How To Plan A Safe Fall Staycation During A Pandemic, According To Experts

Jet-setting to a faraway destination always has a way of getting your heart racing — it's the idea of going somewhere new that holds the potential for so many exciting adventures. But planning a safe "getaway" right in your own town or city can be just as exhilarating. With a little creativity and several useful tips on how to plan the perfect fall staycation in a pandemic, you'll feel just as ready to put on your coziest flannels and experience some local fall fun as you would have if you jetted off to a cozy town in the English countryside.

Ask yourself: How often have you driven by entrances to nearby hiking trails or walked by a picture-perfect park in your town, only to keep walking without exploring them further? The answer is probably a lot. Odds are, you haven't enjoyed many of the local gems hiding in your backyard and could probably spend an entire week exploring them all this fall. Local trails, bike paths, cider mills, pumpkin patches, and waterfalls can be as thrilling as walking a haunted trail or a parade at Disneyland.

Sure, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic may have put a pin in your big fall plans, like traveling for your best friend's wedding or an international getaway for your anniversary. However, you can still explore the attractions in your area with peace of mind if you're aware of and following the proper safety precautions, such as wearing a mask when you're in public, social distancing whenever possible, and washing your hands frequently, per guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While we're not suggesting you pack up and book the next flight out of town, we are recommending safe, responsible, and, whenever possible, socially distant outdoor activities to enjoy so you can make the most of fall and the spookiest time of year before it's too cold to spend any time outside at all.

Of course, exploring in your own neighborhood isn't without risk. "Whether travelers are taking to the open road ... or staycationing in their own hometown, it’s important to acknowledge that we are still in a pandemic," says Josh Viner, travel expert for Vacasa, a vacation home rental company. It's important to do your part and stay home if you're not feeling well or experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19 such as fever, cough, sore throat, or shortness of breath — but when and where it's safe to do so, here's how to plan for a fall staycation that is equal parts adventurous, refreshing, and safe.

Make Your Space Feel Like A Five-Star Resort Or Choose Local Accommodations You Feel Comfortable With

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You may opt for a staycation because you feel most comfortable staying in your own home rather than in a hotel. If that's the case, you can totally spice up your home to feel like a five-star resort by setting up a homemade glamping tent with chic lanterns ($23, target.com) and throw pillows ($49, urbanoutfitters.com), creating a fort in your living room, or even rearranging the furniture and decor in your bedroom to make it feel like a fresh space you haven't spent more than half a year in.

When it comes to staycation accommodations, "sleeping in your own home is the best option," says Dr. Kaumudi Joshipura, NIH endowed chair and director of the Center for Clinical Research and Health Promotion at the University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus and adjunct professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. Home is not only where the heart is; it's also where you can enjoy the comforts of your very own fire pit, projector screen, s'mores supplies, and tasty meals delivered locally from restaurants you know and trust. Hanging at home in a jazzed-up space also makes it possible for you to avoid tight public spaces, according to Joshipura.

"[Staying home] will help you relax more and reduce the stress of coming in contact with other people," says Joshipura. However, if you're really craving that "away" feeling and are staying at a local hotel or rental, find one with a full kitchen or kitchenette. In doing so, you'll be able to make your own food and spend your fall staycation trying to recreate the recipes and sweet desserts from all your fave restaurants.

Viner also recommends looking at an accommodation's website ahead of booking for all its cleaning protocols as well as details on cleaning products being used, if that information is available. Many booking sites in the travel industry have these particular cleaning protocols listed on their homepage or newly-added search filters that bring the locations with the most enhanced cleaning efforts to the top of your list, according to Viner. For instance, Orbitz has created a new filter, and Airbnb's cleaning protocol can be accessed by a quick scroll.

Before you hit the "book" button, you can double check the cleaning products meet the CDC's guidelines for effective disinfectants. If it's not obvious on the accommodation's website, you can always call and ask for more information. Viner also recommends packing one of the CDC's suggested disinfectants in your bag so you can wipe down surfaces including door knobs, toilet handles, light switches, or remotes upon arrival. Joshipura takes this one step further and recommends bringing your own towels and sheets. This extra step, as well as opening windows so your room remains well ventilated, will help ease your mind and make your staycation a slam dunk.

Melanie Fish, travel expert for vacation rental booking website Vrbo, recommends taking advantage of contact-free check-in, if available. Some hotels and rentals have created booking gaps so there's extra time between you and the previous guest, which allows more time for cleanings and for air to filter out.

After coming home from any dreamy accommodation, leave your shoes at the door and toss your clothes in the laundry to prevent any germs from transferring from where you've been to where you live. "Keep luggage or items that are not needed immediately aside," advises Joshipura, who also notes that three days is typically a safe amount of time to let them sit. Both Joshipura and the CDC also advise against shaking your dirty laundry or cleaning off your shoes inside your space, as that can potentially disperse the virus into your home.

Get Creative With Your Modes Of Transportation

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Picture this: You just woke up on Day 1 of your staycation and you're ready to check out a local farmers market, state park, or new-to-you breakfast spot you found on Yelp. To get there, be creative by taking your bike or walking.

You can always take your car, of course. Melissa Dohmen, senior communications manager at Orbitz, says this means of transportation gives you the maximum amount of control: "You know [your car] hasn’t come into contact with anyone else."

If you have to use public transportation, like the subway or a bus, or you'd prefer a ride-sharing option, Joshipura strongly recommends trying to make the trip as limited as possible. Pay your fare using a touchless payment method, remain at least 6 feet from others, wear a mask, and wash or sanitize your hands immediately after. If you're riding in someone else's car, try to sit diagonally from them in the backseat, and also plan to wash your clothes at the end of the day.

According to Joshipura, virus droplets can "get on your clothes or items you carry." Though it's less common than person-to-person contact, the CDC reports touching a contaminated surface can also lead to contracting coronavirus. So if you're planning to take public transportation, put your backpack or purse near the front door of your home upon return or travel light to avoid bringing home extra germs.

Take The Seasonal Menu Items To Go

On chilly nights, consider the delivery or curbside options in your area that you can enjoy by your fire pit — if you're lucky enough to have one — complete with candles and string lights.

If you choose to dine at a restaurant, there are some things you should know before sitting down and ordering the fall special. Whenever and wherever possible, choose to eat outside. If indoors is your only option, Joshipura says to "bear in mind the high risk" of sitting indoors and advises you spend as little time as possible there, wearing a mask when you're not eating, avoiding touching your face, and sanitizing before picking up anything you're going to eat. You should also follow the pathways between tables that a restaurant has designated, per Viner's advice. (If they're not clearly labeled, ask your server about best practices.)

Find Beauty In The Outdoors

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Fall is prime time to be outdoors, so you should find things to do outside as much as possible. If you're hoping to be a tourist in your own city, pick a new hike, bike path, or local park to peep the leaves. If you live by water, pack up for an afternoon spent on the beach. (But bring a blanket.)

There are also many unique drive-through experiences you can take part in to truly capture the spirit of the season. No matter what excursions you want to plan and take, Dohmen recommends checking first on operating hours and capacity rules, as some destinations may limit the number of guests visiting at the same time.

As tempting as it may be to explore indoors, Joshipura advises staying away from museums, malls, movie theaters, and other indoor locations. "These places generally have poor ventilation and air filtration," she says, making them prone to spreading airborne diseases like the coronavirus.

At the end of the day, traveling at all during a pandemic — even if it's in a destination you're hyper familiar with — comes with risks and responsibilities. As Joshipura says, "None of the precaution measures suggested can ensure that you will be 100% safe." However, staying informed, mindful, and smart will certainly make the experience more enjoyable. With a little planning, your staycation just might be one of the best trips you've taken.

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Elite Daily's coverage of coronavirus here.

Experts cited:

Josh Viner, travel expert for Vacasa

Melanie Fish, travel expert for Vrbo

Melissa Dohmen, senior communications manager at Orbitz

Dr. Kaumudi Joshipura, NIH endowed chair & director of the Center for Clinical Research and Health Promotion at the University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus and adjunct professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health