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America’s first long weekend of the vaccination era is coming. Here’s where travelers are headed.

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 4/20/2021 Natalie Compton
a piece of cake on a table © iStock/Washington Post illustration

Last Memorial Day, travel was at an all-time low. Only about 1.5 million people flew for the holiday, compared to 12 million travelers in 2019. But with more than 85 million people in the United States now fully vaccinated, the travel industry is expecting a busy three-day weekend.

“Memorial Day is going to be the first real big holiday that is coming up on the horizon,” said Lior Sekler, vice president of revenue management at the hotel management company HRI Lodging. “Between that and Fourth of July, we expect those two holidays to really show some really spectacular demand.”

Specifics of that demand have shifted because of the pandemic. While the vaccine has given Americans the confidence to travel again, things aren’t back to normal yet. At this time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said it is safe for fully vaccinated people to travel, but it is also still advising folks to stay home as most of the country remains unvaccinated and variant risks remain high. Those who do travel still need to mask up and practice social distancing, even if they are vaccinated.

With such considerations in mind, travelers appear to be choosing open spaces and nature over dense urban environments. Airbnb bookings show travelers are increasingly planning trips to off-the-beaten path locations, with searches for remote destinations in the U.S. up by nearly 40 percent just this past month. But places easing restrictions are also capturing Memorial Day business between their palm trees and partying opportunities.

Here are the most popular destinations Americans are booking for Memorial Day travel.

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Las Vegas

With international travel still complicated or even impossible, depending on the country, Americans are primarily turning to domestic destinations for their Memorial Day trips.

Priceline analyzed travel over this coming Memorial Day weekend and found that Las Vegas was the most popular city for hotel bookings. Skyscanner reported that Las Vegas is its most popular domestic flight booked for the holiday.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced via Twitter that the state aims to reopen 100 percent by June and will remove its social distancing mandate by May 1. Las Vegas is also luring travelers with severely discounted room rates, particularly during the week. Sekler recommended that if possible, Memorial Day travelers shift their vacation to start on Wednesday to capitalize on the hospitality industry’s severe need for weekday business.

“Vegas is the poster child of the weekend price,” Sekler said. “You can get a thirty-five-dollar room at the Bellagio probably on a Tuesday, and it’ll be three hundred dollars on a Saturday.”

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Mexico

Without any entry restrictions, Mexico has remained the most popular international destination for American travelers throughout the pandemic. According to Skyscanner data, Cancún was the most booked international flight destination for Memorial Day weekend this year.

Dave Hershberger, owner of the Travel Leaders affiliate agency Prestige Travel, said the vast majority of his Mexico bookings for clients are to Cancún, with Cabo and the Riviera Maya following in demand.

Americans traveling to Mexico, or other popular international destinations such as the Caribbean, need to remember that they will have to comply with testing requirements for returning to the U.S. Testing positive before your flight home will mean staying abroad longer, among other complications.

Florida

Skyscanner and Priceline data show Orlando and Miami are among the top destinations for Memorial Day flights and hotels. Florida is continuing to pull in tourists with its beaches and limited coronavirus restrictions. Sekler said the state has been the leader for hotel occupancy, with Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and Orlando drawing the most travelers.

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Hawaii

After Hawaii reopened to tourism last year, the state has become an increasingly popular travel destination for Americans.

Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights and author of “Take More Vacations,” says early-summer flight searches to Hawaii’s Big Island are 51 percent higher right now than for the same week in 2019. Major airlines such as Southwest, Delta and United have been adding new flights to the islands to meet that growing demand.

The state’s changing entry requirements can make it confusing for travelers; so read up on restrictions well before your trip.

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National parks

While national parks have always been hallmarks for summer vacations, trip requests have been through the roof in 2021, Hershberger said.

Cynthia Hernandez, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service, recommended finding a park that is closer to home or an alternative to the most popular options to have a better chance at avoiding crowds. Before you go, download the NPS app to access interactive maps, take self-guided tours, and find important information like road closures and entry restrictions.

Read more on travel during the pandemic:

Tips: Advice column | Coronavirus testing | Vaccinations | Vaccine passports | Updating documents | Summer trips |Travel vouchers | Ask us your travel questions

Flying: Pandemic packing | Airport risks | Staying healthy on planes | Fly or drive? | Layovers

Road trips: Tips | Rental cars | Best snacks | Long-haul trains | Rest stops | Cross-country drive

Destinations: Hawaii | Private islands | Australia | Mexico | Alaska | Puerto Ric

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