Family vacation planning is challenging at the best of times, but the coronavirus global pandemic may have you wondering if you should shelve those vacation plans and just stay home. Family vacation planning was always about staying within one’s budget, and accommodating the needs of family members of different ages with different likes and dislikes. Now, with COVID-19, budget concerns are more pressing than ever with so many parents out of work. But parents now have safety issues to consider. For many families, the answer to all these problems is found in camping or traveling to remote locations.
As editor of ETIA, Jennifer Willy may specialize in European travel, but this summer she’s sticking closer to home. “The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has ravaged all our summer plans, but there are still ways to have fun. A recreational vehicle (RV), for instance, is a great way to enjoy a family vacation. RVing offers families both flexibility and a fun-filled road trip for everyone. It’s an opportunity to have a home on wheels.
“One of the best things about traveling and staying in an RV,” says Willy, “is the sense of being together as a family. Unlike hotels and cabins, an RV provides a home on wheels where kids can literally sleep in the same bed over the entire vacation period. But aside from feeling more like home, an RV is also less expensive, more cost-effective than cabins, hotels, or resorts. Of course, the main reason to take an RV vacation this summer, is to lower the risk for the virus.”
Willy contends that staying in an RV is even safer than camping out. “In an RV, you’re in this enclosed space where you have your own belongings, restrooms, and kitchen. It’s a safer way to have fun while staying vigilant against the virus.”
Reuben Yonatan is also inclined toward a family trip in the RV this summer. “Our aim is to find places that are not in demand around the New York area, such as an isolated park or a tour around a nearby city e.g., Cape May in New Jersey. With an RV we can travel further, and we do not need a hotel, but we prefer to stay close to home.
“Our top precaution,” says the founder and CEO of GetVoIP, “is to always have a plan B. That way, if we get to the place and find it packed, we can change our plans and opt for the second destination that will allow us to maintain social distancing effectively.”
While an RV may be ideal for some families, a beach home offers seclusion from crowds with a bit more space so family members aren’t on top of each other. Toby Friesen says the demand for beach homes is heavy this summer. “I have a lot of people who like to rent a home at the beach because they can isolate as a family, but it’s still a getaway to a new spot. Long Beach, Washington, has endless miles of beaches. Perfect for getting to the beach and not being surrounded by other people!”
Evan Porter, dad to a 5-year-old girl (with another on the way) and a parenting writer at Dad Fixes Everything, went with renting a beach home, but stayed in his home state of Georgia. “Being locked up at home all summer has been a complete drag, but my family and I were lucky enough to take a short Corona-safe vacation recently that was a serious breath of fresh air. We went to the beach at Tybee Island here in Georgia—not the most unique vacation in the world, but we had to make a few interesting tweaks this summer, to keep everyone safe.
“For starters, we rented a place away from the main attractions on the island. Most beach towns will have an inlet or bay side where things are quieter and the beaches are more spaced out, though sometimes you’ll have to give up access to the big waves and fine, powdery sand. We stayed at the North End of Tybee where it was easy to keep our distance from other folks on the smaller, shellier beach,” says Porter.’
Looking for a more exotic destination? Torben Lonne “diver and chief editor” at Dive In, suggests the San Juan Islands. “It’s off-the-beaten-path, located far outside of Seattle, and only accessible via ferry. Once you are there, it’s paradise, with lush forests and prairies to explore. The Islands are perfect for hikers, kayakers, bird-watchers, or just about any outdoor family activity on land or in the water.
“Depending on your luck,” says Lonne, “there are whales and seals that can be spotted along the coast and even purple starfish if you’re really fortunate!”
But David Bakke of Atlanta is staying put. The father of one is full of ideas for the ideal staycation. “You can do backyard camping events, play disc golf at local parks, and even do in-home stuff like a family cooking night where everyone helps out to prepare a meal. Binge watch a favorite series on Netflix over several days with homemade treats for snacks. Or undertake a DIY home improvement project as a group. My son and I repainted a bedroom, and it was highly entertaining,” says Bakke.
Elle Meager of Outdoor Happens, agrees that this year, the staycation is the only way. “We have decided the safest vacation this year is at home,” says the mother of two. “The money we’ve saved up for a vacation is going to a new fire pit for the backyard, solar fairy lights, a great family tent, and lots of s’ mores!”
“We have two girls, 7 and 10, and they are both very excited to be camping in the backyard,” says Meager. “We’ll be roasting marshmallows and making s’ mores, sleeping in the tent together, and cooking breakfast on the grill. We’ll watch the stars at night and tell scary stories around the fire pit.
For Hannah Lewis, one half of The Beard and The Baker (the other half being her bearded husband Joel), after all those months of lockdown, staying home is one big no. “As parents to a busy toddler, staying home all summer just isn’t in the cards for us. We are lucky to live in a state that has a ton of gorgeous state (and metro) parks. Since Vitamin D and fresh air help us stay safe during this time, we are taking full advantage of visiting as many state parks as we can, filling our ‘state park passport,’ and enjoying a picnic or two along the way. Playing in nature is fun for all ages, but letting a toddler or child splash around in the creek in the middle of a park will turn any frown, upside down real quick.”
AnnMarie John is another fan of state parks. “The national state parks are reopening so that’s where we plan to go! A state park is safer because of the wide-open spaces, and we get to travel in our personal car.
“If you have an RV, camping at a state park is one of the safer vacations a family can take,” says the travel and lifestyle blogger. “But if you don’t, you can use a tent.
“We’re also opting for a shorter vacation, to lower the risk for getting the virus. You still need to take the usual precautions such as hand washing, and we’ll bring lots of hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes, but for us, being with family is the best way to go.”
Steve Lemig, of Wilderdad, says that many national parks, including Rocky Mountain National Park in his home state of Colorado, limit the flow and number of guests allowed inside at any given time, making them “very safe places” to vacation. “The Forest Service takes meticulous care of visitor centers, but you’ll still want to take the usual precautions like wearing masks, social distancing, and washing hands after opening doors or using restrooms. Most national parks offer the Junior Ranger program, which encourages kids to learn about each area’s history, geology, and ecosystem—a great way to sneak in some educational activities!
“Camping in the great outdoors is a safe way to vacation with the family while concerns of corona-virus are high,” says Lemig. “The key is to avoid high-traffic areas with a dense number of campers and campsites. For this reason, you should consider driving a little further into more remote locations. You can also skip the campground crowds altogether if you opt for backpacking into a primitive, dispersed camping location. It takes a little more research to find a good spot before you set out on your journey, but it’s totally worth it. If you choose dispersed camping, just be sure to arrive early to give yourself plenty of time to find a good spot so you’re not setting up camp in the dark.”
Family Vacation Ideas? Try Dispersed Camping
Catherine Ryan Gregory, the author of Virtual Travel Activities for Kids, has definitely settled on dispersed camping. “This summer, we’re camping on private properties throughout the Pacific Northwest. I didn’t feel comfortable booking camping trips within state parks, which contain hundreds of crowded sites with shared bathrooms. Instead, we’re camping on private land with only a handful of dispersed camping spots.
“I booked on hipcamp.com, which is like AirBnB for camping. One site has a working farm; another has resident goats; just about all have hiking directly on the property. By limiting the number of people in the camping zone, spending most of our vacation time outside, and being extra-cautious about shared bathrooms, we’re planning a summer full of family travel.”
Megan Peterson works for Discover Siskiyou in California’s remote north. Siskiyou is the fifth largest county in California with a total population of only 44,000 and thousands of acres of federal wilderness. “As a parent of two young boys (Soren and Theo) who like to explore and get dirty, I’m steering clear of planes and crowded areas and staying close to home to explore the amazing history and outdoors that are pretty much right in our backyard.
“One of those unique places my boys are most excited to explore this summer is the Lava Beds National Monument, where you can cave, hike, and bike, without lots of people around. But we’re also going to add an extra layer of social distancing protection this year by using our own car and taking a free GPS-enabled audio driving tour (like an immersive podcast that knows where you are) on the Lava beds and Modoc war history.
“For us, the personal connection to the history and land makes the tour feel novel and the history come alive. And because stops to get out of the car are optional, you can make a spur-of-the-minute choice about getting out of the car or not, depending on how many people are exploring the site at the time,” says Peterson.
But maybe you’ve always wanted to go to a dude ranch in Montana. That’s where Keri Baugh of Bon Voyage With Kids, is headed with her family this summer. Before she booked her trip, Baugh called several ranches to see how they’re making things safe. She asked about cleaning practices, food preparation, cabin locations, and whether guests are being limited. “We went with the ranch that is limiting guests to 20 people. They were flexible about letting us eat as a family at our own table, and we also have the option to eat in our cabin or outside at a picnic table. They also gave us a much shorter cancelation window, with the option to rebook in the next year to three years, should we need to cancel close to our trip,” said Baugh.
Safe Travel Tips
Should you decide to venture beyond the staycation, Dr. David Reichert, CCRA, president of the board of directors for the Academy of Allergy and Asthma in Primary Care, (AAAPC), offers the following tips for safe travel:
- Children explore through touch, making contaminated surfaces a particular concern. Try to see the world through your child’s exploring eyes to help you anticipate areas and items that draw a child’s attention.
- Teach children the importance of keeping their hands away from items in public areas.
- When traveling, avoid common areas with lots of traffic. Limit your family’s exposure to high-traffic common areas like hotel lobbies, tourist attractions and gathering places. The more people-traffic, the more opportunity for contaminated surfaces and possible Covid-19 exposure.
- Schedule frequent hand washing breaks and use hand sanitizer after leaving common areas.
- Lead by example. Let your children see you happily following the rules. This decreases anxiety about COVID-19 and increases their willingness to adopt these simple safety practices.
- If your child or family member is high risk, you’ll need to increase safety measures. Consult with your primary care physician to discuss the pros and cons of traveling. Your doctor knows your unique needs and is your best line of defense.
- Restrict your travel party to those with whom you have had daily contact over the last several months.
- Avoid mass transportation like planes, trains, and ships. Travel by car if at all possible.
- Avoid large groups.
- When seeing a relative, avoid the temptation to hug and kiss.
- Practice physical distancing and wear a face mask. Maintain a six-foot perimeter and avoid letting anyone inside that perimeter for more than six minutes.
- Make a plan before each travel stop, considering the safest way to interact with each environment to best maintain your health. Every family is unique as is each vacation, but these new travel practices will be important to incorporate for the foreseeable future.
Coronavirus can make it difficult to decide how to spend the summer. You want your family to be safe, but summer fun and bonding is always important. Whether you stay at home or head for the road, here’s hoping for a happy, healthy productive summer for all!