If you love to explore the world, then you are probably thinking about ways to still travel while staying safe during this pandemic. Travel has changed because of the Coronavirus pandemic, but with it comes new opportunities to explore the region where you live and ways of traveling that are more socially and ecologically responsible. I am sad not to travel cross-country or abroad this year as planned, but I look forward to learning more about Southern California, hiking new trails, and discovering the hidden and less traveled gems in my own state.
I’ve lived in Southern California for nearly nine years and in that time I’ve explored San Diego, Del Mar, Carlsbad and other beach cities; Big Bear, Arrowhead, Julian and Idyllwild in the mountains; and Palm Springs and Joshua Tree in the desert, but there are still many places yet to see. Southern California is a region with beaches, mountains, and deserts all close enough to experience in a day or a weekend. I keep saying I want to visit one of the famous Mission of Southern California, but I’ve yet to do it, so now is my chance.
We are in a pandemic, and if you are planning to travel during the pandemic, then I believe it is of utmost importance to respect the health and safety of others, especially if traveling for recreational reasons. Though I personally choose to avoid places where people gather in large numbers, even with the pandemic restrictions I think it is still possible to travel to areas near you while abiding by requirements to keep yourself and those you encounter safe. The best way to get the economy to bounce back is to support local businesses while taking precautions against spreading the COVID-19 virus.
While the best way to help our economy and support business owners during the pandemic is by purchasing their food, services and products, we won’t be doing the economy any favors if the Coronavirus cases surge and people are forced to stay home again so hospitals can keep pace. As the restrictions ease, please remember that they are not gone and we still must take precautions while out in public or traveling during the pandemic. Just because the directive to wear a mask has been reduced form “required” to “recommended” in certain regions, and the ability to dine out or shop has been restored, that doesn’t mean that we can throw all precautions to the wind. This has been proven in Florida, Texas, Arizona, as well as my home state, where there has been an upsurge in cases after people ignored the recommendations to avoid large gatherings and to wear masks in public as businesses opened up. These states saw many people frequenting bars and restaurants with little heed to social distancing measures put in place and walking in public places among crowds with no masks. It doesn’t take very much effort to wear a mask, observe social distancing efforts, and be tolerant of the safety measures put in place by restaurants and stores until more is understood about COVID-19 and vaccines are available.
If your wanderlust has not waned during isolation, and you are itching to get out and explore again as restrictions ease then it’s time to start planning for how to travel in this new “normal” that will be with us for the foreseeable future. Here are my tips on how to satisfy the wanderer in you while staying healthy and respecting the people and places you encounter.
Tips to Keep Yourself and Others Safe While Traveling During the Pandemic
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First and foremost, wear a mask when out in public, including while traveling during the pandemic.
Wearing a mask is a precaution that protects not only you but also those you encounter. You may not have symptoms or be sick, but the people you encounter have no way of knowing with any certainty that you’re not a carrier of the virus based on your own word or judgment. Wearing a mask is an easy way to take precautions in case you are a carrier, and to provide a level of comfort to those you encounter. There are many options to choose from for masks now, including boxes of disposable masks that can be carried in your car or a bag, reusable masks with filters, and even fashionable masks. Take the time to find a mask that is comfortable for you.
Choose a destination that is near enough to drive.
So many of us spend our time focusing on fantastic vacations in exotic locations that we forget all there is to see near to where we live. Though many countries and states are restricting entry for recreational travel during the pandemic, you can still explore the regions near your home. You will likely be surprised at all there is right outside your door that will make for fabulous travel during the pandemic. Explore a state park or national reserve. Bike or hike trails to get closer to nature. Visit a historical monument to learn more about the past of your region. Take a drive through the countryside, into the mountains, along a river, by the beach, into the desert – whatever is near you – and really look at the landscape that surrounds you as though seeing it for the first time.
There are lots of Travel Guides for scenic drives and things to see in every state, so choose one for your region and start working your way through the list. If you used to love camping but haven’t done it for a while, or want to experience it for the first time, now is a great time to give it a try and get back to nature. State and National Parks provide fantastic camping opportunities with lots of space for social distancing and vast amounts of nature to explore.
Enjoy the culinary delights of the region and order your food to go.
You can still experience the culinary delights of the towns and cities you visit while traveling during this pandemic, even if now is not the time to enjoy the ambiance of the establishments. Support the small restaurants and locally owned businesses by ordering your food to go and finding a park, deserted stretch of beach, or any other place with a view to have a relaxing picnic.
For those of you who worry about the wastefulness of all those plastic utensils from restaurants, there are many great options for eco-friendly travel utensil sets that you can keep in your car, backpack, travel bag or handbag. Just don’t forget to inform the restaurant that you do not need plastic utensils and to please not include them.
If staying overnight, look for accommodations that are taking extra precautions for guest safety during this time.
Hotels, motels, inns, bed and breakfasts, VRBO’s, and Airbnb have procedures and measures in place to sanitize guest quarters between visitors. Some facilities even allow time to air out rooms after sanitizing for two or three days before the next guest arrives. A quick search as you are choosing your accommodations will tell you exactly the steps used to sanitize and keep guests safe before you book your stay. And don’t be afraid to stray away from the big franchise hotel chains and choose an independently owned hotel or boutique motel. They are in need of your business and are taking all precautions necessary to keep their guests safe.
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You can still explore the shops and boutiques, but be mindful of the rules of the store.
Please wear a mask (as required in California at the time of this writing) and abide by the restrictions outlined by each establishment to keep shoppers and staff safe while you are traveling during the pandemic, or any time you are out in public. Avoiding crowds and larger gatherings of people may be easier in smaller towns or the eclectic retail clusters found in residential areas of larger cities. Be respectful of the guidelines advertised by the shop owners. If they limit the number of guests in an establishment at any one time, please wait patiently in the designated area for your turn to enter and shop. Be patient and provide space to other shoppers. Above all, please abide by any instructions or requests from clerks, realizing they are trying to provide a service while abiding by regulations placed on them in many cases. We are all trying to navigate this very strange time together, and things are changing from day to day so everyone’s patience and tolerance is needed to make the experience as enjoyable as possible for all.
When visiting area attractions, respect the rules and capacity limits.
If you decide to visit the monuments, hiking trails, museums, missions, historical sites or other attractions in your area, please respect the limitations put in place to protect visitors during this time. Check the website of the attraction to learn what the restrictions are and whether or not reservations are required. If the venue is “first come, first served” then plan to arrive early with fingers crossed and the awareness that you may not get in. If the parking lot is reduced in size to limit the number of visitors at any one time, this doesn’t mean you can park on the road and enter anyway – try another time or another day. The limited parking is to keep the venue at an allowable capacity for everyone’s safety.
Be flexible in your itinerary and have back-up plans.
Flexibility is key to enjoying travel during the pandemic. If you create your itinerary fully aware that things may not go as planned and have a back-up plan, then you won’t be as disappointed when schedules and destinations have to be changed at last minute. Go into your travels with a mindset that it will be great if you get to tour that historical monument or hike that trail, but it will be just as great if you have to make impromptu plans and explore someplace completely unexpected. Sometimes the unplanned events end up being the most memorable and best experiences.
Years ago, while traveling in Wales, my original plans to get to Hay-on-Wye got derailed and I found myself unexpectedly exploring the countryside around Llandrindod Wells instead. This impromptu itinerary change led to one of the most memorable destinations in all my travels, and the little Welsh town is still a favorite of mine to this day. I felt like I discovered a hidden treasure and every turn brought something else new, unexpected, and utterly delightful. Had I wallowed in what I was missing instead of being flexible in my options, I would have missed this fantastic experience.
Happy and safe travels!
We all need to make some adjustments in our daily lives and our travels, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still get out and explore. There are so many wonderful things to see in every region of the country, including yours, wherever you are. Stay tuned for more posts about the hidden treasures in Southern California as I get out and learn more about my own backyard in the months to come.