Kathy Gardner and her family managed to get a world away from their city lives this August. Based in San Francisco, she and her husband and their two teenagers had endured months working and learning from home; by the middle of summer, they needed time outdoors. So Kathy wrote to Ask Wendy, asking about the San Juan Islands, which had always been on her bucket list. We recommended that she consult with Sheri Doyle, trip-planning specialist for the Pacific Northwest. Sheri designed a two-week itinerary in Washington State, split between Olympic National Park and the San Juan Islands—an itinerary focused on hiking, biking, kayaking, and the enjoyment of nature. “It was stunningly, stunningly beautiful,” Kathy told us on the phone soon after their return. We thank her for taking the time to tell us about her family’s trip and for sharing information that we know will be useful to other travelers.
First, a note: While we at WendyPerrin.com do not encourage travel at this time, we believe it is possible to travel responsibly during this pandemic. We have done so ourselves—and we trust our community of global citizens to make smart choices for themselves and the people they’ll encounter. While most travelers want to wait until there is a vaccine for their next trip, some have asked us to help them travel safely and responsibly now—and we are happy to provide the intel and support they seek. We answer their questions every day at Ask Wendy. And we request their post-trip feedback as part of our effort to provide you with a realistic and useful view of the travel landscape right now.
Why made you decide to travel now and to Washington State?
Our daughter is getting ready to go to college next year, so we really wanted to take this time to get away in a safe, socially distant way. We’d never been to the Olympic Peninsula or the San Juan Islands, and the more we looked into it, the more it seemed it would be easy to stay away from other people and enjoy the beauty of that part of the country. Also, we wanted a short flight. [Editor’s note: The flight from San Francisco to Seattle is only two hours.]
Did you get tested pre-travel?
Yes, we are fortunate in San Francisco to have relatively easy access to Covid-19 testing, and so were able to have the test and see the negative results both before our vacation and then immediately after we returned.
How did the flight go? What precautions did you take?
We took Wendy’s advice seriously about how to fly in a pandemic, and we incorporated that advice with other advice from the CDC. We felt we were following all the rules. We chose Alaska Airlines, which I had read was doing well during Covid, and we thought they were fantastic. The plane was clean and spacious, and they kept to their word of keeping an empty middle seat and giving us the seats we asked for. Everyone was wearing masks the entire flight—we were hoping they would, and they did.
I had read Wendy’s article about picking seats and staying safe. And we did the whole thing: We got masks and goggles and gloves and had Clorox wipes, and we just tried to be really pragmatic about things. Having a short flight makes a difference too.
Where did you stay?
We rented a house close to Olympic National Park, but not in it. It was on the water, super pretty and an easy drive into the park. Then we spent three days on San Juan Island in another rental home, and a week on Lopez Island in another.
Lopez is low-key and a really nice community and awesome for biking. It feels like a place people go if they know about it, if that makes sense. We did one day trip to Orcas Island, which is fantastic as well. We loved it. We had really beautiful weather, and it was easy to be completely by ourselves.
We were never in a situation where we needed to be around other people, except on the plane, and even the airports were not full.
So you rented three different homes over two weeks?
Yes. Renting our own places was a criterion for us and, interestingly, hard to do. Houses were very booked up. So Sheri was hugely helpful in piecing together our places to stay.
The three homes were all very clean, and we were all by ourselves. We went to the farmers’ market to shop, like we would at home. We ate outside a few times at restaurants. We did a lot of hiking. Our main activities were hiking, biking, kayaking, and paddle boarding. The Olympic Peninsula is such a huge national park; we had just a couple days and barely scratched the surface.
How else did Sheri help?
Sheri was incredible—just so on top of things. She knows that anyone who wants to travel right now needs to be careful, so she has great ideas. Before we could even ask our questions, she gave us great advice about how to navigate the process.
I almost didn’t have to ask. She was like, “I know the questions you’re going to ask,” and she had the answers about socially distancing, about the ferries, about where to stay. Sheri could not have been better.
Now that you’re back, is there anything you wish you’d known before?
I’m just happy we went. Life is short, and our kids are growing. We made a really nice choice for our family. Our kids are going back to distance learning, and they were in distance learning since March 17, so it was so nice to be outdoors in a beautiful place and have some freedom and just drink it in.
We ended up getting a national parks membership this year. I feel like it’s a good thing to support our parks, and you can use it anywhere you go.
We can help you figure out how to safely plan your own trip and direct you to the right travel specialist for your needs. Write to us at Ask Wendy.