The Washington Post Sunday
A family trip, saved by the art of adaptability
My sister-in-law got the phone call at dinnertime the night before we were to drive to a Wyoming guest ranch for a five-day, three-generation family vacation. There was a coronavirus outbreak among the ranch’s staff; in two days, the numbers had climbed from three to 18 infections. The staff members with the coronavirus and any others who had been in close contact with them were quarantined. The ranch’s chief operating officer said we were still welcome to come but warned that the service would not be at the ranch’s usual level. My brother and sister-inlaw, who had booked and planned the vacation, opted to take the full refund the ranch offered, not because of how the outbreak would affect the service, but for safety. The nine of us, ranging in age from 7
to 83, had gathered in Jackson, where my fiance, Derek, and I live, for the half-day drive to the ranch. We were crushed, but we didn’t doubt that canceling was the right decision. After briefly mourning the loss of our intended vacation, we jumped into action to create a Plan B.
Although I consider myself a seasoned traveler, the necessity of having a backup plan hadn’t crossed my mind once in the leadup to the trip. If we were going to get together as a family for the first time since the start of the pandemic, where could be safer than a 30,000-acre ranch in the least-populated state in the country?
“With covid, travel is a whole new world,” said Catherine Hagle, president of D.C.-based Connoisseur Travel. “You need to be thinking of a Plan B while you’re making Plan A.”
Although creating Plan B only after Plan A has fallen through isn’t ideal, it’s still possible. “If you have the right mind-set, changing a trip because of covid can even be an opportunity,” said Anna Harrison, owner and travel adviser at Travel Observations in Pittsburgh.
My family and I were fortunate to be “stuck” in Jackson Hole, itself a summer vacation spot; not everyone is lucky enough to be able to pivot to a Plan B without driving or getting on a plane. But even if you do have to travel, it’s not impossible. Here’s some advice from travel experts, backed up by my own experience.
Identify the purpose of your trip, and consider whether you want Plan B to replicate it.
“A vacation with a purpose is always a better vacation,” said Guido Adelfio, president of Bethesda Travel Center. “Relaxing by a pool can be a purpose, or being together as a family, or sampling how pasta sauce differs across Italy. A purpose makes for a satisfying trip.”
For the adults in my family, the ranch was about being together for the first time since the pandemic started. For my 7- and 9year-old nieces, recently introduced to Lord of the Rings (and particular fans of Legolas), archery was a purpose.
Harrison sees a canceled Plan A as a chance to check in, which is why she asks whether her clients want to replicate its purpose or do something else. “Sometimes, after the stress of a canceled trip, they might want something different,” she said. One set of her clients canceled their Kenyan safari because they were uncomfortable traveling internationally with the delta variant but wanted a Plan B with the same purpose: wildlife watching. Harrison sent them to Alaska.
My family wanted to keep archery and together time but used the cancellation to tweak the specifics of the latter. Instead of the horseback riding or ATVing we would have done at the ranch, we spent time together at a park on the banks of the Snake River, hiking the Wildflower Trail to the top of the Bridger Gondola at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, and swimming and picnicking at String Lake in Grand Teton National Park. Driving home from our day at String Lake, my mom declared: “That was better than anything the ranch could have done.”
Be adaptable. “If you’re going to travel, being adaptable is always part of the terms of engagement, and this is even more true during covid,” Adelfio said. With only two days’ notice, Hagle created a Plan B honeymoon for a couple who had originally planned to go to Greece. “They were fine with anywhere, so long as it was luxurious and felt exotic,” Hagle said. (She booked them into an ocean-view room on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.)
Decide how much inconvenience or risk you’re willing to deal with.
“If you’re not willing to wear a mask for hours when you’re in an airport and on a plane, that automatically filters out a lot of places,” Adelfio said. At the time of this writing, to reenter the United States from another country requires a negative PCR test within 72 hours of arrival. Are you willing and able to do that?
Are you comfortable staying at a property that doesn’t require employees to be vaccinated? How do you feel about crowds? Are you okay with having to show a vaccination card to eat inside a restaurant? “Asking and answering these questions will easily point you toward some destinations and away from others,” Harrison said.
Turn to a travel adviser (even if they didn’t book your original trip). “It is exhausting to keep up with country requirements, even intrastate regulations,” Harrison said. “Add trying to plan something last-minute on top of this, and the relationships and expertise of a travel adviser are even more important.” In April, Hagle’s Connoisseur Travel pivoted a new client to the Bahamas instead of Anguilla after the latter announced it was closing its borders immediately because of a spike in coronavirus cases on the island. “We didn’t book the trip to Anguilla — the couple enjoyed booking their own vacations — but they didn’t know what to do when the island closed.”
Get vaccinated. “Being vaccinated is a passport to freedom,” said Monique Owen, the owner of Monique Owen Travel. “If you’ve got that, I can cast the widest net possible to see what we can make happen, especially at the last minute.” Adelfio, who mostly plans itineraries in Europe, also recommends clients be vaccinated. “If you’re vaccinated, that’s the first step toward being able to pivot to Europe,” he said. “There’s still paperwork that you’ll need to do, and being vaccinated won’t give you control over whether countries decide to close, but without being vaccinated, Europe isn’t a last-minute option at all.” The experts’ recommendation echoes that of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says on its website: “Do not travel internationally until you are fully vaccinated.”
Another reason to be vaccinated: An increasing number of tour operators that might have lastminute openings on trips because already-booked clients have contracted the coronavirus now require guests who are replacing them to be vaccinated or tested. These include Backroads, an active-travel — think hiking, biking