Can you travel safely during a pandemic? Yes, you can, but it depends on where you are going and what your goals are. Like many of you, my family has had very limited exposure outside of home. Schools closed abruptly and my children were thrust into a life of the unknown. It's been nearly four months of alternative living and to say that our children were looking forward to a vacation is an understatement.
Our original Summer plans included a family vacation to Bradenton and Tampa, Florida with my husband's side. However, with the ongoing pandemic and increased racial tension and unrest, we decided to postpone that 10-hour trip until a later time. I admit that I strongly considered taking the potty along for the ride had we decided to keep our original plans. Ha!
In the meantime, we began to think about, how can we pull off a safe and successful beach trip with our family. We'd start with an intensive infectious diseases/germ boot camp with our children followed by a layout of the plan to include objectives and expectations. Their mom is a nurse practitioner; I can't help it! To make things easier and more achievable we decided to stay in our state of Alabama and visit the beautiful beaches of Gulf Shores.
Here are the top 5 things to consider:
1. Limit your travel distance.
We decided it would be best not to travel too far. About four hours max was our goal. This could vary depending on your personal situation and the ages of your children. Keeping the distance relatively short decreased the likelihood that we would have to stop very much along the way. This also allowed for more planned stops in areas that you know are typically safe and usually clean (public bathroom standard of "clean"). In our experience, Love's Travel Stop has proven easy to get in and out of and they usually have a "clean" restroom. Additionally, when the unfortunate need to stop arrived, everyone dawned a mask and were reminded not to touch anything. I actually carried our youngest. I recommend this approach for those with children less than five years old if you are physically able to do it. This gave me more control and further decreased her likelihood of touching anything. We already have a public restroom routine that she has memorized. She actually, tells me now before I remind her, that public restrooms are disgusting and not to touch anything.
2. Consider your accommodations.
Ideally, we preferred a small beach house but trying to find that proved impossible given the short notice and the fact that we are in peak beach season. The second choice was a condo or apartment-style rental/hotel. This is what we secured. The other requirement was that it was on the beach. This way we could easily determine the best times to go to avoid crowds and could literally see the beach at all times. These kinds of accommodations also give you more space to spread out since in our case we were only going to be going to the beach and back to the room. We're a family of five and a little wiggle room goes a long way! It is also a plus to have more than one bathroom.
3. Plan to cook your meals.
This is another reason why the type of accommodations was so important. I planned to cook everything we ate, so a kitchen was a must. Eating in diminished any exposure of COVID-19 through long lines and closely confined restaurants. I can tell you that although we are still in the midst of a pandemic, not everyone was acting like it. As we passed by various restaurants and shops, the lines were long. There was no social distancing to be found and very few people had on masks. Cooking your own food eliminates your risk. Now of course this also meant that more planning and packing were needed. My goal was to not have to go into any store while we were there and if we did, my husband would go at non-peak hours. This was the case when I discovered that the bottles of water that I'd planned for us to take didn't make it into the truck. Bummer. I ordered groceries via pick up before we left and went to my favorite store, Costco. Costco happens to have the best precautions in place that I've seen.
4. Take your own cleaning supplies.
Now, this may be where many will consider me a little "extra" but so be it. Of course, anywhere you stay should be "clean" upon your arrival but we're in the midst of a pandemic! A little extra cleaning can't hurt, right? Plus, if you do it you know for sure it got done. This gave me more security. So, along with us, came my personal cleaning supplies including, Clorox wipes, Lysol and my beloved Pine-Sol. After checking in, my family waited in the car while I went in and did an inspection. I then commenced to doing my own cleaning and disinfecting before everyone else came. My nine-year-old was happy to help as he was itching to get out of the truck and he understands the Coronavirus better than many adults do, it seems. You could also say his mother has done a good job of drilling it into his head. Additionally, I also packed our own towels and bed linens (I see you rolling your eyes, but you never know.)
5. Go to the beach during non-peak hours.
Early morning worked well for us. We were also able to go late evening as many people had left. We were able to secure a spot and had plenty of room to roam without close interaction with others. Now I will admit, this gets tricky with the younger ones. Our youngest, who is not quite four years tried to make friends with another little girl who was the same age. How do you tell three year olds that you can't play with each other or that you need to stay 6 feet apart? I'll tell you, it's impossible. During these instances, you take a “break”. This was a convenient time to get a snack and go to the restroom. These “Coronatimes” can make things awkward.
Our family beach trip was a success and we would definitely do it again with these parameters in mind. Were the circumstances completely ideal? No, I would have loved to walk to the nearby ice cream shop or dine at a seafood restaurant. However, this was not worth the risk. The safety of my family will always be first, even if it means sacrificing some things. We were able to make the best out of a difficult situation and we had a lot of fun! The memories we made were priceless.
What additional tips, if any, do you have for a successful family beach trip? What other locations would you consider traveling to during the COVID-19 pandemic?