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By The Way
Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.
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You want to travel, but friends and family can’t. Here’s how to choose your adventure.

(iStock/Washington Post illustration)

Judging from the increasing number of fliers, sold-out beach houses and impossible-to-find rental cars, we are at the precipice of the great post-vaccination travel explosion. Thanks to soaring vaccine rates and declining case numbers, Americans — like me — can finally take the trips we have been fantasizing about since lockdown began.

I have tried to temper my expectations since March 2020, not wanting to book a flight to Bangkok only to have my dreams dashed a few surges later. Now that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said vaccinated people can travel with less risk, I have some flights booked, email chains going for group trips to the woods, and wedding weekends on the horizon.

But it’s not enough, and my trip aspirations have outpaced the number of people I have to go on them. Some people are prioritizing trips to see loved ones. Others don’t have the vacation time to spare.

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So I’ve been brainstorming what to do when you find yourself with more travel plans than travel buddies. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far.

Go it alone

The obvious answer to the problem is to travel solo. You don’t have to wait around for someone to go with you; you can take the trip on your own.

If you were uneasy about the idea of solo travel before the pandemic, maybe 2020 taught you that you were more comfortable being alone than you thought. Take that lesson and turn it into a solo travel adventure.

I have been traveling alone — on big trips and small ones — for nearly a decade and can vouch for camping alone, backpacking alone, road-tripping alone. Being a party of one makes it easier to get restaurant reservations, encourages you to get out of your comfort zone and talk to new people, and helps you focus on doing what makes you happy.

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Book a small group tour that matches your travel style

After spending a large chunk of the pandemic very alone in my apartment, solo travel just doesn’t sound as appealing to me (yet) as it did pre-covid. A better fit may be joining a small group tour. With plenty of 2021 trips on the calendar, many group tour companies have been adjusting their operations to account for coronavirus concerns and welcome travelers back safely.

The small group tour experiences I have had summiting Kilimanjaro or trekking to Everest base camp were some of the most special travel memories of my life. I went into them not knowing a soul, and I ended them with unique bonds with travelers I wouldn’t have met otherwise. Plus, the company plans the lion’s share of the trip, so you don’t have to.

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Not all group tour companies are created equally. The idea of joining a big bus tour through London sounds like a nightmare. You can find companies that bring together a handful of like-minded travelers to do things including explore Portugal by eating and drinking, track wolves in Sweden, and tackle the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea.

Get a travel buddy introduction from a friend of a friend

You might not know anyone who wants to hike the Appalachian Trail, but your friend from college who’s dating an REI camping pro might. A surprising number of people in my life have gone on trips with friends of friends, meeting up with near-strangers to get to know Paris, share a room in Boracay, follow the Phish tour or camp at California hot springs.

Ask your friends to set you up with someone who could be a good fit for your style: Are you both trying to relax at a beach? Find the best food in town? Party every night? Get up early for museum tours? I have loved nearly every time I’ve met up with a friend of a friend on a solo trip; the next step may be to take a full trip with one.

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Obviously, you have to accept that this is a gamble. You need to find someone you can feel safe with and trust. You may find out on the road that the chemistry’s off and the trip could be a disaster. Hopefully you can get a good travel story out of it, at least.

Travel with a purpose

Another option is to plan a trip that guarantees a sense of community, or provides opportunities to meet people when you get there. That may be booking a wellness retreat, working on a farm through WWOOF, enrolling in a short culinary course, or finding volunteer opportunities in the United States or abroad.

I’ve had my eye on NOLS expeditions. The nonprofit global wilderness school teaches travelers about mountaineering, sea kayaking, wilderness medicine and backpacking. Expeditions can last anywhere from a week to nearly 70 days.

If that doesn’t work out, other travel options abound. For me, making it through the pandemic means (responsibly) taking advantage of all the travel opportunities possible. Finding who you enjoy those opportunities with is just another part of the adventure.