My biggest fear was the bathrooms.

With summer vacation plans where we boarded a plane thwarted by the coronavirus pandemic, my husband and I looked at the rest of 2020 and knew that if we wanted to take an extended vacation this year, it was going to look much different than gallivanting through England and Portugal would have.

We drew up a loose itinerary, booked a camper van and chose a 10-day stretch in July to explore. Which brings me back to the bathrooms. Camper vans don’t typically have toilets or showers (that’s mostly for the fancier RV-renting folks), and my fear of public bathrooms started to manifest over COVID-19 hot spots. It was certainly the riskiest activity we’d have to repeat for the length of our travel.

Bathrooms have been a big source of concern and anxiety for people throughout the pandemic, and I’m certainly not the first person to write about it. Even if you get past the COVID-19 concerns that come with public restrooms, it’s the simple availability of them. Gone are the days of sipping on the large iced coffee nestled in your cupholder as your take in the rolling hills streaming by your window, knowing worst comes to worst, you can duck into the next gas station to use its restroom.

Then it got worse. When we booked the van in June, cases of the coronavirus in the states and counties we’d be visiting seemed to be stable, if not declining. By the time we were scheduled to leave, we almost canceled. Cases had been spiking across the country, and we didn’t want to put anyone at risk, especially ourselves. But other than those damn bathrooms, the only contact we planned to have with people were crossing paths while hiking or at various campsites, and maybe the occasional outdoor dining. Our rules were simple — masks always, no indoor anything.

This camper van has a small refrigerator (powered by a rooftop solar panel) and a camper stove, so we were able to do lots of cooking around the fire or on the stove. It gave us the feeling of camping every night, but without the annoyance of breaking down and setting up camp each night.

Since we’re Midwest natives, we decided to take advantage of our yet unexplored parts of the West Coast. We’d been to Portland and Seattle, but there was so much more of the Pacific Northwest to explore (and maybe even Canada, we thought naively in June, when the border sounded like it might open. For the record, I wouldn’t let us in either, Canada.)

We took the coastal route up, stopping in foggy seaside towns, and spent a few days touring Olympic National Park. Crossing over to Seattle, we took the inland route down, enjoying what felt like endless National Forest and scenic spots like Crater Lake.

For the most part, we felt totally safe. Mask usage was wide in most places we went, including in campground bathrooms and on hikes. If we saw a risky situation, we did our best to avoid it, and no, kind sir, I don’t need you to take our photo. This is the summer of selfies!

And we still did most of the things I value in a vacation. We drank local beer purchased from brewery to-go windows. We ate marionberry pie from a seaside shack’s takeout operation. We peeked into small-town shop windows. We even were still able to chat with a few other local travelers, though masked and from a typical distance of more than 10 feet.

It was also freeing. Eating and drinking my way around local bars and restaurants is an integral way I digest the vibe of a place, and part of my trip planning usually includes making reservations and plotting out where to get the best version of everything. But we tried to limit even our outdoor dining, and with restaurants and bars barely scraping by with erratic hours even if they’re open, there were no dining plans. While I didn’t have any award-winning meals, my campfire creations had their own charms (if you’re not making your smores with Reese’s cups instead of Hershey’s chocolate, send me an email when you want to thank me later).

The vacation days we would have spent walking through London and drinking in Lisbon would have been lovely, but that adventure is for a different time. In the meantime, I took a trip I may never have prioritized — and may have never taken at all. I’m a flight risk you see, a 30-something with dreams of owning a home again one day, so a more affordable city could steal me away at any time.

But now I’ve hiked down to Crater Lake, an Oregon sight so beautiful, I get why it always shows up on those lists of the most beautiful places in the world. I learned there are rainforests in the United States and they’re located way up in the corner of Washington, full of trees covered in bright green moss. I’ve drunk wine in the Willamette Valley, Napa’s cooler, crunchier cousin. I watched kite surfers glide above Hood River, a town so cute my husband and I spent our dinner swiping through homes in Redfin. I relaxed in mineral hot springs. I visited the last remaining Blockbuster. I saw my first bear!

It’s been hard to find silver linings in the pandemic, but for us, this was definitely one. COVID-19 could have effects on travel for years to come, and as someone who is planning to be as careful as possible until we beat this thing, this might just be the way I’m most comfortable traveling for the time being. There’s a whole lot of this country that I’ve not yet seen.

Oh, and back to the bathrooms. Armed with Clorox wipes and large-format hand sanitizer, I did the best I could and I never had to, well, take it to nature.

Tessa McLean is a digital editor with SFGATE. Email her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @mcleantessa.

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