These Are the Safest Ways to Vacation with Kids During the Summer of COVID-19
Want to get away during the pandemic? From renting a cabin to exploring national parks in an RV, we rounded up the best vacation ideas to entertain your family safely.
Pandemic travel can be summed up in one word: Pivot. Camps may close, pools might not open, and your pre-planned getaway could be pushed to the back burner due to quarantine restrictions or safety concerns. But all is not lost! There are still safe ways to travel if you do your homework and stay flexible.
Many families, for example, are replacing airplane travel with road trips, says Megan-Knapp-Rokey of OASIS Travel Network. By hitting the road and following CDC guidelines, you can have a great summer focusing on spending time outdoors. Plus, you'll likely find a deal at some popular destinations, says Eileen Ognitz of Taking the Kids. With very few international tourists, the national parks might have last-minute availability—and so might mountain towns in places like New Hampshire, Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.
But here's something to keep in mind before you book: No one, especially parents with small children, wants to spend their entire vacation sitting inside in a hotel room. That's why it's important to check state rules before planning your summer getaway. "You can't just hop in the car and go to Maine or Massachusetts like in summers past," says Ognitz. "There are quarantines in effect for out-of-state visitors. Before you go anywhere if you are heading out of state, check the latest rules and regulations." Also learn what's open and not open if you are heading to a beach, state parks, or national parks, Ognitz advises.
Ready to get a summer trip on the books to save everyone's sanity? Consider one of these vacation options, then heed our experts' advice when it comes to planning the best and safest vacation possible during COVID-19.
Set Up House in a Vacation Rental
If there was ever a time to find a place to call your "home away from home," the summer of 2021 is it. Vacation homes have plenty of benefits: They can be found near amazing places like beaches and mountains, they provide plenty of room to spread out and social distance, and you don't have to worry about strict protocols (like at hotels and resorts).
If you have a destination in mind, check to see if there's a local rental company. Often they'll have a pool of managed properties and a central management agency. You can also browse Airbnb, VRBO, and HomeAway—user-generated online marketplaces that offer private properties to rent. They run the gamut from yurts to beach houses, and they're great for families because you can search for amenities like pools, cribs, and full kitchens.
Airbnb has introduced mandatory COVID-19 safety practices for guests and hosts. For example, hosts must follow a five-step cleaning protocol between stays, and they must a wear masks when interacting with guests. VRBO and HomeAway are promoting similar services. Even so, it pays to be extra diligent once you arrive. Clean and disinfect all high-touch surfaces, such as doorknobs, light switches, countertops, tables, desks, phones, remote controls, toilets, sinks and faucets. Wash plates, glasses, cups, and silverware before using, advises Darren Hudema, WLS, Director of Training and Technical Services at PuroClean.
Also read the fine print before you book; make sure you can cancel in case anyone gets sick or travel advisories pop up, says Ognitz.
Roll into Vacation in an RV
RVs are insanely popular during the pandemic. In fact, RV searches were up 350 percent last May, according to data from VacationRenter. It's easy to see the appeal of these portable living quarters: You can explore the country while bringing along a kitchen, bedroom, and all your stuff—without worrying about using communal camping bathrooms or finding a cabin. Rent an RV for a relatively good price with a website with Outdoorsy, and don't forget to find a place to park in advance!
Camp Under the Stars
The pandemic is the perfect excuse to take that camping trip you've always dreamed about! Keep in mind you might have to use communal restrooms at camping sites, so you should bring hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies for high-touch areas. Whether your family members are camping pros or first-time tent pitchers, Caleb Hartung, CEO of Campspot, an online booking portal for campgrounds, advises checking out your local area before heading to faraway destinations.
"Camping doesn't have to mean trekking cross-country to a remote area. There are likely many wonderful campgrounds and RV parks within a short driving distance to where you live." He also recommends looking into amenities. For example, some campsites have pools and play areas, which may be great for your kids but not for social distancing.
- RELATED: 19 Tips for Camping With Kids
Explore America's National Parks
"There might be rare availability in the national parks this summer," says Betsy O'Rourke, the Chief Marketing Officer for Xanterra, the company that runs the concessions, lodging, and many of the activities in national parks. "People come from all over the world to experience the U.S. national parks, and with limited air travel and closed borders this year, those vacationers are not able to come, freeing up rooms in some of the greatest outdoor places on earth."
Keeping travel advisories in mind, you can surely find a national park that suits your families interests, whether it's taking photos at the Grand Canyon, hiking in the Great Smokey Mountains, kayaking in the Everglades, or driving along scenic roads of South Dakota's Badlands National Park.
Social Distance at Spacious Resorts
If you love pools and amenities, you may be tempted by hotel vacations this summer. Many popular family resorts are open for business and offering great deals (in addition to enhanced cleaning policies and safety measures). Check any major chain's website for information about COVID-19 safety protocols, says Hudema. For additional reassurance, call the hotel and ask them about their practices. Another tip: You can ask to be put in a room that has been vacant for at least 24 hours.
Some best cleaning practices to look for in your hotel of choice, according to Hudema: Enhanced cleaning of public areas (including elevators), social distancing measures in the lobby and front desk, and face masks for all staff and guests. Here's a selection of family-friendly spots that have plenty of room to stretch out and explore:
Bald Head Island, North Carolina
Bald Head Island is ideal for social distancing! The island, which is removed from the mainland by a ferry ride, has 10,000 acres of protected land to explore, and it's comprised almost entirely of rental homes. It's a beach paradise for East Coasters full of natural wonders.
Barnsley Resort, Georgia
With private cottages and guest rooms, Barnsley Resort is naturally poised to offer an outdoor escape with thousands of acres to explore.
C Lazy U Ranch, Colorado
C Lazy U Ranch is a premier luxury guest ranch with its core programming anchored in horsemanship and horseback riding. With 8,500 remote acres, it feels like a private national park!
Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort & Spa, Texas
In the Hill Country of Austin, the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines is nestled on 405 acres. Some highlights to check out: more than 18 miles of hiking trails, kayak excursions on the Colorado River, horseback rides, and golfing at the Wolfdancer Golf Club.
Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island, Michigan
Known as "America's Summer Place," Grand Hotel offers Midwestern appeal on remote Mackinac Island, accessible only via ferry. The sprawling lakeside resort offers biking, golfing, gardens, swimming, and exploring nearby nature and historical sites. And the best part: No cars are allowed on Mackinac Island, so you must get around by biking, walking, or taking horse-drawn carriages!
Big Cedar Lodge, Missouri
The awe-inspiring wilderness resort of Big Cedar Lodge, a 4,600-acre destination in Missouri's Ozark Mountains, is set among wide-open green hills and Table Rock Lake. You can stay in cozy log cabins, explore ancient caves, check out fresh creeks and waterfalls, and enjoy the crystal clear Ozark skies.
Massanutten Resort, Virginia
Set on 6,000 acres of sprawling greenery in the heart of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, Massanutten Resort is a premier all-season destination that offers outdoor activities such as a high-adrenaline mountain biking and quiet hiking on Massanutten's Western Slope.
Considerations for Booking a Summer Vacation During COVID-19
Remember to stock up on cleaning supplies before hitting the road so you can sanitize before your family unpacks. Add some Lysol, disinfecting wipes, and paper towels to your car supplies. Don't forget face masks for every member of the family older than 2, as the CDC recommends; many attractions won't allow you to enter without them.
You should also plan ahead and bring gloves for handling gas pumps, adds Hudema. Some states still have restrictions on rest area food sales, he advises, so it's also a good idea to pack some food for your adventures to cut down on stops and exposure.
On the prevention front, Hudema recommends packing a travel thermometer and bringing any important medications and prescriptions.