Spring break is a welcome respite from work and school routines for families, but COVID-19 concerns still mean precautions are necessary when choosing how and where to travel as a family this year.

By Melissa Klurman
February 22, 2021
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If you've been longing for a break from the endless winter weather and the work-from-home, hybrid, and virtual school, hamster wheel of the past 12 months, we feel you. It's been a long year and all parents and kids alike could use some sort of mental health break. But the question is: What kind of travel is reasonable for Spring Break 2021?

Unfortunately, we can't tell you quite yet that now is the time to hop on a plane and take off for far-flung vacation. William Li, M.D., physician and scientist, sums up what we heard from experts across the country: "According to the CDC, it is wise not to travel this spring break—the world is still in the middle of the pandemic, vaccination is still in the early stages, deadly variants are emerging, and we have proof that holiday gatherings and celebrations lead us directly to increased hospitalizations and more deaths."

An image of a suitcase with a mask, sunglasses, and hat on it.
Credit: Getty Images.

We know, we're bummed, too. But all is not lost. We've put our heads together with travel pros and medical experts and found safe alternatives and off-the-beaten-path family friendly destinations so kids and parents can get a much needed break.

The Do's and Don'ts of Spring Break Travel 2021

First, however, before we share where you can go, it's best to talk about how to go. Dr. Seema Sarin, director of lifestyle medicine at EHE Health, offers some easy to follow "do's" and "don'ts" for safe and responsible travel:

  • Don't travel to attend a party, festival, or large event.
  • Don't travel to a crowded destination where it's difficult to maintain social distancing.
  • Don't eat at restaurants with indoor seating.
  • Don't take a bus, the train, or fly if at all possible.

On the other hand:

  • Do drive. In short, our experts all say to stick to road trips, since your car is the safest way to travel.
  • Do plan to bring groceries so that you can cook and eat at your rental house.
  • Do book private accommodations at a ski resort for a ski or snowboard trip.
  • Do plan a road trip and drive with only your household.
  • Do go camping, hiking, and spend time outdoors in areas where it is easy to maintain social distancing.
  • Do continue to follow all social distancing, masking, hand washing, and CDC outlined precautions.
  • Do get the COVID 19 vaccine when it is available, and continue to follow all guidelines, even after being vaccinated.

"If you decide to travel, there are ways to lower your risk," says Dr. Li. "First, get a COVID test before you go so you know your health status before setting out. Test the whole family if everyone is going. Bring documentation of your test results with you. If there is any health incident while you are traveling, you'll have a record you were negative."

Bring extra masks, and wear them, adds Dr. Li. Recent guidelines suggest that wearing double masks can be much safer than wearing only one. While traveling, you'll want to have extras in case you lose or misplace your masks. Finally, try to plan to be outdoors as much as possible.

With these guidelines in mind, here are a few safe ideas for spending spring break with your family.

Have an Island Experience Without Leaving the U.S.

"Toe dip trips," says Travelocity travel expert Melissa Dohmen, are what travelers are planning this year, with "visits to familiar destinations nearby, weekend getaways, or road trips and beach trips" to get back into the swing of getting away without health risks. Here are a few beachy options depending on where you're located:

Daufuskie Island, South Carolina

Located just off the coast of South Carolina, Daufuskie Island is known as the island with no bridges since it's accessible only by boat. Its watery location means you won't find big crowds like at nearby Hilton Head, but instead a slow pace, and family-friendly island perfect for a social-distanced and unplugged getaway. With more than 3 miles of waterfront, it's pretty much like having your own private ocean. Haig Point has a number of houses to rent, plus a sprawling 3-acre equestrian center where you can ride horses on the beach, as well as one of the top residential golf courses in the United States. However, what Daufuskie is truly best known for is its slow way of life, whether that means fishing for dinner or shucking your own oysters right off a roasting pit, visiting local artists, playing in the sand, or simply riding bikes around the car-free island.

Marathon, Florida

For families seeking a taste of a tropical island escape while staying stateside, The Florida Keys is the ideal springtime destination with warm weather, natural beauty, eccentric local spots, and a slow pace. There are several family-friendly, social-distanced options in the stretch of 44 islands and 42 bridges, among them bustling Key West, but head to Marathon, one of the first Keys in the string, and Marlin Bay Resort & Marina for its collection of three- and four-bedroom private vacation homes that combine casual design with lavish modern amenities and excellent fishing excursions which you can do while staying socially distanced.

Port St. Lucie, Florida

If your family likes self-contained resorts and all-inclusive offerings, there's good news in Florida. Nestled in between Orlando and Miami, Port St. Lucie offers an all-inclusive spring break escape (sans passport) at family-friendly Club Med Sandpiper Bay. The spacious resort is spread across 50 acres of land and situated alongside the St. Lucie River, with plenty of room to roam and enjoy a variety of land and water sports including kayaking, paddle boarding, sailing, and even the flying trapeze. There's unlimited food and beverage options, daily entertainment, a dedicated kids clubs, and an adults-only pool, sure to be a welcome respite for quarantine-weary parents.

Get Off-The-Beaten Path

Not into the sand and the surf? Consider a town with experiences your town doesn't have. Whatever you choose, advises Laura Motta of The Points Guy, "The most important thing is that your choices match your family's health needs and concerns." In addition to suggestions we've made in the past for RV travel, camping, and vacation rental properties, here are a few of our recent safe family travel favorites:

Ten Sleep, Wyoming

Not every all-inclusive is a beach resort. Consider a dude ranch for social distancing getaway this spring such as Red Reflet Guest Ranch, a 25,000 acre luxury resort and working ranch at the base of the breathtaking Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming. If the weather isn't quite balmy yet in early spring, they offer cold weather activities including cattle wrangling, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ATV/snowmobile tours, shooting ranges, and cooking classes, and yoga. All guests stay in their own private chalets with fully stocked kitchens, and all food and beverages (including wine and beer for mom and dad) are included.

Smoky Mountains, Tennessee

According to Travelocity, Tennessee is the top family-friendly destination so far in 2021. And the Smoky Mountains is consistently a top of searches for families who want to enjoy the social-distanced outdoors, wide array of nature activities, and possibly stop in at Dollywood while they're nearby. Club Wyndham Smoky Mountains' apartment-style suites with multi-bedrooms are a top option for families with scenic views and easy access to hiking, mountain biking, fishing, camping, and horseback riding, not to mention resort amenities such miniature golf courses.

Bowling Green, Kentucky

Bowling Green, Kentucky has emerged as a top, off-the-grid road trip destination this year as much for what you can't see, as what you can. Underground are both Lost River Cave, offering an underground boat tour, and the Mammoth Cave National Park, the world's longest known cave system. Above ground you'll find everything from zip lining to hiking, plus the National Corvette Museum and the Kentucky Museum featuring landmark moments in women's history.

Santa Barbara, California

"There was an explosion of RV travel in 2020, and we expect to see more of that for spring break this year," says The Point Guy's Motta, especially near National Parks. Try out the trend at Rancho Oso, a western-themed working ranch in California dating back to 1845 bordered by the Los Padres National Forest and the Santa Ynez River in the mountains of Santa Barbara. The ranch comprises 310 acres of beautiful scenery with endless opportunities for horseback riding, hiking, and photography, making it a perfect spring break spot for the whole family.

Norfolk, Virginia

Only 18 miles directly west of Virginia Beach, Norfolk is an alternative for spring breakers looking for a coastal vacation without the crowds but still offering activities for kids. Visit Nauticus, a maritime science museum, and learn about the power of the sea with films and exhibits, not to mention the Battleship Wisconsin, the world's largest battleship. Take advantage of your waterfront locale during your spring break with an evening ride on the Spirit of Norfolk, a harbor cruise that offers breathtaking views and a unique dining experience. Or get out on the water with sailing lessons with Sail Nauticus or SailTime or visit the beach at Ocean View pier for fishing, crabbing, or just lounging around. For an outdoor educational experience, bring the kids to the Virginia Zoo or the Norfolk Botanical Garden, two destinations that offer a quiet nature retreat.

Hit the Social-Distanced Ski Slopes

Snowbasin is one of the best ski resorts in Utah for families, with designated slow-skiing terrain at the heart of the mountain and a tubing hill for post-skiing fun. It's also affordable since children 6 and under ski free, not to mention the kid-pleasing $1 fresh baked cookie at Earl's Lodge on weekends. To keep COVID-19 safe, Snowbasin has added new ski-up outdoor dining restaurants on the mountain that don't require entering a lodge or visiting the base area. They've also added new yurts at the base of Middle Bowl to provide an area for guests to rest and warm-up remote from any resort lodge. And there is a new trail to easily access the Canyon Rim parking area without entering a shuttle.

Reno Tahoe is the hub for the largest concentration of ski resorts in North America. Reno Tahoe offers families a chance to get adventurous at nearby luxury Northstar mountain, a part of Vail Resorts, boasting 100 trails, nine terrain parks, and the country's only Burton Snowboard Academy for state-of-the-art private lessons for families. After a day on the slopes, families can embark on a self-guided walking tour of the public street art, climb to new heights on the Guinness Book of World Records' World's Tallest Artificial Climbing Wall, or dine at Noble Pie Parlor, featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, for customizable slices and pies with all the toppings imaginable, perfect for enjoying back at your vacation rental.

A Word on College Spring Break Trips

Okay, this won't be popular with your teens (feel free to blame us), but according to Dr. Li, "There is no safe way college kids can travel and celebrate spring break together, domestically or internationally, in the traditional ways: piled together in close contact, with shouting and laughter, and drinking. That is going to be a recipe for an outbreak, regardless of the location."

Actually, spring break may end up being a moot point. As Dr. Sarin points explains, "Many colleges and universities have taken action to minimize the risk for the students by delaying the start of the spring semester and canceling the scheduled spring break week. Instead, shorter well-being breaks are being offered during the semester and students need to obtain permission to leave."

For those well-being breaks, encourage your teens to visit destinations where they can maintain social distancing such as camping, hiking, or private cabins, at ski resorts advises Dr. Sarin.