In light of the pandemic, pivoting to vacation rentals, RVs, camping, and resorts with plenty of elbow room is the safest way for families to enjoy the summer sun.

By Melissa Klurman
June 17, 2020
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Summer 2020 travel can be summed up in one word: Pivot. Camps may be closed, pools might not open, and your pre-planned getaway may 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 and safe places to visit if you do your homework and stay flexible!

Many families don't want to deal with the unknowns and hassles of the airlines' flight schedule changes and restrictions with COVID-19. Instead, they are opting for road trips, says Megan-Knapp-Rokey of OASIS Travel Network. By hitting the road and following CDC guidelines, families can have a great summer focusing on spending time outdoors and social distancing.

Eileen Ognitz of Taking the Kids agrees this is the "summer for that RV trip or road trip you've been talking about for years or a longer beach or mountain town rental, especially with the kids' summer plans cancelled and if you can work remotely." Plus, she adds, "You likely will find a deal!" With no international tourists, the national parks have last minute availability as do mountain towns from New Hampshire to Colorado to Utah and Wyoming.

Ready to get a trip on the books for summer to save everyone's sanity? Consider one of these summer vacation options, then heed our experts' advice when it comes to planning the best and safest vacation possible in during the summer of COVID-19.

Set Up House in a Vacation Rental

If there ever was a time to find a place to call your home away from home, the summer of 2020 is it. Heading to the fresh air of the mountains or built in water fun of the beach, having plenty of room to spread out and social distance, and only having to check-in once and not have to worry about cleaning protocols along the way every night at a hotel are all hallmarks of a vacation home. 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 where you can call a central management agency with questions.

Other options? Airbnb, VRBO, and HomeAway are 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 everything from pools to cribs on the listings. Airbnb has introduced a "Host Cleaning Protocol" to address COVID-19 prevention, including establishing a 24-hour period between bookings as advised by the CDC, but hosts do not have to follow this, so look for the "badge" designating these advanced cleaning protocols.

VRBO and HomeAway are promoting similar services. Since these are recommendations, once you arrive at your rental, 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.

Read the fine print before you book—make sure you can cancel in case anyone gets sick or there is another outbreak and things close again, says Ognitz.

Stanislaw Pytel/Getty Images

Roll into Vacation in an RV

RVs are popular this summer. No, we mean really popular. RV searches were up 350 percent in May, according to data from VacationRenter. From the looks of things, it's going to be a summer of RV road trips. And it's easy to see why: You can get out and explore and bring a kitchen, bedroom, and all your stuff with you without ever having to unpack or worry about using communal camp ground bathrooms or finding a rental cabin. However, with the increased demand for RV rentals, you'll need to find a place to park in advance; Outdoorsy is a good option.

Camp Under the Stars

Nearly a third of travelers are interested in taking their first camping trip this summer, according to KOA. Keep in mind you may have to use communal restrooms at camping sites, so you should bring cleaning supplies for high touch areas when you visit, and it's always a good idea to have hand sanitizer handy as well. 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 first.

"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. Some campsites have pools and play areas, which may be great for your kids, but not for social distancing, so be sure to explore options before you arrive to be prepared.

Explore the National Parks

"There is 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."

There's currently availability at the Grand Canyon and Zion, and even cancellations at Yellowstone and Glacier, plus there are plenty of other parks to visit if you're road tripping, including South Dakota's Badlands National Park where the 31-mile Badlands Loop Scenic Byway is practically made for social distancing.

Social Distance at Spacious Resorts

If you love resort pools and an array of amenities, you may be tempted by a hotel vacation this summer. Many of the most 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 how it is protecting guests and staff, says Hudema. For additional reassurance, call the hotel and ask them about their practices. Another tip: You can also 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. Note that some resorts will not have restaurants or room service fully functioning yet, so you may end up with boxed dinners to enjoy picnic style.

Here's a selection of family-friendly spots that have plenty of room to stretch out and explore the great outdoors:

Bald Head Island, North Carolina

BHI is about as ideal as it gets when it comes to the ability to social distance. The island has 10,000 acres of protected land to explore, is removed from the mainland by a ferry ride, and comprised almost entirely of rental homes. It's a beach paradise for East Coasters full of natural wonders.

Barnsley Resort, Georgia

With thousands of acres and just 39 private cottages and 150 guest rooms, Barnsley Resort is naturally poised to offer an outdoor escape with room to explore.

C Lazy U Ranch, Colorado

With a legacy of 101 years of hosting family-friendly fun, C Lazy U Ranch is a premier luxury guest ranch with its core programming anchored in horsemanship and horseback riding on 8,500 remote acres of adventure that that 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, the resort is easy to reach from Austin and is a great spot to explore the Texas outdoors. 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 on The Jewel, gardens, swimming in the Esther Williams pools, and exploring nearby nature and historical sites.

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 and gorgeous green hills alongside Table Rock Lake. You can stay in cozy log cabins, explore ancient caves, 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 resort destination that offers outdoor activities such as a high-adrenaline Mountain Bike Par and quiet hiking on Massanutten's Western Slope.

Before You Book

Learn the Rules in Each State

No one, especially parents with small children, want to go on vacation to spend all their time sitting inside in a hotel room. That's why it's important to check state rules before you start 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 two-week 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."

For example, Orlando and other Florida destinations are offering deals, but travelers from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut have to quarantine for two weeks. Also check what is open and not open if you are heading to a beach, state, or national parks, Ognitz advises.

Know What to Pack

For this summer, stock up on cleaning supplies before you hit the road so you can wipe down your room and disinfect 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 in-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.

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