The truth is, we just don’t know yet how the summer’s going to look: We don’t know how many people will be vaccinated, we don’t know about these other strains of COVID, and we don’t know if these dipshits celebrating spring break in Florida by gathering in crowds and spitting into each other’s mouths is going to seriously fuck up our progress.
But if you’re like me — i.e., you’ve taken COVID seriously, but you’re also itching for a proper vacation — then you might be kinda, sorta, just-maybe-a-little bit thinking about making plans for the summer. And, also like me, maybe you have no idea how to go about it. Like, I know how to book a flight or a hotel, and normally I’d just go on Kayak or whatever and get it done, but with all this uncertainty, I’m afraid to plan anything, because who knows if I’ll actually be comfortable going on vacation when those dates finally roll around? So, to try to get a tiny bit more clarity, I spoke to a couple of travel agents and a microbiologist about how to kinda, sorta plan a summer vacation.
First of all, just forget about flying overseas. Europe doesn’t want us — even Canada doesn’t want us — so you’re better off planning something right here in America. That’s the first bit of advice I got from travel agent Leslie Erickson of Mad Tuscan Travel, who specializes in European vacations. Mexico is wide open, Erickson says, as are some other countries in the Caribbean, but she still advises making plans domestically, as it’ll be easier to navigate mask policies and the like and you won’t have to worry about finding health care in a foreign country if someone does get sick. After all, we still don’t know much about the new strains of COVID, and even though kids are less susceptible to COVID, they’re still at risk.
So hopefully if you do travel this summer, you’ll be staying here in America, but that still leaves you with a wide variety of options. For example, chilling at the beach in Ocean City, Maryland, will probably afford you a bit more social-distancing space than cramming yourself into the seats of Space Mountain. This is why microbiologist Jason “The Germ Guy” Tetro — author of The Germ Files — says that vacations like beaches, national parks, nature trails, mountain resorts and things like that will be the safest places to travel to because you can actually social distance. Even those, however, might be more crowded than usual, as you won’t be the only one who thought to go there.
Vaccination rates are also something to consider. While the president recently set May 1st as the possible date where all adults are eligible for vaccination, that could very well change. Either way, it doesn’t mean everyone will be vaccinated by summer, so you’re going to want to keep an eye on the numbers in terms of how many people are fully vaccinated. NPR has a helpful state-by-state guide to vaccination rates, but know that once vacationing summer tourists start becoming a thing again, this might not matter as much.
Of course, your own vaccination status is a big factor too. As Tetro explains, “If you’ve been vaccinated, you need to wait for 15 days before you have a baseline immunity, which will protect you from moderate to severe disease but may not stop you from getting a mild infection. If you have that second dose, then 15 days later, you have what is known as sterilizing immunity, and that will protect you from any exposure. After 15 days of the second dose, you probably can go out without a mask, but it would be better if everyone else has also had the second dose. That should happen by mid-summer, so perhaps book your holiday later on in the summer months.” And, if you’re not fully vaccinated in time for a vacation, Tetro says it’s best to stay home.
He adds that once we get to the point where about two-thirds of the population is vaccinated, that will reasonably get us to a much safer place, and that’s when he believes it would be safer to visit a crowded place like Disney World, for example. If you’re supremely confident that we’ll reach that point this summer and want to plan for something like the Magic Kingdom, travel agent Frank Bianco, who specializes in Disney vacations, says that the time to book is now, as things might get filled up quickly once the future becomes clearer. “Right now, supply far outweighs demand,” Bianco says. “Not many people are vacationing — except for during spring break — and so there’s a ton of supply. However, we expect this to change quickly, so if you wait until July to plan your August vacation, you might not be able to get anything.”
But with an uncertain future, it might seem risky — financially speaking — to plan too far ahead. Bianco, however, insists that it isn’t. He explains that most airlines, at present, are still incredibly forgiving when it comes to rescheduling flights and the same goes for most hotels. Right now, anyone is happy to get the business, so they’re accommodating people left and right.
This could change, of course: Once the summer gets closer and clearer, expect cancellation fees and other similar penalties to return. That’s why it’s best to book soon — now, even — because you’ll get lower prices and more lenient policies. Also, while most airlines and hotels are currently pretty forgiving, policies vary hotel-to-hotel and airline-to-airline, so it’s very important to read the fine print and weigh your options. And since, as Erickson explains, travel insurance policies generally don’t cover pandemic-related matters, it’s all the more important to know what you’re getting.
Understanding all of that takes a bit of time and research, which is why Bianco recommends finding a travel agent. Being one himself, Bianco obviously has a dog in this fight, but he explains that a good travel agent will do all this research for you. “I only became a travel agent recently,” says Bianco. “Before that, I always went online and did it myself. A lot of people don’t use travel agents and haven’t for decades, but during a time like this, finding a reliable travel agent might be really helpful, especially since a good one will lay out your options and do the homework for you.”
For myself, I’ve never used a travel agent and normally I’m shocked that they’re still even a profession, but I’ll admit that, this year at least, I’m seriously thinking about it. I’m not a read-the-fine-print kind of guy and the idea that I’m going to do that for several hotels and airlines is just absurd.
Given that, a travel agent kind of sounds like a good idea, but since I have no idea how to find a good one, I asked Bianco for some advice. “Usually, a personal recommendation is best, so try to find one that someone you know has used before and that they were satisfied with,” he says. “Generally speaking though, the mark of a good travel agent is one that’s willing to do some research — someone who will admit they don’t know something and get back to you — rather than someone who just tries to sell you into one of the preset packages they offer.”
After all that, there’s still one more thing to consider: the psychological effect of being on vacation again. Tetro explains that, since so many of us have been isolated for more than a year now, the shock of suddenly going to a crowded place might be overwhelming — it might even make you feel unsafe. That’s another reason why a place without a ton of people might be the best destination for this year. Even Bianco, whose profession mostly involves sending people to Disney Parks, says, “Unless you feel comfortable, you’re not going to enjoy yourself, so make sure that you feel ready.”
Remember, the whole reason for a vacation is to chill and recharge your batteries, but you won’t be able to do that if you’re constantly looking over your shoulder. So, in addition to taking care of yourself by wearing your mask, maintaining social distancing and getting your vaccine when you’re eligible, remember to take care of yourself mentally as well. That’s the only way we’ll ever truly put COVID behind us.