Booking multiple trips as a response to pandemic-era travel.
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You know travel is messy when the U.S. Department of State suggests coming up with a solid backup plan. But that's exactly how some people are approaching pandemic travel, with a plan B, C, and sometimes even D.

It's a strategy called trip stacking. Travelers book two or more trips to avoid getting stuck on their couches when borders slam shut or new pandemic-related travel restrictions force them to change their plans.

"There's never been a better time to book a holiday from a flexibility perspective. You can book a holiday, put a little money down, and see what happens," Adam Armstrong, CEO of Contiki Holidays, told Travel + Leisure.

Armstrong, who is based in Geneva, is stacking trips himself this winter. "This weekend I should have been going to Stockholm, however due to the restrictions in Stockholm, we're going to London," he said.

In February, the executive will ski in France, Austria, or Switzerland. "We just want to go away for that week, and these are options that could be easier or more complicated," he said, describing his upcoming vacation plans with another family residing in the United Kingdom. Armstrong characterizes that trip, which is scheduled to occur over a school holiday, as "semi-booked." That means flight and hotel reservations have been made, but are refundable.

"We're betting on where we think we will want to go and what will be open at the time," he said.

If you're a detail-oriented traveler who believes in a solid backup plan, you may be able to employ a similar strategy to hedge your vacation bets. That said, the peace of mind trip stacking offers can come at a cost, especially for travelers who don't read the fine print. Travelers have to be thorough to ensure they aren't charged for a last-minute cancellation.

At Contiki Holidays, travelers can receive a full refund of their trip deposit if they cancel within 45 days of putting down the deposit. Cancellations are accepted for any reason — including a changed mind. Customers choosing to cancel their vacations within 45 days of their scheduled trip will face cancellation fees of up to 100% of their trip fare, depending on when they cancel.

Josh Bush, CEO of the travel agency Avenue Two Travel, recommends anyone attempting to trip stack without the help of a travel agent triple-check the terms and conditions that may apply to their bookings.

"Terms and conditions have gotten more restrictive," he told T+L. "Trip stacking becomes a little bit more onerous when that flexibility isn't there."

Bush recommends travelers looking to trip stack rank potential destinations along a risk spectrum. "Think about whether or not a destination is more or less likely to have a knee-jerk reaction and close its borders," he said.

Aerial landscape view of Espalmador and Ibiza during sunset with sailboats anchored.
Credit: Ruben Earth/Getty Images

Some destinations have demonstrated how quickly they will pivot their pandemic restrictions. Others have not. Bush offers Mexico as an example of trip that's more likely to happen. He sees trip stacking as moving trips along a calendar rather than choosing one option by a specific deadline. "When we've utilized the trip stacking strategy in the past, it was always with the full intention of doing both trips just at different times," he said.

Meanwhile, travel app Hopper is building travel contingency planning into its product suite. It has introduced several services aimed at helping customers manage travel disruptions, including one that allows canceled flights to be rebooked instantly on any airline via the Hopper app.

"Travelers want more flexibility," said Hopper economist Adit Damodaran. "They're a lot more unsure about what travel is going to look like at the time of their trip versus when they're booking it."

Meena Thiruvengadam loves wandering new streets and discovering the world's stories. Find her on Facebook, Instagram, or at the airport, and subscribe to her newsletter.