Ease your way back into travel.

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It's probably been a while since you arrived at a hotel, bags in tow and ready for a vacation, and admired the perfectly blue pool on property. It's probably been even longer since you dipped your toe into the water before diving in and making a splash, but in many ways, easing back into travel post-pandemic will require the same sort of temperature check before venturing off to Europe, Asia, or another far-away destination, even if you took safe-cations in the last year.

Though pandemic safety restrictions are predicted to ease this summer, even seasoned travelers may feel uncomfortable taking a 12-hour redeye. That's why a smaller, shorter trip to help rebuild confidence in traveling—or a toe-dip trip, as travel booking site Travelocity is calling it—is a smart way to warm up your nomadic legs.

A small trip doesn't have to mean a staycation a mile away from home. It's more about being intentional about your goals, where you go, and how you can travel with ease, says Sara Nathan, the president and CEO of Amigos de las Américas, a company that provides cultural immersion experiences in Latin America. Here, travel pros share their best tips for making your first post-COVID escape equal parts safe and exciting.

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1 Stay local-ish

If you haven’t been fully vaccinated or you’re just generally cautious, consider sticking to places you know and are familiar to you. As travel author and adventurer Janice Holly Booth explains, you don’t want to spend your trip battling anxiety in a foreign country. She suggests picking two or three spots within a day’s drive and making a loop where you stay at each spot for a few days to slow down and explore. “This is the perfect opportunity to visit all those places you thought you’d get to ‘someday’ but never have,” she says.

If you feel confident boarding an airplane, try to keep it to a manageable short flight. Since it's a federal law to wear a face-covering while in the airport and aboard your plane, you may find it uncomfortable to sport a mask for double-digit hours, so start small.

2 Explore the great outdoors

Unfortunately, gatherings still pose a risk until everyone in your friend circle or family is fully vaccinated. Instead of rallying around your people, take a vacation with Mother Nature, Booth suggests. “Beaches, hiking, cycling, and golf all offer a great experience with limited risk,” she says. Consider this a wise time to check off something active on your bucket list that you’ve meant to try but haven’t yet, like stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, or scuba diving. You can go with your quarantine pod and center your vacay around adventuring to avoid indoor gatherings with people outside your bubble.

3 Dedicate more time to research and planning

In what feels like another lifetime, it wasn’t unheard of to set up a flight alert and book a last-minute ticket to the city or country of your wanderlust dreams. For business travelers, hitting the road was about as second nature as it gets. Now, though, since you’re out of practice, it could help to reserve a tad more time for researching and planning your trip, Nathan suggests.

Since your priorities have changed and you likely now value safety and cleaning protocols over a buzzing dining scene, you will need to comb through reviews and check hotels’ webpages. Crafting your trip in detail will give you a better sense of control, making the experience less stressful. Plus, you may also find hidden gems in your vacation spot that stimulate the economy, too.

“Take time during your planning stage to find lodging, restaurants, and locally run attractions [that] benefit the community,” Nathan recommends. “Small businesses in the tourism industry have taken a hit during the pandemic—if you’re returning to travel, supporting the local economy of the place you’re visiting can make a real difference.”

4 Know the rules before you leave

On the same note, travel requires more prep work than ever before since the rules around testing, vaccination, and open or closed borders are evolving quickly. Wherever you are traveling, make sure you are aware of the destination protocols, says Shawnta Harrison, the co-founder of the Association of Black Travel Professionals. Whether it’s domestic or international, each destination may have a different entry requirement, she says.

A real-life example: In July 2020, a negative COVID-19 test was required within ten days of travel for visiting Jamaica. But when Harrison revisited Jamaica in March, a negative COVID-19 test was required within three days of travel. It’s best to check the official government website for any place you’re thinking of venturing, since even some states have strict entry rules.

5 Shift your mindset from fearful to positive

The pandemic has taught us plenty of hard lessons, but perhaps one of the most life-changing is appreciating our health and our loved ones. It’s also been a crash course in managing our expectations, since an unpredictable world means a great chance for disappointment. Still, as Booth reminds us, it also presents the opportunity to pivot our mindset to seek the silver linings.

“Maybe you had your heart set on a safari in Africa, but there’s no reason to be bummed about having to make a local trip instead,” she says. “We’ve been cooped up so long. Every freedom-feeling outing is worth celebrating and cherishing.”

6 Don’t delay—but look for flexibility

If you have a saved folder on Instagram full of dreamy travel destinations but you haven’t pulled the plug, this is your nudge to start the process ASAP. As luxury travel advisor at travel planning company CIRE Travel Esther Klijn shares, the world is buzzing with hope, and people are setting their sights big. “Hotels are booking up—and not just for summer,” she says. “We’re already seeing a lot of bookings for the festive season. You may want to start thinking about your holiday plans now, too.”

Still practice some precaution and practicality when you’re booking, since nothing is for sure quite yet, says Vered Schwarz, the president and chief operating officer of Guesty, a property management platform. Most airlines have waived their change fees if you need to switch out a flight for a later date, but Airbnbs, vacation rentals, and hotels could be stricter with their policies.

“Travelers need to know that if circumstances outside of their control impact their travel plans, they won’t be financially impacted,” Schwarz says. “This is why when booking accommodations—whether at an Airbnb or a traditional hotel—they’re going to largely expect flexible cancellation policies in which they can nix their reservation at the very last moment, given varying lockdowns and city restrictions.”

7 Savor new sights, sounds, and smells

There’s no way around it: travel won’t be as it once was for a long time. And that has to be OK if you still have wanderlust running through your veins. Rather than wishing for the same experience, encourage yourself to slow down and take it all in. As Nathan says, there will be new sights, new sounds, new smells, and new experiences, no matter where (or when) you go.

“Be present in a new place. You may have been looking at little but the inside of your house for the past year and travel stimuli can be overwhelming,” she says. “Ground yourself at the moment and appreciate the sensations you have missed.”