Taking A Vacation During A Pandemic: What It’s Like And Did It Feel Safe?

I'm pleased to say my family just took a vacation during a pandemic and survived. With two young children, it wasn't exactly a relaxing vacation. It was more like a trip or a business writing retreat. Regardless of what you want to call our trip, I wanted to share some feedback.

When the lockdown began in March 2020, I made a promise that I would try and live our lives as normally as possible. I didn't want to let a pandemic defeat us. So this philosophy included taking a safe family vacation.

After it was clear that San Francisco had flattened the curve, we decided to drive up to our place in Lake Tahoe and stay for a week in October. We figured the timing was good because more students were back in school and families had taken their summer vacations before Labor Day.

Taking A Vacation During A Pandemic

Transportation Options

The key catalyst for taking a vacation during a pandemic was being able to drive to our vacation destination. We didn't want to take a flight and go through the potential lines and the crowds at the airport.

Although all my friends who have taken flights during the pandemic said it's been great, we just didn't have anywhere better to fly to than driving to Lake Tahoe or Napa Valley.

Hawaii is on our vacation list, but we're still waiting for the state to work out its rapid-testing kinks before going. If we didn't get tested and submit negative COVID results, we would have had to stay in Hawaii for 14 days of mandatory quarantine and not be able to fly home until getting cleared. Not the worst thing in the world. However, we had our daughter's doctor appointment the following week and we just wanted to keep things simple. Oh, and I still can’t get over the brain swab.

Before driving, I was worried whether my car, a SUV, would be big enough to fit two or three adults, a 3.5-year-old, a 10-month old and all our gear. As a result, I began researching SUVs with third-row seating and minivans.

But surprisingly, everything fit! My rear windshield had plenty of visibility. We could have packed two or three more bags if we wanted to. Therefore, I plan on keeping my car for as long as we only have two kids.

It is so much easier packing a car full of stuff than bringing a bunch of stuff to the airport and on a plane. When you've got a baby, you've got to pack a stroller, lots of diapers, wipes, medicines, baby food, portable high chair, and a portable crib. Baby gear adds up fast.

Driving Safety Concerns

Besides being able to fit all our stuff in my car, the other thing I was anxious about was driving all of us safely to our destination. My entire family's lives were in my hands. Although I've driven to Tahoe at least 60 times over the years, I still felt a little nervous driving.

I drank a Diet Mountain Dew to keep me alert and listened to four podcast episodes. Thankfully, everything went smoothly on the 3.15-hour drive.

Our son slept for two hours and our daughter slept for 30 minutes on the way there. She sometimes woke our son up with her occassional squeals, but that was it. On the way back, both kids slept for about 1.5 hours. We left both times around 11am to try and match their nap times.

Accommodations

Back in 2007, I bought a 1,025 sqft, two-bedroom, two-bathroom condominium. The place has one king, two queens, and a pull-out queen. I had always imagined one day bringing a family of up to two kids, and now I have! Below is the layout of our place.

Vacation during a pandemic - Financial Samurai Lake Tahoe Property

We're fortunate to have relatively a lot of space at a resort. Usually, a family of four would all try to cram into one room or rent a suite with two rooms.

However, curiously enough, I felt we could have used one more room. Before we had kids, the place felt massive. Therefore, we often just stayed in the one-bedroom portion and rented out the studio portion on the right.

Now with two kids, the place feels pretty cozy because it's much smaller than our primary residence. We used every square inch of the place. If I could snap my fingers, I would remove one of the queen beds so that my kids could have more space to crawl and run around.

Vacation Property Advice

For those of you looking to buy a vacation property, I would be careful of buying a property to fit a potential family way out in the future. You might never have kids or you might have a ton of kids. You might also get a divorce. Your tastes will probably also change as well.

We're lucky that my wife and I are still together and we're still living in San Francisco. We could easily be living somewhere else given we both don’t have jobs. Further, we are fortunate to have exactly the number of kids I thought about having back in 2007.

However, our tastes and our wealth are different from 2007. I've said in the past that I think buying a vacation home is a bad investment. You likely won't use the property as much as you think you will. If I could rewind time, I would have just rented. Today, if we were forced to buy a vacation property, we would buy a single family home with a pool and a hot tub. Perhaps in the next life.

Once both our kids are over five years old, I think our vacation property will be just right again. The kids shouldn't be waking us up at night anymore and each can sleep on their own beds in the studio. The living room area will be kept as common space.

Related: A Vacation Property Buying Rule To Follow

Activities During A Pandemic

The main heated pool and kiddie pool were open. However, the water slide and the three hot tubs were all closed due to the coronavirus and the need for social distancing. I was really bummed to learn about the hot tubs being closed after I had made our reservation. Hot tubbing with a beverage is my absolute favorite activity.

Taking a vacation during a pandemic - empty pool most of the time

It's also nice to wade around in the pool first with the kids and then warm up in the hot tub. The outside air temperature averaged 74 degrees during the day, so it was warm, but not warm enough to not feel the chill once you got out of the pool.

On average, there were two kids in the big pool at a time. One day, there wasn't anybody at the pool except for us. We were told the overall hotel occupancy was only 18% on average that week.

Other things being closed included the playground close by to the Resort, which was odd since the playgrounds had just opened in more densely populated San Francisco.

Further, many of the restaurants at our Resort and nearby were shut down during the weekdays due to low occupancy. Therefore, we were stuck eating pub food every night which got old after the second night.

Our favorite activity was taking our kids on their first hikes. My wife carried our daughter in a front carrier and I held my boy's hand as we went up Eagle Rock to get a great view of the lake. These are the memories we live for.

The gym was open, but I didn't go. The spa was closed, but we wouldn't have gone anyway with two kids.

Safety From The Virus

hiking during a pandemic

The biggest concern about a vacation during a pandemic is whether you will feel safe from the coronavirus.

When we arrived at the Resort, there was a hand sanitizing station, which we all used. Then we found hand sanitizing stations all throughout the Resort. There were also glass shields at check-in.

Before booking your vacation, definitely call and check what type of occupancy and safety protocols they have in place.

Because the Resort occupancy was so low, we never bumped into anybody or had to wait for another elevator. Our property also had a sticker on the door that said it was thoroughly sanitized. That felt good.

There weren't any valets, which was preferred. I just parked my car in one of the empty spots out front. This was much more efficient than handing over my keys, getting a ticket, calling the valet when I needed my car, and waiting.

Overall, we felt very safe at the Resort. Wearing a mask in public areas felt good enough. When we were outside of our property on our hikes, we also felt safe, despite most hikers not wearing masks. There just weren't enough people on the trails to feel in danger.

One time, I left our place in a rush to meet my kids at the pool and forgot my mask. It felt so freeing, like the good old days. Good thing I didn't run into anybody. But if I did, I would have just raised my shirt over my mouth and nose.

Vacationing During A Pandemic Is Just OK

I would say we got 70% of the normal experience while vacationing during a pandemic. We strategically arrived on a Monday and left on a Friday. But that's what we normally do to avoid crowds.

It was too bad some of the amenities were closed. The lack of food options was also a bummer, especially since we were looking forward to eating pastries at this one store and an amazing vodka bolognese at another restaurant.

But the real issue that negatively affected our vacation was bringing our 3.5-year-old and 10-month-old. Neither slept well because they were either too excited or too uncomfortable in a new environment. As a result, my wife and I didn't sleep well either. Babies need consistency. My boy missed his bed and all his stuffed animal buddies.

We also worried more about our kids' safety given they are constantly touching everything. Seeing your kid constantly running, not walking around the pool is also stressful.

For our next vacation, we plan to rent a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home with at least 1,500 square feet of space. Getting some child care help would be great too so my wife and I can get some time to relax.

Staycations Are The Way To Go

What I realized from this family vacation is that our home in San Francisco feels like a vacation every day. We just didn’t fully appreciate it until we left!

Our home is much larger, has decks facing the ocean, is within walking distance of a hot tub, and has an inflatable pool in the backyard for hot days. Not to be trivial, but I also missed my Toto bidet. Further, San Francisco has incredible food delivery options and I get to play tennis and softball.

It really is worth buying or renting a nicer home during a pandemic. We spend so much more time at home now that a nice primary residence goes a much longer way. If there is a second nationwide lockdown, you'll be enjoying your time more as well.

Staycations really might be the way to go! Not only do you save money, you don’t have to pack up and risk getting into an accident during transit. Oh yeah, and obviously you won’t have to worry as much about the coronavirus.

By November, San Francisco will almost be back to normal with office buildings open again. Although it’s tempting to go back up to Tahoe to show our kids the snow this winter, we plan to stay put for a while.

Vacation During A Pandemic Tips

  • List out places you can drive to first. It's so much easier, especially if you have kids.
  • Check occupancy and safety protocols if you are going to vacation at a resort or hotel.
  • Go during low season for less people and lower rates.
  • Ask what amenities are open and closed.
  • Ask what are the food options so you might come better prepared with your own food.
  • Since you're driving, pack personal items such as a humidifier, stuffed animals for your kids, your own pillow, and other things that make your vacation feel more like home.
  • Research the top activities.
  • Bring plenty of masks and portable hand sanitizer.
  • Bring a portable HEPA air filter.
  • Put everything on a rewards credit card. We use the Chase Freedom Unlimited card for all our expenses because we get 1.5% unlimited cash back on all spending and there's no annual fee.

Most of all, enjoy your vacation during a pandemic and give yourself a high-five for living your life!

Readers, have you taken a vacation during the pandemic yet? If so, where did you go and what did you do? What were some pluses and minuses of taking a vacation during a pandemic?

About The Author

17 thoughts on “Taking A Vacation During A Pandemic: What It’s Like And Did It Feel Safe?”

  1. Hey Sam. Just noticed that your Tahoe vacation condo is no longer available for booking anytime in the near future (at least not from Vacasa’s website by following your link). Any status change there?

  2. Wow, I never thought I would disagree with you on so many things in a single post! We have a 4 and 1 year olds, and all I want to do is travel. We already had two Hawaii vacations cancelled this year, but next month’s will hopefully happen. Just booked another one for February. This will be our first flights since March, and flying somewhere where pretty much everyone got tested before getting on the plane sounds great.

    We usually stay in a normal room with a king bed, sofa couch, and crib, and we all get along well. We also just did an 8 night RV trip to Glacier, and that was super fun too, although it took a couple of nights for the kids to sleep well in the RV. The RV trip was the perfect socially distanced vacation.

    A staycation sounds horrible! Isn’t this entire pandemic just a long staycation?

    As far as cars, we own a mini cooper countryman, and can do road trips with both kids with no problems. We did have to add a roof box for a camping trip this summer, since tent and sleeping bags add a lot of volume, but the small car works fine on general.

    Anyway, this just proves that every family and all kids are different.

    1. Which city do you live in and what is your house like?

      Yeah, getting on a plane with two kids and everybody all living in one room is definitely on the low end of my desires.

      It might be because my wife and I traveled so much pre kids (20 countries in 5 years) that we’re so traveled out we seek simple.

      1. We have a spacious house in PDX with great access to the outdoors, so that’s not the problem. I guess my wife and I didn’t lose our travel bug after having kids, so we just power through the inconveniences of traveling with kids. I’m the end I really appreciate the quality time we all get together.

        To be fair, I wouldn’t want to travel anywhere where we are stuck in a room together all the time either. I only consider destinations where we can spend most of the day outside doing stuff or hanging on the beach.

        1. Cool. Let me know how the Hawaii trip goes next month as we might book one in Feb or March and rent a house for a month. Just need to coordinate doctors appointments.

          I’ve been paying attention to the Hawaii Travel system very carefully. And right now there are some kinks with the submission of tests and what happens after.

          Maybe the other thing is that in San Francisco, we seem to take the coronavirus a little bit more cautiously? So we aren’t as motivated to travel by plane. Our cases are very low now. How is it where you are?

          So my thinking is that why not go travel to our vacation property and other vacations that are drivable for the next six months to 12 months, wait until there’s a vaccine, and then get on a plane? There’s so much to see locally.

          1. I totally agree that this is the perfect time to do trips within driving distance, which is why we took the RV trip.

            Next month we’re going to the big island, where we’ll have to do a second test upon arrival at the airport. I think that’s great, since the more thorough the testing, the safer our stay at the resort will be. Cases per 100k residents are lower there than at home, so as long as we can fly direct, I don’t consider this trip particularly risky from a covid perspective. All activities and dining will be outdoors, and we have no plans to leave the resort and go shopping etc. If we were going to Waikiki it would be a different story.

            I would consider ourselves very covid cautious. Our community in Portland has universal mask acceptance, and we have very little exposure to other people day to day. This is an interesting conversation, I love seeing how other people calculate risk.

  3. You could always get your own Toto Washlets, they are easy to install. Then you begin to have the opposite problem that whenever you leave home to go somewhere else you miss your home toilets.

  4. Since kids, we usually rent an apartment on Airbnb and make sure the host provides high chair, crib etc. We’ve been to Singapore, NZ, and the coast near here at the baby stage… NZ was with the baby+4 year old. We also went to Netherlands/Sweden/Finland/Japan with a 2 year old. In Japan we rented two hotel rooms…

    I never understood why people would buy a holiday home unless they are there every weekend or something.

  5. Roy David Farhi

    Good story as usual Sam and agree with a lot of your perspectives. Just got back from trip to Eugene Oregon where we met our daughter who stayed with us for the three nights. It was a trip to look for a possible relocation in semi retirement. The planes were clean, people were courteous, protocols galore and albeit the food options were limited and disappointing, the company together was not. We also had my daughters dog with us and never felt safer than we were. I have to say that this is eye opening that life is short and quality time is more important than chasing the fleeting dream that Covid has diminished. And yes, staycation is the ultimate with food you want to prepare, beds that are comfortable, cleanliness that you believe in, and people who are your loved ones!

  6. Road trip! Love the pictures and glad to hear you had a fund time and made it home safe. I don’t feel comfortable getting on a plane yet, but maybe next year. Smart thinking to go travel by car and during the off peak season. Off peak travel is typically my favorite time to travel because I’m not big on crowds even pre-pandemic.

  7. Christine Minasian

    We plan on going to the Caribbean over Christmas. We feel we need to help keep these airlines, resorts, restaurants in business. If we don’t, we’ll have nothing left! We will be tested before and after and we keep our health tip-top shape to help from getting it. We did check to confirm restaurants would be open but hopefully to your point- we don’t regret our decision to go.

  8. We went to Idaho Falls to stay with sister in law. Got to see a lot around, Jackson Hole, Grand Tetons, Morman Row, and of course the Yellowstone National park (some of it, old faithful, grand prismatic) then moved on to LA tried a lot of cuisines and enjoyed resort style apartment in downtown LA with the other sister in law.
    Flew through southwest, clean planes, use hepa filters, restrooms are clean, middle seats are empty on all routes. Avoided hotels, and indoor dinning.

  9. Went on two cabin trips since the pandemic started. We’ve been wanting to do a baby moon (expecting our first child in 3 months) but with amenities and all the great restaurants closed, it doesn’t seem worth it to get away. Plus we just purchased a home / moved from downtown Seattle, so enjoying our new home feels like a staycation!

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