Shelter at home orders have affected people’s mental health and responsible travel could be an option to release tension and feel better. These days traveling in a Recreational Vehicle (RV) is considered a safe option but having just returned from an RV trip I can attest it is not always safe – especially when traveling with children. Another pandemic travel trend is booking cabins, beach cottages and private homes. The safety of this second option depends significantly on how people get to these places.
Two and a half years ago my husband and I had a couple of goals when we decided to buy our “little house on wheels.” Like everybody else, we wanted to get away and find secluded places near the mountains, forests, or lakes. Tired of hotels, malls, and restaurants our desire shifted to seeking outdoor activities such as kayaking, hiking, birdwatching, and bicycle riding. The second reason was to get away from the South Texas heat which climbs into triple digits in August. We have taken several trips since then and genuinely enjoyed all of them.
These days, hotels seem to be the ones hit hardest likely due to potential crowded lobbies, elevators, bars, and restaurants. Most standard hotel rooms lack efficient, fully stocked kitchens and easy access to the outside and we are seeing airplanes as the last option for a getaway during this pandemic. We can say that this pandemic has taken us back to those romanticized days of family road trips
Before our RV trip, I was on the verge of a depression brought upon by isolation from family, especially my newborn twin grandsons, and the loss of friends and acquaintances. Instead of asking my doctor to prescribe a new medication, we decided that an RV trip would help me feel better if we practiced social distancing and wore our masks. We stocked the pantry and refrigerator, packed our clothes, and drove into the sunset. Our month-long itinerary included four western states and six Midwest states.
Here is a brief rundown of the pros and cons of traveling during the Covid-19 pandemic.
1- Traveling in an RV does help maintain social distancing, but children are social humans. We noticed playgrounds packed with children at several private RV parks and swimming pools so full albeit announcements that only 50% capacity was allowed. It is a difficult challenge for parents of young children to distance them from other children and keep the family safe. Private rentals might be a better option for them.
2- Regardless of accommodations, the complete travel experience is not possible due to restrictions such as cancelled events, limited occupancy, and closed venues. We missed out on savoring local food by avoiding crowded restaurants and bars and cooked most of our meals in the camper. We had the hardest time in Deadwood, South Dakota where small casino saloons abound, and my slot-machine-fan husband could not visit any of them. We missed seeing the historic saloon filled with memorabilia of the day the legendary Wild Bill Hickok was shot because it was packed with people not wearing masks. We looked for empty shops with strict mask requirements and rushed to find souvenirs not really enjoying the moment.
3- Using the RV restroom instead of those at rest stops and avoiding high traffic convenience shops. We also fixed our meals in the RV instead of stopping at roadside restaurants. This is something we enjoy, but not everybody does due to more cleaning chores. This is an option that is not available for those traveling by car and why the means of transportation becomes the most important factor of a trip during the pandemic.
4- Most private RV parks have nice showers and restrooms, but during a pandemic it is best to avoid them and opt for showering in the RV. For those who prefer the spaciousness and comfort of these showers vs the confined ones in an RV this is certainly an inconvenience. Showers were closed in some parks at the beginning of the pandemic but have since reopened. Cabins in some of these parks do not have private bathrooms. Always make sure a cabin or cottage have private bathrooms before booking online.
5- Getting sick while traveling. This might be the most complicated issue, so it is important to have a plan. This has always been the case when traveling anywhere. During the pandemic we are seeing a tendency to travel to places that are closer to home.
1- Aside from private RV parks and vacation rentals, there are numerous state and national parks with spacious RV sites that allow for families to keep a healthy distance from other families. For empty nesters like us, both private or public RV sites are safe and offer opportunities for people watching which we enjoy. All the parks we visited followed strict practices to protect their customers such as curbside check-in, food, firewood, and ice delivery, limited number of people at the park’s store and showers. The use of masks where always required but not always strictly enforced. This is when the traveler needs to be alert and practice safety measures.
2- Beautiful hike and bike nature trails abound at state and national parks and most private RV parks are located near trails and outdoor activities. There are trails for everyone from the easy ones to the more challenging ones. Even walking around the campsite is enjoyable for we enjoy looking at all the different brands of RVs. Most of the private RV parks we visited also offer cabins and plenty of cabin rental options in the western states are available.
3- We love meeting other travelers and sharing trip experiences and travel tips. RVers tend to be friendly and helpful and keeping a safe distance is not difficult.
4- With an RV, setting up camp your own little space is a lot of fun. We bring out colorful outdoor rugs and café lights to decorate our patio. We enjoy lighting campfires and looking at the stars. Home is wherever we park. We sleep in our bed, cook in our kitchen, and have our private bathroom and patio; these things make it easy to stay safe practicing social distancing.
5- There is plenty of time to read and disconnect from technology while enjoying nature. To some, this might be a disadvantage, so private RV parks and vacation rentals do offer cable TV and Wi-Fi connections. Many travelers bring satellite dishes to enhance the TV experience while at a public campground. We still recommend making the effort to disconnect for a trip is meant to relax and destress.
6- Road trips are carefully planned. For our Summer 2020 trip we selected states where covid-19 cases were low and where outdoor activities abound. We did not visit any large city or crowded places; instead, we relaxed in our patio and watched birds and people. My husband helps by barbecuing great meals. We also planned visiting touristy areas like Mount Rushmore and the Royal Gorge Railroad on Tuesdays or Wednesdays to avoid the weekend crowds.
7- For historic architecture buffs like us, walking through main streets is an enjoyable and safe practice during a trip. Steam trains are amazing to ride or watch and the west bestows plenty of them. Because of the cool weather, outdoor dining options are plenty and the top choice of travelers.
8- Staying at an RV or a vacation rental bestows an opportunity to plan your meals. Some travelers like to eat everything their heart desires, while others use this time to plan healthy meals and detox. During this trip we opted for healthy food and managed to lose some weight and feel better and after a week of the outdoors I went through a day without crying. I felt energized.
It is no wonder RV sales have skyrocketed since the pandemic started. These road trips offer an opportunity to get away safely, but only if the effort to stick to strict guidelines is made. As I wrote above, families face a more difficult challenge. Some say RV stands for ruined vacation. We cannot say we’ve had a bad experience, yet RV travel is not for everyone.
Small boat sales are also soaring, and Texas State Parks slowly reached peak season visitor numbers. But one thing is certain; staying healthy while traveling during this pandemic takes a bigger effort and the effort can easily outweigh the benefits of an enjoyable and relaxing time.
During our month-long trip, we heard of six people we know who died of different causes including Covid-19. These are hard times. Thanks to technology, we were able to join funeral services and send our condolences to the families. These are the times when a brisk nature walk watching amazing birds consoling you with their song is just what the doctor would prescribe. Most of us live near a nature park or near walking trails. All of us live somewhere we can enjoy a brisk walk. Whether traveling or staying home, strive to keep a healthy mind. Maybe this is the time staycations become a thing.