Meet in the Middle: COVID Travel Compromise

We were supposed to fly to Ohio and spend three weeks at Kelly’s parents’ house, hanging out by the pool while our son, Ewan, played with his cousins. We’d bought tickets in the spring, when the first lockdowns were starting to make an impact on COVID transmission. Surely the end of summer would be a safer time to travel, we thought.

Surely, we were wrong. As our departure approached, the pandemic continued to spiral. Kelly works in the hospital treating COVID patients — she had already seen grandparents walk into the ICU and never walk out. Flying was clearly too risky.

baby sleeping in carseatBut we are parents to a high-energy 3-year-old and a higher-energy heeler puppy; we both work full-time and had spent every weekend since January building a new house; Kelly’s job has enough sustained stress and emotional toll to affect people like war does, and she hadn’t seen her family in over a year. We needed a break.

Maybe if we couldn’t get to Ohio, we could meet in the middle. With cooperation from Kelly’s parents, we changed our plans to rent an Airbnb house in the mountains, so we’d still get to hang out. It’d be close enough to drive to but far enough way that we could forget about everything to be done at home.

Here are four things we learned hitting the road in the middle of a pandemic.

car towing gear

1. Night-Driving Has Its Advantages

Limiting exposure on a road trip involves limiting your stops as much as possible — not the easiest task with a 3-year-old. There’s no way around gas stops, but one night in a hotel is all that we felt comfortable with. So, as counterintuitive as it may seem, we decided to leave Portland at night. We figured that the only way to put in a long, 10-hour stretch of driving was to do it while Ewan was sleeping.

It took a pre-drive nap and about four cups of coffee, but amazingly enough, the all-night drive proved clutch. We left around 10, and Ewan was asleep in minutes. No traffic, a to-go mug full of cold brew and hours of Hardcore History podcasts let me zone out and crank through the miles while Ewan and Kelly slept (one better than the other) in the back seat. In the middle of the night, gas stations are empty. Kelly was able to fill up, go in for supplies and even use the restroom while keeping contact with people to a minimum. Driving overnight let us do about 14 hours in one push — stopping in the morning to eat a breakfast picnic in a local park and let the kids run around and get some ya-yas out, before pushing on. This turned two potential hotel stops into one, saving money and limiting exposure.

boating with friends

2. Be Picky on Your Rental Selection

Whether on the water, at the dinner table or on the trails, the McBrides figured out how to safely relax.

Whether on the water, at the dinner table or on the trails, the McBrides figured out how to safely relax.

Our criteria for a rental were that it had to be a manageable two-day drive from both Oregon and Ohio, and have access to outdoor recreation so we could enjoy our vacation while staying somewhat isolated. This put us in Montana, Wyoming or Colorado. Even on short notice, there were a lot of options available, but most were condos or attached townhomes in ski resort areas. Spending a week in cramped resort lodging — where people from wherever may have varying definitions of social distancing — seemed like a bad idea. We took the time to comb through thousands of Airbnb and VRBO options and found a detached home on two-acres of property outside of Fraser, Colorado.

Rather than searching for an accessible home, I looked through photos until I found something that had two bedrooms, the kitchen and a bathroom on the main floor, with only a step or two to get into the house. It wasn’t perfect, but I was more than willing to accept needing help up a step to avoid a multi-unit building in closer proximity to the general public. For those who do have specific accessibility requirements, Airbnb does now let you filter for different features, such as a roll-in shower or a no-step entry, giving you more options and info than a search for a “fully-accessible” home would.

3. Bring Your Own

riding bikes on a trailThe house we stayed in claimed to follow “strict cleaning protocols” but to be sure, we also brought our own bleach wipes and cleaning supplies. Kelly’s family got there just before we did, and Kelly’s mom went inside, opened windows to get air flowing and sanitized high-touch surfaces before we went inside. Knowing that the place was disinfected to our standards gave a little extra peace of mind — just like social distancing, we didn’t want to have to trust a stranger’s definition of clean.

To bring my mountain bike, we had to tow a trailer behind our car. One positive is that it gave us space to haul two coolers. Kelly stocked up at our local grocery, her parents did the same, and we both got big meals from our favorite local takeout spots to reheat. With our combined haul, we had enough food to eat in for the entire week. We did a pretty good job of packing but could’ve done better. There were a few times people had to run to the grocery store for small items like extra cheese or butter, which we could have easily avoided if we’d been more thorough in our meal planning.

4. It’s All Relative

All in all, the week was a very pandemic-y sort of success. Sure, there were drawbacks: no stopping to let Ewan explore roadside attractions, no sampling local restaurants and breweries, and Ewan didn’t get to hang out with his cousins. But he did get to play with his grandparents and uncle. And Kelly and I had more adult conversations than we’d had since February and were able to disconnect for a week, wandering mountain trails and floating on glacial lakes, all while keeping risk at a level we were comfortable with. It wasn’t what we planned, and it wasn’t perfect, but we had fun, nobody got sick and I’m certain our cortisol levels are lower than when we left. In 2020, that’s as good as it gets.

** This post was originally published on

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