This June my husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. For most of those 20 years we have done very little in the way of formal celebrations. In the early years, before kids, we would sometimes take special trips to mark the occasion but usually it was more low-key. A nice dinner and a couple cards were all we needed and pretty much all that was possible when our kids were little and we lived far from family (AKA built-in babysitters).
But now we are firmly in middle-age and we live closer to family so we started to get excited about the possibilities for the big 2-0. Paris! Wine Country! Bermuda! Then the worldwide pandemic hit and all our dreams of an exciting getaway for two were dashed. 🙁 Certainly a first world problem, but we were disappointed.
Cut to early June. We are a full three months into quarantine and many around us are beginning to venture out. Things are starting to open up. Friends and family have begun to travel and we start asking ourselves if we could do so as well but we are still really worried about the coronavirus. We initially decide not to take any trips and then, at the last minute, we change our minds. We begin to do some risk assessment and decide we might be able to do this if we are careful and we plan well.
Why a beach trip is a good option for summer 2020
We decide on a family visit to the Gulf Coast. The beach seems like a solid choice because it involves a lot of outdoor time. We don’t have to be around other people and while not quite as romantic as our previous plans, we enjoy time near the ocean. It has a relaxing effect which we ALL definitely needed and it’s something the kids love.
Our checklist for a place at the beach
- Beachfront with great views. We knew just sitting on our balcony and listening to waves, reading a book, etc. would be a big part of this vacation.
- No elevator use required. This meant either a townhome, home (out of our price range), or condo on lower level so we could use the stairs.
- Smaller building/complex. Having recently stayed at a very large condo in Orange Beach we knew big buildings would mean more people. More people touching doors/gates to the beach means more exposure.
- Pool optional. We had no plans to try and use a pool filled with people so it wasn’t important to us.
- Out of the way location. While being close to restaurants and activities is normally important to us it’s the opposite of what we wanted this time.
Best laid plans
With about a week to go before we’d have to leave, we started looking for options. We initially chose Dauphin Island, AL. My husband lived in Mobile for several years and knew the area. We figured it would be pretty isolated. Then…tropical storm Cristobal rained on our plans. Boo.
We almost gave up but decided to try and look further East and take our chances. We settled on Okaloosa Island, FL. We had visited a few times and knew it to be pretty quiet compared to Destin. We found a 3rd floor condo in a building of just 21 condos on Tuesday and on Saturday we began our trek South straight into a tropical storm.
What happened next
While it *might* have been possible to make it the whole way on one tank of gas we needed to stop for a bathroom break/lunch regardless so we did so around Montgomery. Keep in mind that at this point the kids have been home for three months only going out into our neighborhood/backyard and my husband and I have only ventured out for essentials (food/gas/pharmacy). We wear masks whenever we are inside. The customers at this gas station, not so much. Maybe 50% were wearing masks and that’s generous and none of the employees wore them. It was a little disconcerting. There is very clearly a divide in our country between those who think masks are important and those who don’t. If you decide to take a trip, this is important information and the gas station was not the only place we encountered this (see below).
Once we arrived at our destination we went straight to the beach. I love the ocean in all its forms and have spent almost a decade of my adult life living in Florida so the tropical storm and the raging waters made me feel homesick. The girls thought it was very exciting. We walked on the beach a little Sunday morning and spent that afternoon and evening on the balcony or inside watching Netflix, playing board games, and generally enjoying the luxury of a daytime nap. Repeat for much of Monday. By Tuesday the skies were sunny and we were able to enjoy the rest of our trip with almost no contact with anyone. For us the beach is most enjoyable early and late in the day. Everyone in our family is very pale so we prefer to stay out of the sun from about 10AM-3PM. This worked perfectly for avoiding the crowds, such as they were, and mid-day naps made it easier to keep the kids up late at night for crabbing.
The Good – We had a very enjoyable time. There were definitely things we didn’t do that we normally would have (eaten out more frequently, gone on a dolphin cruise, enjoyed the wharf in Destin) and the rain on Sunday and Monday would have been less “boring” if we had options to do indoor activities. Obviously, you could do those things – most everything in Florida was open – but we chose not to. But necessity is the mother of invention and since we forced ourselves to find other things to do, we discovered how much everyone in the family loves UNO and Go Fish. Of all the trips we have made to the beach over the years, this was by far the slowest paced and that is something we really loved.
The Bad – If anyone in our family had been immunocompromised, I would not have done this trip. I especially would not now knowing what I know. We took all the precautions we could think to do (see list below) and we still found ourselves in situations where we were inside with less than 6ft distance between us and unmasked strangers. The cases of coronavirus are also increasing in both FL and AL as I write this. While our family did what we could to stay safe, I do worry that we might have taken an unnecessary risk and we are in the process of quarantining ourselves again just to be safe.
Our Social Distancing Checklist
- Masks for everyone. If you got out of our car or left the condo for an indoor location (gas station, Walgreens) you wore a mask.
- Generous use of hand sanitizer. Right before the world shut down we were lucky enough to find a plethora of Bath and Body Works hand sanitizer in tiny bottles which are perfect for carrying in pockets, purses, glove boxes, etc. We were never more than a few feet from a bottle.
- Shipt delivery for groceries. This was an added bonus because if you’ve ever visited the beach for a week you know that Saturday night/Sunday are the busiest days ever at Publix. Insanely busy. We tipped above and beyond because of this and honestly, we’ll probably do this from now on regardless of what happens with Covid.
- Restaurants with outdoor seating only. We only ate out twice during our 7-day stay. The Shack (best crab dip ever) was great because they had so much outdoor seating but there were no masks in sight. We didn’t expect the people eating to wear them but we did think the wait staff would. 🙁 Harbor Docks was the other place we ate (our favorite sushi in Destin) and here they did wear masks – some better than others – and we also ate outside.
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