How to safely go on a summer vacation during the coronavirus era

Author: Jennifer Allford / CNN
Published: Updated:
grand canyon
PEACH SPRINGS, ARIZONA – JANUARY 10: Aerial view of the West Rim of the Grand Canyon in the Hualapai Indian Reservation on January 10, 2019 near Peach Springs, Arizona. The Grand Canyon National Park is preparing to celebrate its centennial in February. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

When the coronavirus pandemic hit and borders closed all over the world, BreAnne Henry scrapped her plans for a summer trip to Ireland and Portugal.

Instead, the Calgary physiotherapist and her fiancé came up with a Plan B for their summer vacation: drive seven hours west to Kelowna to check out the wineries, the trails and the beaches.

But that plan is tentative because it requires driving across a Canadian border from Alberta to British Columbia and as of now at least, crossing provincial lines is very much discouraged by public health officials.

“That’s where Plan C comes in,” says Henry. “Obviously, we want to follow all the rules laid out by the government and if they’re still saying only essential travel interprovincially, then we’ll go on camping trips through Alberta.”

Millions of travelers are developing Plan Bs and Cs for this summer.

“During these difficult times, the need to find some way to escape and recharge is perhaps even more important than it had been in years past,” says Dr. Daniel Griffin, an infectious disease specialist at Columbia University Medical Center. Griffin, however, points out that some vacation options are safer than others.

As border restrictions begin to ease and economies — and hotels — begin to open up, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests staying home to stay safe. But it also has a long list of helpful considerations for those who are planning a summer vacation anyway.

Sticking close to home

Industry watchers suggest people will start traveling by exploring their own backyard.

“Even once lockdowns are lifted, there will be a tendency for people to stay closer to home in the first few months due to feeling cautious and concerned about Covid-19 and the potential for a second wave,” predicts industry expert Caroline Bremner, the head of travel for Euromonitor International, a London-based global market research firm.

“Once lockdown restrictions are eased, the day trip will be the first activity that will see a revival as people are free to explore their local areas and enjoy nature again.”

“Traveling to closer destinations by car may represent one choice to increase the control you and your family have on potential risks versus traveling by plane or public transportation,” Griffin says.

This “hyperlocal” travel — exploring a neighborhood on the other side of town or newly reopened shops or restaurants in a nearby city — still offers a sense of adventure, says Jantine Van Kregten, director of communications for Ottawa Tourism, in Canada’s capital city.

“We all need a change of scenery after 10 weeks of lockdown,” she says. “One of the fun things is encouraging people to talk to friends and relatives in your own city and go visit their neighborhood that they know well, and find the restaurants and shops that they like.”

As for overnight trips, travelers are likely to start satisfying their pent-up wanderlust with road trips where they can pack their own food, bring their own sanitizing wipes and drive in their own vehicle for a few hours.

“I think people’s mindsets are that: ‘If anything happens, I can get back in my car and drive home,’ ” says Van Kregten. “You’re not waiting on a flight or having to reschedule flights or other transportation methods.”

Looking for wide open, outside spaces

Driving to wide-open spaces such as the Grand Canyon will be more popular than usual as most people try to maintain distance from each other and stay outdoors where the coronavirus is less likely to spread.

“In the USA, with almost half of states reopening, it will be possible to hit the road, taking into account social distancing and Covid-19 proofing the trip,” says Bremner.

The Battlefields at Gettysburg in Pennsylvania are already seeing increased road traffic. Even while facilities such as the visitor center and washrooms have been temporarily closed, the four acres of battlefields have been open for self-guided tours.

“I know just managing our social media channels, we’ve been getting messages from a lot of people, whether it’s from Harrisburg or Maryland or other places an hour or so away, that they’ve traveled with their kids to learn about the battlefields since most kids are not in school right now,” says Natalie Buyny of Destination Gettysburg. “We’ve noticed a lot of people coming with their RV campers for a few days, and they’re just excited to be here.”

Popular places where crowds gather, however, may pose problems as social distancing efforts become difficult to maintain.

Griffin suggests traveling to lesser-known parks or heading to a lake with just your family versus visiting a crowded beach or “trying to social distance in a crowd watching Old Faithful in Yellowstone.”

Cleaner, safer hotels

Hotels are gearing up for the road trippers, too.

For example, Hotel Figueroa in downtown Los Angeles is offering discounts for Californians who can show proof they live in the state. The Figueroa, like hotels everywhere, is going to great lengths to reassure guests about increased sanitization and hygiene practices.

“This is going to be a major concern for consumers,” says Bremner. “Every customer interaction with the hotel and its staff will require to be viewed through a Covid-19 lens, such as social distancing in dining rooms, hand sanitizers throughout the property, masks for staff, self-opening doors, etc.”

Hotel guests will also start seeing more self-check-in and mobile key room entry.

Communicating these new practices will be crucial says Van Kregten.

“That will be top of mind for most people: ‘If I go what are you doing to keep me safe?’ I like to think we’ll get to a point that it’s just understood there are these precautions and hotels are doing everything right.”

Staying grounded for now

While people may be willing to start checking into nearby hotels and other lodging over the summer, they’re less likely to start hopping on flights to foreign destinations.

“We can see that in countries like Greece they are already gearing up for their summer season from early June,” says Bremner. “Consumers are not expected to undertake international air travel in the midterm.”

Many borders, including the US/Canadian border, are still closed to nonessential travel.

Nations including Spain and the UK are allowing visitors into the country, but require people to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, making a vacation a lot more complicated and expensive.

Other countries are creating “travel bubbles” with their neighbors to allow easier entry for each other’s citizens, including New Zealand and Australia and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

BreAnne Henry was organizing her 2020 European adventure for the better part of the last year. “I am a planner. And I like to look forward to something that I know is going to happen,” she says.

While Henry isn’t planning to cross the pond anytime soon, she’s looking forward to her summer vacation nonetheless.

“This is a chance to explore our own country,” she says. “We have a list of hikes that we’ve been meaning to get to and we just haven’t taken the time because normally in the summer we’re taking the longer trips. This is a cool opportunity that we’ve been somewhat forced into, but it’s turning out to be a blessing.”

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