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Americans are traveling as if they’ve been unleashed — crowding the skies, highways, and byways, looking for a well-deserved respite. Physicians and other healthcare workers, especially, need a break, far from the concerns of the job.

Americans responding to an Expedia survey this spring said they planned to spend more money on vacations this year and take five additional vacation days in 2021, said Christie Hudson, a senior public relations manager with Expedia North America. Their bucket lists have also gotten longer, allied trade schools Hudson said, adding that travelers need to be prepared for higher prices and fewer vacancies.

Still keeping social distancing in mind, Americans are seeking outdoorsy and nature-oriented vacation spots, she said. National parks, places near mountains or lakes are popular, as are warm weather destinations such as Florida, Arizona, Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean — which are being booked at a higher rate than in 2019, she said.

Airbnb reports similar high interest in coastal, mountain and rural settings, with a sharp move away from cities. Top-trending destinations include Acadia National Park, the Black Hills of South Dakota, the Florida Panhandle, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Yellowstone National Park, and Glacier National Park.

Medscape is recommending 25 destinations for your consideration. Fifteen offer a more isolated experience, five are more popular and may have more crowds, and five are international, for those who aren’t worried about overseas travel.

Among the top spots on our list:

Squam Lakes, New Hampshire; Marquette, Michigan and the Upper Peninsula; and Big Sky, Montana. All three destinations boast lots of nature- and adventure-related fun and wide-open landscapes.

If nature isn’t necessarily your thing, consider Seattle or New Orleans. Seattle had its share of unrest in summer 2020. But with its charms — spectacular views of Puget Sound and Mount Rainier; critically-acclaimed dining, coffee, and beer; and a huge arts and culture scene — Seattle is drawing visitors again.

New Orleans is planning a fall of big re-openings. Two of its signature spring festivals — French Quarter Fest and Jazz Fest — are being held in October. The restaurant scene is as vibrant as ever, and musicians can’t wait to start gigging again. The National WWII Museum, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and other cultural centers are ramping up fall programming, also.

For some, it’s not a vacation unless they leave the US. One of our recommended spots is Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. Its plethora of all-inclusive resorts offer rest and relaxation to the max, but can also meet every desire, with world-class golf courses, tennis, spas, casinos, boating, snorkelling, diving, and dance lessons. 

Iceland — a perennial favorite — has one of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the world, with some 66% of its population fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times. Visitors love the nation’s thermal pools, volcanic activity, otherworldly landscapes and the sophisticated offerings in Reykjavik.

As more countries open their borders, it pays to be aware of requirements for entry and US requirements for re-entry. Expedia advises travelers on those requirements, such as whether testing or quarantine is needed, and what documentation might be required, based on the destination and dates of travel.

Some epidemiologists advise against international travel. “The short answer is, don’t do it unless you have to,” said Peter Katona, MD, clinical professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. International travel requires longer flights, which means more potential to be infected, said Katona, who is also chair of the infection control working group at UCLA.

Chris Beyrer, MD, an epidemiology professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said he canceled a June trip to Costa Rica because of that nation’s high positivity and low vaccination rates. Instead, his group is going hiking in Joshua Tree National Park in California.

“This summer, given what’s happening with the variants and what’s happening in so many countries, I have not recommended international travel,” Beyrer said. “If COVID has taught us anything, it’s that things can change quickly.”

Katona said he does not have qualms about traveling domestically to spots that have low positivity and high vaccination rates. Both he and his wife have been vaccinated and have full faith in the shot, said Katona, who was planning to go to Hawaii and the east coast.

Traveling with unvaccinated children is another potentially thorny issue. Katona said all children over age 12 should be vaccinated, and that unvaccinated 2-to-12-year olds should continue to wear masks.

Families should think about trips that maximize outdoor activities or consider sharing a vacation with another family so children can be with friends, said Beyrer, who noted that the stress of isolation has been harmful for youths. “They need to be with friends. They need to be able to do outdoor activities with their peers,” he said.

Given that it’s not clear what the coming months will bring, Beyrer, Katona and Hudson recommended making refundable bookings. Hudson also suggests traveling with a COVID vaccination card in addition to having a picture of the card.

But Hudson, for one, said people should not worry too much about taking a vacation.

“If there is a place you want to go that you weren’t able to go to last year and it’s going to give you joy in life to go to that place, then by all means I think you should go there,” she said.

Alicia Ault is a Lutherville, Maryland-based freelance journalist whose work has appeared in publications including Smithsonian.com, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. You can find her on Twitter @aliciaault.

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