It’s summer in the US, the weather is nice, and many of us have been cooped up at home for months to stop the spread of coronavirus. For me, that’s meant spending most of my time in a 600 square foot Manhattan apartment (with my fiancé!) with the occasional walk in Central Park or on the East River. I don’t have a car and I’m still unwilling to take public transit, so I’ve rarely left my immediate neighborhood. And most of my close friends and family don’t live in walking distance, which has been hard personally. Overall, I can’t complain about my situation because I am blessed and privileged in so many ways but I was also craving a change of pace. You know, a vacation. Maybe you’ve had similar thoughts?
After months of monotonous city life I was dreaming of nature. Green leaves. Breathtaking mountaintop views. Lazy rivers. The ocean. Lots of ice cream. And even during COVID, it can happen. I know because I did it. If you’re considering your own vacation and are wondering how to do it, here’s what I learned along the way.
I’m defining a socially distanced vacation as one that follows the official guidance for preventing the spread of COVID while still enjoying a change from the daily routine. It’s important to add that I live in a part of the country where the spread is currently low (the positive rate is hovering around 1% in NYC) and so please follow your local regulations and guidance.
I’m not ready to take a flight, stay in a hotel, or take public transit – and I don’t think these are the best ideas at the moment given the high spread of COVID in other parts of the US. Instead, I rented a car and did day trips within 2 hours of NYC. I got to visit places I can’t access easily on public transit, discovered new spots in my region, and the best part – slept in my own bed every night.
Focus on Outdoor Activities
The consensus currently is that outdoor activities are pretty safe, especially if you can avoid a crowd. That’s why I hit popular spots during the week, when they were much less crowded. Great socially distanced activities include hiking, going to the beach, relaxing in a park, and water sports.
Within two hours of home, there are lots of outdoors activities available in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. I went hiking in Beacon, where there are many trails for hikers of different experience levels, visited beaches on Long Island (Wildwood State Park) and in the Bronx (Orchard Beach), walked around other neighborhoods in NYC and New Jersey, went tubing down the Delaware river, did a road trip up to Poughkeepsie, and visited a drive-in movie theater. I bet there are some new places to explore wherever you live!
See Your Loved Ones (Carefully)
I did take the opportunity to see a small number of friends who live too far away to visit without a car. We always met outdoors, at a distance, and with masks. I’m open with my loved ones about the activities I’ve been doing so they can decide if a visit feels safe for them and I’m avoiding people who are high risk. Also I’m focusing on one-on-one visits rather than group gatherings. It was SO nice to catch up with a few people that I haven’t been able to see!
One downside to traveling right now, even locally, is that there’s a bit of extra preparation needed. I always carried with me a mask and hand sanitizer, and kept a spare in the car just in case. You’ll need to consider whether to pack your own food, do takeout, or dine outdoors or indoors. I did a mix of packing my own food, takeout, and outdoor dining especially at places that had a lot of empty tables. Some places are closed or have different hours, so it’s helpful to do some research in advance and be flexible. Which brings me to my next point…
Flexibility is Key
Even if you do research, the situation is changing on a daily basis and websites aren’t always up to date. It’s all about attitude. I was so grateful to be out, I didn’t really care if a particular plan didn’t pan out the way I wanted. There were a few particular challenges that I wasn’t expecting, though.
First, there was the bathroom issue. Many businesses where you could normally go, like coffee shops and gas stations, had closed their restrooms to customers making a road trip a bit more challenging than before. State and city parks all had open facilities as did restaurants that offer outdoor dining.
Second, the weather. Enjoying outdoor activities is easy on a warm sunny day. But on Friday we were hit by tropical storm Fay and it poured all day. Turns out the options for a bad weather day are extremely limited with no indoor dining, museums, visiting friends inside, etc. Since I had paid for my rental car for the week but didn’t have anywhere to go, I had to pay for the day plus parking…to stay at home.
Finally, sometimes you have choices that honestly aren’t ideal. Yesterday I got caught in an unexpected and intense thunderstorm with the car parked far away, and barely escaped getting hit by a falling tree. Is it safer to run through the pouring rain, under stressed electrical wires, in a thunderstorm…or duck inside restaurant next door and brave the risks of indoor dining until it passes? It wasn’t an easy choice, but I ultimately went into the restaurant because it seemed safer than being outside. I’m not sure if it was the right choice, but my takeaway is that when you’re outside in the world you can’t always control your environment completely.
Above all else, prioritize keeping yourself and others safe. Follow your local regulations and guidelines. Keep up the best practices like wearing masks, washing your hands, and social distancing. Consider what you and those around you are comfortable with – what risks are you willing to take? Are you putting others in danger? You can still have a relaxing and rewarding vacation with a strong dose of caution, some preparation, and flexibility.
If you want to see more photos, videos, and activities from my vacation, check out my Instagram highlight on a socially distanced vacation.