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Planning a socially-distanced summer vacation

The urge to travel is still burning in a lot of us – here are a few options on how to engage in safe social distance traveling


Resident travel writer Stephanie Zito is still itching to travel. So, she’s compiled a few options on how to safely travel this summer. Here’s how you can do the same.

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Summer is upon us, and the only thing burning brighter than the sun is my urge to travel.

With all 50 states in some phase of re-opening, and most of America’s population itching to get out of their houses, it’s no surprise that re-inventing summer vacation is top mind for many of us.

According to a weekly survey by Destination Analysts, which measured how people feel about travel in the times of Coronavirus, 46.1% of Americans reported in June that they are excited to get away for at least one weekend in the next month. Longer-term, 7 in 10 people believe they’ll be ready to take a trip before the end of 2020.

While you most likely won’t be taking the summer vacation you had dreamed up on your 2020 vision board, summer doesn’t have to be cancelled.

Take a moment to mourn the epic trips you’ve had to cancel – like my plans to summit Mt. Fuji – and the big events that won’t take place (like my best friend’s wedding in D.C.), but don’t waste too much time on tears. Adventure is still ahead of us, friends, and there are plenty of things you can do for a safe and socially-distanced summer vacation.

Here’s what I’m thinking about summer plans, and of course, covering costs with my credit card rewards everywhere I can.

See related: Prepping your post-pandemic rewards travel strategy

Transportation: To fly or not to fly

Even though domestic flights are opening up and the numbers of people returning to the skies increases from week to week, many summer vacationers are making the choice to hit the road.

According to Destination Analysts, 44% of Americans are planning to replace air travel with car travel this summer season.

While I’m tempted to get on an airplane after being grounded for 101 days (Who’s counting?), I’ve decided to stick close to home in the Pacific Northwest and focus on trips that include transportation that I can control (and operate myself): cars, boats, and maybe even a little RV or #vanlife.

Road trip!

This summer is a fabulous time to take advantage of low gas prices to road trip. If you don’t have your own car – or just want to road trip in a nicer or more spacious car than what you currently drive – take advantage of deals from car rental companies.

Rewards travelers can book a rental through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal and pay with points. If you’re just looking for a great cash deal, AutoSlash is still my favorite car rental search tool.

If you need a little more space than a regular rental and take added comfort in traveling with your own bed, renting an RV or an all-in-one adventure van is another great option.

RVShare and Outdoorsy are two great sharing-economy options for every size vehicle – from a pull-trailer you hitch to your own ride to class B vans and full-size RVs.

Boating bliss

During spring quarantine, I discovered that boats may be the most fun vehicle for socially-distanced travel. Cruises are canceled, but the water isn’t.

If you’ve got a captain in the family with the skills to hit the water for an overnight trip, you’re basically guaranteed a good time and more than six feet of space from strangers.

If you don’t have your own boat, there’s a sharing service for that too. Get My Boat offers kayaks, yachts and everything in between.


When you decide you are ready to safely return to the sky, do due diligence when purchasing tickets. Terms and conditions for at-will cancellations still vary widely across airlines, and flights booked with points can have different rules than those booked with cash. Know your options in case circumstances change.

Destinations: Where to go

Staycations, regional getaways and day trips within driving distance are the trending travel destinations this summer.

While some of us get excited about the prospect of exploring places we’ve never taken the time to visit closer to home, 60% of us will seek safety in familiarity – taking their next trip to a destination they’ve visited previously.

When picking a destination where you can maintain distance, think wide open spaces and consider longer stays in one location: national parks and forests, state parks, county recreation areas, beaches, lake houses and mountain escapes.

I’m personally planning to keep my early summer road trips within a radius of 500 miles so I’m never more than a day-drive home if I need to be flexible. Circumstances change fast and fleeing a foreign city during coronavirus once was enough for me. Use this Big Radius tool to map how far 500 miles will get you in every direction.

According to Travel Oregon, some tips to consider when venturing across your state include:

  • Have patience with businesses as they are also getting used to the “new normal.”
  • Be aware of county-specific guidelines, closures and regulations.
  • Be flexible. If there’s a crowd at a place you want to visit, have a plan B.
  • Employ social distancing and try to stay six feet away from other groups.

“We’re all excited that we have the opportunity to slowly begin traveling again, but it’s important to be thoughtful so the state can continue to move forward through the reopening process,” Allison Keeney of Travel Oregon explained. “Plan ahead, be patient and flexible.”

Also, remember that even though a place is ‘reopened,’ every part of it might not be ready for visitors. Recreate responsibly and recognize where an influx of road-trippers might put a small town with limited medical facilities and resources at risk.

Accommodation: Where to safely sleep

Deciding where you’ll sleep at night might be a little more challenging than it was on last summer’s road trip.

If you have your bed on your wheels or your tent packed in your car, you’ll need to know what campgrounds and RV parks are open – otherwise you’ll need reservations at a hotel or vacation home whose sanitation standards meet your personal level of comfort.

For tent campers and RVs, many public campgrounds have begun to open, with many operating at reduced capacity and requiring reservations.

Private camping options in RV parks, private campgrounds and on private property abound. Check The Dyrt for user reviews and bookings of what’s open state by state (pubic and private), and Hip Camp for private-land alternatives.

If you need actual accommodations, Airbnb and comparable home-sharing sites offer plenty of options that are socially distant by default – like lakeside cabins, beachfront houses and mountain getaways.

At an Airbnb, expect hosts to disinfect with enhanced cleaning protocols, or to book with a buffer of 72 hours between guests.

If a traditional hotel feels more comfortable for you, many budget chains found in smaller roadside towns are part of big property groups and are accountable to cooperate sanitation standards. Never be afraid to ask about protocols in advance – and remember that you can also book these with your points!

Final thoughts

While the world is still in uncharted territory, it’s natural to want some semblance of normalcy. If you choose to vacation this summer, be mindful of where you go and how you do it. Wash your hands, pack some Clorox wipes and stay safe wherever you go.

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The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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