The Balance Staff Shares 2021 Travel Plan Inspiration

Cash and rewards points will fund our outdoor adventures and family visits

Two chairs sit at end of a dock during a sunset in Tampa Bay, Florida

J.R. Duren / The Balance

There’s a lot to consider when planning a trip, namely where to go and how to pay for it. After such a sheltered year, there is a layer of uncertainty to traveling in 2021, despite an upbeat “back-to-travel” buzz. 

If you’re feeling a mix of emotions but still eager to dig into your savings or credit card rewards to plan a trip, The Balance is right there with you. To offer solidarity and inspiration, we asked more than a dozen team members to share their dreams, financial plans, and feelings about travel in 2021. Below, we offer some excerpts of their answers. Many of us are excited about U.S. destinations where we can explore the outdoors or visit somewhere sentimental. Others can’t wait to see more of the world.

Overall, we’re hopeful about the year ahead and ready to think about hitting the road again. This piece looks at what’s on some of our minds—and itineraries—right now. It’s the latest installment of “Our Money’s on Travel,” a series to help you plan and pay for travel in 2021 and beyond. 

Sienna Reaches for Savings to Fund Midwest Family Visit

Lake Michigan at Atwood Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Based in: Austin, Texas
Headed to: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Why Wisconsin?

My first "vaxication" will be to visit family in and around Milwaukee that I haven't seen since November 2019. I'm looking forward to visiting some Midwest stomping grounds, hugging my mom and dad, and sitting on the shore of Lake Michigan with my favorite cup of local coffee. It may not be the most thrilling vacation, but I know it’ll feel oh-so-good after being more than 1,000 miles away for so long.

How Are You Financially Preparing?

I'm always tucking a little savings away each month for travel, so that will be the first place I go for funds. My husband and I also want to use some of the Chase Ultimate Rewards points we've squirreled away from all our grocery and takeout purchases in 2020. It would be great if those extra credit card points could cover a rental car, given how pricey they are these days. 

How Are You Feeling About This Trip?

Giddy. There's nothing like going back to your roots after a long time away. The more people who get vaccinated, the more optimistic I become about bigger travel dreams, too. I'm excited to see more of the country and world soon. I think I'll have a renewed appreciation for those opportunities once they are part of our new reality. 

Yasmin Will Use Airline Miles to Escape Texas Heat

Cracker Lake in Glacier National Park.

Based in: Austin, Texas
Headed to: Glacier National Park, Montana

Why Glacier? 

One key to surviving Texas summers is escaping the heat and humidity whenever possible. The idea of hiking and then going for a paddle or a swim in a pristine mountain lake sounds sublime. 

How Are You Financially Preparing?

I've been fortunate enough to save a lot of money in the past year because there wasn't much to spend it on. Plus, I have a large stash of airline miles I haven't been able to use. I got the United Explorer Card in the fall, and the sign-up bonus and other spending on the card bulked up my MileagePlus account. And I'll probably use points from my Chase Sapphire Preferred card to pay for a rental car and, possibly, a hotel.

How Are You Feeling About This Trip?

Very excited. Even just going to the airport sounds fun. I have a lot of pent-up wanderlust, so it's wonderful to have something like this to look forward to.

Lars Sets Sights on Sailing Adventure to Earn Rewards

Sailboat docked at pier during sunset in California.

Based in: Corona Del Mar, California
Headed to: The Waters Around Catalina Island, California

Why Catalina? 

My wife and I are planning a sailing trip around the island. One of our sailing goals is to circumnavigate Catalina Island, and while this trip technically doesn’t count (someone else will skipper, which means they’re leading the voyage), it'll be a solid introduction into what that kind of trip will take. We had this trip planned last April, but then postponed to July, then September, and then canceled, so it feels like a reset for the whole year. 

How Are You Financially Preparing?

It's relatively inexpensive, but we are paying for it with our Costco Anywhere Visa. We used that card over other options because the sailing school only accepts Mastercard or Visa, and that card still offers a little bit of cash back (just 1%, unfortunately, since the purchase wasn't coded as a travel purchase). We also just booked a long weekend trip to a cabin in the Sierras using that card and got 3% back for that travel expense.

How Are You Feeling About This Trip?

I’m really, really looking forward to it—doubly so after commenting about it here. Nothing is certain, even now, but every day feels a little bit closer to “OK," so we felt confident enough to book that next, small trip to the mountains. Bigger adventures—like a flight overseas for an extended excursion—still seem out of reach.

Heather Plans a Low-Key Year to Save for Bigger 2022 Trips

 Hiking trail in Alpine Meadow below Rockwall Mountain Peak in Kootenay National Park.

Based in: Kimberley, British Columbia, Canada
Headed to: Kootenay National Park, British Columbia, Canada

Why Kootenay? 

I don't think I'll be flying or going anywhere really adventurous for a while, but I'm looking forward to lots of camping this summer. Specifically, I'm going to try to get a reservation to backpack the Rockwall Trail, a 34-mile trail through the Rocky Mountains in Kootenay National Park. I’ll hike with a few friends from Vancouver who I haven't seen in a year and a half, so it'll be a fantastic chance to adventure together, but easily stay apart, since the vaccine rollout is so slow where I live.

How Are You Financially Preparing?

Usually we have a travel account dedicated to saving for adventures, but since we weren’t traveling in the past year, we redirected most of those funds to other uses, such as boosting retirement accounts, paying down our mortgage, and landscaping our backyard. The kinds of trips I'm planning for this year are pretty budget-friendly, so we won’t need the fund, but I might splurge on fancier food or treats to take with me, or a really nice dinner after we get off the trail. 

How Are You Feeling About This Trip?

I'm feeling excited and optimistic, but I plan to keep things pretty low-key. While this year probably won't involve much travel spending, I'll focus on earning rewards and saving for a much more exciting 2022. For now, I'm looking forward to lots of time in the woods, near lakes, and around a campfire with a good book and a good dog. 

Christine Is Excited to Finally Use Travel Credit Card Perks

Seashore in Cascais, Portugal.

Based in: Brooklyn, New York
Headed to: Portugal

Why Portugal? 

In 2020, I was supposed to do a triathlon there. Of course, the race was canceled, so I deferred my registration a year. The triathlon is now scheduled for late October, and if it's a go, my husband and I will fly out a few days before the race and stay in the area a total of maybe two weeks. We're excited to check out Lisbon and take some day trips, too. If that doesn't work out, Mexico City is next on our list of big cities to see. We love exploring major cities by foot and public transit.

How Are You Financially Preparing?

I made the ill-fated decision of getting the Chase Sapphire Reserve in January 2020, just a couple of months before everything shut down. So I've paid the annual fee twice and barely used the card's benefits. I'm still sitting on the bonus points, plus more than a year of points from the boosted bonus categories. I also contribute monthly to a vacation fund (a "high-yield" savings account), which I haven't touched in a long time. I'm usually very cost-conscious—I've only ever flown coach—but forget it, this time I'm going to splurge.

How Are You Feeling About This Trip?

I'm cautiously optimistic. October is far enough away that it feels very possible we'll be able to travel internationally without quarantine periods, but I'm putting off planning as long as I can. If it happens, awesome. If not, there are plenty of places within driving distance I have yet to explore. As much as I want to travel again, I'm not in a huge rush.

Mrinalini Seeks Out Deals for Relaxing Beach Getaway

Playa Coson Beach of Las Terrenas, located on the Samana Peninsula in the Dominican Republic.

Based in: Jersey City, New Jersey
Headed to: Beach Resort in the Caribbean or Mexico

Why the Caribbean or Mexico? 

It would be great to get a fill of some sun, sand, and beaches after a long winter. Besides, we have a toddler who hasn't really seen much of the world outside our apartment thanks to the lockdown, so it would be great to introduce them to new terrains, food, and people.

How Are You Financially Preparing?

Haven't started planning yet, but we usually scour travel and accommodation deals (like what airlines, loyalty programs, or even Costco offer). We rely on our United Explorer Card to save on baggage fees when flying, too. This trip would be our first with our toddler, so I'm sure there will be expenses involved in either buying stuff (light stroller/inflatable cushion for plane) or renting car seats/cribs, etc. We saved lots of miles over the past year, so we hope to use some of those.

How Are You Feeling About This Trip?

I'm still nervous, but optimistic that we'll be able to do this soon. The biggest deciding factor for this trip will be vaccination rates.

J.R. Leans on Hotel Card Benefits to Return to a Special Spot

Pool at Grand Hyatt in Tampa Bay, Florida

Based in: Jacksonville, Florida
Headed to: Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay

Why the Grand Hyatt in Tampa? 

It’s the hotel where my wife and I stayed the night of our wedding, the night we returned from our honeymoon, and on several anniversaries since then. Between having a second child and the pandemic, we haven't been able to return for about three years. I think we'll be happy just to hang out at the pool, go to restaurants, and lounge around in our room.

How Are You Financially Preparing?

We’re making plans to book at least a weekend there with the points we've saved up through Chase Ultimate Rewards and the free nights we have on our World of Hyatt Card. We're hoping to employ our tried-and-true strategy of booking a standard room with points, then paying $25-$75 per night to upgrade to a giant waterfront suite. 

We also have lingering rewards balances on a couple of our cash-back cards (Wells Fargo Cash Wise and Chase Freedom Unlimited) that we'll probably dump into the budget, as well as discretionary money we saved up since we didn't go out much or travel during the pandemic. 

How Are You Feeling About This Trip?

Because the location has a ton of significance for us, I am really sentimental and a bit emotional about returning. It sounds silly, but I think sentimental places, in particular, are bigger than the sum of their amenities. They remind us of the better days, and in that reminder, there is a sense of newness and freedom I can't wait to get back to.