I am a lover of travel. I officially got the “travel bug” as a teenager playing summer soccer in Germany. After college, I backpacked through five European countries and, as a working adult, lived in Tokyo, Japan and had the chance to explore Asia. I have been blessed with the opportunity to get up and go, and understand the benefits that only travel can bring.
Now as a parent, my husband and I prioritize travel for our children, for the fun of it and as a way to teach inclusion and be less fearful of perceived differences. The pandemic sidelined us for a bit, but I’ve taken the plunge to plan a family vacation for this summer. Here are some tips on how our family is preparing to pack up and hit the road, rails and skies again, this time right alongside all mutations and uncertainties of COVID-19.
Prepare & Do Research
If you are like me, you are itching to pick up and go to wherever only a plane can take you. As with most things in life, preparation and research can make or break a trip. The CDC provides recommendations for all kinds of travel, on land or by boat, international or local, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html.
Your destination, be in domestic or international, will determine what covid-19 preparations you’ll need. Research each country’s requirements ahead of time. Even though restrictions are loosening up here, in the United States, in some countries they are getting stricter, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/map-and-travel-notices.html.
Ask about covid rules and precautions at the places where you want to stay. Most hotels and rentals have covid protocols. Don’t be shy with “what if” questions. Knowledge is power and you need to know. The answers might surprise you — and impact your decision.
Remember to bring masks for each family member. You just never know when you might need it. Or want it. And bring your own sanitizer, just in case soap dispensers are empty or you kids touch everything (like mine do).
Flexibility & Plan B (and maybe C)
Anticipate the unexpected. COVID travel means being able to turn on a dime, which is especially true if you or a family member catch the virus on vacation. What would you do? Pack back-up plans right along with your clothes.
For our upcoming summer trip, we are spending 4 days on the coast of the US and then another 5 days out of the country. When we booked our travel, the international portion required a negative PCR test prior to arrival. Then it didn’t. In between, I spent hours trying to figure out where, when and how to get the tests. Time wasted, unless of course, those rules come back - which they just might. Bottom line: check and recheck your travel plans regarding covid requirements. And then be ready and willing to modify and adapt accordingly.
Buy the Insurance
As much as I used to travel, I rarely ever bought travel insurance. I always just assumed the trip would go off without a hitch. Covid-19 and the pandemic flipped that script, and now I wouldn’t travel without it. I know it might seem expensive and an added hassle but imagine losing the money for your flight and hotel because you or a family member tested asymptomatically positive before hand. Or, while on vacation and couldn’t travel home as planned? I know many people, myself included, who had trips planned in 2020 only to lose out on reimbursement. A groundswell of public anger helped change that - and now most airlines, hotels, travel agents, and travel companies are more reasonable when it comes to reimbursements. But not all of them. Again, know before you go - and read the fine print on that insurance policy.
Staycation… Just a little further away from home
According to Wikipedia a “staycation” or “holistay” is fun that does not require an overnight stay.. During the pandemic, we all had to get creative and think of ways to entertain ourselves and our children, literally, in our own backyards. While that’s all fine and good, I’m advocating that we all stretch a bit. How about a back-to-back, day trip, holistay, vacation? Do something different each day, but spend the night in the comfort of your own home. A week might look something like this:
Monday - Museum Day
In my city alone, we have aviation, arts, history, and computer museums to explore.
Tuesday - Movie Day
And who says you have to do just one? If you can’t decide, let each family member pick a movie. Or for a twist, you can go to different movie theaters in your area...start your day with an old style, landmark theater and end it at a drive in.
Wednesday - Beach/Lake/Pool Day
If you live near the coast or a lake, explore the beach. If there are no natural bodies of water close enough to where you live, find the closest public pool and get day passes.
Thursday - Hike & Nature Day
A family that hikes together, might get blisters together, but do it anyway. It doesn’t matter your age or athletic ability, just that you are out together in nature. Pack a picnic lunch and explore any of the hills, valleys, vista points or preserves in your area.
Friday - Theme Park Day
This is certain to be a favorite, at least for the kids. Pick the closest amusement park and ride the rides. If there is not a theme park within a day’s drive of your location, pick a park and swing on the swings as a family.
Saturday - New City Day
Most of us have our favorite places to visit close to where we live. This day is all about expanding that horizon. Pick a city that you rarely visit or have never been to. Check out their Chamber of Commerce for recommendations on how to spend your day. You may discover a hidden jewel.
Sunday - Let Your Kids Pick the Day
Parents don’t have to plan everything. This is a day to let your kids call the shots. Are we eating breakfast for dinner? Great! You want to blow bubbles on a neighborhood walk? Fantastic!
Don’t underestimate the car ride
Traveling by car is a prime opportunity for bonding. This doesn’t mean you have to spend every minute in conversation but be mindful that you have a captive audience for some fun and games.
Our family loves music, but we all have different tastes. On a long trip, our family of 4 will take turns choosing songs. By the end, we’ve each picked about 10 tunes and received a crash course in (and maybe some appreciation for) a style we may have poo-poo’d before. Another fun idea: make music playlists, themed or otherwise.
Word to the car wise: Never leave home without some ginger chews or Dramamine. If you don’t get car sick, or know anyone who does, that’s great. But if you’re like me, prone to queasiness and usually needing the front seat, you’ll appreciate the precaution.
Having fun might depend on your sense of humor
COVID or not, traveling is stressful. To lighten the load, I always carry some funny pictures on my phone. And when tensions are escalating, I share them, hoping to turn frowns upside down. Come prepared with some jokes to share during the stressful moments. And remember, those “I might be stressed now, but this is sure going to be a good story to share later,” can help alleviate the inevitable travel hiccups.
By now you may be wondering, with all the extra planning and tips needed for a successful vacation during covid, is it worth it? With the right preparation and the right mindset, there is no other better family experience or opportunity for connection, so go for it! See you out there…
Julie Grabscheid is an author with a Masters in Social Pyschology. She is also founder and host of the MommyMates podcast: helping to raise a generation with an understanding of their connection to others and aware of their impact to the things around them. Julie lives in the Bay Area with her husband and two daughters.