Social distancing norms and lingering anxiety about venturing far from home are forging new trip styles and reviving old ones that enable travelers to maintain their privacy.
Travelers “are going to be ecstatic to be free, but reticent and nervous going forward, almost as if they don't quite trust being outside their safe space,” says Kathy Pickerell, a 27-year veteran travel adviser and the owner of World Travels in Denham Springs, Louisiana. “I look for travelers to want to stay closer to home, or to take trips that are within their comfort zone, as opposed to going for the big, exotic trips.”
Many bucket-list destinations may be on hold, but your regional beach or state park may have renewed appeal. Meanwhile, industry innovators are sanitizing everything from jets to buses in order to entice travelers to give them a spin.
Here are five ways to take a social distancing trip, which is sure to be a popular new trend.
For travelers seeking control, road trips have new appeal as affordable, accessible and flexible. With your car, or even a rental, you can seal yourself and companions off from other travelers and determine your travel pace. For ideas of where to go, AAA has mapped out more than 500 road trips in the U.S. and Canada, at aaa.com/roadtrips.
Motorists still need to be mindful of social distancing during stops. In some cases, authorities may change access to roads or facilities. Along the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina, one of the most popular national parks in the system, drivers are discouraged from stopping at crowded overlooks and trails, and are encouraged to explore the park's less-traveled areas.
Driving in rural areas offers the glory of passing panoramas but requires planning for basic needs, including bringing your own food and sanitary supplies. Additionally, some parks, such as Custer State Park in South Dakota's Black Hills, may be open but have shuttered restroom facilities. (Always check a park's website in advance.)
Rental homes epitomize privacy — you have the whole place to yourself — and the more remote they are, the less likely it is that you'll run into the neighbors.
Remote rentals are trending at Vacasa, which manages 26,000 rental properties globally. Homes in Hilton Head, South Carolina, and Panama City Beach, Florida, remain popular, but the service is seeing a higher ratio of bookings in off-the-beaten-path places. Two sleepers getting more attention: Presque Isle, Wisconsin, on the northern border with Michigan, where a two-bedroom lakefront cabin starts at $90 per night; and Sautee Nacoochee in the Appalachian foothills of northern Georgia, where a knotty-pine-paneled cabin in the woods starts at $125 nightly.
"As restrictions are lifted, we think there will be a big spike in drive-to destinations as travelers seek to connect with family and friends,” says Vacasa CEO Matt Roberts. New bookings indicate the appeal of sharing homes with loved ones; in April, 55 percent of future reservations were for homes with three or more bedrooms, compared with 40 percent overall in 2019.
The best of all possible social distancing worlds from a travel perspective might be taking a trip designed just for you and yours. Many high-end travel companies, such as Abercrombie & Kent, already offer private journeys. But in the aftermath of COVID-19, expect travel companies across the price spectrum to look at taking their offerings private.
Among early adopters, Roadies plans to offer its high-end buses — think of the kind of luxury buses used by traveling rock stars — to private groups for custom tours, such as skiing a series of resorts in the Rocky Mountains, golfing a collection of PGA courses or taking a private wine tour with a dedicated sommelier. The company is still in the throes of settling the details but expects trips to cost $4,000 to $5,000 per person for 10 people for a week.
"We can literally drive the coach up to the driveway of our guests’ home,” says Mark Wills, Roadies co-owner. “The road trips will be round trips, starting and finishing in the same location, therefore removing a need to fly for those still not comfortable with that."
When the pandemic spread across the nation and travelers scrambled to get home ahead of closing borders and shelter-in-place orders, private jet companies saw demand surge. Now, as airlines scramble to ensure their planes are hyper-clean and require passengers to wear masks, private charter companies are positioning themselves as hygienic alternatives.
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"Private jets provide the security of not exposing you to groups of people as you walk through TSA and airport terminals,” says Ron Silverman, the chief operating officer of XO, a private aviation company, where basic membership costs $595 a year and allows access to seats on charter flights or to entire charter planes (flight fees additional).
Pricing of private flights depends on distance and plane size. Some private companies have quoted charters at $6,000 per flight hour. On the affordable end, JSX offers short-haul flights from private jet terminals between Arizona, California, Nevada and Washington, starting at $89 each way. The company flies 30-seat planes but currently only offers 20 seats for sale in order to maintain social distancing.
State regulations about essential businesses and stay-at-home orders have kept many resorts closed for now. But when they reopen, those that naturally offer more space and privacy — regardless of a room’s square footage — will look more attractive.
“We’re offering a safer alternative: your own private cabin, fresh air in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and social distancing based on cabin spacing,” says Jamie Mackay, owner of Fireside Resort near Grand Teton National Park, which rents tiny homes with their own firepits (from $150).
To duck the crowds, look for dispersed resorts — cabin compounds, camps or retreats cutting back on their occupancy — offering rooms that are naturally spread out. Wild Rice Retreat in Bayfield, Wisconsin, opens with a few homes this fall, and by next summer will host 19 homes and treehouses on 114 acres on the Lake Superior shore (from $252). Rates will include yoga and classes in the creative arts, such as photography and jewelry-making.