Pandemic Sightseeing: Taking a Socially Distant Day Trip
Covid-19 has been an absolute terror for many reasons, but one of the more trivial and yet also most painful is the loss of summer — vacations, tan lines, and actual unplugged rest included.
The summer feels like a harder season to stay home in — even for introverts like me. I want to go out and drink on patios, sit in the sand with a good book, and go see the sights! I know that this year will look a little different, but as my squad’s proclaimed adventure planner, I’m here to help you finagle the perfect summer day trip amid pandemic.
Below I’m going to lay out the five criteria I use to find good options and how I string different opportunities together to make the perfect, seamless day.
Of course this is the biggest consideration and the least in your control. I’ve had a few trips rattled by crazy storms, both snow and rain. To make a day trip that can go on without a hitch no matter the weather, you really need to have two options — indoors and outdoors. Almost every day trip I plan has essentially two entirely different plans or two opposite components to it. While coronavirus has limited much of the indoor options available, they aren’t completely nonexistent, so make sure to still have backups!
2. Location, Location, Location
You’ve got to know beforehand what type of ground you are able to cover for the day, or even want to have to cover. Your transportation options are a big part of this, but so are the people in your group. Grandma doesn’t love sitting in a metro car, and babies can be even fussier! Toddlers can’t walk as far, which means strollers and much more accoutrement to bring along. I know, I’m not a parent, but somehow I always see over-ambitious parents trying to tackle too much sightseeing in a day with nonplussed children and screaming infants. Know that you won’t be able to fit in everything, so perhaps choose a cluster of the things you do want to do and save the rest or another time. (Apps like Parking Panda are your friend, though one good thing to come of the pandemic is that parking is generally easier to find.)
Look carefully beforehand at what route you want to take and in what order you ought to schedule the different segments of the trip. Try not to backtrack, unless it leads you back to your method of transport that will take you home! When you look at the trip, also think through any obstacles that might arise. In DC, for example, that’s protests. Even when we aren’t having a national race crisis or pandemic, we have lots of ’em. They shut down streets and make Siri pissy. Look at any potential festivals, races, or construction as well. It’s better to know beforehand and to avoid that anxiety of having to reroute your entire minivan full of friends and deal with their back seat driving (I do not speak from experience).
Not a fun part of the planning, but the thing that leads to almost every fight ever had on any trip. Make sure you know the ins and outs of what you and your squad or family will be doing. What is the bathroom situation like? What should you and your troupe wear to be most comfortable? How much money is enough per person, plus incidentals? Who is prepared for accidents or injury? (I like to pick someone, usually me, to be mom and have Band-Aids, medicine, tissues, extra water etc. basically just call them mom or if you are a mom, I salute you.) “Should you bring snacks?” is never a question. It’s always: yes.
What supplies will you need? This is the question most unique to any particular day trip. If you are going tubing: Do you need to bring your own towel, or do they have them there? If you are taking a bus tour: Will they stop often enough to get food? Can you bring your own? If you are taking a picnic at a park: Do they have tables or should you bring a blanket? Do they have grills? Is there a place for proper disposal of garbage? Logistics make the trip smooth and can help you avoid issues like bathroom crisis, hangriness, and frantic CVS runs.
This is a more subtle trick to the perfect day trip and, honestly, the hardest to master, but you’ve got to set a pace that works for everyone in the group. What I mean by this is that the different segments or activities of your day trip need to be varied and spaced apart. You also want enough extra time to pad them so you don’t miss things if you need more time to get from place to place and so that people can take a breather when they need to.
This can be tricky depending on who you have amassed as your adventure buddies. Some adventurers like to have a jam-packed day with exciting things; others are more of the type to seek a relaxing and slow day filled with languid types of activities. I’ve had day trips where I’ve run through a city trying to see and do everything I could. While I succeeded, I ended up feeling harried and not quite enjoying the day as much as I might have. I’ve also spent days with people who are not as used to traveling as myself and tire easily. I’ve come to find that a day trip works best with the most energy driven activity during the part of the day your group is most alert, be that the morning or the early afternoon. I’ve also found that, for myself, I like to be “busy” all day, but have activities thrown in the mix that can feel relaxing, like a stroll through a garden, paddle boating, or even sitting and eating a snack from a hot spot in the neighborhood so it still counts as “seeing the sights!”
This point flows directly from the previous one, but the best way to sort out the issue of pacing is to know who is coming with you and what all of your goals will be for the day. Like I said, maybe your group really does want an adventure with crazy excitement at every turn, maybe they want friendship-building activities, or maybe your squad wants some real R and R. It’s good to know what everyone wants from the day, that way you can plan accordingly and manage expectations from the get-go.
My secret trick for this is to also have a keystone event. The event or activity in the day that is the most important. It might be the entire reason for the trip or perhaps it’s just the one thing that everyone on the trip is equally excited about. Either way, try to find your keystone event first and then plan the day around it to make sure it goes off without a hitch. In my experience, as long as this goes well, no one will mind if a few other things don’t necessarily go according to the plan.