As New England opens up, road trips allow us to travel safely and scratch our adventure itch. Like many others who are old enough to be retired, but young enough to travel, we were chomping at the bit to get away, explore, and enjoy life.
We made plans for three overnight road trips in three consecutive weeks. We opted for midweek trips so that we would encounter smaller crowds, allowing for more social distancing.
My husband and I differ in our approach to pandemic-era travel. I am cautious, wear my mask anytime I encounter someone, and prefer exploring nature trails. He is less likely to wear his mask, desperately misses striking up conversations with strangers, and prefers strolling city streets.
Here’s how our experience exploring New England went.
I love getting out, exploring new places, and revisiting old favorites. As New England started to open up, I tentatively began traveling locally near my home in Massachusetts.
In early May, hiking seemed to be the best way to get out, so I headed to World’s End, a beautiful nature preserve on a peninsula near Boston. The first hurdle was parking. When I checked to verify that they were open, I discovered that I needed to reserve a time and prepay for parking. Lesson learned: Call ahead or visit the destination’s website to get up-to-the-minute information. At the preserve, we encountered more critters than people, and the people we did encounter gave us plenty of room. We ended our outing with drinks on the patio at the ReelHouse Marina Bay. It was the first day Massachusetts was allowing outside dining.
Boston has made great strides in opening up. At one point, it was the home of the third-largest outbreak, and we were severely restricted. Bostonians are generally cautious, and because of the slower opening, the state seems to be steadily and safely moving in the right direction.
I was itching for a road trip, so I grabbed my hiking buddy Barb and headed up to Franconia Notch State Park to trek to some favorite spots. At the time, New Hampshire required out-of-state visitors staying an extended period of time to self-quarantine for two weeks. Following these guidelines, we ventured up and stayed with family for a few days while we hiked the White Mountains. Since our visit, New Hampshire has opened its borders to visitors from the rest of New England with no quarantine restrictions.
On our way north, we stopped at a fast-food restaurant in Keene and ordered by phone for car delivery. As we waited for our food, we noted that more than half of the customers entering the restaurant were maskless. Our food was delivered by a masked employee, fortunately.
It was interesting visiting with family during this time. We wore masks in the house and spent most of our time on the large front porch, where we could distance and discard the face coverings. New Hampshirites, with the exception of those living in cities, tend to live socially distant from their neighbors anyway. I did stop into one small market during my stay; the clerk was behind a shield, and several of the patrons were maskless.
In Franconia, the trails were crowded -- it was a beautiful stretch of weather in early June. There was very little social distancing, and it felt like it always does: free, unencumbered, and family friendly.
We hiked at Vermont’s Quechee Gorge on the same trip we stayed with family in New Hampshire. Vermont also required day trippers to stay at home for 14 days. The restrictions for overnight guests were a little more stringent, requiring them to meet several guidelines.
Every week, Vermont updates its Cross State Travel Information map that color codes all the counties in the Northeast. If your county is green, you can visit freely without quarantine. Yellow and red counties have different quarantine requirements. I just planned a trip to several Vermont inns for August, so I hope my county goes from yellow to green before we visit!
I took a drive down the Rhode Island coast on a beautiful day in early May. It was a spur-of-the-moment drive with no planned itinerary; I just wanted to visit the gorgeous beaches and walk around the coastal towns. There were road signs everywhere essentially asking nonresidents to go home. There were very few out-of-state cars, only a few restaurants offering takeout, and the beach parking lots were closed. It was a little bit of a shock -- I was waiting for a trooper to pull me over and tell me to go home! I ended up stopping the car at a very secluded place to stretch my legs and eat a granola bar from my emergency stash. For most of the trip, I just drove around.
A month later, we returned to Rhode Island for a trip to Block Island, a small vacation spot just south of the mainland. We were able to book a room at an inn with only minimal restrictions. Rhode Island now requires quarantine if you come from a state that has more than a 5 percent positivity rate. Thankfully, Massachusetts is far below that level.
Block Island was glorious and very COVID sensitive. Many places we went -- restaurants, bars, and accommodations -- asked for our names and phone numbers for contact tracing. Island guests wore masks everywhere. The ferry had distanced seating, and the staff members counted heads as we boarded. We were required to make reservations online for every venue we visited. We felt very safe and respected.
We also spent a day in Newport visiting relatives, wandering around the city, and enjoying a fabulous meal. In Newport, visitors often didn’t wear masks, did not distance well, and seemed, in general, unfazed by the potential spread. Thankfully, the business owners, however, were conscious of the safety of their staff and guests and required masks.
The day before the Fourth of July, we headed to Camden in Maine, the state with the strictest guidelines. Since we could not meet the 14-day quarantine requirement, we opted for the rapid COVID antigen test. It was not as invasive as I expected, and the results were ready in 15 minutes. The test needed to be administered within 72 hours of our first overnight stay, which precluded getting the traditional COVID antigen test, since the results of that test can take up to 10 days. We were then required to complete a certificate of compliance for our innkeepers.
At the Maine Stay Inn, innkeeper Peter Kesser said, “Maine's strict health and safety guidelines make the state a safe place to visit which, in turn, makes Maine a more desirable vacation spot for our guests.” The restaurants and inns were very thoughtful about mask requirements and providing hand sanitizer. We felt very comfortable while traveling throughout Maine.
Our trips over the past eight weeks have been slightly challenging. We were thankful for the opportunity to get out and enjoy nature and fresh air. Your trip will be successful if you research where you want to go and what restrictions you feel confident you can meet. Bring several masks, keep hand sanitizer in your car, and pack an emergency cooler of water and snacks.