What to know before you cautiously plan a warm-weather getaway

By Mackenzie Schmidt
May 15, 2020 12:35 PM
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Credit: Everette Collection

As travel restrictions are slowly relaxed and stay-at-home orders begin to be lifted, many are wondering, is summer vacation back on?

The answer, as it is for most things right now, is "sort of."

If you live in a region with a stay-at-home or shelter-in-place order, follow it. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a website where you can check the current rules by state. Those with looser restrictions should still observe safe social distancing guidelines, but are a little freer to move around — and may even enjoy a mini getaway.

While crowded beaches are still a no-go, and traveling by air — especially internationally — has serious restrictions in place, there are a few types of vacations that offer a safer, more isolated environment and a better chance of avoiding coming in contact with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Here are just a few options— and a doctor's advice for how to do them safely.

Salma Hayek isolated on a swan float
| Credit: Salma Hayek/Instagram

Vacation Rentals

Staying in one location, particularly if that place is away from large crowds makes for a good socially distanced vacation. 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 Dr. Robert A. Norton, a professor of Public Health at Auburn University and a member of several coronavirus task forces.

"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," says Norton. "Dirt and grime should always cause warning bells to sound in your mind."

The Jersey Shore house in Seaside Heights, NJ
| Credit: Booking.com

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.

A Kardashian road trip to Palm Springs
| Credit: Kim Kardashian Instagram

Road Trips and RVing

If you need to get out of town, a road trip is a good way to see the sites from the safety of your vehicle.

"Done right, road trips with proper planning and attention to detail, are generally safe; certainly a better alternative than being around large crowds of people," says Norton.

When you do need to make rest stops, choose larger or state-run facilities whenever possible, "which have adopted aggressive cleaning and sanitization protocols, some as frequently as every 30 minutes," he adds. "Smaller gas stations may be ok if you are just stopping for gas, but my general experience is the restroom cleanliness is often sub-par."

Oprah and Gayle King hit the road
| Credit: Oprah and Gayle King hit the road

Regardless of where you stop, Norton recommends road trippers wear gloves to pump gas or use the facilities and discard them before getting back in the car.

Another option is renting an RV or camper, which combines the self-contained lodging of a vacation rental with the sight-seeing possibilities of a road trip. Companies like Outdoorsy and RVshare can facilitate short-term rentals.

Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern on a socially distanced hike
| Credit: Reese Witherspoon/Instagram

Beaches and Parks (Sometimes)

While air travel still presents a lot of issues — severely limited flights, crowded planes and terminals, international travel bans and domestic quarantine requirements, to name a few — beaches and parks within driving distance can be a good choice for a summer day trip, with some restrictions.

Many cities and states have closed public beaches to encourage residents to stay at home, and many are still battling it out over whether they should be open or not. When some beaches, like those in Newport Beach, California, and Clearwater Beach, Florida, opened with social distancing rules in place, they were ignored by swarms of tourists and locals packing the sand, necessitating tighter restrictions, including limiting the number of visitors who can access the beach at one time.

Thousands of beach-goers in Huntington Beach, Calif., on April 25
| Credit: Allen J. Schaben (Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Beaches are generally safe as long as they are not overcrowded, says Norton. "If the beaches are crowded, avoid them." The same goes for state, national and even local parks. "As they open, they will be very stringent about the number of people allowed," he says. "The outdoors is safe, as long as the area is not crowded."

A visitor at the newly reopened Shanghai Disneyland follows safety protocol
| Credit: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty

Theme Parks and Water Parks (Not Yet)

Most major theme parks, including Disneyland and Disney World remain closed indefinitely in the U.S. However, most are currently exploring options for how to open with limited capacity and new safety practices.

Disney World has announced it will begin a phased reopening of certain shops and restaurants at Disney Springs in Orlando on May 20, though the number of guests will be limited and new features like limited-contact guest services will be in place. No dates have been announced for the reopening of parks or hotels.

City Walk at Universal Orlando Resort opened select venues on May 14, but the parks remain closed

As the resorts continue to slowly reopen, they will likely require guests and employees to wear face coverings and enforce social distancing in lines and on rides as they have already done abroad.

Disney lovers John Stamos and Caitlin McHugh with Mickey in 2019
| Credit: Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort

Six Flags theme parks are also hoping to open with limited capacity, temperature checks upon entry and masks required for all.

And while Norton says municipal pools may be less likely to open due to the cost and difficulty of meeting cleanliness requirements and their history of issues with water-borne pathogens, water parks might.

Dacre Montgomery (L) and Cara Buono in Stranger Things
| Credit: Netflix

"Chlorination will neutralize the virus.  With that I am confident," he says. "The real problem now with public pools is the issue of crowding." He adds, "I am very confident that the big corporations will come up with the appropriate protocol solutions.  Going to one of their water parks or pools may be very different than it has been in the past, but they will open again."

Staycations (Always)

If you live in an area with a stay-at-home order in place, or you're just hesitant to be out and about right now, there are endless ways to enjoy a mental — if not physical — getaway from home.

World famous sites from London's Tower Bridge to Egypt's pyramids are offering free virtual tours online. Museums, zoos and aquariums are doing the same — with many hosting guided tours or streaming animal cams.

Disney has shared several of its most beloved attractions digitally as well. While the parks are closed, visitors can watch their newest parade, Magic Happens, or take a digital ride on the Slinky Dog Dash coaster.

Or simply take some time for a self-care day while you plan a far-flung future vacation.