After nearly two years of COVID-19 lockdown, Americans are ready to travel. Industry experts estimate 53 percent of adults in the U.S. are making end-of-the-year travel plans.

The TSA anticipates screening about 2 million travelers in the nation’s airports over the Christmas holiday – a huge increase from 2020, when the pandemic locked Americans into their homes and kept families apart.

“People haven’t been able to travel for two years,” said Ron Biglin, owner of Kern Travel in Bakersfield. “They now want to go.”

But COVID-19 has not disappeared, and travel is not as easy as just buying an airplane ticket or jumping into a car.

“My best advice to clients is to be prepared to roll with the punches,” said Biglin. “Things are changing all the time. Expect changes.”

Coping with the chaos of overbooked or canceled flights, seasonal weather and changing COVID-19 restrictions requires preplanning and research.

“We see people now seeking the help of a travel agent for even simple trips,” said Biglin, explaining that travel agencies rely on sophisticated software systems to provide daily updates on domestic and international COVID-19 requirements and outbreaks.

“Most people are vaccinated. Definitely some aren’t. From a travel perspective, I can advise what will be easier and less expensive,” Biglin said. “An unvaccinated traveler might be required to have a COVID test 72 to 48 hours before departing. That could cost $250 to $300 for the test per person. That’s an additional expense.”

“It appears a majority of our clients are vaccinated and feel safer,” said Ray Watson, president of Uniglobe Travel in Bakersfield. “Those not vaccinated are not surprised by the requirements and added costs. Our job is not to be a doctor. We tell them there are more options and less headwinds if they are vaccinated.”

Watson recently returned from a trip to Spain and France. Those two countries require travelers to have “health passes,” which record travelers’ vaccination and health records, as well as contact information.

“The system is becoming a standard in the rest of the world,” he said, adding that a health pass can be loaded onto a traveler’s cell phone and used to enter a country and venues, such as restaurants, within the country. Travel agents assist clients in obtaining country-specific passes. Information also is posted on U.S. State Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention websites.

Both Watson and Biglin stressed that travelers must keep up to date on conditions and requirements in departure and destination locations. Working with professional advisors can address problems.

In these uncertain times, Watson and Biglin strongly advise travelers to purchase trip insurance.

“We will not sell a trip unless a client purchases a policy, or signs a waiver assuming responsibility,” Biglin said. Policies cover such things as illness and delays resulting from COVID-19.

While Biglin and Watson advise travelers to arrange their flights and book their lodging well in advance, even the procrastinators reading this article still can book a holiday vacation.

“You always stand a chance to travel if you have enough money to spend,” Biglin noted. “It boils down to supply and demand.”

Biglin booked a two-week cruise on the Seabourn Ovation out of Miami destined for the Leeward Islands departing Nov. 27: “Like most people, I haven’t had a big trip since fall of 2019," he said.

“I’m confident that right now cruises are the safest way to travel,” Biglin added, explaining that passengers must be tested for COVID-19 before they board and onboard. Cruise lines are not selling the full ship to enact social distancing. “One screw-up again and [the industry] will be in trouble.”

Watson returned in early November from a European cruise that became available because the travel industry is just now beginning to recover from the pandemic.

“Conditions for travel right now may be better than you will find in May or June,” Watson said.

Other travel tips local and national agents offer include: Book the first flight of a day to minimize delays. Be flexible and book cheaper days to travel. Sign up for TSA PreCheck to avoid delays. Understand and heed boarding rules. Pack light to avoid checking in luggage. Don’t wrap Christmas gifts that may be inspected. Bring snacks. Download travel apps, especially for your airlines.