The COVID-19 pandemic—and the associated risks of getting too close to infectious others—has led to widespread feelings of isolation and boredom. Just as some people have gravitated to “quarantine bubbles” to safely hang out and socialize with like-minded individuals or families, avid travelers are embracing “travel pods” as a way to jumpstart their wanderlust for group travel.
The term “travel pod” (sometimes called a vacation pod) is a way to travel with others while minimizing many of the risks typically associated with group travel. These pods can include two or more unrelated couples or families, multigenerational groups, extended families, or other groups of unrelated adults (e.g., solo travelers).
The range of where-to possibilities is wide open: Participants can rent a large villa, charter a boat, buy out a small hotel, arrange a guided tour, or camp at a national park.
Presumably, undertaking any of these jaunts in a travel pod reduces risks because everyone going agrees to assiduously follow a set of strict health protocols when they are together, which are commonly agreed upon before they go. Implicit in such an arrangement is a high level of trust among the participants..
Virtuoso, Ltd. (a global network of travel agencies with more than 22,000 advisors) reported that 79 percent of respondents to a July 2020 poll indicated they would take part in a travel pod. The luxury travel network defines a travel pod as “a group of two or more households whose members have been following coronavirus quarantine and social distancing guidelines who make plans to vacation together.”
An aside: The pandemic has created a number of neologisms. Sometimes, travel pods are confused with “travel bubbles,” another new term that has emerged with the pandemic. (The latter refers to geographical areas with low infection rates that allow residents to travel between them without having to quarantine).
Renting a large house
Mollie Krengel, 38, is the founder of Wild Bum, a company based in Wisconsin that curates themed travel. She is currently organizing a dance adventure for a group of 12 women, ranging in age from their 20s to 60s from different parts of the country. They plan to meet in Tucson, Arizona in early October.
“We have all agreed to not only take Covid-19 tests but to commit to being extra cautious before we travel so everyone feels safe,” she says. We rented an entire house where we will be isolated from crowds. We’ll be dancing each day, relaxing by the pool, going on hikes and having all our meals catered,” she adds.
“Having the ability to explore the outdoors and feel safe in your accommodations are key,” she says. “I have been doing my due diligence, contacting our massage therapist to ensure that she is taking all precautions as well. And, really this trip is about enjoying one another’s company, rejuvenation, and getting outside.”
Boating on Shuswap Lake
Travel blogger Nicole Hunter just spent seven days on a houseboat with her family of five and a girlfriend. Their friends, another family of four, joined them on Shuswap Lake in British Columbia, Canada.
At night, the two houseboats beached next to each other and the group delegated dinner responsibilities to one of the families before sharing a meal in front of a fire. “We did s’mores and drank wine while looking at some of the most beautiful scenery in the world,” she says.
“We decided to travel like this because we were able to drive five hours from Vancouver (without having to fly) and then physically distance safely on each of our own boats while still being able to socialize and have fun together,” she says.
Before you go: Some considerations
Here are several questions you should be thinking about before traveling in a pod:
1- Should you really be traveling at all?
Traveling entails risks. You’ll have less control of your environment and will likely be interacting with more people. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Guidelines spell out a number of individual risk factors for contracting a severe case of the virus (e.g., age, underlying health conditions, etc.). If you meet any of these criteria, you probably shouldn’t be thinking of traveling at all.
2- Where is the travel pod headed?
Before the trip, check one of the reliable online COVID-19 trackers, like the one made available by the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. You don’t want to travel to a place where infection rates are high and health resources may be overwhelmed.
It’s generally better to drive rather than fly (again, you’ll have more control over your environment) and to visit a place that offers opportunities to spend time outdoors rather than indoors.
If you’re renting a house, make sure the property manager has taken all the necessary safety precautions. Similarly, if your destination is a hotel or resort, check out the website or call to make sure you are comfortable with health and safety protocols, both for guest rooms and public spaces. Travel advisors can be invaluable in offering good advice based on their own knowledge and feedback from prior clients.
3- Who’s in the pod?
Before you commit to a group trip, it’s essential to be able to communicate easily and openly with those who will be joining you.
Do you trust your fellow travelers to be honest before and after the trip? This hurdle is made easier when the pod forms somewhat organically because the participants already know each other well (e.g., two families who have often traveled together with kids or three generations of a family).
Of course, the larger the number of persons in the pod, the greater the risk.
4- What are the rules?
Can you agree on a set of “rules” for everyone to follow? Does everyone in the group share similar values when it comes to pandemic health and safety, and degree of risk-aversiveness?
Will everyone routinely wear masks? Wash their hands frequently? Observe social distancing measures and minimize social contacts outside the pod? Even before the trip, has anyone been spending a great deal of time indoors in close proximity to others? If so, are they willing to quarantine before the trip?
Are you confident your co-travelers would let you know if they noticed symptoms of the virus before, during, or in the weeks following the trip?
To be on the safer side, the group may want to require all participants to take Covid-19 tests close to the time of the trip.
The bottom line
Traveling right now isn’t for everyone. But travel pods are worth considering if you feel brave enough to spread your wings and want to plan a vacation getaway with family or friends.
“There are definitely ways to travel and explore intentionally and meaningfully, and doing so in a way that makes us return more connected and inspired,” says Krengel. “Who couldn’t use more of that right now?”