Most people look forward to going away for a summer vacation, or at least attending barbeques and picnics closer to home. But this year, things look pretty different.
With the unemployment rate current at 11%, the threat of Covid-19 infection still present in every state in the country, and tension boiling in cities around the United States, summer fun may seem harder to experience.
But rest, relaxation, and fun are still important. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, stress can be dangerous for mental and physical health. Summertime play and adventure may help ease up some of those knots in your back (and perhaps in your mind, too). An investment in your health can be an investment in your whole life—social, financial, and otherwise.
In that spirit, we reached out to experts in health and finance to ask for simple, useful advice on how to have summertime fun in a safer way. The potential monetary costs represent a broad range, depending on how far you want to travel and how fancy you get when it comes to food and incidentals. But, remember, as always, safety comes first.
Cost factors: car fuel, food, camping equipment, access to parks
Potential cost per person: $15—$100 per day
Personal finance writer Lillian Karabaic, host of the podcast Oh My Dollar and author of A Cat’s Guide To Money, has a camping plan. She’s going to ride her bicycle 40 miles to camp at an Oregon state park that is currently projected to reopen in mid-July. It’s a very budget-friendly excursion.
“The overnight campsite fees are $5 for bikers, and I carry what I need on my bicycle to camp in a $30 tent,” Karabaic says. Assuming she packs $25 worth of groceries and other supplies, and perhaps stops for a socially distant $15 roadside lunch on her way to and from the campsite, this could easily be a gorgeous five-day athletic vacation for $90!
“Bike touring gets me out in nature and is an affordable way to de-stress,” she adds. “Most of the costs are the cost of bringing extra food for all the calories I burn. In Portland, we’re lucky to have dozens of state parks within a day’s ride for a bit of an escape.”
Karabaic says that if you drive to go on your state park camping adventure, budget for extra gasoline and water. And since many rest stops will still be closed, devise an adventure that isn’t a terribly far drive from your home.
Dr. Daniel Summers, M.D. has written about health and other subjects for Slate, The Daily Beast, and more. He’s a pediatrician in private practice in Maine who, like a lot of doctors in all areas of specialty, finds himself offering common-sense advice to people of all ages these days.
“If you decide that you’re going to travel, it’s on you to know how the pandemic is being managed at your destination, and be prepared to adhere to the rules,” he says. “In Maine, for example, it’s expected that you will quarantine for two weeks [upon arrival] if you’re coming from out of state.”
Dr. Summers adds, “It’s also important to consider the risks inherent in the place you choose to go. The more of a tourist draw, the more likely you are to get exposed to larger crowds, and to people from various places of origin that may be doing a better or worse job controlling the pandemic.”
Take a day trip
Cost factors: car fuel, food, cost of access to parks and trails
Potential cost person: $20—100 per day
Personal finance writer Carmen Perez of Make Real Cents is a big fan of the day trip as opposed to something more expensive that might necessitate whipping out the credit card. She’s concerned that if a newly unemployed or furloughed person decides to use a credit card to pay for a fancy vacation, they may find the experience ruined by the fear of what will happen when they get home and attempt to navigate unemployment—and, of course, when those vacation bills come due.
“I think a better alternative would be to focus on a weekend or day trip somewhere to truly decompress and figure out next steps,” Perez says. But even a day trip requires advance planning. For example, Perez recommends shopping for snacks the day before the trip. This may ward off impulse buys.
Karabaic is also a proponent of a daylong outdoor adventure: “Many hiking trails will be reopening later in the summer for day trips, which is another way to get a bit of rest without the logistics of overnight camping.” Again, plan ahead, since state agencies will be limiting the number of passes available to hike on the more popular trails.
The states are taking such measures in order to limit the number of people crowding public parks. Dr. Summers knows this will be a challenge in his home state of Massachusetts as well as Maine, the location of his practice. Both states are huge tourist destinations for hikers, cyclists, and campers.
“I would advise people to choose a destination that’s less likely to put them into contact with large groups of people, who may or may not adhere to mask requirements or social distancing,” he says.
In other words, those super popular hiking trails to the most Instagram-worthy vistas? Consider skipping them in favor of less dramatic—but potentially safer—views.
Do a house swap
Cost factors: car fuel, food
Potential cost: $0 – 100 per week
“Sometimes you just need a change in environment—and likely your friends do, too,” Karabaic says. She adds that while you may not be able to hang out with your friends, you can become a free version of an AirBnB for one another. You can even swap houses within the same city!
“I know I’d like to stare at a different street out my window after three months looking out the same window,” she says.
A house swap may seem unusual, but it could prove incredibly nurturing and relaxing. You do deserve nice things during this time! As Perez says, “Everyone is mentally struggling …You have to give yourself some grace during this time and try to keep the negative self-talk to a minimum. If you find yourself feeling overly indulgent or wasteful, take a step back for a moment and try to understand the root of the problem.”
If none of these ideas appeals to you, try this one from Perez—challenge your family members or roommates to get creative. What kind of vacation can you do on one tank of gas and $100 between all of you? Throw the dream of pricey glamour out the window and brainstorm something realistic. It’ll likely spark some laughter, and may take you on a safer, cheaper, and more exciting adventure than you’ve ever imagined.