So much has changed since my last post in January! Vaccinations are way up, businesses are starting to reopen all over, unemployment is dropping and financial markets are at record highs. It really feels like things are on the road to normal again.

Speaking of on the road, I went on my first trip since covid started, and decided to drive! I left on February 23rd and returned on March 8th two weeks later, after driving 3,115 miles. I was able to see a bunch of friends and family, and though I stayed in hotels and we practiced social distancing, it was so great to socialize again and escape to the beach for a while. I’d turned down a number of other trips because they just felt a little too risky, so finding a middle ground that still let me get away and regain some sanity was a must.

The Drive

Spring Break 2021

My first leg was NY – DC to visit my friend Grace. Unfortunately I had a major vehicle issue that reared its head about 50 miles outside of DC: a chirping sound from the rear that changed with speed, poor braking performance, and a dramatic vibration during braking that shook the whole car. I limped it in to my stopping point, checked in to my hotel, and some searching told me it was probably warped rear rotors. I’d only intended to stay the night, but extended my stay another day and got the car fixed at a great local shop that got me in first thing the next morning. The upside was, I got to spend more time with Grace! We had ramen the first night, outside under a sidewalk canopy with patio heaters and freezing weather. We walked the city the next evening and had tapas, thankfully it had warmed up slightly so it wasn’t snowing. 

The second leg was DC – Hilton Head, SC. I’d never been to Hilton Head, and didn’t know anyone there but wanted some beach time to myself. The rates were exceptionally low since it was both covid and off-season. The weather ended up being in the 70s and the beach was not at all busy. I had a great stay in a room with a private balcony and got sunburned on day one. I thought I might be bored spending four days alone in a beach town, but I loved it. 

My third leg was SC – Hollywood, Florida, to see my friend Brian and his family. We’re old college roommates and had a great time catching up out on his back deck and eating some meals together. 

The fourth leg was just a hop over to Sunny Isles Beach to meet up with Priti and have some “proper” vacation beach time. It was muuuch more crowded than Hilton Head, though not as bad as Miami/South Beach areas, and while we enjoyed it I’m not sure I’d go back. It’s quite touristy and the strip of actual beach is fairly narrow with a sharp dropoff in the water.

From Florida, I headed north to Washington, NC, where my brother now lives after moving a bit east from the Raleigh/Cary area. It was great to see him, my sister in law, and niece and nephew after over a year of absence. I also got to check out his new house and see some of the surrounding area, which I plan to go back to with my parents once we’re all vaccinated.

I hopped over to Rocky Mount, NC from Washington, to be close to the highway for the drive back the next morning and to meet up with an old colleague who lived only 45 minutes from there. Fred and I only had time to grab dinner, but it was great once again to see someone I hadn’t seen in years.

The next morning I drove from Rocky Mount back to Syracuse, NY and put myself in quarantine. I didn’t emerge until five days and a negative covid test later.

The Hotels

Although I’d usually stay with friends and family, especially since I knew people in almost every destination I visited, I opted to stay in hotels this time, for their safety and mine. I ended up in seven different hotels in five different states, so it was really interesting to see how each of them handled the covid situation.

  Masks Breakfast Elevators Room Service
Hyatt Place DC Excellent, everywhere Cereal, muffin, toast 3 max, sanitizer stand No room service by default
Holiday Inn Express, Hilton Head SC Mixed, staff ok Full hot takeout, excellent “Distance” sign, sanitizer stand No room service by default
Hampton Inn, FL Mixed, staff ok Full hot takeout, good 3 max, sanitizer stand Room service operating, declined
Residence Inn, FL Excellent and enforced Full hot takeout, good 1 max, sanitizer stand and in both elevators No room service by default
HI Express, GA Poor, staff included Full hot takeout, good No restrictions Room service operating
Fairfield Wash. NC Poor, staff included Open buffet, no restrictions! Avoided. Very small sign to distance on floor 1 Room service operating, declined*
Fairfield Rocky Mount Mixed, staff included Worst, muffin and yogurt in paper bag Distance sign, sanitizer stand Room service operating

Of all the hotels, the Residence Inn in Sunny Isles did a fantastic job cleaning and abiding by all the regulations. They enforced all of the distancing guidelines while *still* providing a great hot takeout breakfast daily. The hotels in NC and GA were the worst at following their own guidelines, breaking most of the rules on the posted signs, and keeping buffets and dining rooms open with unmasked adults and kids. 

Breakfast in particular seems to have a lot of travelers up in arms right now. It doesn’t particularly matter to me given the situation we’re in, but it was always great to get a good hot breakfast for takeaway. Some hotels are taking the easy way out and doing a poor self-serve continental version only or, the worst one in Rocky Mount, a single egg muffin and a small yogurt in a paper bag with signs warning people to take only one. That one did feel insulting. Of all the places I stayed, Holiday Inn Express was the best for breakfast – eggs, bacon, toast, muffins, hot cinnamon rolls, and juice were served at both locations.

Sanity Regained

A two week getaway with social time, a beach, and sunshine driving with music was exactly what I needed. By the time I got back a lot of the snow had melted off and the weather was turning to spring. I also weirdly enjoyed taking a trip during the pandemic just to have the experience – seeing empty hotels (though many were quite full), mask signs everywhere, and scrubbing my room down with Clorox on every arrival are some unusual memories I’ll carry with me. As the world starts to get back to normal, I’m looking forward to all of the deferred trips in 2021.

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