“Two thousand twenty-one is a great time to remind ourselves that a honeymoon is about sharing a one-of-a-kind experience with your new spouse—even if that’s a road trip through your own state,” says Harmony Walton, The Bridal Bar founder. They say it’s who you’re with not where that matters, and the pandemic that’s halted global travel has reminded us all of that. It’s true that in recent years—if you’re on Instagram, at least—honeymoons seem to have become about jetting to the farthest-flung destinations in the world. But that wasn’t always the case and, as Walton says, “the length of the flight doesn't equal the amount of fun you will have, so be okay with creating special memories closer to home if need be.”
The length of the flight doesn't equal the amount of fun you will have.
It may not be what you want to hear when a white sand beach in Tahiti or the Maldives is occupying your every daydream, but the most important thing about this special vacation is to do something or go somewhere that’s new to you and your spouse. Because COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in so many newlyweds’ plans, we asked a few travel and honeymoon experts to share their best advice for navigating these uncharted waters.
Respect Travel Restrictions, Near and Far
“As Americans, we’re at the mercy of how this COVID situation rolls out with the vaccine and each individual country deciding what works best for them to reopen," says Tiffany L. Layne, owner of LaVon Travel & Lifestyle, who has several clients anxious to know if their planned summer European honeymoons will be possible. “Each person has to mitigate risk according to their personal travel comforts,” she adds. Islands such as the Maldives, Seychelles, Hawaii and many in the Caribbean have very strict protocols in place for travelers, so they are an option at this time. But couples should think about the impact of what getting sick faraway could mean, not only for themselves but for the community and hospitals where they are going. Ultimately, says Alejandra Poupel, destination wedding planner and owner of Alexandra Poupel Events, “a special honeymoon is mostly about the details that are meaningful to the couple.”
This is the time to go with the flow. “Less is more,” says Michael Albanese, founder of Element Lifestyle. "Approaching a honeymoon with a loose grip will help manage healthy expectations and leave space for the unexpected magic that can happen unintentionally.” So much is uncertain these days, which throws a wrench in the entire concept of planning. So attitude is everything. Consider waiting until a bit closer to your desired dates to book or make reservations, so you are not getting hopes up for something that may not end up being possible. Instead, spend more time researching unique, closer-to-home destinations that you might have never realized existed—it minimizes the potential for complications.
Go Back to Basics
“When planning a wedding and the honeymoon, there can be so much stress and expectation that it can sometimes rob us of joy and playfulness,” says Albanese. He and his team encourage newlyweds to ask themselves, “‘What do we really enjoy, the two of us? What were we doing when that first romantic electricity sparked? What are hobbies we both enjoy separately and can enjoy together during our honeymoon?’” Take a moment to contemplate your interests. A honeymoon shouldn’t be about bragging rights, it’s a time to connect, relax and savor being in love. That could mean a cooking class at a wonderful local restaurant or hiking to a picturesque spot with a bottle of your favorite wine. “If we get back to the basics of what we enjoy and what we benefit from doing as a couple, it doesn’t have to cost a lot and can still be memorable,” says Albanese.
Domestic Honeymoons Can Be Equally or More Special
“I would recommend an open mind,” says Tom Marchant, co-founder of luxury travel company Black Tomato. There are endless topographies in the U.S. so, says Albanese, “with a mindset that love can be local, there are incredible destinations in our proverbial backyard, from Montana to Vermont, from Colorado to Tennessee. America has so much rugged luxury and unspoiled backdrops that naturally lend themselves toward a romantic adventure.”
Look at 2021 as an opportunity to explore the amazing treasures in America, especially considering flexible and generous cancelation policies and offers. Says Marchant, “If you’re unable to travel on safari to Africa, why not explore the mesmerizing southwestern United States for something epic, intrepid, and luxurious akin to what you might experience in Africa?” Black Tomato offers a new weeklong Southwest safari including a stop in Moab, whitewater rafting on the Colorado River, and Amangiri’s Camp Sarika and you might just feel as if you’re in Namibia or Kenya.
A classic East Coast road trip can make for a magical summer honeymoon, “staying at places like Mayflower Inn & Spa or Troutbeck, with a stay in Newport, Rhode Island, and maybe even the Pitcher Inn in Vermont,” he suggests. Additionally, a host of amazing domestic destination spas are safely operating, “so you could focus acutely on wellness and relaxation,” says Marchant. A few more ideas include Napa, where Layne says, “a lot of romance can be created,” and Jackson Hole, where the cozy and intimate Caldera House is perfect for skiers seeking spa experiences, too. On the East Coast, there's charming Savannah and paradisiacal Key West. Logistically, you can also look to regional magazines and local chambers of commerce to find restaurants, activities, tour guides, and more in the destination you choose.
Work With a Professional
According to Layne, “Because of relationships I have with properties, I do everything I can to make a client’s experience personal, exquisite and memorable—I go above and beyond to make sure it’s not just checking into a hotel room with a bottle of Champagne, but that there are little perks and touches that [speak to] a couple’s special interests.” Along with these surprises, another bonus is a travel planner can better negotiate extras such as gratis breakfasts served in your room.
Their connections extend to guides and tour companies you might not find on your own. “If you want a private guide to take you through Zion National Park, for instance, I have a guide who’s not on the map but has been doing this, passionately, for 15-plus years,” says Layne. “They do a better job than a [corporate] tour company.” Pros also mean a weight off your shoulders when it comes to dealing with the nitty-gritty of ever-changing closures and re-openings, new restrictions and the like, since they’ll track it all and keep you apprised of exactly what to expect.
Support Small Businesses, No Matter Where You Go
“There are many incredible boutique hotels and small, family-owned hospitality businesses that are suffering because of the pandemic, and they have put in place all the safety protocols to welcome you for your honeymoon,” says Poupel, adding that many are going to great pains to give a royal welcome to honeymooners. “By organizing your honeymoon domestically, we are showing solidarity and uplifting the hospitality community.”
It’s really important to funnel money into the economy of a community, not just feed big box businesses.
Another way to go about this is by leaving the confines of your hotel to patronize local watering holes, restaurants and other businesses. “Especially if you travel to a small town, visit the shops, eat in the restaurants—they’re usually independently owned,” says Layne. “Help keep the industry alive. It’s really important to funnel money into the economy of a community, not just feed big box businesses.”
Doing so, according to Marchant, “expands your ability to support a wider array of people. And shop local—consider some really special talismans from your honeymoon that you can look back on fondly for years to come.” He also advises working local experts into your itinerary, whether it’s fly-fishing instructors in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, or professional hiking guides on the Appalachian Trail. “For more bespoke offerings, work with a travel company that will connect you with local interior design guides to tour historic Newport mansions or even an antiques dealer who can take you to all the best haunts.”
Consider These Other Details
“Now more than ever, take a proper amount of time off for your honeymoon,” says Marchant. "Your honeymoon should be special but, most importantly, be an antidote to the burnout and fatigue so many of us are feeling, [especially] with a completely dissolved barrier between work and home life.” He adds a warning: truly shut off the outside world, and don’t answer work emails.
Welcome the return of the two-week vacation. “I would encourage honeymooners to embrace a slow travel pace—take fewer internal flights and become more ‘grounded’ by, literally, ‘low’ travel, by car, train, foot or bicycle,” suggests Marchant. This allows couples to “dwell in the landscape and soak up the atmosphere more intentionally.”
Ultimately, says Walton, since many honeymooners have also felt disappointment over wedding plan changes or cancelations, “it might be better to plan for what you know you can do and will love than be disappointed that the trip doesn’t happen at all.” And just think, what better way to celebrate your first—or even fifth!—anniversary than a long flight to a fabulous, faraway place. In the meantime, enjoy the silver lining of staying local: zero jet lag.