We take on additional risks every time we leave our front door. As the survivor of a horrific accident, I know this as well as anyone. But at this point in time in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, the risks are greater.
Everyone’s risk tolerance and circumstances are different. Personally, I’m about as likely to go to a concert or crowded beach as I am to dance with a metal pole in an open field during a lightning storm. There are certain CDC and WHO guidelines I think we all should be following: maintaining social-distancing recommendations, wearing masks at indoors public places (and outdoors when distancing is not possible), washing hands, cleaning surfaces, etc. After that, the decisions may be a bit different based on personal circumstances.
I understand completely if people want to put off all travel until the pandemic is over. For me, travel is part of what keeps me going, and as the pandemic draws on, I have to find ways to travel safely and respectfully while maintaining social distancing. We isolated from March-August and still are keeping our distance, but we did finally take a road trip in August, which was very different from our usual travel.
I wanted to share all our travel experience from the beginning of the year in January 2020 until present—If you just want to read about our pandemic road trip, you can skip down to “Stir Crazy” to read our travel tips or click here. 😁
Worst Cough of My Life
We spent the last few days of 2019 wandering the extremely crowded streets of London, and we rang in the new year in Dublin. Oh how I miss those days: striking up conversations with our neighbors at dinner, people-watching in Temple Bar, hugging strangers in crowded pubs and wishing them a happy new year!
When we returned home on Jan. 1, I apparently brought more with me than fantastic memories. I had the worst cough of my adult life other than when I had pneumonia 12 years ago. I returned to work on Jan. 6, but my cough and congestion were still so bad that I worked from home for the next week. I hadn’t heard of the coronavirus yet, but fortunately, as someone who is immunocompromised, I always practice many of the precautions that are now commonplace. Hubby got a bit sick, too, but he works from home full time. So we isolated and returned to the world about two weeks into the new year.
Was it early COVID? Probably not, but we’ll never know for sure.
Guatemala Was Ahead of the Curve
By late January we had heard of the coronavirus but thought of the outbreaks as far away. When we traveled to Guatemala City on Feb. 8, however, the Guatemalan government was already requiring passengers to answer coronavirus screening questions before boarding. When we arrived in the country, we noticed that every single airport employee was required to wear a mask.
But that was the extent of the precautions. When we got out of the airport, everything was still operating as usual, and we had a wonderful week exploring a beautiful country.
Things Got Real in March
By early March, everyone knew the coronavirus was making its way around the world, and we all wondered if travel would be halted for a while. We were not yet told that travel was unsafe between the Americas and the Caribbean or to Europe, so on March 4, we headed to the Dominican Republican for a long-weekend family celebration.
We wiped down our tables and seats in the airport lounges and on the planes and talked quite a bit about the virus and speculated about what might happen. Other than that, we had a great time, laughing, dancing and spending time with family as we usually would, and fortunately, no one got sick.
Things got a little weird on the way home on March 9. Flights were canceled and delayed. Airlines were scrambling and changing routes. Our flight from San Juan was delayed until 1 a.m., so we opted to spend the night in Puerto Rico and catch a flight the next day. (San Juan is a great place to be stranded.)
We made it home smoothly the next day and very soon thereafter everything shut down.
I started working from home full time the next week, and I mostly still am. At first, we cleared our schedules for two months, somehow thinking that would be enough time to sort this thing out, but we soon realized that COVID-19 was gonna be around for a while.
I tend to book travel about 10 months in advance to save on airfare. So we were already booked through November and ultimately had to cancel adventure trips to Japan and South Korea, the Baltics, and Chile, and weekend getaways to Maine, Massachusetts, and Florida.
We were so disappointed to cancel these plans, but we were infinitely more devastated to see the world economy tank and so many people lose their jobs or have to go to work in risky circumstances.
We had to isolate, but we still had our health and our livelihood.
Five months into isolation, I was ready to get out into the world again. Although there’s still so much we don’t know about COVID-19, we do know a lot about limiting the spread. So I decided to very carefully plan a road trip to New England, and we hit the road on Aug. 8.
Pandemic Road Trip Tips
Here are some tips based on what we learned on our road trip.
1. Stay in More Remote Places
Instead of staying in the heart of downtown districts as we usually do, we stayed in a gorgeous in-law suite in a residential neighborhood outside of Hartford, Connecticut, on a small farm outside of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in a vintage airstream near Boothbay Harbor, Maine, and in two hotels on the way home in Greenwich, Connecticut and Philadelphia that are following strict COVID protocols.
We’re really glad we chose remote locations, because when we drove through the more popular destinations, they were much more crowded than we expected.
2. Know the Rules and Follow Them
Each state has its own COVID rules when it comes to traveling from out of state, and its easy to check the rules on the state’s website (just search the state’s name and “COVID travel.”)
Connecticut, for example, requires travelers from certain states to quarantine for 14 days if they are staying for at least 24 hours. Pennsylvania recommends quarantine for travelers coming from a shorter list of states.
Maine requires visitors to either quarantine or get tested within 72 hours before arrival and to fill out a certification form that they tested negative. We decided that this was a really great idea even if the state doesn’t require it.
Our medical group has a drive-through testing site, so it was easy for us to make an appointment on the group’s app and get the test done with limited exposure to others. We received our negative results in 48 hours and felt much more confident traveling with that information.
3. Be Flexible with Your Planned Sightseeing
We were really surprised by how crowded many of the towns were in coastal New England. We drove from Salem, Massachusetts on the scenic route to Rockport and Halibut Point State Park, but we never got out of the car because everywhere was so crowded. Staying in the car was fine with us, as the views were still incredible.
We wandered around the beautiful town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, but it was also pretty crowded (at least around the restaurants), and we had trouble finding outdoor seating with our dog while also distancing. So we went back to our farm accommodations and ordered food later that night on DoorDash from the Portsmouth Brewery and enjoyed a delicious meal of chowder, lobster roll and chocolate cake from the comfort and seclusion of our private deck.
We did find a place at the old port in Portland, Maine for outdoor dining with our dog. This was the first time we actually ate at a restaurant since March, so even though it was outdoors and everyone was following the rules, it still felt weird. This stop workout out great though, and we continued on the road north to our remote airstream.
We also found the perfect spot at Boothbay Harbor—the Boothbay Lobster Wharf—where we could hang out with our dog and chat (at a distance) with some really great people. The tables were outdoors, shaded and spaced apart. Food was available to order from a window. They had lots of local tasty beers on tap and great bartenders (behind plexiglass). We spent a lot of time there and highly recommend it 🙂
Because there were more crowds than we anticipated, we opted not to continue north to the biggest attractions: Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. We did get to check out the Pemaquid Lighthouse Park. We got there early and were able to walk around carefree for a bit without any crowds. I’m so glad we got to see this beautiful place!
On our way out of town, instead of stopping at the famous Red’s Eats in Wiscasset (and standing in the long line in the hot sun), we stopped across the street at Sprague’s (which the locals say is just as good). The wait was shorter and the atmosphere was more inviting and spacious. Most important: the lobster roll and chowder at Sprague’s were absolutely amazing!
4. Bring More Supplies than Usual
Of course you’ll bring your masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, but you also may want to bring some food that’s easy to prepare in case you don’t want to stop, spend too much time at the gas station or go out to eat. We brought a ton of food: protein shakes, Kind bars, instant oatmeal, coffee, ramen noodles and mac and cheese. I went a little overboard, but we were really glad we had these supplies.
5. Isolate Again If You Can
Even though we were as careful as possible, we were out and about on this August trip for the first time since March, and it was a little scary. When we got home, we waited five days and got tested for COVID again for peace of mind and so there’s a benchmark for contact tracing. Even with the negative COVID test, we will continue to take precautions. Nothing is 100% accurate, and we don’t want to put anyone else unnecessarily at risk. NOTE: it’s impossible not to hug your mother after you haven’t seen her for five months!
Personally, this trip to New England soothed my soul, and was just the adventure I needed while traveling carefully and respectfully during this time of uncertainty.