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You’ve been patient. Is it OK to finally book that vacation?

Illustration for la-tr-travel-near-wanderlust-trips by Stephanie Singleton For The Times.
(Stephanie Singleton / For The Times)

The doctor tells you to quit smoking or drinking or eating dessert, but you don’t want to. And in the end, it’s your choice.

Our travel situation in California is a bit like that — except that our decisions affect other people. As California struggles to cope with the nation’s largest number of COVID-19 cases — and our country remains the global coronavirus capital — our local, state and national health experts agree that the closer to home we stay, the less likely we are to contract the virus or pass it along.

But just as there are big desserts and little desserts, there are big and little vacations and trips of varying risk. There’s some room for rationalization and we’re antsy.

So antsy, in fact, that many of us took to the road in July and August.

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Not big trips to Hawaii, Mexico or Europe — all restricted in various ways — but not just day trips, either. There were road trips to see family, annual pilgrimages to cabins by lakes, Airbnb adventures, hotel stays and a lot of camping trips — the tent kind and the RV kind.

I’ve been writing about travel in these pages for more than 20 years, but I must tell you: My family was not part of the summer migration. We had scheduled a late July California road trip that would combine family visits, coastal sightseeing and college prospecting, about 10 days. But when the case counts jumped and Gov. Gavin Newsom tightened restrictions, we paid attention. We canceled our plans and did a San Diego family weekend instead.

I now realize just how many people did the opposite.

Visit California reported that statewide hotel occupancy grew from about 40% at the beginning of June to 54.4% in mid-August.

Hipcamp.com, a San Francisco-based company that matches travelers with public and private campsites, reported that its May-July bookings tripled over the previous year. (Yet many of its customers stayed closer to home.)

•TSA agents, who counted fewer than 100,000 U.S. passengers per day in early April, counted 862,949 on Sunday, Aug.16. That might turn out to be the busiest air-travel day of the summer.

That doesn’t mean all of those people are reckless. Or that I’m paranoid. On assignment in early June, I flew to Las Vegas (middle seats empty) and covered the reopening of casinos, one of the strangest spectacles I’ve ever seen. But that was me working. Essential travel, not a family vacation.

The bottom line is that every trip is different, and every traveler’s risk threshold is different. But my family trip not taken may help explain how eager I am now to get out there.

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California’s pandemic numbers are moving in a healthier direction. Most schools have resumed remote classes, which means families are more likely to stay put and beaches and other popular destinations might be a little less crowded on weekdays. For those like me who have been waiting and waiting, the weeks and months ahead may be a chance to chew on some new scenery. I mean short trips. Beach days. Donning masks. Washing hands, avoiding crowds, wiping surfaces.

In recent days Los Angeles Times Travel staffers and contributors have posted several travel ideas like that: a list of whale-watching excursions; a day trip to Anacapa; a camping expedition to Catalina and a family-friendly trip to Morro Bay. We also have a story about a dude ranch and cowboy academy and roundups of glamping options and organic farm stays.

But these days, it’s not enough to research your destination. You also should read up on what accommodations, airlines and restaurants are and aren’t doing to make travel safer, check the latest pandemic statistics and decide if you’re ready.

When you’re ready to venture out, the logical thing to do is to start with the shortest trips that put you in contact with the fewest people. But we all have our own sense of what’s comfortable and what isn’t.

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For instance: As soon as I catch myself thinking about itineraries with multiple hotel stays, something inside me says nope. Even though I’ve already taken one COVID-era flight to Las Vegas and know that most big jets have great air filters in them, I’m not ready to return to Sin City or spend more than two hours in flight until infection numbers get better.

But I’m willing to stay any number of nights in a single hotel or rental house, if the cleaning and distance regimen seems plausible. Camping would be no problem — except that the fires have closed so many parks and campgrounds.

Three good places to start your homework:

•The Mayo Clinic’s coronavirus travel advice: lat.ms/mayoclinicandcovid
•U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s advice on travel during COVID-19: lat.ms/cdctravelandcovid
•California Department of Public Health: Can I Travel?: lat.ms/californiacovidtravel

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But don’t rush. In many ways, the longer you wait to act on any of these trip ideas, the better.

And if you need some consolation in the meantime, there’s always dessert.


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