Welcome to 2020, the craziest year in travel that anyone can remember. We're now entering into month 6 of this “new normal,” where border closures, mandatory quarantines, and other travel restrictions brought on by a novel virus are wreaking havoc across the tourism industry.
While some countries have largely brought COVID-19 under control, it's still raging and spiking in others. Making the subject of travel a touchy one, and trip planning even more difficult and stressful than usual.
In the past few weeks especially, I've been receiving emails and messages from people asking for tips on planning specific trips during this pandemic. And I get it; we've been at home for months, and are desperate to get away and a take a break.
Giving trip-planning advice right now has been tough, though. For one, things are constantly changing, so advice I gave last week might not be relevant any longer this week. Not to mention that it's impossible for me to keep updated on every single safety measure that every country, region, national park, hotel, and more are taking to keep people safe.
BUT, having said all that, I did go on a trip earlier this month. It was my first real trip away from home since late February. And I thought maybe I could share with you how I planned *that* trip to help you consider trips of your own in the coming weeks and months.
Before we get started though, I first want to affirm that I am NOT encouraging international travel right now, or finding loopholes that will allow you to visit certain places with closed borders or skirt quarantine orders. When I say “travel,” I'm talking about close-to-home getaways that can still feel like a vacation. These can be a great change of pace, AND can help out your local tourism industry.
Planning a close-to-home getaway
Earlier this month, I went to a lake house right on Lake Erie with Elliot, my sister, and her boyfriend. It was only 2 hours away from home and it was only for 3 nights, but it was great.
It also, however, required a LOT more planning than a 3-night getaway usually would. I can't stress enough how important I think it is for you to properly do your homework if you're planning trips right now.
And it's not just about ensuring that YOU don't get sick. You need to think about how you'll mitigate risk to both yourself AND the local community you'll be visiting. Travel is a privilege, and we have to make sure we're looking out for others if we're going to do it right now.
I spent a good amount of planning this short trip. Here are just a handful of the things I kept in mind:
- I made sure to take into account local and state regulations when looking for a house to rent (for example, I ruled out renting anything in New York since the state has quarantine mandates in place right now for people from Ohio).
- I looked for places within a 2-hour radius, which would mean no unnecessary stops for gas or bathroom breaks along the way. We ended up choosing a lake house in Pennsylvania.
- I also kept in mind the prevalence of COVID-19 in the places I was considering. We wanted to avoid hotspots, but I also made sure I wasn't looking at extremely rural spots with few cases and little access to medical facilities. (Basically, I was looking at places in counties with similar COVID numbers as where we live.)
- I looked specifically for listings where the owner seemed to be taking COVID-19 seriously (i.e. mentions of heightened cleaning methods, leaving the house open for a day in between guests, etc.). For the house we rented, we had to fill out health waivers stating that we didn't have COVID symptoms, and were not waiting on test results.
- We wanted something fully self-contained that wouldn't require any contact with other people. I chose a house that offered contactless check-in and check-out (which a lot of rentals do these days), and that had a full kitchen, lots of outdoor space, and even its own small stretch of private beach.
Just like RV rentals, vacation home rentals are also in high demand at the moment. Meaning it did take a bit of searching on both Airbnb and Vrbo before I found the perfect house.
I chose a house that was within the distance we wanted to travel, and had the owners' heightened cleaning policies clearly laid out in the listing. The gorgeous outdoor space and private beach were just icing on the cake!
Because I know you'll be curious, the house we rented is available on Vrbo. It's this one, and it's worth every penny.
Vacation rentals in the time of COVID
Vacation rentals right now are the way to go for many travelers, and I can understand why.
Once we got to the lake, it was fairly easy to keep to ourselves! Check-in to our rental was contact-less, and we brought almost everything we needed for our 3-night stay, including linens and towels, food to cook for most of our meals, and board games to keep us entertained at night.
But risk mitigation didn't end after I clicked “book” on the house. Some other things we did to keep ourselves and others safe while we were there included:
- We brought our own linens/towels, along with our own cleaning supplies. The linens/towels were mostly because the rental owner was charging extra to use hers, so we figured we'd save some money AND feel a little safer. We didn't end up needing our own cleaning supplies since there was literally disinfectant in every room of the rental, but it was good to have just in case!
- We wore our masks anytime we were out in public. It was mandated where we were in Pennsylvania, but it's just the responsible thing to do right now anyway. (And thankfully the little town of North East felt really quiet, and most people we saw wore their masks properly when they were out in public.)
- We decided to visit a local winery since we were in Pennsylvania wine country. We did our research beforehand, and chose one that was following all state regulations regarding social distancing and mask wearing, and only serving people outdoors. We also went in the mid-afternoon when we knew it would be less busy, and ended up being the only ones there!
- We went out for just one meal, and again chose a restaurant that was only doing patio seating, and that was strict on requiring masks for anyone not seated at a table.
- And otherwise we just kept to ourselves! We got take-out one night, and cooked the rest of our meals at the house. We skipped the public beaches and parks and stuck to the deck and beach area that belonged to our rental. This made for a pretty chilled-out getaway, but at least it was still a getaway!
Should you plan a trip right now?
Travel is NOT an essential thing to do right now, but I realize that it's not realistic to expect people to continue to stay at home when they're told they no longer have to.
I'm not here to tell you you shouldn't travel, or to shame anyone who decides to do it. I just want you be aware that planning a trip right now takes quite a bit of extra effort if you want to do it responsibly; it can't be as spontaneous as it once was.
I don't think at this point that you can make a blanket statement for all people in all places, since COVID-19 is impacting destinations differently. I'm also not really comfortable with this new “travel shaming” trend when it's aimed at people who are doing what they can to be responsible when they leave home.
(Those things you should do, by the way, including practicing social distancing, wearing a mask in public and indoors when you're around strangers, and washing your hands as much as possible; we know these things work together to help stop the spread.)
If you're willing to do your homework and weigh and mitigate risks – both for you AND any people you might come into contact with – then I think it IS possible to travel right now, at least locally.
Not everyone will feel comfortable doing it, and that's fine. But hopefully giving you this peek into my own planning process has helped if you're one of the ones who IS thinking of planning a trip in the coming weeks.
PS – You can see more from this trip in this IG Stories highlight if you use Instagram.
PPS – For anyone curious about the exact house we booked, it was this one on Vrbo.
What other questions do you have about planning a safe trip during the pandemic?
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