Vacation rentals are a popular option for those looking for a summer getaway close to home
Credit: Thomas Barwick/Getty

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has forced many to cancel their summer travel plans, but as stay-at-home orders begin to slowly lift, would-be vacationers are looking for an easy — and safe — way to make the most of their break.

If you live in a region with shelter-in-place or similar rules in place, follow them. (The Centers for Disease Control has a website where you can check by state and Airbnb provides a guide for international destinations.) Those with looser guidelines should still observe safe social distancing, but are a little freer to move around.

Getaways close to home are an increasingly popular option, due to current difficulties around air travel — severely limited flightscrowded planes and terminalsinternational bans and domestic quarantine requirements, to name a few.

Short-term house rentals are one of the most attainable low-key vacation options — and one of the safest, according to Dr. Robert A. Norton, a professor of Public Health at Auburn University and a member of several coronavirus task forces.


"I do think it's accurate that vacation rental houses and condos predominate now. I expect that trend to continue," says Norton.

Airbnb revealed in an April blog post that the length of stays booked by users was increasing, while the distance from home was decreasing. "In some cities, like San Francisco and Toronto, we’ve seen the average length of stay nearly double," it stated.

Staying in one location, particularly if that place is away from large crowds makes for a good socially distanced getaway.

Renting a whole house via platforms like Airbnb and VRBO means you won't be encountering other guests or staff during your stay as you might in a hotel. Better yet if that house is in an isolated location — a cabin in the woods, for example, would be preferable to a city apartment or beach condo. A longer stay in a rental house is also often more affordable than other types of vacations.

Still, it's important to be conscious of cleanliness when checking into a vacation rental and disinfect key areas yourself, says Norton.

"When you arrive, do a careful inspection of the property, ensuring that everything looks clean, including any linen.  Wearing a mask while doing the inspection will help you better avoid infection if the rental space is contaminated with COVID-19 virus," he says. "Dirt and grime should always cause warning bells to sound in your mind."

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Even if the home appears to be clean, wiping down any "high touch" areas with a disinfectant is a good idea. This includes things like counters, light switches, and doorknobs. Norton suggests washing dishes and cooking tools, too.

Airbnb recently announced a more stringent cleaning protocol for its hosts. And if hosts or their cleaners can't abide by the new rules they must have a three-day "buffer" period between guests.

Dr. Andrew Janowski, an instructor of pediatric infectious diseases at Washington University School of Medicine/St Louis Children's Hospital, explained to Today that time may be the most important factor for renters' safety.

“From the study that evaluated how long the virus persists on surfaces, we know the virus can be stable on some surfaces for up to three days. The longer the home has been unoccupied, the better," he told the outlet.

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Along with the rest of the travel industry, Airbnb has taken a major hit during the pandemic.

Since the widespread lockdown began it has eased its cancelation policies, and been helping house frontline workers in apartments and homes listed on their site that are sitting empty, and selling "online experiences."

But the tech company laid off a quarter of its workforce in May. In that announcement, Co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky acknowledged, "Travel in this new world will look different . . . People will want options that are closer to home, safer, and more affordable."

Now, it appears there's an uptick on the horizon, and people are making plans for this summer. A survey by travel site The Points Guy, found that 31% of Americans are ready to travel this summer, but 13% were holding off until "late in the season."

Internal Airbnb data shows "early signs of future trip planning" the company shared in a blog post. They've seen more searches and wish lists created by travelers who they hope are "ready to reconnect with each other and the world."

Though isolation seems to be appealing to many: Cabins are the second most popular home type users have been searching, and 35% of people were looking for rentals for just two guests.

Those who haven't yet booked their stay have indicated what they're planning. "Summer 2020" was the most common phrase in users' wishlists created in the last 60 days.

A survey conducted by Guesty, a software used by short-term property management companies with listings across Airbnb, VRBO and is a little more modest in their predictions. It found property owners with a 76% increase in cancellations for spring and summer, but less than 10% for fall.