Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- Rent a House with a Pool
- Sleep in a Floating Cabin
- Rent a Houseboat
- Indulge Your Inner Cowgirl
- House Swap with Friends
- Get to Know a State Park
- Opt for Luxury
- Explore Your Own Backyard
- Take a Day Trip
- Travel with People Who Make You Feel Safe
- Learn Something New
- Go Car Camping
- Get Wet
- Eat at a Curbside Cafe
- Go Glamping
- Mooch Off the Relatives
- Visit the Right National Park
- Stay at a Bed & Breakfast
- Ditch the Kids and Head to a Vineyard
Feeling the sting of having to delay or even cancel your eagerly anticipated family vacation? Never fear! There are places you can go even in the middle of a pandemic. Now, more than ever, a change of scenery is about taking care of our mental health as much as anything else. If you don’t feel like rubbing elbows with a crowd, or worrying about whether face masks are required, we have 20 creative ideas for a socially distant vacation in 2021 because sometimes all you need is a different view.
After months of cabin fever, stressful Zoom schooling and nothing more exciting than a new show to binge on Netflix, getting away even for just a day trip or — be still my beating heart! — an actual overnight trip seems like just what we need to unwind from this Covid-coaster.
We’ve rounded up some socially distant vacation ideas and social distancing activities that will help you stay away from crowds, get some much-needed rest and relaxation and have a little fun!
Rent a House with a Pool
Join our NEW Facebook Community: Making Travel Easier. We promise to always tell you what we would tell our best friend -- what works for kids, what doesn’t and what you need to know before you go to have the Best. Family. Vacation. Ever. Our group of travel experts are ready to answer your travel questions!
It doesn’t matter if the house is four blocks away or four hours — it’s NOT YOUR HOUSE. And IT HAS A POOL. Yes, you should take along CDC and EPA recommended Covid-19 disinfectants and clean the high-touch spots of the house before you move in the family, but that’s a small price to pay for a change of scenery.
There’s something so relaxing for parents to sit on the deck and sip a glass of wine (from a non-breakable glass, of course) while the kids splash around. Unlike a public pool when I’m always nervously looking to make sure my kids’ heads are still above water, a private pool is so very chill. When we stayed in a house with a private pool, I don’t think the kids got out of the pool except to eat (only because I refused to serve them lunch while they were still in the water) and to pee. At least I hope they got out of the pool to pee.
TravelingMom Tip: Find kid-friendly houses on VRBO by filtering results to include listings that have a private pool and that are highly rated for families.
Sleep in a Floating Cabin
Sure, you can rent a cabin at a campground or a state or national park. But that’s so traditional. Attach the cabin to pontoon logs and — voila! — the cabin floats! We found floating cabins for rent in Indiana, Kentucky, Texas, California, Tennessee, Alabama and Florida.
This report on stress shows 90% of young people are “constant social media checkers,” which results in extreme stress. According marine biologist Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, who wrote a best selling book about Blue Mind science, seeing or hearing the soothing sounds of moving water triggers a response in our brains that induce relaxation.
It certainly worked for TravelingMom founder Kim Orlando, who says staying in a floating cabin is the ultimate relaxation. Not only are you lightly rocked to sleep at night, you are constantly surrounded by water and beautiful views. The cabins on Green River Lake in Kentucky are moored at a dock, which makes it easy to start your day with a swim or to rent a fishing boat or pontoon for the day. There’s even a store so you don’t have to go into town to get supplies.
TravelingMom Tip: If you are a mom with small kids, check with the cabin rental company to see if the cabins are fenced in. You can’t relax if you are constantly worried about kids falling into the water.
Rent a Houseboat
RV road trips are all the rage in our reopening post-Covid world, but houseboats are where it’s at. Like RVs, houseboats come with a kitchen so you can cook your meals. The lake provides constant entertainment and the “house” provides new walls and new views.
Houseboating.org lists 29 lakes in the United States and Canada where families can rent a houseboat. Move in, start the engine and take your “house” for a spin around the lake. Look for a nice, quiet, socially distant anchorage and spend the night or the whole week in peaceful repose.
When we rented our houseboat on Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, we had a blast driving it around the lake — until the speed boaters arrived and started zipping around our plodding vessel. We quickly recaptured our zen in one of the many hidden coves and dropped anchor. It was a cozy, shady spot, well away from the choppy waters of the lake. We set up the grill and started dinner while the kids (then ages 8 and 10) took turns racing down the slide into the lake.
Read More: Cheap Family Vacation Ideas the Kids Will Love!
Indulge Your Inner Cowgirl
Dude ranches, the original all-inclusive vacation, are all about fresh air and social distancing as measured by the distance between one horse’s tail and the next horse’s nose. Your family can have its own cabin, but the meals are shared experiences, so you’ll need to ask about that when you call to book your dude ranch vacation.
My daughter and I are enthusiastic horse lovers. There’s some comforting about just being around horses. Not so my husband and son. They’re animal lovers, but they could take horses or leave them — and they are apt to choose to leave them. Fortunately for them, most dude ranches offer lots of non-horsey things to do. Hubby found his inner zen at the C Lazy U Ranch in Colorado: Chillin’ in the hot tub.
House Swap with Friends
This is the time to take advantage of friends — and let them take advantage of you. Home in on friends who live in a place you’d like to explore, then negotiate a family vacation schedule that works for both of you. Bonus: Your friends will know the Covid-19 details of their area— what’s open, what’s not and which restaurants have the best food AND socially distant outdoor seating.
I haven’t done this, but Kim Orlando is an enthusiastic supporter. She likes houseswapping because there are fewer worries and logistics. You get all of the advantages of having a home — separate bedrooms for parents and kids, plenty of space to spread out and a kitchen already stocked with necessities like ketchup.
But, she warns, you need to ask lots of questions before you agree to house swap — like asking whether there’s a cat. She and her allergic husband learned that the hard way.
Get to Know a State Park
The smaller, often less trafficked version of a national park, state parks offer hiking, biking, fishing, and camping adventures, too. And they generally do it without the national park crowds. State parks are often free, which is always the right price for families. And they offer a great opportunity to get outside, take a bike ride or hike and reconnect with loved ones.
Our family’s favorite state park is Starved Rock State Park near Ottawa Illinois. It’s less than a two-hour road trip from Chicago but it feels like a world away from the bustle of the city.
During our first visit with kids, our daughter was still in a backpack. On subsequent visits, the kids learned the joy of hiking in the woods — an easy lesson when they were rewarded with a stunning view of a waterfall and some really fun mud puddles to splash around in. Luckily, most of the mud was gone by the time we hiked back to the car.
TravelingMom Tip: Check your state’s rules for fishing licenses before baiting the hook. Some states require kids as young as 10 to have a license.
Opt for Luxury
You might not have a Lear jet or a private island, but you can still spent a night in luxury. Check out VRBO or Airbnb and book a night in one of those extraordinary vacation rentals like this converted mill, just two hours from New York City, or this Texas property that has its very own waterpark.
You’re only spending a night; so splurge. You deserve it, now more than ever.
Explore Your Own Backyard
No, we don’t mean camping in the backyard (although that definitely qualifies as a socially distant vacation), we’re talking about exploring your own area. That botanic garden you always meant to visit? The weird roadside attraction you’ve always driven past? Now’s the time to finally check out the fun things to do near you.
I don’t know about you, but I seem to always overlook the wonders closer to home, opting instead for heading to O’Hare Airport and a flight to somewhere more exotic.
Since flights are not on my radar right now, beautiful blue skies, colorful flora and water always make me breathe easier. I’m aiming for visits to the beautiful Chicago Botanic Garden, a hike at the Indiana Dunes and more strolls along the Chicago lakefront.
Take a Day Trip
This can be filed under “walk before you run.” A day trip within an hour or two of home is the way to make sure that leaving home makes you feel better, not worse. Did you get nervous the first time a mask-less stranger came within six feet of your kids? Or did you have so much fun being out of the house that nothing could ruin your good mood? It’s a fun way to find out whether you’re ready for an overnight. Bonus: If you’re taking day trips, you can take more “vacations” this year!
I’ll be taking a day trip to Detroit to see my now-grown kids and their new house. It’s a little far for a regular day trip, but I’ll be taking the grandparents along. They really want to see the kids, but don’t yet feel safe staying anywhere overnight. With three drivers, even an 8+-hour round trip road trip can be a day trip! And right now, I would do just about anything to see my kids after such a long lockdown.
Travel with People Who Make You Feel Safe
There are small ships that cater to small groups — think grandma, grandpa, sisters, brothers and their kids. Or rent a beach house where you can all spend time together. (Check out our beach vacation packing list before you go so you don’t forget anything!)
The key is to travel only with people you trust have been socially distancing. And, since you’ll be together for a week on your socially distant vacation, they should also be people you really, really like.
Hubby and I love to travel with our best pals — we laugh until our sides hurt. They’re thinking about a trip tonorthern Michigan and Mackinac Island soon and we’re thinking about tagging along. It will just be nice to spend quality uninterrupted time with people we have missed so much — and to once again laugh so much our sides hurt.
Learn Something New
Have you always wanted to learn stand up paddleboarding? Kayaking? Archery? If it’s an outdoor activity, it’s likely to be safely socially distant. Take your phone along and queue up a YouTube video and you won’t even need to get close to an instructor but you’ll still get the satisfaction of conquering a new skill.
Go Car Camping
Also known as “overlanding,” this one’s for you serious outdoor adventurers, the people who like to sleep on the ground. I’m not a fan, but it’s the hip new thing to do, according to a survey from Ford Motor Co.
Load up the car with the tent, sleeping bags and Coleman stove and hit the road. The upside: You can stop at any socially distanced spot along the way and pitch the tent to sleep for the night. Looking to upgrade? Look into a JUCY rental. Think of it as a mini RV. A tent pops up on top for sleeping!
Head to the nearest body of water and jump in. Or take a float and spend your socially distanced day floating merrily along.
My TravelingMom pal, Breeze Leonard, and her three girls love it. She says it’s one of the best ways to get your feet wet in Texas. (Check the website for your destination before you go to make sure it’s open for floating.)
Eat at a Curbside Cafe
What’s that, you ask? It’s the cafe you carry with you, says Kim Orlando. She keeps some folding chairs and table (like this cute set from Target) in the trunk of her car, along with a fancy tablecloth, real silverware and nice glasses. Then she orders her take-out dinner, picks it up curbside, and heads to a spot with a view.
She likes the beach at sunset, but if you aren’t lucky enough to have that close, the neighborhood park will do. She sets up her very own Curbside Cafe and settles in for a night of fine, socially distanced dining.
There are some upsides to the turmoil wrought by the coronavirus. One of those is the revival of drive-in movie theaters. If you miss seeing movies on the big screen as much as I do, this is the socially distanced way to do it. We will pop our own popcorn and bring our own drinks to be as socially distant as possible.
Our kids loved going to the drive-in when they were little. Our favorite is the Cherry Bowl in Honor Michigan. It’s a real throwback, complete with an old fashioned playground to keep the kids entertained until it’s dark enough to start the show. Just remember the hand sanitizer and masks in case someone needs to use the facilities. And you know someone will need to do that.
This is camping for people (like me) who don’t really like to camp. It comes with a fancy tent and — this is the important part — an actual bed! Super glampy places even have air conditioning piped in.
Look for a glamping spot with a composting toilet to limit the number of times you need to use shared facilities.
This is, by far, my preferred method of camping. When my husband and I glamped at Westgate River Ranch in Florida, we even got served coffee and muffins in the morning. That’s camping the right way!
Mooch Off the Relatives
All those hours spent video chatting via Facetime or Skype let you know that Aunt Suzy, Grandma Sally and sister Savannah have been just as socially distanced as you have. Time for an IRL visit!
Remember what we said at the beginning? At least you’ll be looking at different walls. And they will know what’s open, what’s safe and all of the fun outdoorsy things to do nearby.
Visit the Right National Park
It seems like everyone is suddenly discovering our beautiful US national parks. That means the parks are crowded. Being socially distanced will mean visiting the parks others will pass by or parks that are so big that it would be tough to feel crowded.
Try Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve in Alaska. At 13.2 million acres, it’s larger than Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Switzerland combined. Or Death Valley National Park. At 3.4 million acres, it’s the hottest, driest, and lowest place in the U.S. In Florida, Everglades National Park covers 1.5 million acres of wetlands, the largest tropical wilderness in the country.
Or head to Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Monument near San Francisco, California, which drew just 653 visitors in 2018. It honors the worst homeland disaster of World War II. Some 320 African American sailors who served in segregated units at Port Chicago loading weapons and ammunition onto ships died when more than 5,000 tons of munitions exploded. The terrible tragedy was one of the events that led to the desegregation of the U.S. Navy and, subsequently, all U.S. armed forces. The memorial is on an active military base and reservations to visit are required at least two weeks in advance.
Whatever park you choose, the key to being socially distant is to go where the others aren’t. For example, if you’re heading to Yellowstone, expect to find a crowd waiting for Old Faithful to erupt. But if you ask a park ranger (or you’re lucky enough to be there with a guide like mine from Austin Adventures who knows all of the secrets of the park), you’ll be able to walk some virtually deserted trails. Our reward? Amazing vistas that the majority of Yellowstone visitors miss.
Stay at a Bed & Breakfast
This is another option for a socially distant vacation close to home. The beautiful thing about B&Bs is that they’re cozier than a hotel. They normally host only a few guests at a time, so there are fewer worries about germy hotel lobbies or elevators filled with people. And B&Bs come in all shapes and sizes — some are even kid- and pet-friendly! Before you book, ask how many guests they’re expecting, how breakfast is being served (think private buffet or grab and go) and how you can ensure you’ll be able to stay safe.
These are small businesses and the owners are eager to please. Breeze asked and was able to book a private romantic dinner for her and hubby at a B&B.
Ditch the Kids and Head to a Vineyard
Who doesn’t need a drink right about now? Staying overnight at a winery is just the thing! I recommend this as a romantic getaway after you can once again leave the kids with Grandma. Grab your significant other and head to the nearest overnight winery where you can relax and watch the sunset over the vineyards. If you are feeling adventurous, find a winery that allows camping on property and be socially distant and romantic. The best part? You’ll never run out of wine!
Who said social distancing can’t be fun?!