In early April, U.S. President Joe Biden signed a bipartisan congressional resolution ending the COVID-19 national emergency after three years. Less than a month later, the World Health Organization Director-General determined that COVID-19 is an established and ongoing health issue that no longer constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.  

These official acts confirmed what many travel experts anticipated, leading them to predict that travelers would re-engage in 2023 and boost global tourism by 30%. The newest Global Rescue survey of the world’s most experienced travelers uncovered post-pandemic shifts in travel mistakes, renewed confidence in cruising and a steady rebound in business travel.

A couple lies on the floor of their living room studying maps and planning a vacation.

Global Rescue conducted the Spring 2023 Traveler Sentiment and Safety Survey between April 25-30, gathering more than 1,700 responses from current and former members. The respondents revealed a variety of preferences, behaviors and attitudes regarding international and domestic travel. 

Longer Vacations 

Travelers returning to trips following the pandemic are taking longer vacations, making plans on their own and taking new lessons with them. According to the survey, one out of four of the world’s most experienced travelers will take longer trips in 2023 than in the past. Less than 10% of respondents said they would take shorter trips while the majority (65%) said their trips will be about the same as in the past, neither shorter nor longer. 

[Related Reading: Which Trusted Traveler Program Is Best for You?]

“Travelers are making up for lost time due to the pandemic. Despite higher prices and flight disruptions, people are not only scheduling trips for 2023 but many are planning longer ones,” said Dan Richards, CEO of The Global Rescue Companies, the leading provider of medical, security, evacuation and travel risk management services, and a member of the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board at the U.S. Department of Commerce. 

Overpacking and Free Time 

Travelers revealed their biggest bungles and lessons learned when traveling. More than a third of respondents (35%) said overpacking was their biggest travel mistake. While overpacking continues to be a persistent traveler mistake, the improvement has been substantial since COVID. In February 2020, immediately before the pandemic, three-out-of-four respondents said overpacking was the biggest mistake travelers make.  

Harding Bush, senior manager of operations at Global Rescue, advises travelers to “pack light, and buy what you need there.” Pat Pendergast, The Fly Shop’s director of international travel, suggests travelers “make a list of all the items you packed but never used and then use that list to guide how you pack for future trips.” 

Failing to plan free time in a travel itinerary is the second biggest mistake among travelers, although, like overpacking, improvement since the pandemic is striking. According to the survey results, 28% of respondents said not planning and scheduling free time was their second biggest mistake. Three years ago, before the pandemic, 40% of respondents admitted to creating ambitious itineraries that did not include free time. 

The third biggest mistake listed among travelers is assuming they understand the laws of the country to which they’re traveling. Eleven percent noted that this was a common mistake. “The laws of your home country don’t travel with you. That’s why knowing the local laws of the destination(s) is critical before traveling,” Richards said. 

DIY Trip Customization 

As more people return to travel, most of them are relying on a mix of resources to plan their itineraries. Less than a fifth of respondents (17%) use a travel agent. Only three percent use full-service, one-stop online resources – like Kayak, Expedia and Travelocity – for flights, hotels and auto rentals. Nearly a third of respondents (31%) use multiple online resources for each part of a trip. Most travelers (46%) do it by themselves with a mix of direct phone calls, online resources and email. 

“Travelers are increasingly looking for travel customization at every level from the moment they leave home until they return. At the same time, the pandemic pushed people to become more reliant on online services. The combination of those two factors has driven travelers to do more self-guided travel planning,” Richards said. 

Business Travel, Bleisure Surge  

Business travel is predicted to surge and bleisure travel has taken off, according to the survey. Seventy percent of business travelers responding say their work-related travel will match or exceed pre-pandemic levels in 2023. Most business travelers taking the survey (65%) will include bleisure travel, adding extra days to their business trip for personal or leisure activities.  

More than half of responding business travelers (55%) will travel both domestically and internationally for business compared to a year ago when nearly three-out-of-four respondents (72%) had not traveled abroad for business or did not have plans to do so. 

“The business traveler mindset has changed, and employer attitudes have shifted, too. Face-to-face meetings are more effective at establishing and maintaining relationships than virtual meetings. It’s no surprise that domestic and international work-related travel is rising along with bleisure travel,” Richards said. 

Duty of Care 

As business travel increases, so do the challenges facing employers, especially following the pandemic and the rise of remote work. “The biggest management challenge in this evolving environment will be how duty of care plays a role in protecting a location-independent workforce. Business leaders have to ask themselves if a set of rules or policies designed to maintain the health, safety and well-being of their employees are in place,” Richards said. 

[Related Reading: Duty of Care and the Future of Digital Nomads]

The overwhelming majority of business travelers surveyed (72%) say they do not have or do not know if they have a duty of care policy in place. The majority of the 28% of business travelers who say they have duty of care provisions in place have trouble listing what the plan includes. More than half say their policy includes pre-trip destination planning and health alerts. However, fewer than half say security, travel tracking and alerts were available during the trip. 

“Corporate leaders carry a duty of care responsibility to their employees, to take care of them and avoid exposing them to any unnecessary or undue risk. As more workers become location-independent and include bleisure in their business travel trips, the more the firm’s duty of care policies must evolve,” Richards said.  

Cruising Is Back  

Travelers are casting off on cruise ships in record numbers, surpassing 2019 levels and breaking sales records. Part of the comeback is due to revenge travel, but smaller ship sizes and access to new, remote destinations are important factors attracting passengers.   

“Cruises are back on the travel list. Forty percent of respondents have already taken a cruise since the pandemic started or, if they haven’t, they plan to in 2023,” said Michael Holmes, vice president of marketing for Global Rescue. 

Smaller cruise ships are rising in popularity. Industry experts expect the number of smaller cruise ships to double by 2030, according to reports. The survey revealed that people taking cruises prefer smaller ships when it comes to vessel size. 

Half of cruising respondents (50%) will set sail in small ship cruisers that have a capacity of fewer than 800 passengers. Only 11% of respondents who plan to take cruises this year selected mega-ships with a capacity greater than 3,500 passengers. Seventeen percent of cruising respondents prefer small-midsized ships (800 to 1,499 passengers), followed by a fifth of cruise enthusiasts (20%) who favor midsized ships (1,500 to 2,500 passengers), while an equal percentage choose large ships (2,500 to 3,500 passengers). 

“Smaller cruise ships are easier to maneuver and have greater port access compared to mega-cruise ships. Smaller capacity ships open river cruising, visiting tucked-away harbors, exotic locales, pristine beaches and remote places or ports where larger ships can’t reach,” Holmes said. 

The survey revealed that the cruise destination preferences among travelers include tropical cruises (21%), glacier excursions (14%) and fjord journeys (12%). River, transocean, fall foliage and Panama Canal voyages rounded out the top seven types of cruises travelers have planned for 2023. 

As travelers return to cruising, their concerns are changing, too. Traveler fears of COVID have plummeted, according to the survey. Their greatest anxiety is having an injury or illness unrelated to COVID. 

“While confidence to cruise has returned, travelers must remember that access to medical help for an illness or injury during travel at sea is limited. Health safety resources on board a cruise ship are similar to a health center – but it’s not a hospital,” said Jeff Weinstein, a paramedic and an associate manager of medical operations for Global Rescue. 

Serious medical emergencies aboard cruise ships that are beyond the capabilities of the onboard medical team require transportation of the individual to a higher-quality medical facility – either by making port or calling a helicopter for an airborne rescue.