Travel in the time of Covid

Normally fall is an ideal travel time. Leaves are turning, weather is cooler. Usually kids are ready for a break from school, and the entire family is in need of a little time together.

The foliage on Lake Superior highlights a wooden church on a summer island.

This year, traveling in the time of Covid, about half of that is still true. The weather is comfortable, leaves are still transitioning to their autumn shades. Yet time together is not something our family needs right now. Even being away from school isn’t really necessary. My kids have been thrilled to be with their friends after week-by-week uncertainly whether they’ll be soon schooling from home. My family thought we needed a vacation out of habit.

Instead we took a trip.

A trip is defined as “an act of going to a place and returning.” A vacation is “an extended period of leisure and recreation.”

“Leisure” is a struggle right now. Masks are required almost everywhere. Hotel rooms feel like a depository of germs. Dining inside a restaurant is still a risk.

Wearing masks has become second nature to us, so that wasn’t an issue. I planned to wipe down every surface of the hotel room before entering, an easy solution. I made sure each room had a view – a mostly successful plan – so that we could enjoy eating in our hotel room.

Lake Michigan

The first night in Traverse City was perfect, enjoying a delicious barbecue meal overlooking the sun setting on Lake Michigan.

The next day we visited state parks and hiked mostly distanced from other visitors. Things seemed great until we got to a less than perfect hotel in the Upper Peninsula with a view of construction. A plan to take a boat ride on Lake Superior was marred by high winds and seasickness. Unbeknownst to me it’s possible to get seasick on a lake, especially when it’s a Great Lake.

Fast Forward to Mackinac

The increasingly cold weather, spoiled plans and frustration of being stuck in a tiny hotel room weighed on us into the next morning. We skipped ahead in our itinerary and arrived earlier than expected on Mackinac Island hoping that would lighten spirits.

I’d visited a year earlier amidst the hustle and bustle of the normal summer crowd. That was a quick day trip, crowded and hot. Our hope was that rain and coronavirus would mean empty streets.

August 2019 vs October 2020. The rain, cold and pandemic lessened street traffic, but brought the handful of tourists indoors to the few open restaurants


While the island was relatively quiet, there were still plenty of tourists. Few of them were wearing masks correctly if at all. It didn’t seem that surprising when we learned within hours of arriving that several restaurants suddenly closed days earlier. Covid-19 had infected entire staffs.

We walked outdoors on the island where we could, sitting on the porch of the Grand Hotel, wandering the streets, visiting shops with fewer customers. But rain soon forced us back indoors. Even though our hotel had a lovely view of the garden it still didn’t offer what one might call “leisure.”

Avoid or game over

Throughout our trip I felt were were in a video game with the goal to avoid anyone wearing a mask incorrectly. Get within ten feet of someone without a mask and you lose the game. Many years ago we cancelled a trip to Istanbul after terrorist attacks. I thought I would spend more time suspicious of people around me than enjoying the moment. I’m fairly confident that trip would have felt like this one.

A rare moment of leisure and isolation, enjoying the porch of the Grand Hotel

In other words: a trip, not a vacation.

Travel in the time of Covid isn’t impossible. Lots of people have been able to relax by renting an isolated cabin in the mountains or along a deserted beach. Some simply stay home and do nothing. Everyone has to determine their own comfort level. My mistake was thinking I could control our circumstances to match our comfort level. Know that unless you can let down your guard and be comfortable in an unfamiliar situation during Covid, it’s ok to simply vacation at home.

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