Updated: Aug 31
The purpose of this article is not to encourage you to travel during a pandemic, but rather to give you some tips and best practices if you do decide to. I know we are all going stir crazy having been stuck in our homes for the past five months, and a vacation sounds amazing, but we still need to make sure we are prioritizing our health and safety.
During the last weekend of July, my boyfriend, Casey, and I went to South Lake Tahoe to celebrate our one year anniversary. It was a beautiful couple of days and much needed time away from our not so spacious apartment in Berkeley.
I was pretty anxious about getting sick. Fortunately, we came back safe and healthy, and I want to share with you what we did to protect ourselves, while still having lots of fun!
Only Travel with the People You’re Living With
We have been sheltering in place together all summer, and went on this vacation alone. While seeing other friends or family members is tempting, it is best to just travel with the people you are already living with. That way, you won’t risk exposing yourself to others, and if you do get sick, you won’t be putting your loved ones at risk either.
Take a Road Trip
Driving is probably the safest form of transportation to take right now if you want to get away. You are in your car only with the people in your household, not near anyone else like you would be on an airplane, train or bus. Driving is also a relatively cost effective mode of transportation, with a tank of gas or two costing significantly less than an airplane ticket.
Plus, if you’re going somewhere idyllic (like Lake Tahoe), the scenic drive is part of the fun! It is about three and a half hours from Berkeley to Lake Tahoe, and the last hour of our drive was absolutely beautiful. Driving on the winding roads through the mountains covered in endless forests was a highlight of our trip and we hadn’t even arrived yet.
Stay in an Airbnb
While staying in a hotel or resort is usually more desired when going on vacation, you have to remember that there are a lot of people at these places. Even if you have a room to yourself and your household members, you are still passing by other people in the hallways and lobbies. Not to mention, many amenities at hotels are currently shut down, including pools, to help maintain social distancing, so you wouldn’t even get the full experience.
In an Airbnb, you can stay all by yourself in someone’s home or apartment, and not worry about interacting with other people. For the most part, you are only there to sleep anyway, so while it might not be as luxurious as other options, it has everything you need. To me, Airbnb’s are a more authentic experience anyway, in any city, because you get to better immerse yourself in the local lifestyle!
Casey and I stayed in a small home in South Lake Tahoe. It was super adorable and cozy. It was closer to the beaches than many of the hotels anyway, and we had the place all to ourselves. It was also about one third of the price of staying in a hotel, too!
Get Tested for COVID-19 Before and After
We got tested the Wednesday before we left, as well as the Wednesday after we got back. It is important to get tested before you go, to make sure you won’t be infecting anyone where you’re going, as well as to ensure your own health. Then, you should get tested again once you return, just to make sure you didn’t catch it while you were gone.
Test results take about 2-5 days to get back, depending on where you get tested, so make sure to give yourself enough time to get the results before you go. However, you also have to be extra careful about not exposing yourself to the virus in between the time you take the test and when you get your results.
There were a decent amount of people in Lake Tahoe who were not wearing masks nor social distancing, which seems to be happening all over the country. This was mostly prominent at the beaches and near the lake itself (the more touristy spots), but it seems like people were more conscious on the hiking trails.
Even though Casey and I always wore our masks and kept our distance, especially from those not wearing face coverings, I was still worried we were going to catch the virus. Neither of us had symptoms when we got home, but I was a bit anxious anyway, which is also why I went to get tested again.
Luckily, all of our tests came back negative! By following these best practices we were able to stay healthy while still having tons of fun.
Do Research About Coronavirus Cases and Regulations
Before planning a trip, you should check to see how many coronavirus cases there are where you're going. If it is an area with rising cases or without strict safety regulations and mask enforcements, I would avoid it.
Alameda County, where Berkeley is, has about 12,000 cases so far. Not great, but definitely not as bad as some other areas in the state. Lake Tahoe is located in Placer County, which only has about 2,000 total cases, much less than here. Because of this, along with the significant safety measures Lake Tahoe has in place, we felt like it was a good destination to visit. (The California side of the lake was very safe, but the Nevada side had a lot less regulation and more indoor activities which we avoided.)
While there, we went up the Heavenly Mountain Gondola. Each car was thoroughly cleaned after each party’s use, and was limited to one family per car. On top of the mountain, we also rode the roller coaster, and each cart was disinfected after each rider. All of the lines we waited in had the 6ft measures on the ground to encourage people to keep their distance. Each ticket counter had plastic shields between us and the seller, and were wiped down after each customer. While these activities meant we were near more people, the measures taken made us feel safe and allowed us to fully enjoy our vacation.
Wear Masks and a Face Shield
Always always always wear a mask in public! You can buy masks, sew them yourself, or use items like bandanas or scarves. Just make sure you are covering both your mouth and your nose.
For extra protection, you can also wear a face shield on top. While you may get some weird looks, your health is more important than your appearance. Especially when others aren’t wearing masks, the face shield makes me feel more safe and comfortable.
Stick to Socially Distanced and Outdoor Activities
At somewhere as beautiful as Lake Tahoe, why would you even want to do anything indoors? From water sports to endless hikes and gorgeous views at every turn, we were really only indoors at night to sleep. Staying socially distanced outdoors is pretty easy, so if you do want to go away, try to go someplace where there is nice weather and lots of outdoor activities.
Be wary of popular touristy areas such as beaches or town centers, as even though they’re outdoors, they are pretty crowded and not everyone wears a mask. We opted for smaller beaches that are harder to get to and early morning hikes to avoid the crowds, and had an amazing time!
Be Careful with Outdoor Dining
I will admit, we have been to quite a few outdoor dining restaurants this summer, not just in Tahoe, but in Berkeley, as well. Most of the time I have felt pretty safe, but there were a couple restaurants that I would not have felt safe at.
If you are planning to do outdoor dining, make sure the tables are spaced far apart. Six feet is the minimum distance under the law, but I definitely appreciate when restaurants have tables closer to 10 feet apart. Especially because you do have to take your mask off to eat, six feet still feels a little too close for me.
Make sure the waiters and staff are wearing gloves and masks. Some restaurants even have their employees wear face shields, which also makes me feel more protected. I like to wear my mask anytime the waiter approaches the table, even if I’m in the middle of eating.
One thing I’ve also really liked is that many restaurants have been putting QR codes on the tables so you can scan them and read the menu on your phone, rather than having to touch a physical copy of one.
My last piece of advice about outdoor dining is to go during hours where restaurants aren’t as busy. Try right when they open and eat an early dinner, as it won’t be nearly as crowded. It’s also smart to make reservations, especially if it is a restaurant that fills up quickly, and many restaurants are by reservation only to ensure they don't get too full.
Master the Art of Self-Timed Photos
While this may sound silly, it's actually pretty useful. If you read my article about my Top Ten Travel Tips, you know that I love to take photos!
I took hundreds of photos throughout the weekend of our gorgeous hikes, the mesmerizing nature, and the lovely sunsets, but on our last day in Lake Tahoe, I realized we barely had any pictures together, just a couple of goofy selfies. I wanted at least one good picture of us with the lake in the background before we left.
Because of the pandemic, we didn’t want to get close enough to a stranger to ask them to take our picture, let alone hand them one of our phones. So, we had to improvise.
We found a tree with the trunk splitting in two, and we were able to wedge the phone in between. It took some fumbling and scratches from the wood to finally get it to stay in place at the perfect angle. We put the phone on self-timer mode and had 10 seconds to run down the hill to get in position. While we definitely put in some extra effort to get these pictures (thanks to Casey for bearing with me), I am very happy with the result!
Let me know if you found these tips helpful or if I missed any! Again, do you best to be safe and healthy. Tell me about your experiences traveling during corona and how you are keeping yourself protected in the comments.