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What Your Summer Vacation Might Look Like This Year

COVID made your home the hot vacation destination for 2020. Whether you opted for a full-on staycation, or slipped away to a rental a few hours away, few people weren't adventuring too far away from home.

But now, nearly a year into the pandemic, we're getting antsy to get back out there—pretty much anywhere. "People are definitely making plans," says travel planner Susan Moynihan of The Honeymoonist/Largay Travel. "There are two segments: a smaller group of people who are sick of being stuck at home and are traveling both domestically and internationally despite the complications, and a larger group of people who are waiting on a vaccine to travel, especially internationally. That first group has always been there, but it's getting bigger, and people aren't hiding their travels as much."

The slow rollout of the vaccine and the newly discovered COVID-19 variants cloud the picture of what's possible (and what's safe) for travel this summer—not to mention the fact that the COVID task force and the head of the CDC currently recommend that everyone stay put.

"We just don't know yet—there are lot of moving pieces because of the variants that are continuing to emerge. And because we fully don't know the impact of the vaccines, we can't safely say how people will be impacted if they travel," says Anita Gupta, DO, MPP, PharmD, assistant professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

So how do you make plans for a getaway this year—and should you? Here's what to consider if you're hoping for a summer vacation and want to be as safe as possible.

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Get the vaccine

Right now, COVID-19 vaccine demand is a lot higher than supply, but experts have said that they expect vaccines to be more available in late spring—which puts you in better shape for a vacation toward the end of summer.

As international destinations reopen to travelers, they may require proof of vaccination for entry, so having that vaccination card could be your ticket to heading out of the country.  "I think it all comes down to the vaccine," Moynihan says. "Vaccines are already required for entry in parts of the world— like yellow fever for Kenya. Travelers will need to plan for it."

Hit the road

Getting away by car is still a safer option than flying or other forms of transportation, since it involves less exposure to people outside your bubble. "I can’t safely say, 'get on a plane,'" Dr. Gupta says. "Road trips are what the conversations are leaning toward."

Just make sure you follow CDC guidelines to travel safer. "The key is to remember to wear your mask around others, pay attention to cleaning of surfaces, and try to limit your activities to areas that are well ventilated or outdoors," says Michelle Barron, MD, UCHealth senior medical director of infection prevention and control in Denver.

Related: How to Take a Road Trip During Coronavirus

Stay domestic

Currently, many international destinations aren't even accepting travelers from the U.S.—and those that do often change their requirements (including requiring multi-day quarantines and negative COVID tests) as case numbers shift.  

"We don’t know what types of rules will be in place regarding travel to foreign destinations," Dr. Barron says. "Make sure to check with the local, state, or national guidelines and requirements ahead of time to ensure that if you need testing or proof of COVID-19 vaccination that you have that done ahead of your trip."

If you're risk-averse when it comes to travel, a domestic trip within a few hours of your home base is your safest bet.

Think outdoorsy

Outdoor activities are safer, so a vacation off the beaten path might be a smarter choice than an urban getaway. "For destinations, this summer will be about smaller towns and wide open spaces, more than big cities," Moynihan says. "The West is a big draw, but so are lesser known national parks in the East and Midwest."

Pack your mask (and your hand sanitizer, too)

Even if you've been vaccinated and achieved immunity, you may still be able to become infected without developing symptoms, and pass COVID to the people you meet when you travel. So make sure to pack plenty of masks. "You will still need to take the same precautions—masking, hand washing, and social distancing," Dr. Gupta says.

Hedge your bets

If you're thinking of traveling, look for options that allow you to easily change or cancel your plans if case numbers rise.

"Flexibility will be key with everything, and cancelation policies will need to be flexible to appeal to cautious travelers," Moynihan says. "A lot of travel vendors-—especially wholesalers, tour companies and villa companies—require full payment 90 days out, so people traveling in June will need to decide in March if they're willing to risk losing money if they can't get vaccinated in time to travel."

Consider investing in a travel insurance policy with "cancel for any reason" coverage, that could allow you to recoup deposits if you aren't comfortable as your departure date draws near. 

And of course, there's another potential what-if to consider: "Make sure you have a plan for what to do if someone does get sick, and what you would need to do in that scenario," Dr. Barron says. Keep in mind that currently, the U.S. requires all travelers (including its own citizens) to have a recent negative COVID test before they arrive in the country.

Start thinking ahead

International travel may be more feasible in 2022, when more people will be vaccinated and countries will have procedures in place for keeping both tourists and their citizens safer. "People who want bucket list trips or cruises or premium villas will need to book this year for 2022—that is when things should really rebound, and bookings are already robust for that," Moynihan says. "People have realized that they can't take travel for granted anymore, and so those things they've been dreaming about, like safaris or Machu Picchu—they need to do them."

Focus on your loved ones

It looks like 2021 isn't the best year for crossing the wildest destinations off of your bucket list. Instead, use your vacation time to reconnect with the people you've missed while you've been social distancing.

"I do think quality time with people they've missed will be at the heart of a lot of travel, more so than doing what's Instagrammable and gives you bragging rights,"  Moynihan says.  "And that's a really good thing."