In the U.S., upwards of 3 million people a day are leaving vaccine sites with new immunity and new questions about what to do with it.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that if you’re fully vaccinated, have waited through two weeks of immunity buildup, and are otherwise healthy, you’re all clear to travel. But that may feel easier said than done.

Travel planning today comes with novel anxieties, some of them easier to answer than others. Is it safe to fly? Experts say yes, even though middle seats are no longer being blocked. Is it better to stay in an Airbnb or a hotel? Depends on what type of experience you want. Can I bring my unvaccinated kids? Only if you’re comfortable with their potential viral exposure. (But go ahead, bring the pandemic puppy.)

The considerations worth taking differ from household to household. Being thorough about how you plan can effectively mitigate risk and exposure—and soothe anxiety and eliminate stress before and during a trip. What good is a vacation, after all, if it doesn’t offer mental respite?

As I considered my own much-anticipated return to travel, my list of precautions grew until it was almost prohibitive: Direct flights, a small resort environment where everyone is tested upon arrival, the possibility of a private pool, and a variety of outdoor dining options in-house. I debated whether it was worth it to upgrade to business class. And what about day care?

I know I’m not alone, so I made the world’s most comprehensive list of travel safety questions and fielded it to a group of experts. Dr. Daniel Caplivski is a professor of infectious diseases and director of the travel medicine program at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai; Dr. Scott Weisenberg is director of the travel medicine program at NYU Langone Health; and Johns Hopkins immunologist Dr. Kawsar Talaat is one of the institution’s leading experts on infectious diseases and international health.

What good is a vacation, after all, if it doesn’t offer mental respite?

Whether you’re neurotically thinking through your first trip back or trying to get your bearings around the new normal for travel, here’s everything the doctors had to say about safe vacation planning in 2021.

Where can I travel?
The question of where you can travel seems to change day by day, as countries consider and reconsider their border policies. (The travel agency Scott Dunn Ltd. has an updated list of which countries are open to American travelers.)

Sometimes picking your destination is not much of a choice, says Caplivski. His first encounters with pandemic travel safety occurred when his wife had to make an unexpected trip to visit her parents in Brazil.

But if you’re traveling purely for leisure, here are three questions to ask:

  1. What are the local Covid-19 caseloads?
  2. How burdened is the local health-care system?
  3. How much risk do I need to incur to entertain myself once there?

If a country has many cases and poor access to vaccines, its hospitals are likely overwhelmed, Caplivski says. “The idea that vaccines are 95% effective means we likely won’t need to go to the hospital for Covid, but we may slip and fall—simple things that could happen to tourists anywhere,” he says.

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