'The new reality' of vacationing: Don't be afraid but don't be overconfident, either

If you're thinking of taking a vacation after the pandemic, prepare for a shock. Because it won't be like your last one, according to experts. Not even close.

"The situation is evolving," says JC Lightcap, a travel safety expert for Sitata and author of "The Travel Safety Handbook."

About nine in 10 Americans are considering a trip, according to research by the advertising firm BVK. Of those who have planned their next trip, four in 10 have set travel plans in summer, and just over one-third are aiming for fall.

So how do you take a vacation after the pandemic? The ground rules are pretty simple: Pay extra attention to health and safety, work with a professional – and pack the right attitude.

Traveling after the coronavirus? It's safety first

Lightcap, the safety expert, says Americans have already weighed the dangers of travel and what he calls "the new reality" of taking a vacation.

"They have adjusted to the new normal and are willing to follow new procedures if it means they can visit friends or travel for work," he says.

But he and other travel experts are concerned that people may be overconfident as they leave for vacation. That may include ignoring the social distancing rules, refusing to wear a face mask or failing to vigorously wash your hands. Throwing caution to the wind can endanger your vacation and your health, and may endanger others, he says.

Stay healthy

Safety is the priority for any summer trip. For flying, experts recommend that you accept the antibacterial wipe that a flight attendant offers you when you board – and use it.

Wipe down your tray table and commonly touched surfaces when you first sit down," says Dr. Manisha Juthani, a physician specializing in infectious diseases at Yale Medicine. "Try to get a window seat. Try to avoid waiting in line for the restroom. Wear a mask the whole time you are on the plane."

How about road trips? Juthani recommends limiting your time In public restrooms. Ask your hotel about its cleaning policies and beware of high-touch surfaces like doorknobs and elevator buttons, which can spread disease.

In other words, assume nothing is clean.

Use a travel agent

A professional travel advisor can help you when you book a post-pandemic trip. Travel pros will help prepare you for the travel experience with the latest information. They'll ensure you choose a financially solvent travel company that won't go bankrupt halfway through your trip. A competent agent can also hold your hand and resolve any travel problems during your trip.

For example, Ashley Diamond, a travel advisor, told me she had a client visiting Miami's South Beach recently who wanted to get a haircut after arriving. "Most hotels in the area were opening on a limited basis," she says. "The spa, gym and salon at her hotel were all closed during her stay." Diamond, who works for Ovation Travel Group, found a salon a few miles away and booked an appointment.

"Now more than ever, a trusted travel advisor can help you navigate all the considerations that go into planning a trip that revitalizes rather than drains you during these trying times," says Rachel Dicker, a Virtuoso-affiliated travel advisor from Austin, Texas.

How to take a vacation after the pandemic: Don't be afraid

Sean Paul, a medical doctor and psychiatrist, told me that many patients are asking him about future travel.

"I see this as not only a safety and infectious disease question but also a psychological one," he explains. "Being psychologically prepared for things to look and feel very different than they were is something they need to be prepared for."

It's important not to let a healthy level of concern over travel become an unhealthy fixation. "Especially for people with underlying anxiety, travel can easily become a source of major distress if these things are not considered," he adds.

Here's the bottom line, fellow travelers: If you're going to take a vacation, take a vacation. The only thing more miserable than being afraid at home is being afraid in a faraway place where no one speaks your language. Trust me: I was stuck in France for two months during the coronavirus lockdown.

If you take a vacation after the pandemic, get out there, stay safe, but don't be afraid.

Essential tips for taking a vacation after the pandemic

'The new reality' of vacationing: Don't be afraid but don't be overconfident, either

Know the rules. Some destination countries mandate a 14-day quarantine on arrival. "Prepare ahead, plan for this, and consider waiting to travel to these destinations if you can't afford to spend two additional weeks in the country," advises Tammy Penhollow, a Phoenix anesthesiologist who travels extensively.

Find a top-rated travel advisor. The go-to source for finding an agent is the American Society of Travel Advisors site. Look for affiliations with brand-name travel companies such as Amex Travel, Virtuoso, or Travel Leaders. And make sure they're certified to sell the kind of travel you're considering. I outline some of the other benefits of a travel advisor in this column.

Be brave, but … don't be foolish. That's the advice of Michael McGarrity, vice president of global risk services at Global Guardian. "Avoid high-risk areas," he says. Some places are more susceptible to social unrest, economic disruptions, and volatile weather. In a fast-changing environment, don't take chances.