Lessons learned as unusual holiday season approaches

Our Scotty trailer, and spouse Susan, at Wright’s Beach just north of Bodega Bay. (Photo: Courtesy of Tim Viall)

Our world changed almost nine months ago, as the COVID-19 pandemic reality settled on the United States and the world. Since, we’ve had months of mostly sheltering at home and plenty of time to address our latent wanderlust. With rising cases in 49 of 50 states in the last week — and the holidays and flu season coming upon us — we have even more reason to worry.

If you are a local, regional, U.S. or world traveler, you’ve had plenty of time to think about what you might’ve done in these past nine months, and what you may do if and when the world reaches a point of something near normalcy. Sadly, that may take a year, or even longer. Despite the promise of several vaccines coming online in the next several months, it will be months longer before the vaccine is widely available to U.S. citizens — even after a large percentage of the U.S. is vaccinated, we will still have the virus to deal with.

Hence, a few travel-related thoughts as we approach the abnormal coming holidays.

COVID-19 travel restrictions by state:What you need to know before you travel

Bull moose and two more in a pond near a Breckenridge, Colo., hotel. (Photo: Courtesy of Tim Viall)

Here are lessons learned from carefully planned travel locally, and somewhat regionally, over the past four months. Those travels included a weeklong trip to Breckenridge, Colorado, and a partial week at Snowbird, Utah, on the return (we shortened the Utah visit by four days when we realized both the resort, and guests at the resort, were not particularly careful with pandemic precautions). More recently, a three-day trip to San Diego at The Dana, a three-day trip with our little Scotty travel trailer to Lassen Volcanic National Park and another three-day trip to California’s north coast from Bodega Bay to Mendocino allowed us to practice safe traveling, out of the area.

For travel in pandemic times, keep these suggestions in mind:

If by personal auto, gas up in advance; stop early for fill ups (If we found a gas station, as we did in Utah, where patrons were not practicing masking up, pull away and move on. Don’t go inside, don’t use their facilities. Same with that infrequent stop at grocery stores, or restaurants not offering outdoor dining with well-spaced tables and service staff using full precautions. We’ve almost totally eliminated any stops to shop for non-necessities, figuring those can wait for a safer day.

‘Adapted overnight’: How travel influencers’ worlds were changed by COVID-19 pandemic

Manzanita Lake, where we camped, with Mount Lassen in the distance. (Photo: Courtesy of Tim Viall)

More: On the Road: Careful planning, sticking to travel guidelines can help you take advantage of huge discounts

More: Lassen Volcanic National Park in the age of pandemics

Personal precautions: We attempt to follow Centers for Disease Control recommendations, and then some. We travel with a good supply of quality face masks, latex gloves and hand sanitizer, and avoid crowded situations. The few times we have dined out, it has been at outdoor restaurants where tables were at least six feet apart, with staff who take masks and the pandemic seriously.

On road trips, we take our own snacks and drinks and a variety of foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner that we can prepare ourselves. Already owning two small travel trailers, we have realized that this is one of the safest ways to travel, where a gas station stop to fill our tank is about the closest human contact required.

Deals on hotels and resorts are a’plenty: Kayak, Travelocity, Priceline.com,  Booking.com, Airbnb and VRBO are offering sweet deals on hotels/motels and private rooms or homes, tied to American’s concerns about travel. Travel Zoo and Travels with Alan offer frequent discount packages, often including a three day resort stay, and nearby entertainment, packaged together. Travels with Alan offers tremendous cruise deals, though those are mainly off the table until the worst of the pandemic passes.

For any “deal,” read the fine print: Travel Zoo offered a lovely deal on The Dana Hotel on San Diego’s Mission Bay, but the fine print added a $36 daily resort fee, $25 parking fee and gave us a unit with no bay view; the deal wasn’t as sweet as it first appeared. Another favorite, the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, has always offered sweet deals on Sunday through Thursday rooms, but tacked on $29 daily resort fee. Now they’re advertising “no resort fee,” but you’ll find those sweet room deals have been jacked up by about $30 to compensate. And, study the host’s website carefully to see how serious the facility and its staff are as to COVID-19.

When traveling by auto, book that hotel/motel the afternoon you plan to arrive. Using Booking.com or Priceline.com will usually net you a very nice motel room at more than half off, if you wait till the last minute to book. And, with travel reduced, you’ll seldom ever find a hotel/motel booked out. We also pick older motels/hotels, with max of two stories, realizing we don’t need an elevator to get to a second-floor room.

Airlines: The same travel sites offer great airfare deals, but until much of the U.S. is widely vaccinated, despite studies and the airlines claiming that air on planes is well-filtered and safe, we are doing no airfare travel. We took our Hawaii timeshare and deposited it in Interval international, figuring we did not have to fly for a year or longer. And we used Interval international’s “Get Away specials” to book the weeks in Breckenridge, and in Snowbird, for less than $400 each, in first-class hotels.

Michael David Winery, off Highway 12 in Lodi, offers a lovely lunch on a short day trip. (Photo: Courtesy of Tim Viall)

Practice safe travel precautions with day trips to local special places, such as the Cosumnes River Preserve north of Thornton, Stockton’s Deep Water Channel and a walk along the waterfront on the Joan Darrah Promenade, or a hike along the Stanislaus River in Caswell Memorial Park just south of Ripon. Other nearby one-day destinations include treks to places like Lodi/Woodbridge or the Shenandoah Valley near Plymouth, for wine tasting, Gold Rush cities like Jamestown, Sonora and Columbia along Highway 49, or exploring the San Joaquin/Sacramento River Delta. To be safe, check with the destination county, as to the degree of “openness” allowed for visitors.

Use these quiet times to plan safe, nearby travel and do your homework and preparation long before you depart.

Is it safe to travel for the holidays?This COVID-19 risk assessment map can help you decide

Contact Tim Viall at [email protected], follow him at recordnet.com/travelblog. Stay, and travel, safe!


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