I always look forward to writing our Year in Review article every December. It’s a great opportunity to reflect on our trips and relive the memories. Sometimes we are surprised at how many trips we took. Other times, we’re surprised at how few trips we took. You might think this year would be different but, honestly, it’s not. While 2020 didn’t exactly play out the way we expected, it’s still been a pretty good year for us, travel-wise.
Yes, we canceled a couple of planned trips. We stayed home most of March, all of April and most of May. But, because of how we typically travel, once the country opened back up at the beginning of the summer, we started traveling again, with modifications.
Road trips in our own truck, camping in our camper and hiking the trails at state and national parks has always been the primary focus of our travels. Now, we do it not just because we love it but also because it’s the safest and healthiest way to travel.
First, though, let’s start back in January and relive those first couple of months of “normal” travel in 2020.
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January: New Mexico
We ended 2019 with a road trip to the national parks sites of El Paso, TX and southern Arizona and New Mexico. On New Year’s Day we visited the newly renamed White Sands National Park. Here, we discovered that sand-sledding is a much more enjoyable activity than hiking in the sand! And, with relatively small dunes, you can hike up and sled down several times without too much difficulty.
From there, we headed north to visit Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. This park preserves the sites of three Catholic missions to the Pueblo communities of the Salinas Valley. We enjoyed learning a bit about the history of the region and exploring the mission ruins. Each site is relatively small, so you shouldn’t need more than about an hour to see each of them. In fact, you might spend more time driving between the three sites than you do actually visiting them.
From here, we headed back to Georgia and prepared for what we thought would be a normal semester of school! We even posted an article on the Pros and Cons of Cruising in January. We really had no idea what was coming!
February: South Florida National Parks
In February, about a month before the “big shut down,” we took an RV trip to South Florida. While we do love playing in the snow in the winter, we also enjoy balancing that with visits to warmer weather. That’s exactly what we found at down at the southern end of Florida.
We enjoyed snorkeling and paddleboarding at Biscayne National Park and didn’t even need a wet suit. At Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve, we were able to hike and canoe in shorts and t-shirts. Back at our campsite, we sat outside without freezing.
This was actually our second February trip to the South Florida national parks and we think that is one of the best times to visit the area!
In addition to being our last “normal” trip of 2020, it was special because we met up with a few folks from AAA Living for an article we were featured in. After several emails and phone interviews, it was fun to meet with a photographer and a couple of other AAA representatives to finalize the article.
I’ll admit, being followed and interviewed during a national park visit was a little weird. Still, we enjoyed the experience. And, it was definitely fun being featured on the cover of the AAA Living magazine in May. We always love motivating others to travel, whether it is sharing stories with friends, writing articles on our website or being featured in an article by another publication.
March/April: COVID-19 and Our Local Trails
Like most of the rest of the country, March 13 was our last day of “normal” school. Our superintendent initially announced we would move to a remote teaching and learning model for two weeks. Of course, that turned into the rest of the semester.
It was certainly interesting to balance two teachers working from home in a one-bedroom condo. We handled it fairly well, though, and quickly got into a groove that worked for us.
Within a few days of the entire country shutting down, we realized that we needed to cancel our planned Spring Break trip with Grant’s family. The trip would have taken 6 adults and 3 kids to Flagstaff, AZ, where we planned to visit the Grand Canyon, among other sites.
Instead, we hunkered down at home and continued to enjoy daily walks on our local trails. We tried to support our local restaurants by getting take out once or twice a week. Like others, we watched way more TV than we usually do. And, of course, the idea that we would still be “dealing with” the pandemic in the fall seemed unfathomable!
While we certainly missed traveling over Spring Break, it was nice to just have time to relax at home.
To Travel or Not to Travel?
We held onto hope that we might be able to still make our summer trip to Hawaii through most of April. As we approached early May, though, it became clear that Hawaii would still not be open for visitors. By the end of the first week of May, we started canceling our flights, hotels and excursions.
While some states were beginning to open back up, Hawaii still held tight on their restrictions, especially for visitors. And we completely understand why. Yes, we were upset to cancel this epic trip. But, we know we’ll make it to Hawaii one day. And, hopefully, it will be an even bigger and better trip!
After canceling the Hawaii trip, we did some research on conditions throughout the rest of the country. We finally decided on a summer camping trip, spending most of our time in South Dakota and North Dakota. At the time, these states (especially the areas we would visit) had very few COVID-19 cases and, for the most part, had really never closed down.
By traveling with our truck and camper, we could sleep in our own bed, shower in our own bathroom and cook our own meals. We’d spend most of our time out on the trails. And, we actually had been to many of the places on our itinerary before, so we weren’t too upset about the possibility of visitor centers being closed.
We felt that this was a low-risk way to travel that still kept us mostly isolated and enjoying outdoor activities.
June/July: RV Road Trip to the Plains
In true 2020 style, our departure was delayed a little more than a week after needing last-minute repairs on our truck. We ended up having to skip a few stops on our itinerary but we still made the most of it and had a great summer.
We started our trip at Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Oklahoma. Here, we found a few hiking trails, a small bison herd and a great campground! We were bummed to miss the visitor center and ranger interaction but we knew that was something we’d have to deal with on this trip.
From there, we headed to Badlands National Park in western South Dakota. We had visited before but enjoyed having more time for hiking on this trip. After that, we continued to the Black Hills, one of our favorite regions of the country. After visiting the area twice in 2019, we certainly did not expect to be back there in 2020. But, let’s be honest, no one expected a lot of stuff that happened in 2020!
We enjoyed three fantastic weeks in the Black Hills, visiting all the national park sites, Custer State Park and a few small local museums. While we still spent most of our time outside, we did feel comfortable eating at a few restaurants.
The final leg of our trip took us to North Dakota, revisiting all three park sites in the state. We especially enjoyed our stay in Medora and visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park for a few days. We even had a close encounter of the bison kind on an amazing trail in the North Unit of the park.
August: Back to Teaching… Face-to-Face!
As teachers, we spent much of our summer eagerly awaiting the announcement of what school would look like in the fall. We wondered if we would be teaching face-to-face, remotely or on some sort of hybrid schedule. If the district chose face-to-face would teachers and students be required to wear masks? Would the start of the school year be pushed back from our normal starting date of the first Monday of August?
In early July we finally got some answers. Face-to-face learning starting on time with masks required for teachers but not for students. I’m going to be honest, this was not the combination we were looking for. Yes, we spent the summer traveling. But, honestly, in the Dakotas, we felt as though we were watching the summer surge of COVID-19 from afar. And, we felt very much in control of our activities.
Heading back to Georgia, we felt as though we were walking into a petrie dish and turning into guinea pigs. As we drove from the “safer” states with less infection to the “hot spots” we adjusted our behaviors, avoiding restaurants and groups as much as possible. We even canceled a stop in Missouri because it seemed too risky and we got COVID tests upon our return to Georgia. We wanted to make sure we were not bringing the disease into our school.
Grant and I started school on Monday, August 3 with VERY few adjustments. We lasted 8 days. The superintendent closed our school due to too many students quarantined. We spent the next few weeks teaching remotely. Then we had about a month on a hybrid schedule, where we only had half the students in the building at a time.
Labor Day Weekend: Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
If we had stayed teaching face-to-face, we probably would not have traveled in September. After several weeks of a remote teaching and hybrid learning model, though, we felt it was safe to travel if we took the appropriate precautions. We knew we might be eating more takeout and missing out on visitor centers and group tours. For us, it was worth it.
We also quickly figured out that while Georgia had few, if any, required safety precautions, many other states did. So, honestly, we chose to travel because we felt safer in other states than we did at home.
For Labor Day Weekend, we took a quick trip up to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. This park site sits at the corner of Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia. Initially, this pass or “gap” was a game trail over the mountains. Later, it was used by Native Americans and, eventually, white settlers.
With a combination of history and outdoor adventure, this was a perfect site for a socially-distanced weekend getaway. We missed out on a few parts of the park because of COVID-19 but still enjoyed getting out on the trails.
September: Southern Colorado
For our week-long September Break, we decided on a road trip out to Pagosa Springs, CO, where there is a family house we could stay at. My dad and sister met us there. To be safe, Grant and I kept ourselves as isolated as possible leading up to our trip and got COVID tests just before we left.
Not wanting to spend several hours on an airplane, we spent about 24 hours driving each way. Yes, it was a long drive. But, we like road trips and it was absolutely worth it for us.
In Pagosa Springs, we enjoyed the iconic hot springs that the town is known for and visited a couple of National Monuments in the area. Most of all, we enjoyed seeing family and just getting away from home for a bit. And, again, being in a place that requires masks and encourages outdoor dining makes us feel safer than being at home.
On the way home, we spent a day at Great Sand Dunes National Park. We really don’t enjoy walking in the sand, so we were thrilled to find other things to do in this park! The drive on the rugged Medano Pass Primitive Road was a great way to spend a couple of hours before starting the long drive back to Georgia.
November: North Carolina’s Outer Banks
With a desire to keep choosing travel destinations that maximize our time outside, we headed to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a few days before Thanksgiving. Here, we revisited a couple of sites from our very first trip together and added on a few new parks as well.
We particularly enjoyed Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout National Seashores, since everything is outside. There’s just something great about the beach, even when it’s a little cool outside! Of course, we balanced the fun with a little history at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, Wright Brothers National Memorial and Moore’s Creek National Battlefield.
The combination of outdoor activities and visiting the area during the off-season led to a great trip with very little close interaction with others. That is exactly what we look for when traveling these days!
After returning home we had a very small Thanksgiving celebration with just us and Grant’s mom and stepdad but not before being tested for COVID again.
December: Southern Utah
With two weeks off for Christmas and New Year’s, we opted for another long drive out west. Our original plan was to visit a couple of park sites near Albuquerque, NM on our way to the National Parks in Southern Utah.
A couple of weeks before the trip, we realized that New Mexico has a 14-day quarantine for anyone traveling in from a “hot spot.” Of course, right now that is any state other than Hawaii. We certainly do not want to blatantly disregard any sort of local travel restrictions. So, we changed our plans and decided to spend a day at the Grand Canyon instead!
We drove 27 hours over 3 days, but we made it and it was worth every long hour on the road. We only had one full day at the park which was not nearly enough time but it was still a great visit.
From the Gand Canyon, we headed north a made a quick stop at Pipe Spring National Monument on our way to Zion National Park. We spent three days at Zion, including Christmas Day. After that, it’s off to Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks. Our final stop of 2020 is Colorado National Monument before heading back to Georgia.
Stay tuned for our upcoming articles on all of these sites!
Final Thoughts on Traveling in 2020
We know that the decision to travel during the COVID-19 pandemic is a very personal one. If you are not comfortable traveling, we absolutely understand. For those of you who do travel, we hope that you will take the necessary precautions to keep yourself and others safe and healthy.
Our top travel tips are to keep your plans flexible and respect any local travel restrictions. Also, be aware that conditions may be very different, for better or worse, than what you are used to at home. For us, traveling usually means finding conditions that we are more comfortable with. This is one reason we continue to travel.
In an effort to be as safe as possible, we have only traveled in our own truck, avoiding airplanes and public transportation. We do the research ahead of time to find out what is open and what kind of conditions to expect. If we’re inside a building or even near others outside, we wear masks. And, we monitor our temperature (seriously, we travel with a thermometer and use it daily) and are very aware of even a single cough or sniffle.
Yes, it’s frustrating to miss a visitor center or local museum because it’s closed. And, we REALLY miss trying out all the local restaurants! If that’s what it takes to keep ourselves and others healthy, though, it is absolutely worth it to us. We’ll take “not normal” travel over no travel anytime.
Travel is a huge part of our lives. It’s what keeps us happy. So, as long as we can travel safely, we will. If we can’t travel safely, we’ll stay home. We hope you will do the same.
And we really hope that 2021 brings us closer to the “normal” that we all remember and yearn for!
We use Skyscanner to find deals on flights. Skyscanner has a great interface and compares tons of airlines for the best pricing and routing. That said, it does not always have every airline and some airlines will have better deals on their website. Still, Skyscanner is a great place to start.
Click here to search for a flight.
We typically stay at Hilton properties, so we use the Hilton website. We can find good Hilton Honors discounts or AAA discounts for a hotel there. We make great use of our free night certificates from our Hilton Honors American Express.
Click here to book a Hilton property.
If there are no Hilton properties available, we use TripAdvisor to read reviews and book the hotel. We find we can get the best price that way.
Click here to search for a hotel.
We use Vrbo for the times when we have rented a cabin for a weekend getaway, like this cabin in Townsend, TN, or needed to rent a house for a large family vacation. We had a great experience with them in terms of refunding deposits when COVID hit and will continue to use them.
Click here to search for a vacation rental.
As a general rule, we book with Hertz for rental cars. We have had nothing but good experiences with them. Plus, we really like unlimited mileage and not worrying about crossing state lines. We have even rented from Hertz overseas in both Slovenia and Croatia.
Click here to book a rental car.
We have found some amazing prices booking a cruise through Cruise Direct. We have saved a lot of money on our cruises compared to what we found elsewhere, making a last-minute Bahamas cruise even cheaper.
Click here to book a cruise.
We highly recommend Outdoorsy for RV rentals. We rented a camper van for a week to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for the elk rut and Custer State Park for the Buffalo Round-Up and had a blast. The program was easy to use and we really enjoyed the freedom of having a camper van for that trip.
Click here to rent an RV.
We don’t often book tours. Typically, we like to do stuff on our own. That said, there are some experiences you just can’t have any other way. So, when we do want to book a tour, we always check Viatour first.
Click here to book a tour.
We make extensive use of both Good Sam and AAA on the road. Good Sam is normally regarded as a discount card for RVers at campgrounds and Camping World but anyone can use the 5 cents off a gallon at the pump at both Pilot and Flying J.
Click here to get a Good Sam membership.
We have had AAA as long as we have been married and it has more than paid for itself in discounts at hotels, aside from the peace of mind of having roadside assistance. Add in paper maps and the ability to get an international driver’s license and it is more than worth it for any traveler out there.