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Planning a Safe Vacation During COVID-19

Avatar for James Walton James Walton  |  Updated: May 23, 2020
Planning a Safe Vacation During COVID-19

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Sitting alone as the waves beat the shore before me, I had a line in the surf and a slice of sun just peaked up over the horizon. It looked like the top of a railroad spike just taken from the hot forge.

I felt many things alone with my feet nestled in the cold sand. Guilt was one such feeling.

“Should I be out here when so many are locked down, facing financial hardships or just scared to leave the home?”

Fear was another feeling that I was experiencing. I could better understand this one because none of us are really in the clear, yet.

Should we have come to the beach during a pandemic? What if this becomes a literal FATAL error.’

Of course, these emotions are pieces of me. They do not define me. Some of you are going to call me rash and irresponsible, others are going to consider making plans of your own.

The minority of readers might have been on that beach alongside me. For the record I understand your concerns and can appreciate your stance and caution.

All that said, it was a magic weekend.

Walking aside my wife, who has struggled with this lockdown, and watching my sons run away from the waves and shriek as the water crashed near their feet, I began to feel better about our decision.

What has been missed most in this pandemic and lockdown is the mental struggles that many of us are facing. Sometimes, getting away, getting some sun, and changing the setting can have such benefits to your mental health.

This is not the year to hop on a plane and fly to the turquoise beaches of some tropical destination. That doesn’t mean we cannot be careful and enjoy a vacation in 2020. We have to be smart about where we go and what we do but we can still get away from isolation, the vaccine talk, and the impending feeling of DOOM that seems to resound through all our lives lately!

This pandemic has threatened to change everything and most people have taken that as a bad thing. Perhaps you find a new adventure on a mountain top instead of on the Disney properties in Florida this year. Change, even brought on by a catastrophe, doesn’t have to be all bad.

So, where should you go on your 2020 Pandemic Vacation?

Beaches, Sun, and Vitamin D

There are no definitive cures for COVID-19 but I have been reading a lot about the benefits of Vitamin D and the deaths and severity of illnesses linked to those with low levels of Vitamin D.

As the hot midday sun melted down on top of my family I felt good that we were out of the home and boosting our levels of naturally occurring Vitamin D.

The beaches of Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, in the Outer Banks, were pretty busy considering it was the first weekend the beaches had been open.

‘Build up the wall! QUICK!’

We were playing the fortification game. Carter was frantically piling up sand in front of a larger sand castle that we purposely built in harms way. The waves would come to destroy the castle and it was our job to build a wall of sand to protect it.

The fresh air, the sun and the beauty of the beach make for a great option for your own COVID getaway. Precautions in hotels are still being taken and that might put you at ease.

Only one person was allowed in the check in office. The rest of the family had to wait outside. Upon checkout we simply called the office and left the keys on the counter in the room.

I think that version of hotel checkout is superior to what was done in the past!

The condominium style lodging we chose meant that we wouldn’t be traipsing through tight hotel lobbies to get to our room. You should seek out similar lodging like motels or units that are accessible from outside only.

Of course, in the room we had to take precautions and assume that hand washing and the like were consistent.

The benefits of getting out far outweighed any anxiety and inconvenience.

Hikes, Camping, and Generous Distancing

At this moment the Shenandoah National park is closed. It started with a shut down of the Appalachian Trail and expanded into the complete closure of the park. All over the nation, National Parks are entering into their phased reopening.

This means that camping and hiking opportunities are coming back! Most people on the coast don’t consider heading inland for vacation but it can be a very rewarding experience.

I suspect that in this time of mass isolation our quickest route to mental repair is to take off into the deep woods! To get lost among our “extended family” of birds, deer, bear, raccoons, and squirrels could remove the stale dust of home life and convenience.

The Local and National Shutdowns

Here in Virginia we are facing some unique challenges to setting up the ultimate outdoor getaway.

While the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests are open, Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive, and the Appalachian Trail are not. This means you have to do a little more homework on access and camping locations.

Rather than depending on an easy access point or larger campground you might need to research back country camping and maybe even get into a little map and compass land navigation.

Here in Virginia we have thousands of acres of public lands that are still open in the form of WMAs or wildlife management areas. These might be called something different in your neck of the woods but they are basically areas for hunters and fishermen. Birdwatching is popular on public lands, as well.

The WMA’s are the secret of urban survivalists that are looking to test their might in ways that national forests simply do not allow. In many WMA’s you are allowed to camp with actual campfires which are restricted in Shenandoah National Forest.

If you run into restrictions and issues when it comes to planning your outdoor adventure, seek out the public lands for hunters and fishermen. These are found on your state game and fish website.

Tents and Hammocks

If sleeping on the ground in the woods is not your thing, you can opt for a hammock and tarp sleeping arrangement. Sleeping in a hammock keeps you off the ground and it’s very comfortable.

With a simple tarp over head you will keep out most of the wind and rain. Just set up your hammock tight to the tarp. The more space you leave between you and the tarp the more heat you will lose. It’s been chilly for this time of year so keep that tip in mind.

If you are opting for a tent setup, which is perfectly fine, just be sure you have a sleeping pad or cot that will keep you and your sleeping bag from directly touching the ground. The cold nights like we have been having will sap your body heat all night.

With a little gear and some fire craft skill you could have a few days in the woods hiking and camping that might be just what you are looking for.

Lakes and Inland Comfort

Not everyone likes the idea of hiking through the woods as part of a vacation. To the seasoned hiker, avoiding hangups and enjoying the wild is second nature. You don’t wind up off the trail in a patch of poison ivy or wading through tall grass only to suffer the ferocious biting of chiggers later that night.

Instead, a nice carved out car campsite by the lake might be a better option. Maybe a cabin in the woods that is uphill from a nice big lake, that could be even better!

Spending time at a lake house can really be something special. There are some incredible lakes in our nation and you likely have one in your state that is worthy of a visit.

Thoreau said this of the enjoyment of lakes:

“A lake is a landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.”

Choosing your Lodging

A lake vacation is ideal because of the big wide open spaces, the limited amount of people and the effect of being outside the four walls of your home.

Of course, how you arrive and where you stay during your lake vacation could determine whether you create long lasting memories or a week that you would rather forget.

A lake house or cabin can be a fun. From a cleanliness standpoint you cannot know to what extent the staff prepared the room. You may want to do some preliminary cleaning when you arrive to put yourself at ease.

A campground on or near the lake is another option unless of course you avoid the previous section to avoid tent camping.

RVs and campers are another great option for staying on the lake. Most of these larger lakes have places for you to park and service your RV. Inside the RV you don’t have to concern yourself with who was in the room last and what germs they left behind.

While the RV might not be as romantic as the log cabin with fireplace, it might be just the kind of security that you are looking for in these uncertain times.

Striking the right balance of safety and experience for your 2020 vacation is going to be critical.

Local Excursions and Economic Recovery

A water feature is not a requirement for a good vacation. Our country is studded with history, museums, natural land features, and caves for exploration.

Sometimes a local excursion is exactly what you are looking for. I cannot help but chuckle when I listen to people tell me about their latest trip to Punta Cana but they know nothing about the majesty of their own state. Be it the history or the natural beauty, much of it is lost on a generation that would rather shoot down to white sandy beaches and turquoise waters.

Agritourism is a newish kind of experience that your family might truly appreciate. Experiences on a farm, winery, or creamery are often woven into a week of events that are planned out locally.

A locavore vacation is not only a way to save money and stay close to home but its also the most responsible option of the bunch. Those roadside shops and attractions are the ones that will need your help most through the summer. Tourism will be down in many areas but those special state attractions may not have the backing of a larger state-run park or memorial.

Once places like those go away, they never come back.

Spend some time getting to know your state. Keep the vacation local and support your local economy. Here in Virginia we have some amazing history and you can spend days exploring museums and visiting historical sights.

We also have some interesting land features like the Natural Bridge and the Luray Caverns. All of these can be tied together to create a mind-blowing and interactive week with family.

Do some research in your own state and you might find that you have the perfect 2020 vacation in your back yard.


Its all weird this year. People, places, and things are not what they used to be. The pandemic has changed so much already. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t plan a vacation or that it’s irresponsible to get out and enjoy yourself.

If we all stay hidden in our homes it will certainly mean the death of local businesses. You cannot deliver a beach experience to the front door. Not to mention, you need to get outside and, like my dear mother would say to me, blow the stink off ya.

As we prime the economic engine and start to move it to half choke, its gonna require that people get back to work and get out to spend their paychecks.

Keeping vacations local will keep your money local, too! If we suffer a true economic collapse in the fall you will be happy that all the local guys didn’t go out of business. They might be your only resource for the things you need in tough times.

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2 Responses to “Planning a Safe Vacation During COVID-19”

  1. The only thing I can say is your grown so deal with the decisions you make. If something happens don’t point to the government. Point that finger in the mirror at your own risk assessment.

  2. There are two many people buying into the lies and fear generated by half wit politicians and Monday morning experts who can’t seem to agree. Take care of your immune system and it will take care of you. Ditch the Doritos.

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