"I really want to re-engage with the human population again," Brown said.

By Alison Fox
January 26, 2021
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Samantha Brown
Credit: Courtesy of Samantha Brown

Samantha Brown can't wait to plan a vacation — a vacation where she gets to talk to fellow travelers, support local restaurants, wander through an art gallery.

While 2021 isn't a magic bullet that suddenly turns the world back to normal, the TV host and travel expert said we should look at what worked in 2020 (think road trips and short-haul flights) and build on it.

"Travel is one of the few things we have in our lives that really marks that fresh start, it's a new beginning. We are desperately in need of that renewal," Brown said during a news conference with the U.S. Travel Association celebrating Tuesday's National Plan for Vacation Day. "We're going to be not just traveling to that remote cabin in the woods... We're done with that. We want to take part in the act of travel."

She added: "Personally, I've taken all the lonely trips and walks in the woods I can for the next five years. I really want to re-engage with the human population again."

The overwhelming majority of American workers — 93% — said it was important to dedicate their paid time off to travel, according to a study by the U.S. Travel Association. And 63% said they "desperately" need a vacation after 2020. In fact, 33% of earned paid time off went unused last year, on average.

But with new COVID-19 variants spreading, more restrictive travel measures and testing requirements being imposed, and a stalled vaccine rollout, travel remains just as reliant on mitigation efforts like mask wearing as ever.

"As bad as we want to get back to normal, now is not the time to fall into pandemic fatigue," Roger Dow, the president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, said during the news conference, estimating travel will start to rebound very strongly during the summer. "We're not urging everybody to get out to travel, we're saying to them: when you're ready, get out and travel."

But just the act of getting a trip on the books can trigger the feels: Dow said 97% of Americans report feeling happier just planning a vacation.

No one knows exactly what travel during 2021 will look like, but Brown said we should take advantage of the lessons 2020 taught us, including the fact that we can work and go to school remotely and take advantage of extended trips.

"Is that going to change the American mindset of not taking their time off?" she said. "I'm really hoping that's so. It's something I plan to put in action."

Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she's not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.