers are hedging their bets by planning multiple trips at once,” said Katie McIntosh, a travel blogger and creator of The Katie Show. “To me, it highlights how important vacations are to people, perhaps now more than ever.”
Ben Julius, founder of the travel platform Tourist Journey, emphasized that there’s no shortage of destinations people want to visit. There’s been plenty of time to dream up bucket-list trips as people hunkered down at home in 2020 and 2021.
“People have become desperate to travel after missing out on basically two years of trips,” he said. “They are determined to travel more than ever, and are not prepared to let anything stand in the way of their next vacation.”
What should people know about trip stacking?
Before you engage in trip stacking, there are a few things to keep in mind. One is the question of how likely it is you’ll even be able to vacation at either destination once the time of your trip rolls around.
Booking multiple trips in the same foreign country won’t be useful if border restrictions or quarantine requirements are put in place right before your visit. And it’s probably best not to make plans in two different countries that aren’t yet open to foreign travelers ― even if there’s an expectation that this will change ahead of your trip.
“For trip stacking to work properly, the person booking the trip needs to make a bet on where they think they will be able to travel at a certain time in the future,” Triafri said. “It is worth noting that as travel restrictions ease and become less frequent, the need to stack trips becomes much less prudent.”
It’s also crucial to pay close attention to the terms of all your bookings as you make them.
“Make sure your flight and hotel reservations are fully refundable,” Trifari said. “Read the fine print. You would not want to end up paying the price for two getaways when you’re only able to enjoy one!”
Travel blogger and TV host La Carmina has been taking advantage of free cancellation offers on booking sites when she spots good deals.
“I’ll lock in a hotel, and cancel it with no charge before the deadline if I change the trip,” she explained. “Just be sure to write down the ‘cancel by’ date on your calendar and set up an alert, so that you don’t miss it and get charged. I recommend canceling it at least one day before time’s up ― just in case you mistake the time difference or cutoff time, or the cancellation doesn’t go through right away.”
Should we all be trip stacking?
If you can stay on top of the change and cancellation deadlines, then travel experts support this move to guarantee you can actually get away when your vacation days come up.
“With a multitude of pandemic X-factors that can pop up ― from staffing shortages, airline cancellations, cruise outbreaks, delayed test results, to the country changing mask laws ― it makes sense to have one or even two backup trip plans (foreign and local) if you’re determined to travel,” said Stephanie Huston, travel blogger at Steph Explores The World.
As long as airlines, hotels and tour companies maintain their flexible pandemic policies, you may as well take advantage of the options they offer. Or find another way to give yourself options.
“Personally, rather than booking two different trips, I’ll book the trip I really want to go on and make sure I have solid insurance,” said Claire Summers, the travel blogger behind Claire’s Itchy Feet. “Then I’ll make a plan B for a closer-to-home vacation in case something happens and I can’t go. I’ll normally choose somewhere I can drive to, more of a staycation, choose accommodation and just save it as a favorite, or book with free cancellation.”
Konrad Waliszewski, co-founder and CEO of Tripscout, doesn’t believe the trip stacking trend is here to stay for the long term ― at least not for most travelers.
“We just had two years of reduced options and high unpredictability with constantly shifting travel restrictions,” he said. “Travelers want to make up for lost time and overcompensate after getting burned again and again for trips they were desperately looking forward to.”
“Trip stacking is a great way to give yourself some flexibility and mental insurance that you will travel,” he added, “but I certainly expect this trend to go away soon once all remaining travel restrictions have been lifted and we’ve fully settled into a normalized post-pandemic world.”