"We are only going to be gone for four days," my husband stacked the last bit of luggage into the back of the SUV like a strategic game of Tetris. Golf bags under suitcases, on top of pillows, next to backpacks. The third row flat allowed for more space, and as is the case with most things in life, we fill what is empty.
"What if the rental home doesn't have what we need?" I firmly flattened the extra towels, pillows, and sheets folded neatly into a laundry bushel.
"Don't you think the rental companies will take the appropriate precautions?"
He is an optimist.
I am a planner.
I research and prepare -although never a Girl Scout (I distinctly remember calling my mother for instant retrieval the second day of Brownies when they handed out popsicle sticks and glue). I am optimistic; when my ducks are in a row, or in this case when all the luggage fits.
I packed like we would be gone for a month. Sweatpants rolled next to the hand sanitizer while shorts tucked in with the disinfectant wipes. Hoodies sidled up to the stack of masks and gaiters and sunscreen. It was all in there, staring back at me from the back of the truck, daring me to shut the door, plug in the destination, and drive out of my comfort zone.
Traveling allows us to experience different landscapes, to relish adventures off the grid from our everyday lives. Traveling during a pandemic spins the familiar goals of escape and experience into ones of comfort and convenience.
On our last vacation, we stood in a crowded line at the airport, roped off like cattle, shoulder to shoulder, waiting in the security line where our biggest fear was setting off the alarm and speedily tying our shoes. Now, being within six feet of someone can be a health risk. Now, we eye our fellow travelers and wonder where they are visiting from, not out of curiosity, or to strike up a conversation, but because we can look up their city's risk level. When the world shut down and the option of traveling was taken away, the quest to go on a journey became all the greater. Like being on a diet that restricts cookies, that double-stuffed, chocolate covered Oreo suddenly becomes an all-consuming thought. Take away our mobility for a few months, and once the state regulations loosen, we mask-up and make reservations.
Where to travel?
Now, more than ever, research before travel is crucial. Looking up state guidelines for COVID restrictions and rules will guarantee little surprises during a vacation. Our goal was to travel to an area comparable or with a lesser infectious rate than our hometown. In the same vein, we opted for a road trip vs. air travel. Many states have mandatory negative COVID tests upon registration at hotels/resorts. The three-day window required for these tests is not an easy task given the uncertainty of testing result timelines. I researched several resort areas that needed a signature of compliance by visitors from specific states to ensure guest safety.
A few resorts up North I looked into:
Although the research process left me with more frustrations and roadblocks, I do not fault the states for mandating procedures to limit the spread of COVID19. Daily searches of positive cases, hospitalizations, and graph trends led to the final destination of a small town in North Carolina, the golf capital of the South, Pinehurst. Detailed research provided information on dining, state mask ordinances, and recreation/activity guidelines.
Hotel or Rental: In this case, we opted for a VRBO. I messaged with the owner (Property # 4201889ha - located on the 10th hole of Pinehurst #3) several times, and he couldn't have been more accommodating or gracious. He assured me that strict cleaning protocols were in place, and I have to say that even though I brought my disinfectant wipes, the rental was sanitized and ready for us after our 9-hour drive. The rental allowed minimal contact with others - no communal places, lobbies, front desks, and dining rooms. We isolated ourselves much like at home, doing much the same things we do at home, only in a different location, with a new view.
Communication: Inquire about cancellations and refunds. Insurance on that rental or flight may seem exorbitant, but is it more significant than a total loss if the trip is canceled? Calling, texting, and even a few Instagram direct messages provided more information on specific businesses. I discovered which local restaurants offered carry-out, outside dining options; I even made a reservation through a DM guaranteeing one of their five outdoor tables for dinner. Finally, because this vacation was intended as strict R&R, golfing, and pickleball (don't knock it till you try it!) I contacted several clubs for a tee time and court availability - this not only allowed for guaranteed reservations but in the "Southern" way, everyone I spoke to generously offered information regarding how busy the town is and how dedicated their staff/locals are about health & safety. Bottom line: resort towns need visitors. Restaurants and stores need patrons. Ask the questions you really want to know. Do people wear masks? What is the policy of the resort/club/area regarding masks and social distancing? What is your number of cases, and has the spread increased or decreased? The answers met my criteria, so I proceeded as planned.
Is the reward greater than the risk?
Dickens said, "every traveler has a home of his own, and he learns to appreciate it the more from his wandering."
After a packed-itinerary of ten days abroad was canceled in the spring, the itch to travel swelled into a sore that festered through the summer months. We were busy within our state of isolation. Together in our separateness, we maintained a distance from friends and relatives, we gardened and organized; we painted the confines of our stale walls. We longed to view something else, to see beyond the garden gate. Travel has always offered an opportunity for adventure. We are more daring on locale. We wear bright floral clothes that give us the appearance of a tufted ottoman. We drink exotic concoctions with swizzle sticks and eat to diet another day. We play more golf than our joints can handle. We promise to act more like "this" when we are home and make our "home" a respite. On vacation, we take the seriousness out of life, and we live.
The moon is still high at 6am as we throw the last of the luggage into the back of the SUV like blocks of Jenga, precariously teetering on the edge of tumbling with one sharp turn on Route 77. The clubs under the duffle bag rest in exhaustion from sandy rounds of 36 holes. Pillows lay next to the bag with sandwiches and drinks. We are refreshed and ready to return.
"Did you have fun?" I plug our destination into the map.
"It was perfect. Just what we needed."
"Yes," I paused, " But I can't wait to get home."
Love and Luck,
* To note: state regulations are changing daily.*
Find out more about Pinehurst here