The New Escapism: Isolationist Travel - The New York Times

The New Escapism: Isolationist Travel - The New York Times


The New Escapism: Isolationist Travel - The New York Times

Posted: 24 Jun 2020 02:13 AM PDT

From taking cooking classes in the home of a local to learning traditional crafts from Indigenous people, much of travel — up until March 2020 — was all about connecting with others.

Now, in the Covid-19 era, travel is fraught with the demands of social distancing and hygiene. As people start thinking about taking trips, either by themselves, or with close family or friends, travel companies are pivoting with new offerings and ways to offer distance from the crowd.

Pre-pandemic, less than 20 percent of Americans spent time outdoors more than once a week, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. Since then, adult bike sales have risen 121 percent nationally; in Vermont, sales of fishing licenses have gone up 50 percent. In a recent McKinsey survey on how behaviors are changing because of Covid-19, 18 percent say they are spending more time outdoors, where transmission rates of the virus are believed to be lower.

Now, even endeavors that seem to mandate a team are offering self-guided options. Rowing The World is introducing self-guided rowing tours for individuals and small groups in Seattle, Sarasota, Fla., northern Michigan and Maine.

Llamas help carry the loads on picnic hikes and multi-day treks with Paragon Guides in Vail, Colo. This summer, the company will continue to offer the guided trips, but those who seek to avoid all human contact can rent a llama and go it alone (llama rentals start at $100 a day; lunch hikes cost $490 for two).

It can be hard to get a prime camping spot in summer through Recreation.gov, the reservation website that represents 12 federal agencies managing public land, including the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service. The anticipated surge in domestic outdoor travel may only tighten the squeeze.

One solution: Seek private land. Websites and apps like Hipcamp and Campspace connect campers with landowners.

"Getting outside is essential for human health and happiness, and in this current moment in time of stress and anxiety, the outdoors are more important than ever," said Alyssa Ravasio, the chief executive of Hipcamp, which manages bookings at more than 300,000 sites in the United States. About a third of the sites have canvas tents, yurts or tree houses.

Hipcamp expects a busy summer. Already in May, its landowners have earned three times as much as they did in May 2019.

Another service, Tentrr, offers sites on private land with glamping-style furnished tents and outhouses. Sites range from a brewery in the Finger Lakes region of New York (from $145) to a farm in Tennessee (from $75).

"I don't want the average camper who has all the stuff," said Ken Ford, who recently built a Tentrr site on family property near Wevertown, N.Y., in the Adirondacks ($150 a night). "I want a person who drives up in a motorcycle with nothing, and it's turnkey."

Hand sanitizer has long been on the buses of group trips. Now those buses will be scrubbed, their occupancy reduced and new routes established as tour companies like Collette and G Adventures reboot post-pandemic, which includes offering generous cancellation policies.

Active tour companies like Backroads think naturally socially distanced forms of travel such as biking and hiking lend themselves to current demands. In July, Backroads plans to resume trips in the United States in places like Sedona, Ariz., and the Florida Keys. The company is taking the temperature of all travelers at the start of a trip, reducing group sizes to an average of about 10 and planning fewer group meals.

For some companies that are looking ahead to international travel getting its footing back, the crisis offers an itinerary reset. Geographic Expeditions plans on altering its walking tours to avoid crowded destinations in places like Japan.

"It's a challenge," said Don George, who will guide three of the company's trips to Japan, including Kyoto, next spring, "but it's also exciting to think about off-the-beaten-path places that we can visit that will illuminate the spirit and soul of Kyoto."

In the future, travelers won't be touring Bangkok by tuk tuk with G Adventures. In redesigning its trips for the pandemic, the small-group tour operator plans to drop elements over which it doesn't have full control — like cleaning tuk tuks — and work on offering things like assigned seats in vehicles to ensure social distancing and single rooms without a supplemental charge.

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Credit...Moab Adventure Center

By renting cabins, villas, R.V.s or houseboats, small groups can practice social distancing in isolation. Families and friends who decide to travel together in the near future will find resorts and services scaling to suit them.

When the prospects for event travel fell off the coronavirus cliff, the owners of Cedar Lakes Estate, a 500-acre compound in New York's Hudson Valley that normally relies on weddings and meetings in summer, decided to pivot from catering to large groups to reopening as a resort that offers plenty of social distancing. Now, travelers can rent its 18 cottages, which sleep two to 12 people, and enjoy mountain hikes, sports like volleyball and tennis, and swimming in two lakes. Guests order meals to be delivered and arrange activities via a concierge using text or video conferencing (rates from $1,180 a week).

In June, the New York City-based travel agency Embark Beyond started Camp Embark, a private camp program based at luxury resorts from Rhode Island to Montana, with a dedicated camp counselor organizing children's activities (prices from about $1,200 a night, plus $1,000 to $2,000 a week for camp counselors).

Adventure International, which specializes in private tours to places like Mount Kilimanjaro, has found that interest in trips in the United States is surging. Six days at its private glamping site near Yellowstone National Park, including meals, excursions and a guide, starts at $2,900 a person.

Roadies, which offers itineraries in top-of-the-line buses modeled after rock-star tours, is offering the coaches to private groups of up to 10, spending a week visiting U.S. Open golf courses, ski resorts in the Rockies or California wineries (prices start around $4,000 a person).

More affordable options include private tours offered by the Moab Adventure Center in southern Utah, which runs rafting, mountain biking and rock climbing trips. Climbing lessons that normally cost $107 a person will cost $595 for up to four people.

"We'd always done private tours, but never advertised it," said Brandon Lake, a co-owner of Moab Adventure Center. "Now we've built out a parallel track for people to make the choice they're most comfortable with."

Credit...Canoe Bay Escape Village/Steve Niedorf

Images of empty beaches and sunset drinks for two: In many ways, the travel industry already caters to couples with the promise of shutting everyone else out.

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 24, 2020

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise "comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort" and requires "balancing benefits versus possible adverse events." Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. "In my personal experience," he says, "heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask." Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I've heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don't typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country's largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was "very rare," but she later walked back that statement.

    • What's the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it's surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation's job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you've been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


"We've been doing social distancing for years. It's what we've built our brand on," said Adam Stewart, the deputy chairman of Sandals Resorts, which operates 15 all-inclusive properties in six Caribbean countries. "Romance requires privacy."

The resorts, most of which are reopening this summer, cater to couples with two-person soaking tubs, hammocks for two and private dinners on the beach. When the resorts reopen, their restaurant tables will be spaced farther apart. Elevator trips will be limited to one couple. Thirty-passenger buses that transfer guests from the airport will take a maximum of 10. Beach parties with rum drinks and reggae remain but, added Mr. Stewart, "We will not be having the conga line."

Restricted to employees and guests only, all-inclusive resorts offer more privacy.

"With everything being contained to the resort itself, I truly don't have any fears," said Bobbie Mergenthaler, a home health care worker in Kouts, Ind., who booked a weeklong trip with her husband in November to celebrate their anniversary at the all-inclusive Secrets Cap Cana Resort & Spa in the Dominican Republic.

Resorts consisting of stand-alone guest quarters, from the high-end Bluefields Bay Villas in Jamaica that come with their own chef (villas start at $980) to the glamping tents at Collective Vail in Colorado (from $249) and the budget-friendly tiny house rentals at Canoe Bay Escape Village in Wisconsin (from $125), say they are naturally configured for the Covid-19 travel era.

"The homes are not near others, you have little to zero contact with other people and you're in a wilderness setting where you can decompress," said Dan Dobrowolski, the owner of Canoe Bay Escape Village, adding that most summer weekends are sold out.

In May, moderators of the Facebook page Solo Travel Society asked their 260,000-some members, "Has the pandemic changed your outlook on how you will travel solo going forward?"

Within three hours, nearly 200 responses ran the gamut from fear of getting the virus on a flight to impatience with travel restrictions. But most hewed in the resilient direction of Chris Engelman of Ottawa, Ill., who wrote, "Traveling makes me happy. I'm going to continue to live a life of joy."

"People are looking at road trips in your bubble, in your car," said Janice Waugh, the founder of the website SoloTravelerWorld.com who also runs Solo Travel Society on Facebook where members are also talking about solo camping and self-guided walking and cycling trips.

Solo travelers often join tours, and companies like Tauck have catered to them by dropping single supplements on some trips. But with trips abroad on hold because of border restrictions, and group trips a potential health threat, Audley Travel, a custom tour operator, said the private trips it has designed for solos have doubled since mid-March, indicating a shift away from group departures.

For summer and fall, Caren Kabot, the founder of Solo Escapes, plans to replace small group trips to places like Morocco with weekend trips in the rural Northeast where many of her clients can drive until they get comfortable with the safety of air travel. Hiking, boating and culinary activities may be on the agenda.

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