Know Before You Go
Seven rules to live by if you plan to travel responsibly
1. Do your research ahead of time. Check the COVID regulations in the destination you plan to visit. Do they encourage masking and social distancing? Are they ready to welcome visitors? If so, book lodging and restaurant reservations in advance as best you can.
2. Protect the public. When you go, practice social distancing (stay six feet from people outside your inner circle) and mask up. A new CDC study found that exposure to potentially infectious aerosols decreased by 95 percent when tightly fitted or double masks were worn.
3. Get tested. Good rule of thumb nowadays is to get a COVID-19 PCR or rapid test before you go and when you return home. Review testing and quarantine rules in your home state and destination.
4. Prepare for the unexpected—and pack for it, too. Flexible cancellation policies are more common now, thankfully, though be sure to read all the fine print. Bring extra masks, hand sanitizer, and wipes. It’s better to be overprepared than underprepared.
5. Support local businesses every step of the way. Many prefer payment with credit or debit cards right now, to avoid handling cash. In NYC, you may be charged a COVID surcharge of up to 10 percent of your pre-tax bill at restaurants, to help cover costs incurred during the pandemic.
6. Be patient and tip well. Have respect and empathy for hospitality professionals trying to offer you a memorable experience in these difficult times. You owe it to them to do your best to keep them safe. For example, if a restaurant server is taking care of you while you’re eating and unmasked, make sure you don’t talk directly at the server. (It’s awkward, we know, but err on the side of caution as much as possible.)
7. Follow the rules of the communities you visit. Check for any local or regional updates while you’re on the road and once you return home: Tourism boards and municipalities are constantly updating their information online.
RV and Camping
Living that #RVlife...
Following years of #vanlife fantasies, romanticized by vintage camper vans and shining silver Airstreams, the bring-your-accommodation-with-you road trip suddenly found itself back in the spotlight thanks to COVID.
RV rentals increased a staggering 1,000 percent from April to June nationwide last year, according to RVShare.com, the largest peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace. As work from home and homeschooling became a reality and travelers sought ways to safely hit the road, RVs offered the kind of seclusion and social distancing many of us craved. But it feels like every RV should come with a first-timer’s manual—which is why we compiled this step-by-step guide to traveling in a RV during a pandemic, including how to rent (check out Outdoorsy RV, pictured), where to park, and how to stay hygienic while traveling. (The main takeaway: Get one with a bathroom.)
If it’s your debut RV trip with your family, this beginner’s guide to taking an RV trip with kids will help you create a journey that’s just right for your crew. Who knows, you may love it so much you’ll decide to join the ranks of the growing number of families who are on the road full time.
Now, where to go? Start by looking to see if there are any coronavirus-related travel restrictions such as COVID tests required or quarantines in the states you will be traveling to or through.
Big campgrounds in Yosemite, the Great Smoky Mountains, Zion, and Yellowstone national parks, among others, may have limited availability or amenities. Use apps such as Hipcamp and the Dyrt to find off-the-beaten-path RV and glamping sites instead. Numerous Kampgrounds of America (KOA) sites are also open and taking bookings. Make a week of it and wander your way around California or New England, or up and down the Blue Ridge Parkway on one of these classic road trips.
Want to live the RV life without dealing with the parking?
Check into an Airstream (or tiny house!) at Caravan Outpost, a glamping garden oasis in downtown Ojai. Staying there is like trying on the SoCal life for a weekend: You’re within easy access of vegan restaurants and cool little shops, and Airstreams themselves are spacious (and kid and pet friendly). Get one with a firepit, and don’t miss the very tempting gift shop.
If you had to postpone a trip to Europe
Consider these U.S. alternatives for classic European summer holiday destinations.
VIRGINIA WINE COUNTRY
If you love: Off-the-radar Italian villages and rustic vineyards
Where to stay: The Goodstone Inn & Restaurant
Before you go: Note that masks must be worn inside public places.
CAPE COD, MASSACHUSETTS
If you love: The artsy and craft-centric coastal region of Cornwall, England
Where to stay: Chatham Bars Inn
Before you go: You’ll need a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of arriving.
SONOMA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA
GRAND MARAIS, MINNESOTA
If you love: Attractive lakeside villages in Sweden
Where to stay: Mayhew Inn
Before you go: People are required to wear masks inside businesses and public places (unless they are completely alone).
Note: All of the properties mentioned in this story are open as of publishing, and we’ve noted states with quarantine and testing restrictions in place. To be sure you’re traveling safely and responsibly across the United States, check local travel restrictions before you go.
Remote cabins and soaking tubs are calling...
Among the many hotels in New York’s Catskill mountain region, Urban Cowboy Lodge (pictured) makes social distancing easy with guest rooms spread across five separate buildings, bonfires and guided hikes, and a focus on outdoor and in-room dining (there’s even a Roberta’s pizza truck parked outside). We also love pairing a hike on Bear Mountain with some quiet time at the Abbey Inn and Spa in artsy Peekskill, way up on a hill overlooking the Hudson River. (Its spa is open now.) The Floating Farmhouse in Eldred, NY, sits right on a swimming creek (hence "floating"); the beautifully renovated 1820s manor house comes with a wood-fire pizza oven, a barn fit for dinner parties, and sleeps 10 (from $1,550 a night).
A little farther north in the Berkshires in Massachusetts, seek refuge at Tourists, a former midcentury motor lodge turned 48-room resort, which reopened for Thursday-Sunday stays with new COVID safety measures. In Vermont near Mount Snow, look to Treehouse Village Inn where you can book a luxury A-frame treehouse on sweeping grounds and enjoy the perks of a B&B and the region (lakes, waterfalls, hikes, and IPA for days).
The Resort at Paws Up sits on a 37,000-acre ranch in Greenough, Montana, with 100 miles of trails and 10 miles of Blackfoot River; the 1.5-million-acre Bob Marshall Wilderness Area is also nearby. In addition to private homes and safari-style glamping tents, guests can still go horseback riding, fly fishing, and mountain biking. As of June 1, 2021, adults can check into one of 12 free-standing homes on property, the new Green O.
In Wyoming, Amangani—a hilltop oasis on the edge of Grand Teton National Park—has large suites with oversized terraces and fireplaces, outdoor dining on the sundeck, and private tours of Yellowstone National Park. We also love the family-friendly Snowcreek Resort in California’s Mammoth Lakes. Its vacation rentals are made for social distancing: no need to visit reception or deal with any humans at check-in; a keycode for entry; and miles of nearby hiking and biking trails that wind their way into Mammoth itself.
Within the larger Appalachian mountain range, which runs from Maine all the way down to northern Alabama, the Blue Ridge Mountains are a quintessential American destination, home to bluegrass music, two national parks, and scenic road trip opportunities. For those who prefer the indoor luxuries of a hotel mixed with the privacy of camping in the woods, look no further than this curated list of Blue Ridge Mountain cabins you can rent on Airbnb or Vrbo.
That desert sky and Camelback mountain hikes are calling: We've already booked a long weekend in Scottsdale, Arizona, in the fall at this Marriott home near Old Town. We were also eyeing socially distanced stays with our friends at the cottages at L’Auberge de Sedona; suites or casitas at Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa and JW Marriott Camelback Inn Scottsdale Resort and Spa; and the studio suites at Mountain Shadows Resort Scottsdale.
On the Water
In the water, by the water...
One of the best ways to beat the heat in the summer is heading to the water—whether that means an ocean, lake, river, or canal. But why rent a house near the water when you can actually stay on the water? There are all sorts of floating accommodations across the United States. Some are permanently docked in marina neighborhoods, like those in Seattle and Sausalito. Others cruise freely in popular houseboating destinations like Lake Powell, Lake Mead, and Lake Havasu. You’ll find houseboats floating in places you may not expect, such as a private lake in Virginia or a glampsite on the Mississippi River. For your browsing pleasure, here are 11 AFAR-approved houseboats you can rent across the U.S.
Overlooking Kenoza Lake in the western Catskills in New York, Kenoza Hall is a squeaky-clean, upscale hotel by Foster Supply Hospitality (best known for its stellar restaurants, which have also reopened). You can opt to go for an on-site hike with a prepared picnic lunch, followed by a dip in the lake—or a long bath in your own deep-soaking tub.
At the Ritz-Carlton Reynolds on Lake Oconee, about 90 minutes south of Atlanta, masks are mandated for indoor public spaces, which makes us more inclined to discuss its three-floor Lake House with a private pool, perfect for a family escape.
Suttle Lodge in Central Oregon—designed by the folks behind Portland’s Ace Hotel—is a lakeside lodge that’s smack in the middle of Deschutes National Forest. Bring your to-go meal from the Boathouse to the dock or down by the lake and finally . . . relax.
Wisconsin’s Camp Wandawega looks like it was plucked straight from Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. Originally opened in 1925 as a place for Chicagoans to escape Prohibition laws, the lakefront getaway reinvented itself in the 1970s as a church camp for Latvian Catholics. These days, when it’s not booked for a wedding or private retreatm, its vintage cabins, rustic camping cluster, and fully renovated Camp Wandawega Hillhouse are listed on Airbnb.
EAST COAST: Beach season continues well into September across much of the country, which means you could grab a towel and some sustainable sunscreen and make a day trip to one of these beloved small beach towns. (Shout-out to Asbury Park, NJ! Just remember to check local restrictions before you go.)
Over at Sound View Greenport (pictured) on Long Island’s North Fork, guests can book one- and two-bedroom suites with full kitchens and private outdoor decks overlooking the ocean. (Bonus: It’s bordered by a private beach and bird sanctuary.)
Farther out on Nantucket, a former retreat for whaling captain Robert Calder in a 19th-century federal-style mansion has been reborn as a 14-room Life House. The goal of this boutique hotel is to honor the building’s history as “a nonchalant innkeeper’s humble abode,” which sounds like the ideal spot to ride out this pandemic. You’ll find us in the garden lounge by the fire pit.
GULF COAST: Alabama beaches? Hear us out: Gulf Shores and Orange Beach have long been a regional getaway, but we have our eye on Gulf State Park—6,000 protected acres paid for by the reparations of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill—and its accompanying lodge. Bring your bike: There are 28 miles of trails.
WEST COAST: You can hear the Pacific lap the shore below your balcony room at Malibu Beach Inn—take them up on a picnic basket for two customized by the Picnic Collective. Another AFAR favorite in Los Angeles, the Santa Monica Proper Hotel, is blocks from the beach and has impeccable Kelly Wearstler–designed rooms that are vacated 24 hours before you arrive.
Find relaxation and natural beauty at Nick’s Cove, set on Tomales Bay, across from Point Reyes National Seashore in northern California. Local outfitter Blue Waters Kayaking will literally meet you on the deck of your cottage (if you’re lucky enough to secure one of the rooms on the water) and show you the magic of the area, the true way it needs to be seen—from the water.
Timber Cove Resort, a 1963 stone, timber, and glass A-frame on the Sonoma County coast, delivers fresh sea air and “hippie, rustic modern” vibes. The 46 guest rooms are filled with midcentury modern furnishings, pendant lamps, and Crosley record players. Guests can sample local wines and cheeses by an ocean-facing firepit.
Looking to splurge and feel good about it? Big Sur’s epic Post Ranch Inn has carefully considered its reopening plan, and after a global (!) search developed and trademarked an odorless, nontoxic cleaning solution called Premium Purity.
One of AFAR’s top new hotels, Captain Whidbey Inn on Washington’s Whidbey Island, has long felt like a local’s secret. A two-hour car and ferry ride from Seattle, the restored century-old lodge now has four stand-alone cabins, so you can spread out on the lawn, grab a hammock or a canoe, and dig into some fresh local seafood while staying far, far away from the rest of the continental U.S.
Get away from it all in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a 100-mile Minnesota preserve along the U.S.-Canadian border that does not have streetlights, electricity, or buildings. What it does have, in spades? Lots of water (more than 1,000 lakes and rivers!), scenic campgrounds (more than 2,200!), and hiking trails. Epic wilderness, here we come.
Food and Wine
If you prefer wine over wilderness...
...try the Calistoga Motor Lodge in Napa Valley, where the motel-style rooms open to the outdoors for plenty of fresh air and guests have access to complimentary bikes for solo rides through the vineyards.
If you like olive oil tasting more than winetasting, visit one of these nine amazing olive orchards across the U.S.
If you’d rather let someone else do the produce picking, follow chef Daniel Boulud (pictured) to Lenox, Massachusetts, where he’s using hyper local ingredients to reimagine his French dishes at Cafe Boulud New York at Blantyre. Book dinner Wednesday through Saturday or weekend brunch.
If you like Franco-California cuisine instead, Auberge du Soleil is home to Napa’s first fine-dining restaurant, led by French restaurateur Claude Rouas. It continues to shine, especially now with its exquisite outdoor dining (and flexible booking).
If you just want a view and some sunshine with your meal, claim a table at Ventana Big Sur. All of those impossibly fresh local meals are now included in an overnight stay, and only resort guests have access to the Sur House with its elevated patio dining (literally—it seems to soar over the Pacific).
Reporting by Michelle Baran, Natalie Beauregard, Tim Chester, Maggie Fuller, Aislyn Greene, Katherine LaGrave, Devorah Lev-Tov, Lyndsey Matthews, and Laura Dannen Redman. This article was originally published August 21, 2020; it was updated March 2, 2021 with new information. As the U.S. continues to face COVID, please check local regulations before making travel plans.
Hotels we write about are independently vetted and recommended by our editors. AFAR may earn a commission if you book through our links, which helps support our independent publication.