Families that love to travel still want to take a family vacation this year, even though it will mean traveling differently than they have before. Here’s what a family vacation in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic might look like — what we’ll do, how we’ll get there, where we’ll stay and why we will always need to have a Plan B.
When travel writers were asked who was ready to travel again right now, 90 percent raised their hands. When travel agents were asked the same question, 95 percent said yes. The common theme? Travelers will travel.
To feel like it’s safe to travel again, people will want to be able to “control their environment.”
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Here’s what travel industry experts, hotel managers, tour operators, airline execs and other travel junkies predict a family vacation will look like for the foreseeable future.
Where Will We Go?
The key is to go to a place where other people aren’t.
New York City – one of the greatest cities in the world and a hot zone for the coronavirus pandemic– is not likely to top many families’ must-visit list for the rest of 2020. Or most of 2021. Instead, families are looking for active, outdoor destinations where they can spread out. Hiking. Biking. Fishing.
And they’ll be doing it much closer to home, usually staying within their own state. Even if we wanted to visit another state, we won’t always be welcome. Maine, for example, said in early April that it would require out-of-staters to self-quarantine for 14 days.
So we’ll be heading to outdoor destinations within a few hours’ drive of home. National parks are high on that list, as are state parks. Beaches work, too, if you can find one that is open and empty enough to allow you to protect your family by practicing social distancing.
Canada might work, too, once the borders reopen. It’s a way to get an international vibe without a flight.
Have a Plan B
Before you pack the kids in the car, have a family meeting to discuss what will happen if you arrive to find a crowd of people crammed together and not wearing face masks. Make sure the kids understand that you may not be able to stay. Then discuss what would be a suitable alternative destination.
Then remind them during the road trip that you might not be able to stay, but that you have a Plan B. Kids can cope if they are fully prepared. It’s those last minute disappointments that can be hard to overcome.
Where Will We Stay?
You will need to sleep somewhere. Finding a safe place to rest your head can feel a bit daunting in this coronavirus pandemic. These are some safer options.
With Relatives and Friends
All those weeks without a grandparent hug have been trying. Visiting Grandma and Grandpa is likely to be high on the wish list for many families the minute they believe it’s safe.
Families also will be staying with friends, relatives and other loved ones who they know have been following the recommended stay-at-home guidelines. It’s more than a way to get free housing during a vacation. It’s the way to see the people you have missed so much during this tough time.
TravelingMom Tip: Check out the TravelingMom Traveling with Grandkids Facebook page for tips from grandparents who are ready to squeeze their grandbabies — not just wave to them via Facetime or through the car windows during a drive-by visit.
If you want to control your environment when you sleep at night, the answer is to travel in an RV that you own. No need to even use a public bathroom or shower. The next best thing is to rent an RV and clean it thoroughly before piling the kids inside for the road trip. (If you do that, check out this list of questions to ask before you drive off that rented RV.)
Camping in a tent is also an option for those of you who like sleeping on the ground. Backcountry camping where it will be just you, your family and Mother Nature can mean hanging out safely corona-free. But if you book a site at a campground, you’ll be using shared bathroom and shower facilities, so you want to ask the campground about cleaning protocols before you book.
Airbnb and VRBO angered lots of customers who couldn’t get their money back after the national shutdown cancelled their vacation. But vacation rentals might be a safe alternative to busy hotels right now.
This is not the time to rent a room in someone else’s house. It’s the time to rent the whole house. That means you can clean it before moving in and there are no worries about housekeeping staff or other strangers coming in while you’re there. Plus, renting the whole house gives you access to a kitchen so you can cook and have meals there rather than at a restaurant.
And, unlike a hotel, there are no common areas – lobbies, elevators, hallways – where strangers could be spreading germs.
Want to be a trendsetter? Rent a houseboat and float out to the middle of the lake for real distance.
Hotel companies that are limping along at 10 percent occupancy are stepping up their cleaning and disinfection systems. Some are promising to keep hotel rooms empty for 72 hours between guests to give the virus time to die.
If you do book a hotel room, ask about their cleaning protocols and read these tips for cleaning a hotel room.
And definitely forgo the daily housekeeping. There’s no need to risk having a stranger come into your room just so you don’t have to make the bed and pick up your own towels from the bathroom floor.
How Will We Get There?
Airplanes likely aren’t the answer. No matter how much airlines talk about the hospital-grade HEPA air filters they’ve installed or the new cleaning protocols, it doesn’t feel safe to sit in a metal tube crammed together like sardines. Even if airlines stop selling that dreaded middle seat, we won’t be able to stay six feet away front one another on a flight. Airlines can’t make money if their planes are only half-full. (If you do plan to fly, read this list of things not to do a plane if you don’t want to get sick.)
So how will we get there? By car. Our own car, preferably. A rental car is a second-best option. At least you can clean that before loading the family inside. (Check out these 20 rental car tips to keep you from getting ripped off.)
Traveling by car is the way to control your transportation environment. You can control who you travel with and when and where you stop. You can drive through or order curbside pick up, or bring your own food to reduce the number of times you interact with restaurant workers.
What Will We Do?
A traditional family vacation might include a trip to Disney. We might want to give our kids an educational experience with a visit to a museum. Or a cultural experience with a play, concert or festival.
But it’s not clear when those things will reopen. Even when places reopen, social distancing requirements will mean that capacity will be much less – maybe only 25 percent of usual. So even if you feel safe taking the kids to a museum, or Disney, you may not be able to if capacity has already been reached.
TravelingMom Tip: Always check the website for the attraction before packing up the kids and heading there. Things are changing quickly, including opening hours and dates. Something that’s open today could be closed tomorrow if the governor sees people violating social distancing rules or the number of Covid-19 cases spikes.
Active, Outdoor Activities
Hiking, biking, kayaking and fishing are among the safe options – provided you bring your own bikes, kayaks and fishing poles.
Swimming and beachcombing work, too, provided you can find a beach that is relatively empty.
Private and small group tours will be available to visit places that used to only bring in the busloads. It’s a fun way to get the extended family together without the headache of planning a big, multigenerational trip.
Whatever you do, please practice coronavirus safety: Wear a face mask. Stay 6 feet away from others. Wash your hands. The sooner we beat the virus, the sooner we can all get back to flying, cruising and joining the masses to see a play on Broadway!