Hi everyone, Brook here. This week many of you joined us for a Zoom chat about family travel, a subject that’s close to my heart. I grew up traveling with my parents, and I started bringing my son on trips before it was even fun; in the early days it meant carrying a backpack filled with Matchbox cars, individually wrapping Dollar Store finds to get through a trans-Pacific flight, and juggling sightseeing with naptime. But those experiences molded my nearly-9-year-old, Zeke, into a traveler, and even a kid who was delighted to get a new suitcase as his big present last Christmas.
The early days weren’t easy, but now traveling is part of Zeke’s identity. And I decided it had all been worth it a few years ago when we were riding through the hilly outskirts of Medellin and playing a game I call “What’s similar, what’s different.” Usually Zeke’s answers would fall along the lines of “This pillow feels different from the one at home” or “This pizza doesn’t taste the same.” (I still regret not doing a photo essay of the pizzas Zeke has eaten in every country he’s visited, from Vietnam to Mexico to South Korea.) But that day in Colombia, Zeke said, “I know something that’s similar. People are people.” I caught my breath at the depth of his answer. Zeke was catching on to the most important lesson that travel could teach him: Wherever you are in the world, regardless of language or skin color or the clothes they wear, people are people.
That’s why I can’t wait to start traveling to unfamiliar places with Zeke again—when it feels safe to do so—and why I think those experiences are as important for his education as will be getting back into a classroom with his teachers and peers—once it’s safe to do that as well. I know many of you likewise love to travel with your children and grandchildren, and so we’ve compiled some tips and inspiration offered by our Trusted Travel Experts during a recent Zoom chat about family travel during the time of Covid. If you have travel questions or need further advice, we can answer if you write to Ask Wendy.
Seek out resorts with freestanding cottages or villas
“Resorts with your own cottage and your own kitchen and porch are appealing to families right now, especially a cabin on a lakefront or a villa on a relatively private beach. Many such hotels with freestanding cottages are sold out through August, but with some schools starting up again with remote learning only, I’m predicting that many families in cities with high infection rates—families with parents who can work from home and kids who will be learning online only—will leave town, make their base a resort villa or rental home somewhere remote and safe but with great Wi-Fi, and stay there until the kids’ school reopens for in-person learning.” —Wendy
Private yachts or charter boats offer built-in social distancing
“Our last trip was a private yacht in the Caribbean Sea off Belize, and it was a form of social distancing before we even knew what social distancing was. It’s the trip I can most imagine doing now. We had our own yacht, we barely even saw other boats on the horizon, we had no contact with anyone else. In the Caribbean, there are hundreds of cays where you can anchor and have a picnic. Many have no population at all, and we chose to spend most of our time away from civilization entirely. Belize is opening up to travelers August 15 and has only 40 cases of coronavirus, so it’s a relatively safe place to be. A private yacht would make for a great family vacation for Christmas/New Year’s.” —Brook
Hit the trails and cycling routes
“Stay outdoors as much as possible: That is my biggest recommendation. In the Northwest we have a lot of places where you can be outdoors, hiking independently. So I’ve been helping people find trails that are off the beaten path and where you won’t encounter other travelers. Cycling is another thing you can do on your own. As for activities like sea kayaking or whale watching, I’ve been arranging private excursions for just one family at a time. For accommodations, look for a place with a kitchen so you don’t have to get takeout for every meal. And try to find a place with an outdoor area, so that if you do take out, you can dine al fresco in your own space.” —Sheri Doyle, Trusted Travel Expert on The WOW List
Connect with your cultural history closer to home
“How do you do cultural travel in the era of Covid? We looked at the culture and history near us in northern California that we haven’t paid enough attention to and honored, then we culled it down to which places we could go to safely. My step-family is Native American but my kids don’t know that history. And a couple hours north from here we can camp on tribal lands and learn about the Native-American history that is a part of their history as well.” —April Cole, Trusted Travel Expert on The WOW List
Sequester at a ski resort in summer or fall
“I live between Vail and Beaver Creek, so my backyard is the great outdoors. If I were somewhere else, I’d be coming here, so this is what I’m doing for travelers: I’m bringing them here and renting them a villa in a ski resort because there are very few people here at this time of year, so they can enjoy all the outdoor activities, biking, hiking, fishing, rafting. You could easily get out with just your family and do that…. In Mexico, a lot of the Riviera Maya coastline on the Caribbean Sea is open, and the resorts are running at max 30% occupancy, so you can still feel that space and freedom. What most people are after is villas, private homes, and private boat charters—they want that space. Hotel Esencia is doing something interesting: They have villas, and they will give your children complimentary six hours a day of in-villa online schooling with a homeschool tutor.” —Meg Austin, Trusted Travel Expert on The WOW List
Alaska’s wilderness lodges and private yachts
“The best option for Alaska travel is a stay at one or two wilderness lodges or a private yacht adventure for families of six guests or less. The lodges are able to control the environment and are all following strict protocol for guests’ safety with mandated cleanliness, social distancing during meal times or staggered meal times or being able to bring their meals to their own cabins, any flightseeing is done privately, adventures are conducted privately for the families with their own guides, etc. Some lodges are also keeping the maximum number of guests to a much lower number than normal, to allow for social distancing. I also inform travelers what they can do to enter Alaska, in terms of mandates and advisories.” —Judith Root, Trusted Travel Expert on The WOW List
To prevent paying more for a lesser experience, postpone a Disney trip until 2021
“All four Florida Disney World parks are open now, and Disney has a new park pass system. You reserve the day when you will go into each park, and that’s their way of limiting capacity. Anybody over the age of two has to wear a mask. The parks are empty, so it’s a great time to go if you’re willing to take the risk, but people outside Florida don’t want to go: Florida is a hot spot, so you may have to quarantine for 14 days when you get back home. I’m not encouraging people to go in 2020 because you’ll pay the same amount but get one-third of the experience: There’s no meet-and-greet, no fireworks, no parades. People look for that magic, and it’s not happening now. I’m advising people to postpone until 2021 and see how things evolve.” —Michelle Allen, Trusted Travel Expert on The WOW List
Share your safety plan with the kids, for before, during and after the trip
“The kids and I just flew to Maryland. I hadn’t seen my sister and nieces for six months, and I felt that was worth the risk for us. One thing I didn’t think of ahead of time but it became apparent: The kids have been bombarded with the news and the scariness of the situation, so one of the biggest hurdles was convincing them that this was going to be okay. They wanted to know the steps that I was taking to keep them safe: They wanted to know the plan and that we were going to quarantine when we got home—that we weren’t putting our larger family at risk. They really wanted to know that I was doing our due diligence, so we had to sit down and have a conversation about how this was going to play out.” —Andrea Ross, Trusted Travel Expert on The WOW List
Be prepared to have to make advance reservations for Europe’s big attractions
“I know that when Italy is ready for U.S. citizens again, we will be able to arrange safe trips there. For now, there are a lot of rules for reopening to European travelers, and the rules change about three times a week. Before, people would go to Florence and buy a museum card and visit all the monuments. Now, you can’t do that; you have to make a reservation at each one. And, at museums and monuments, because everyone has on masks and is trying to stay apart, it’s very hard to hear your guide, so everyone is wearing headphones. There is a lot to do outdoors, and that’s great. Dining outside in the peak months has always been a possibility, and now a lot of piazzas are blocked off for that.” —Maria Landers, Trusted Travel Expert on The WOW List
Prep for the future family travel trend in Europe
“Austria and the Czech Republic are already back up and running for local travelers. When they open to U.S. travelers again, the people on the ground will be ready with sanitizer and masks. I think self-drive trips will be a trend for family travel in this region. In the past, many trips were train-focused because of the ease of it, but I think we will see more families being game for driving. And we are finding stand-alone villas and accommodations that will work well for families.” —Gwen Kozlowski, Trusted Travel Expert on The WOW List