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5 affordable destinations for your summer getaway, according to a travel expert

Ready to hit the road again? Travel + Leisure Editor-in-Chief Jacqueline Gifford has the spots worth considering.

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As more Americans continue to get vaccinated against Covid-19, the country is opening up again — and people are ready to travel.

If you can't wait to get out of the house and travel somewhere close to home or are ready to go beyond domestic borders, it's important to make sure you have all the tools do it safely. Aside from following the proper health and safety precautions while making travel plans, there are other things to consider that might involve planning ahead — including picking the perfect destination.

To make your summer 2021 getaway feasible, Travel + Leisure Editor-in-Chief Jacqueline Gifford stopped by the 3rd hour of TODAY to share the hottest destinations worth heading to this summer. Whether you want to head overseas or are thinking of taking a road trip before the summer comes to a close, Gifford picked the best spots for every kind of returning traveler, so all you have to do is throw the essentials in your bag.

A few things to remember before you book your trip:

  • The pandemic is not over; travel restrictions are bound to change on a whim. Stay up to date on vaccination and testing requirements at your destination, as well as mask mandates, curfews and other rules and regulations.
  • "You can never be too prepared": Gifford says having extra documentation, copies of important documents, forms and IDs can only help in the event that things go wrong.
  • Frequently check state and government websites, local news and tourism websites, travel websites and hotel websites and phone lines for the updated guidance, rules and regulations at your destination.

Beach and lake destinations in the US

Miami: The Goodtime Hotel

The Goodtime Hotel, a new hotel from Grammy Award–winning singer and producer Pharrell Williams and nightlife industry veteran David Grutman, promises to deliver on its name. It boasts 266 rooms that start at just $139 a night, offering waterfront views and even some beachfront access. The hotel and the Strawberry Moon pool club, along with two open-air bars, a DJ booth and private cabanas span an entire city block, but the amenities might make you forget that you're in the bustle of Miami. The hotel also offers opportunities for guests to keep up with wellness goals while on a getaway thanks to yoga classes offered on the third floor and an outdoor gym space.

Lakeway, Texas: Lakeway Resort & Spa

Just outside of Austin, Texas, you'll find the Lakeway Resort situated along Lake Travis, where you can go paddle boarding, kayaking, fishing and more. Rooms at the resort start at $209 a night, with access to plenty of amenities included. There are several pools on the property for every kind of age group, including one with a swim-up bar for adults, one with a splash pad and waterslide for kids and a large pool for families. When it comes time to relax and unwind, guests can enjoy dinner at the resort's restaurant or book a spa day.

Outdoor destinations in the US as people adjust to reopening

Arizona: The Shady Dell

Along Highway 80, around 90 minutes from Tucson, Shady Dell awaits road-trippers who are heading out on the road again. It's been hosting guests since 1927 but just got a new update thanks to new ownership, Gifford says. You'll find 13 permanent vintage trailers starting at $85 per night, plus a tiki-themed bus and a repurposed yacht to spend a night in, all with decor to match the vibe. Inside, guests can find black-and-white televisions and copies of Life magazine; outside, there are grills and fire pits that lend themselves to outdoor gatherings. Gifford notes there are also plenty of attractions off-site, including a "ghost tour” in the nearby old mining town of Bisbee and the Coronado National Forest, perfect for those looking to spend some time outdoors.

If you plan on traveling outside of the U.S. this summer, in addition to following the proper rules and regulations, you'll have to make sure one other item is up to date: your passport. According to the State Department, nearly two million passport applications are on backlog and the current passport wait time is anywhere between 12-18 weeks, so if you apply for a passport now, you might not receive it until "well into the fall." Below, you'll find Gifford's tips for ensuring smooth travel outside of the country.

  • Make sure that your passport will not expire within six months of your trip, otherwise you cannot go abroad. Always check your passport before you purchase a ticket for this reason, not vice versa.
  • If you want the feel of a far-away travel, consider traveling to a domestic territory. You don't need an up-to-date passport to travel there and you can still enjoy a great trip.
  • Opt for a destination within the U.S. if you fear your passport won't arrive in time! Gifford's above recommendations are worth considering.

Caribbean destinations

Jamaica: Rockhouse Hotel

If the picture isn't jaw-dropping enough, the features of this eight-acre hotel might make you book a flight to Negril right now. With 40 rooms built from timber, stone and thatch on the property starting at $125 per night, there is plenty to do and enjoy at this Caribbean escape. From world-class dining to an cliffside open-air spa and infinity pool, this destination might feel like more of a resort. In addition to giant, sea-facing windows, many of the rooms on the property have private patios or sundecks, and some even have private ladders that extend into the sea. The best part? Your stay can help give back to the local community — since 2004, the Rockhouse Foundation has invested over $6 million in building, renovating and expanding public schools in the area and the Negril Community Library.

European destinations, if you want to go even further

Lisbon: The Vintage Hotel & Spa

Gifford says that most European destinations are now open to Americans, but you'll have to check quarantine and testing requirements before arrival. If you're looking to book it to Europe, you'll want to put this chic hotel on your list. With 56 rooms starting at $149 per night, this modern hotel is a vintage dream. Rooms are available in three different sizes, and are all themed by colors that nod to the history of the surrounding area. The central location of the hotel also makes it a great spot to explore the city from. On the property, you'll find a lobby bar decked out with mahogany floors and velvet cocktail chairs and two outdoor spaces to take in views from: a rooftop bar with views of Castelo de São Jorge and, down below, the Blue Restaurant with an outdoor patio, near the spa, plunge pool, steam room and sauna.

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