Get away from it all. Hit the hiking trail. Take a road trip. Go ice fishing. Vacation is our annual, bi-annual, monthly reset switch. When the stress of work and home drowns us in laundry, paperwork, bills, lawncare, and myriad other responsibilities, we treat ourselves to a holiday abroad or some fresh air at our favorite campsite. COVID-19 has led to national quarantines all over the world. That’s made it pretty hard to pack up the old station wagon and hit the open road. Whether you can travel at all for your vacation will depend on your state and country, and the destination state or country. In some places, simply stepping outside your front door for more than a walk and a grocery run is still (or once again) against the rules, so you may just need to hunker down. How you want to get anywhere may also be an issue with restrictions on public transit, aviation, and boat travel.
Your vacation days are sanity and serenity in the modern-day maelstrom. Many workers across the country grow concerned they may be forfeit during these unusual circumstances. You don’t have to lose them, but you do have to use them, and we know how you can do so safely. Throw on the parka of knowledge. Don the mittens of caution. Pack the minivan of security. Look to the horizon, where peace awaits.
Self-Isolating the Holidays Away
You’re thinking, “I’ve been quarantine-ing for months – I need to quarantine from quarantine!” We feel you. It can be frustrating being stuck at home this long, limiting ventures into town, especially if your state or country has to close back up. Doubly so during the winter months, if you’re in the Northern hemisphere right now. But there’s no reason you can’t enjoy the snow and ice while sticking to the CDC and local guidelines. Many states are encouraging their citizens to stay active and get fresh air when appropriate. Vaccinated individuals, and those who’ve gotten their boosters, can usually socialize outside safely.
Going for a walk on while maintaining six feet between others is encouraged. If you have a backyard, even a small one, you can get some exercise clearing snow and ice, make a bonfire to warm up, or plan your workouts around the sunshine. Little critters wearing out the carpet with stampedes and footraces can take their playtime outside. Consider taking some blankets out and firing up the grill for a mid-winter cookout! The kids will love it, and you will too.
Short on outdoor space? It’s difficult to make a staycation feel like a vacation. Usually the term refers to getting a hotel room and exploring your own city, but how do you make your home the subject of its own exploration? The first step is to mimic the same boundaries from your work routine you would when flying to California or cruising to Alaska – ensure your office is running on a reliable file management system, set up an out-of-office message, stow away your laptop, and turn your phone on silent. Sleep in. Make yourself some breakfast if you normally skip it. Go to bed at odd hours. A change in routine and separation from office work will do you a world of good. It will make your house feel like a lakeside cabin. Well…maybe not quite, but it will be a nice change of pace.
Make your quarantine vacation days special. If you normally brownbag it, order lunch from a fancy restaurant. Read up on some complicated recipes and cook your significant other a lavish meal. This is the perfect time to dive into a new hobby, like learning an instrument, practicing a craft, or picking up a new language, devoting some time for it each day. Set up a virtual movie marathon with your friends, like the Marvel movies or the Godfather trilogy. Maybe order a few modern board games from Target to try with your family or housemates. You don’t have to just do the same old things you always do. In fact, you shouldn’t. A vacation that breaks the mold will feel different from your daily life, a little escape while you’re stuck at home.
All countries are flattening the curve on different schedules. All states re-opening re-closing at different rates. Your local authorities have guidelines about quarantine, business establishments, socializing, essential work. We recommend checking out the guidelines, not just once but every so often, before deciding to throw the party of the century. It could be that your state recommends gatherings of less than 100 vaccinated attendees, or gatherings of any number if everyone is masked. Could be that the numbers are unique so long as everyone from different households maintains the 6 foot rule.
The golden rule is erring on the side of caution. When planning a meetup, don’t be afraid to be thorough in your friendly interrogations: “Have you been vaccinated? Did you get the booster? Have you been tested recently!” If you feel like an old detective two days away from retirement questioning some punk kid, then you’re probably doing it right. Seriously, though. Not everyone is forthcoming about their pandemic experience, so you have to ask straightforward questions and demand some straightforward answers.
Gathering out of doors: good. Gathering at a convention: …eh? That’s still tricky. Right now, people are clamoring for some major human contact and comradery. This can form a breeding ground for viral spread. Once again, we recommend turning to your state and federal authorities for guidance. But generally, meeting outside while still maintaining some space is key. Masks/No-masks is another question for your Governor. We defer to them. Keep the numbers low. Even if your municipality or state is allowing larger groups of vaccinated folks, don’t rush in headfirst. Be patient. Take it slow. Test the water. Keep an ear out for changes in these rules. If your state has to walk back opening procedures, you’ll be glad you didn’t treat them recklessly.
But once you’re ready for a play date or a family get-together, there are plenty of possibilities without having to ask over everyone in the neighborhood. Plan a beach day or a hang at the local park. Summer may be over, but your vaycay celebration is just getting started! Ask your friend or folks to bring their favorite meat and veggies for barbecue on the grill. Raise the badminton net. Uncover the pool for ice skating. Depending on where you’re at, you can fit tons of fun into an outside shindig. Just remember – the neighbors are probably stuck at home as well, so try not to disturb them. Or make them too jealous. They can be the recipients of your hospitality next time.
Travelog in the Time of Coronavirus
Most tourists explore shops along the boardwalk, treasure hunting for bargain souvenirs, sampling the local culinary delights. If you’re the type who prefers the thrill of a morning jog and the night life of a solitary campsite, now is your time to shine. Not only is the reduction in traffic also reducing carbon emissions, but social distancing is giving people new reasons to explore their natural world. Many state and national reserves are opening up or already encouraging visitors. You will be safer (and keeping everyone else safer) vacationing there than Club Med. Campsites are starting to reopen, a perfect setup for the six foot rule. The open air greatly reduces the spread of disease. The wide range of places to visit, lakes to skate or ice fish on, and trails to hike in a national park also keeps visitors clear of one another. This is not an invitation to throw all caution to the wind however. You should wear masks in any campsite restrooms or while renting watercraft or getting your fishing license. You should keep your campsite clean and wipe down any public surfaces. Don’t visit any parks that are off limits (they’re shut for a reason). Still, small effort for the rewards of a weekend or two out in nature and nights spent sleeping under the starry canopy.
Even if you’re travelling in-state, you should take the necessary precautions. If you can, get tested and get your results before leaving for your trip. Keep up with the location’s quarantine parameters before travelling and during the trip. Wipe down doorknobs and shared spaces in hotel rooms. Wear a mask when talking with staff at a restaurant on the way or at your destination. Seek out low traffic parts of the city or countryside you’re visiting, like riverwalks and boulevards closed off for foot traffic. As tempted as you will be to make best friends with the vacationing older couple (or younger couple if you’re the older folks) everyone inevitably meets on their travels, avoid this at all costs – the elderly are at greater risk! Stick to your group, steer clear of hands-on activities at museums, and always follow regional safety rules.
Travelling abroad is a whole other can of worms. Extremely limited at this point in the US, the number of countries allowing outgoing/incoming passengers is patchwork across the globe. We do not recommend international travel if you can help it unless the place you’re leaving and the place you’re entering both have gold stars for vaccination rate – at that, only if their local health and safety authorities recommend it.
Of course, some borders are closed completely unless you’re a resident, and even then you need to agree to the personal quarantine. This can quickly turn a spectacular summer vacation plan into a staycation in another country (see the first section of our article). Afraid this would be a waste of vacation days? You’re absolutely right. Luckily, there are many alternatives to that tour of Tokyo or jog through the Louvre. And avoiding distant travel right now is hands down for the best.
Do Your Part
Don’t let cabin fever drive you to drastic action, like spending your savings on a chartered flight to a remote island just to avoid wearing a mask. Wear the mask. Maintain social distancing. If you do your part to keep your vacation safe for others, next winter’s vacation will be all the sweeter for everyone.
A version of this article was originally published for the summer months as Using Vacation Days Safely During COVID-19 Quarantine on July 16th, 2020.