What Will Travel Look Like in a Post COVID-19 World?

Crystal ball

See here for the current status of travel in Southeast Asia.

This week, we’ve been looking into our crystal ball* and seeing how travel could change in a Post COVID-19 World. Will things go back to normal? When will things go back to normal? And, more interestingly, do we really want things to go completely back to normal? We look at several aspects of travel that we might see change over the next few years. *Remember, children, crystal balls don’t exist.

WHEN will travel return to some kind of normal?

It’s difficult to see how the global travel industry could recover at all this year (2020). As the curves are beginning to flatten across Europe and countries are tentatively starting to open up again, we’re still a far cry from where we used to be. While some people may start to travel towards the end of 2020, these will most likely be essential forms of travel rather than travel for pleasure. With some experts predicting ongoing waves of the virus, it’s unlikely that travel will return to “normal” until a vaccine for COVID-19 is discovered. This is predicted to be at least 12-18 months from now. Even then, this relies on two things; 1) people having access to the vaccine and/or being willing to get vaccinated (we’ll talk about that later) and 2) people having enough money to travel!

A photo from the olden days… When will we be able to go backpacking again?

Compulsory Vaccines

In the same way that you are not allowed to enter some countries in South America without having a certificate to say that you have had your yellow fever jab, will we have to show a COVID-19 Vaccine Card in order to cross borders in the future? While many vaccinations are currently highly recommended for travel to Southeast Asia, none of them are as of yet mandatory.

Travel Vaccinations for Southeast Asia
Would you get the COVID-19 vaccine?

While compulsory vaccines are controversial, perhaps people will be so desperate to travel again that they will be lining up to get jabbed. Where do you stand on this issue?

Testing Testing 123

Before a vaccine becomes available, airports may introduce thermo-technology scanners before passengers are allowed to get on a flight or cross a border. Alternatively, passengers may have to quarantine for 2 weeks upon arriving in a new destination or have a COVID-19 test as soon as they arrive. Desperate to get bums back on seats, airlines are eager to employ such vigorous health and safety measures to help passengers to feel safe. In mid April, Emirates became the first airline to introduce a passenger test for COVID-19 which gave the results within 10 minutes. Passengers on recent flights with the airline were also required to wear masks and adhere to social distancing rules.

People sitting on an aeroplane.
What would it take to get you back on a flight?

Travel Boom 2022

So let’s fast forward to sometime in 2022 when a vaccine arrives. Woohoo! It’s now safe to travel again! Will we suddenly see a massive boom in the number of people booking holidays and backpacking adventures? Months of confinement has certainly given us the travel itchreal bad, but with the economy in tatters and unemployment at an all time high… will people even be able to feed themselves let alone afford the luxury of travel?

No Money No Honey

As the extent of the economic crisis unfolds, many more people will lose their jobs and unfortunately many will struggle to survive on a day-to-day basis. So while the desire to set off travelling will almost certainly be there, will people have the money to do so?

US Dollar notes
Will people be able to afford international travel?

I’ve often wondered whether in this instance, backpacker tourism would rebound quicker than other forms of travel. Travelling on a shoestring and spending as little as possible may be the only way to see the world for many people over the coming years. Which leads me to my next point…


Geoarbitrage means locating yourself or your business in order to take advantage of lower living/production costs. Will we see a rise in the number of backpackers ‘hiding out’ in a cheap Southeast Asian countries where their money can go a lot further? This type of travel will favour digital nomads, those who can make money from their laptops from anywhere in the world. In Thailand, travellers who don’t spend much money are called ‘kee nok farang’ (bird-shit foreigners). So expect a lot more bird-shit coming your way soon Thailand! 

A digital nomad works on her laptop in Southeast Asia.
The money you make will go a lot further in Asia.

Domestic Tourism

Most experts agree that domestic tourism will be the first kind of tourism to rebound once COVID-19 begins to decline. Countries that have opened up their roads and public transport will encourage people to travel locally and explore their own backyard. Right now, Hai Van Pass Tours are running for any backpackers who are still trapped in Vietnam.  Next, countries may gradually start to open their borders to neighbouring countries. For example, Vietnam (a country that has had very few cases and zero deaths) could open their borders to countries which have no cases over the coming months. Many businesses who once catered to international travellers are looking at the local and expat population to help their business to survive during this period.

Locals wearing masks while riding motorbikes in Southeast Asia.
Locals in Vietnam are now free to move around.

Restrictions on Tourist Numbers

When the crisis was just beginning, the trickle of travellers who were left behind in Southeast Asia enjoyed a type of travel that hasn’t been seen for over 30 years. Usually crowded tourist sites were empty and beach towns recaptured that local feel after all the foreigners went back home. Many travellers reported how much they loved the thinning crowds and having places all to themselves!

Angkor Wat Siem Reap void of touirists during the Coronavirus era.
Angkor Wat Temples in Siem Reap – void of tourists during the Coronavirus era.

Way before COVID-19 reared its ugly head we had already seen the closure of super touristy places like Maya Bay in Thailand and Boracay in the Philippines due to environmental concerns. As we witnessed the flourishing of the natural world during lockdown, will local authorities be in such a rush to open up these beautiful and popular places to the general public? It comes down to money vs. the environment. I hate to be cynical, but we know which one has been winning up until now!

Sustainable Travel

One of the major (and more hopeful) predictions for post-COVID-19 travel is that it will become much more sustainable and environmentally friendly. After experiencing less pollution and more wildlife (at least on Facebook!) since the pandemic hit, will we as a human race have come to the realisation that our holidays just aren’t worth ruining the world for?

A pink dolphin in Khanom, Thailand. Nature has been flourishing during lockdown.

Traveller, Jamie Roy, recently poised this question in our Facebook Group: “Considering how much of a positive impact the pandemic is having on the environment, how can we justify carrying on travelling the way we have before? Many travellers responded saying that they would actively change their travelling behaviour once lockdown was lifted. Says traveller Katie Prescott “Personally, I feel that slower travel via regular public transport (buses, trains), rather than multiple short trips via international flights, is a much more environmentally friendly approach. It also provides more time and opportunities to really experience the local culture by staying somewhere for a longer period of time. Picking responsible local organisations to support and paying to carbon offset your flights can also help to minimise the negative impact of travel.” Some people, however, take a more cynical point of view. Southeast Asian travel expert, Hannah Pearson, fears that we will forget all too quickly the promises we made to become more responsible travellers once the pandemic is over. She thinks that the desire to kick-start the economy will mean that travel companies will put aside sustainability measures in an effort simply to get things going again – at all costs! Traveller David Zak in our Facebook group agrees: “Honest Opinion: I think we will all quietly admit to ourselves that we are completely selfish consumption junkies, buy a “Save Our Oceans” T-Shirt (at a well haggled price) and continue on as we have done before.” So what do you think?

Plastic bottles litter
Will our views be sustainable?

Fewer Flights, More Road Trips!

The International Air Transport Association says that aircraft air conditioning systems are equipped with high-energy particulate air (HEPA) filters that can screen more than 99.9 percent of airborne threats, including microbes and viruses. However, there have been several circumstances where travellers have caught COVID-19 on an aeroplane. Even when a vaccine is found and things return to some kind of normal, will people prefer to just play it safe and use alternative means of transport? There’s also the environmental aspect of flying. As the world takes a breath of the freshest air its known in a long time, many travellers are vowing to limit the number of flights that they will take. Carbon offsetting is predicted to become an even bigger trend in the future and more people will travel overland via public buses, trains and possibly their own transport. Will we see a boom in the number of people hiring cars and motorbikes and taking long road trips where they can cocoon in the safety of their car or helmet?

Girl driving car and looking at jungle out of the window.
Road trips are set to be popular in the future!

In a recent interview with Nomadic Matt, the famous travel blogger suggested that the cruising business will suffer the most. As one of the most carbon footprint-heavy forms of travel and one of the biggest contributors to over-tourism, he believes that the diminished demand for cruises (or floating petri dishes as he calls them!) will have a positive impact on many destinations around the world.

Fewer Small Businesses

Small businesses have been hit particularly hard by the recent crisis (don’t we know it!) and many of them will be forced to close their doors forever. Family-run hostels, small local travel companies and mom and pop shops that rely on tourism will simply move onto some other means to make a living. With backpackers pledging to support small business once this crisis is over, perhaps they stand a hope of recovery. But will backpackers keep their word? And how long will small businesses be able to survive if this goes on for 18-24 months?

Hand Washing, Masks and Sanitiser

Remember the days when you didn’t have to wash your hands every five minutes and your knuckles weren’t all cracked and dry? The message of ‘wash your hands’ has been so drilled into the human race that I wonder if we will ever be the same again?

Wash those hands!
Better factor in time for hand-washing into the itinerary!

One thing is for sure, travel is set to become a hell of a lot more hygienic in the future! People won’t travel without hand sanitiser and disinfectant wipes. The Western world will take a leaf out of Asia’s book and carry face masks with them everywhere, especially when they travel on public transport. Airlines and travel companies will have to boost their cleanliness measures in order to gain the trust of travellers again.

Sharing is Scaring

A backpackers’ mind is not the only thing which opens up the more you travel. Yes, without sounding crude, travellers have long been known for being a little more free and easy when it comes to sex and relationships. While COVID-19 is still lingering around, backpackers will be forced to keep their body parts to themselves. Dormitories and common rooms may become a thing of the past and Full Moon Parties and other events will undoubtedly be cancelled until the world returns to normal. That photo taken last year of you and your mates drinking out of the same bucket with straws? Ahhh the good old days!

Backpackers sharing a bucket at Mui Ne Hills!
Will it ever be possible to share a bucket with travel buddies again?

More Virtual Travel

While people spent months inside their homes during quarantine, it became clear that many of the things that we once did in the real world could be replaced online. And, some of these things were actually better, and easier! That business meeting that Miss. Flashy Business Woman used to fly from London to Paris for every Monday could easily be done on Zoom. And, you just saved a load of jet fuel, money and stress! Anton Diaz from Filipino travel company, It’s an Awesome World, says: “While it can’t replace the real thing, it is possible to be transported to a kitchen in Malaysia and learn to cook Laksa without even leaving your home…’ Could these types of experiences and the improvement of virtual travel mean that people will travel less in the future?

Google Arts and Culture.
There are loads of virtual tours you can do!

Indian traveller Arvind Upreti said in our Facebook group: “Traveling through YouTube will be a new normal, for a couple of years as countries continue to restrict foreigners. The last few weeks in lockdown I have travelled to the most amazing places via YouTube!”

So.. Will International Travel Be As Important Post-COVID-19?

So when we all come crawling out of lockdown after months of watching travel movies and doing online quizzes of ‘can you guess the capital?’ will we feel that travel has the same importance that it once had? Will we prefer to lessen our environmental impact, safeguard our health and simply put international travel on a back-burner for a while? What do you think?

How will you travel in a post-COVID-19 world?

Says backpacker, Christoph Reisenbauer: “International travel is very important in my eyes. It improves, how one thinks about the world, other cultures, other religions and so on. People who travel (not tourists, but travellers) are usually very open-minded, not racist and often tend to a minimalistic and eco-friendly lifestyle. So in my opinion traveling is an important part of life to ensure, we will not end up in a world full of narrow-minded, egocentric, racist individuals. But, travelling in the future should be as eco-friendly as possible!” Traveller Camila Vitória Rocha, takes this one step further: “The real problem is not flying itself, but the whole system. The way we eat, the way we produce, the way seek endless profit and so on. Yes, travelling CO2 emissions are so high, but who are the people that fly most? I can guarantee that’s not travellers! There’s a lot of people travelling several times a week so they can go to meetings! It doesn’t matter if travellers stop flying and the system stays the same. Of course we should comtemplate our lifestyle, habits, ways of living and consumption, but our personal changes don’t affect the broader picture, that utterly needs to change. Basically, I’m saying that individual actions won’t save the world if the system doesn’t change. Capitalism is the main problem.”

Will you change the way you travel in the future?

We always have to remember that businesses react to what consumers want. When global movement once again resumes, we, the travellers, have the power to push the industry in the right direction and change things for the better. Here at South East Asia Backpacker we believe that global travel is a force for good if done properly. It can benefit local communities, the environment and the individual. We would certainly be in favour of a restriction in tourist numbers, fewer flights and more domestic travel. We also believe that backpackers have always been trendsetters. We find the destinations first and then the crowds come next. We have it in our power to pave the way for a more sustainable type of travel in the future. Got something to say about this topic? Join our discussion in the South East Asia Backpacker Facebook Community!

Nikki Scott - Founder South East Asia Backpacker
Nikki Scott | Founder & Editor

Nikki is the founding editor of South East Asia Backpacker and The Backpacker Network. In her early twenties, she left her home in the North of England on a solo backpacking adventure and never returned! After six months on the road, she founded a print magazine that became legendary on the Banana Pancake Trail. The rest is history.

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