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How families are handling summer vacation during COVID

The good news: Vaccinations are rolling out fast and furious. The bad news: Kids can’t get vaccinated yet, which makes summer planning a challenge. Here’s what the experts think.

Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic significantly altered most families’ summer plans — and, despite the growing number of Americans who have already received their vaccinations, the coronavirus is going to affect this year’s summer plans as well.

How should parents handle a second pandemic summer? Will families continue to limit their travel plans and avoid interactions that might inadvertently spread COVID-19? We wanted to know what real-life parents were actually doing — so we asked and compiled a list of family summer vacation ideas.

“Less is more this summer,” says Jaymi Torrez, parenting blogger at The Salty Mamas. “That means both scaling down our plans, and making use of our kids’ lowered expectations.” Her 6-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son will be visiting vaccinated grandparents and spending a week at an outdoor beach camp.

“We do feel it is safe enough to travel under controlled conditions,” says Leo Young, founder and editor of OptimizedFamily and father to two boys, aged 6 and 8. “So no hotels, crowded malls, restaurants, and beaches just yet. But yes to visiting close relatives who have been immunized. A kind of hybrid situation between the old normal and the new.”

What does this new normal mean for you and your family? Here’s what we learned when we asked parents about their summer plans:

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Some families are still opting for staycations

Quinn Cummings, a literary advocate and podcaster who blogs at Aidyn’s Books, won’t be taking her family on vacation this year. “We are waiting for the vaccine to be fully distributed,” she says.

Instead, Cummings is planning a staycation summer in which her 7-year-old son will travel the world through books. “Children’s books are pure magic and I plan to create experiences around well-chosen ones.” As her son learns about world cultures and explores different perspectives through literature, Cummings will help him expand his knowledge and build memories through shared family activities — such as cooking recipes that are popular in the culture they’re currently reading about. “It gives us a world view without the plane ticket.”

Jen Bradley, mother to five children and the founder of Jen Bradley|Moms, is also opting for a staycation this year instead of a traditional family vacation — and although vaccine distribution is one of the factors in her decision-making, she’s also planning a stay-at-home summer to help her family achieve a personal finance goal. “This summer, we’ll be staying home, waiting for the coronavirus vaccine to be more widely distributed, and saving money to buy an RV.”

Planning a low-key, low-cost summer is one way to get back on track after the stresses of 2020 — especially if your family experienced furloughs, layoffs or other sources of financial stress. A lot of us are rethinking and rebuilding our budgets after the pandemic, and a staycation summer could be one way to help your family save money while taking some time to relax, recuperate and regroup for what might turn out to be a “back-to-normal” fall.

Some families are planning to visit vaccinated relatives

Instead of hitting an amusement park or water park, some families are choosing to take a family trip to visit relatives. According to the CDC, adults who are fully vaccinated can safely spend time with other adults who have also been fully vaccinated, without having to wear masks or observe social-distancing protocol — and plenty of families are planning on taking full advantage of this public-health policy.

“We booked a lake house with my newly vaccinated mom and aunt,” says Kristy Esparza, founder of JJ & The Bug and mother to 6-year-old and 3-year-old boys. “My husband has had his first shot, and I’m aiming to get mine as soon as possible.”

Jaymi Torrez is also planning to take her kids to visit their fully vaccinated grandparents — and spend a week hanging out at each of the grandparents’ homes. “It will be more excitement than they’ve had all year,” Torrez says, “and a welcome break for all of us.”

Cynthia Matthews von Berg, blogger at Sharing the Wander, is planning a six-week trip to see vaccinated relatives. “Grandparents are vaccinated, and we parents will be vaccinated by the end of May. My sister had her first baby in January of 2020, whom my daughters have only met via FaceTime. A second baby is due July 1, so we’ll end our road trip in Los Angeles to finally meet two cousins that the pandemic has kept us away from.”

Of course, you can’t drive to a destination like Los Angeles without spending some time among people who might not be vaccinated — so families like Matthews von Berg’s are still taking all of the necessary precautions while traveling. “We’ll mask up and socially distance as needed when on our family trip. Since it will be warm, we’re counting on a lot of picnics and places we can eat outside. The girls [ages 4 and 6] have been real troopers keeping their masks on thus far, so I know I can count on them to help us all stay safe.”

Some families are planning socially-distanced vacations

Families who took vacations last summer are already familiar with the coronavirus risk-reduction routine: Choose locations that involve minimal contact with others, such as campsites and national parks. Rent fully-detached vacation homes, including Airbnbs, instead of booking rooms at a hotel. Drive instead of fly; pack meals instead of visiting restaurants; use as few public restrooms as possible.

These guidelines are likely to apply to this summer’s travel plans as well — and many parents are already taking that into consideration.

“Last summer we planned two camping trips and one road trip to Yosemite where we stayed in a vacation rental,” Esparza told us. “We kept to ourselves and brought all of our food from our home grocery stores. We were aiming to do our best to move our tight little family bubble to new settings with minimal changes to our interactions with others.”

This year, Esparza is planning another national park camping road trip, as well as a Utah road trip that she planned and canceled twice in 2020. “All of our reservations are flexible, and we’re prepared to cancel for a third time per public health guidance if necessary.”

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Some families are still waiting to make their plans

“My plans are the same as they were last year at this time,” says Jeanne Visser, mother to 6-year-old twin girls and a 4-year-old boy. “which is that I do not currently have a summer vacation plan.”

Visser, who blogs at Have Twins First, wants to wait and see whether coronavirus cases decrease before making definitive summer plans — especially because her children, like most children, will not be vaccinated. (As of this writing, vaccine providers like Pfizer are beginning pediatric clinical trials to determine proper vaccine dosage for children.)

“We definitely plan to visit grandparents this summer since all adults will be vaccinated by then,” Visser explains. “We will also be able to follow the current CDC guidelines where families that are fully vaccinated can visit with one low risk family that is not fully vaccinated.”

Beyond that — well, she’s going to wait and see.

If you’re also taking a wait-and-see approach to summer plans, rest assured that you’re not alone. There’s a lot we still don’t know about how this summer might play out, from vaccination efficacy to viral mutations — and parents may still have a lot of concerns about safety, both for their own family and for other families.

As Leo Young puts it: “We will continue to observe sensible social distancing where contact with strangers or crowded places is concerned, and practice hygiene precautions until we can be sure the children are not at risk.”

Sounds like a reasonable — and realistic — summer plan.

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About Nicole Dieker

Nicole Dieker has been a full-time freelance writer since 2012, with a focus on personal finance and habit formation. In addition to Haven Life, her work regularly appears at Lifehacker, Bankrate, CreditCards.com, and Vox. Dieker spent five years as a writer and editor for The Billfold, a personal finance blog where people had honest conversations about money, and is the author of Frugal and the Beast: And Other Financial Fairy Tales.

Read more by Nicole Dieker

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