Vacation Pods

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If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s the importance of connecting with loved ones. Most of us have had plenty of family time at home by now, and are yearning to find a way to get outside the same four walls. Finding a change of scenery, sharing adventures and laughter with friends, letting your little ones get out of the house and be around people their own age — this almost seems like an impossible dream. But there IS a way to make the impossible possible: Vacation Pods. This travel trend is all about minimizing risk while satisfying your urge to travel and your need for connection. Here’s all you need to know:

What is a Vacation Pod?

Vacation Pods (also called travel pods or quaranteams) are a new way of taking a vacation with others while minimizing the health risks typically associated with group travel. A pod is a group of families and/or friends (who follow and value the same safety standards) taking a trip together. This can include two or three families merging together or a group of friends. Typically, pods should be kept to 10 people or fewer.

By staying in the same group and with the same guides through the whole trip and not mingling with those outside your pod, you reduce risk. Of course, any travel will always carry some risk of infection and spread, and it’s important to stay vigilant, but pods can help you control that risk and keep it to a minimum. Pods also allow you to split the travel costs, making your vacation more affordable.

three young boys jumping into an infinity pool

Pods offer you peace of mind and a sense of safety, while still sharing an adventure. They’re particularly great for families who want to give their children a chance to socialize and play with other kids. Pods are a perfect way to salvage that annual vacation you look forward to every year (as long as you make smart, thoughtful choices.)

[Photo Credit: Marc Tutorials via Pexels]

Keys to making your Vacation Pod great

Same risk-aversion attitudes: When considering who you want to travel with, make sure that you have the same attitudes, priorities and risk aversion thresholds. Find like-minded people who agree with your risk comfort level.

Trust: Forming a vacation pod with another family or two involves a lot of trust. You’re trusting your pod with your health and they’re trusting you with theirs, so you want to make sure to choose people whom you trust to strictly follow the guidelines the group has established.

Communication: When you’re planning any group trip you have to agree on the destination, the activities, and who’s sleeping where. With a vacation pod designed to minimize the risk, there are few more details you need to work out.

a woman wearing a mask with a small backpack on a forest trail

Discuss in detail the precautions you’ll take before the trip. It’s best to negotiate to meet the needs of the most at-risk person. What makes this trip possible for them? Whether it’s everyone getting tested a few days before or going through a two-week quarantine or both. Consider everyone’s habits and who they’re exposed to daily. Make sure everyone agrees to follow social-distancing guidelines and wear a mask when out in public or with people outside of the pod.

[Photo Credit: Tsunami Green via Unsplash]

two women having a picnic in a field with a green tree

After the pre-vacation arrangements are agreed-upon, it’s important to discuss the safety guidelines you’ll follow while actually on the trip. When are masks required? How much exposure are you willing to risk? Are take-away or grocery runs ok? Or do you want to buy all the food beforehand and cook it on-site? We recommend having a zoom call and writing down all the agreed-upon guidelines so there’s no room for misinterpretation.

[ Photo Credit: Toa Heftiba via Unsplash]

Finally, make sure you have some back-up plans in place. Ask yourselves if/then questions. What if someone tests positive? What if someone’s test results don’t arrive on time? Having a clear plan will ensure that your vacation is as relaxing and worry-free as possible.

Where Should You Stay?

These days, vacationers the world over are looking for private, controlled spaces, away from the crowds, and with plenty of outdoor activities. Vacation pods are no different.

Many resorts and hotels are offering pod-friendly accommodations, where you can rent out an entire floor for your pod! These pod packages often include room service, local take-out, in-room entertainment, balconies and large suites that can be configured to perfectly suit your group. Some places have private pod events like wine & chocolate nights or a murder mystery party. Others offer you a private elevator and dedicated beach beds.

a private pool with two lounge chairs and a hotel room at a resort tropical

Some hotels and resorts even offer detached villa-style rooms with private pools. Depending on the size of your group, it can work out to be the same price per person as renting a couple of mid-range hotel rooms.

[Photo Credit: Anam via Unsplash]

a cabin in a snowy landscape across emerald lake, Canada

If you’re looking for even more control over your environment you and your pod can always opt to rent a stand-alone space. Choose from a cozy cabin, a luxury condo, a chill beach house, or a spacious Villa! The possibilities of where to stay with your vacation pod are endless!

[Photo Credit: Alex Hawthorne via Unsplash]

Utilizing the Experts

Ready to start but not sure how to narrow down the endless possibilities? We can help you find the right place to stay with the strongest health and safety protocols (and the right amenities) to make everyone in your pod happy.

Even before the pandemic, organizing a group trip meant juggling multiple opinions, priorities and budgets, but now you also need to know the ins and outs of local COVID regulations. This is where we can really help! We’re staying up-to-date on all the rules, and can keep you advised on the ever-changing local guidelines. We can also find you pod-friendly private tours or specialized events to enhance your trip!

Forming a conscientious vacation pod is becoming the future of travel. Finally getting out of the house and being able to enjoy a little company in a risk-minimal way is great for everyone’s mental health. Let us help you make it a reality, so all you need to do is enjoy the breath of fresh air and a change of scenery with your favorite people!

a group of people standing with their hands up facing a sunrise
[Photo Credit: Min via Pexels]

What’s it like to Visit Florence right now?

Have you been wondering what it’s like to visit some of the most popular tourist destinations right now, when crowds have disappeared? I’ve been fascinated to hear what’s changed, what’s stayed the same, and what kind of atmosphere the cities have. Our marketing assistant, Liz, moved to Northern Italy last year and has spent the 2020 lock-down in a small town near Bologna. When the inter-province travel restrictions lifted in June she decided to make the most of it and take a day trip to Florence in early July! Here’s her experience:

One of the best things about living in Italy is that all these amazingly famous cities are only a short train ride away! Our train to Florence took just over an hour. (Having grown up in the Southwest, where you can drive 4 hours and still be in the same state, this continues to amaze me!) Masks are required on the train and every other seat is blocked off to facilitate social distance. This means even though we booked our four tickets together, each person had their own two-seat row. 

a street scene in Florence Italy

Travel restrictions and regulations have turned Florence from a tourist hot-spot into a typical bustling city. There were still people enjoying the sunny piazzas, the grand churches, and walking along the beautiful Arno river, but fewer crowds and with a more local vibe. We knew this was going to be a quick visit of walking around the city and seeing things from the outside, so we were excited to find this more relaxed feeling. 

looking at a ornately decorated marble church door on the streets of Florence Italy

When you’re walking around Florence it’s easy to really enjoy the city — there’s beautiful ancient architecture and churches around every corner, and now there is a sense of being a local

Of course, there were some noticeable changes…

a woman in a facemask posing in front of Santa Maria Novelle Cathedral and Il Campinello in Florence Italy

Currently, masks are required inside buildings and after 6pm. Out on the streets, you see a mix of people wearing and not wearing masks. We tended to keep ours on in more crowded spots and walked without them where there were fewer or no people. 

Although most businesses were open, a huge change is that the churches are no longer open on the weekdays. With the exceptions of the Duomo and San Lorenzo, most of the churches around the city were closed. Serendipitously this worked out for us since we forgot to dress in church-appropriate clothing anyway. Florence is a city of churches but if you’re a woman with bare shoulders or bare calves you are not allowed inside.

Our first stop was Florence’s most famous attraction: Piazza del Duomo. It’s famous for a reason — an absolute must-see that makes such a huge impact. Here you could really see the difference in the number of tourists. Having been to Florence once before in the off-season, I was still amazed at how empty it was!

a woman standing practically alone in Piazza del Duomo with the Florence Duomo in the background
a street view of the Florence Duomo and the street artists next to it

There are still the artists selling their renditions of the grand cathedral and although we didn’t have the place all to ourselves, we could take the time to appreciate the facades of these amazing structures. There are so many little details to appreciate as you walk around it.

Most impressive was how easily we were able to see the Gates of Paradise on the Baptistery. These amazing golden doors usually have a huge crowd in front of them so being able to go and look at the details for as long as we liked was a treat. 

a panel of the Gates of Paradise on the Baptistery in Florence Italy
a woman lays down in an almost empty courtyard in front of Santa Croce Florence Italy

Like the Duomo, Piazzale Michelangelo and Santa Croce were practically empty.

Piazzale Michelangelo does involve a lot of stair climbing, especially when the bus schedule has become less….scheduled. But climbing the steps up this hill is so worth it. The view is stunning and we were able to enjoy the many many stairs and views of the city almost by ourselves!

a drawing of the city of Florence and the panoramic view to match

Regardless of the tourist levels, I recommend this view. You’re able to see the whole city laid out, really appreciate the massive size of the Duomo, and glimpse the mountains in the distance. 

looking up at the marble facade of the church San Miniato al Monte in Florence Italy

For an extra level of stunning (and more stairs), head up to Abbazia di San Miniato al Monte. This beautiful church sits just a little way up from the Piazzale.

Of course, it was closed. So when we arrived at the top of the steps the entire courtyard was empty. There’s something very relaxing about sitting in the shadow of a huge old church enjoying the panoramic view of the city. It’s a great spot to recuperate as you prepare to walk back down the hill. 

two photos one of the san miniato courtyard and one of the view of Florence Italy from the courtyard

On our way from the Duomo to Piazza della Signoria, we stopped off at the famous Il Porcellino fountain. Superstition says that rubbing the boar’s snout will bring good luck and ensure a return to Florence! We tentatively touched the shiny snout and then immediately sanitized thoroughly.

three women in face masks touching the bronze pig statue il Porcellino in Florence Italy
closeup of the bronze boar pig statue Il Porcellino in Florence Italy

It was nice to participate in a truly touristy Florentine tradition that stretches back to at least the 1700s. But maybe sanitizing after touching a communal boar is a change we should keep. 

There are some areas of Florence essentially unchanged by COVID. Piazza della Signoria was a bustling town square. There were horses available for carriage rides and lots of people sitting around the steps. Considering the Piazza is adjacent to the Uffizi Gallery (which boasted a huge line) this was unsurprising. However, we were surprised to find the wait time for an un-reserved ticket at the Galleria dell’Acadamia was still over an hour! An hour in the hot sun when you only have a day? We decided to try again another time. It just goes to show – no matter when you’re visiting Florence – book your museum tickets in advance

horse drawn carriages and people in Piazza della Signoria Florence Italy

There was only one place in Florence that truly had that crowded, touristy feel: Ponte Vecchio. Families and large groups traversed the famous old bridge and peered into the glittering jewelry shops on either side.

looking up the entrance to ponte vecchio florence italy

There was a rotation of photo takers getting that stunning view down the Arno river. It was a 50/50 split on wearing masks. We kept ours on while moving through the crowds but took them off to snap a quick pic.

three women posing on ponte vecchio Florence

Almost as soon as we reached the other side of the bridge, the crowds dissipated. Once again Florence felt like a bustling and inviting city.

Overall our day in Florence was well spent, walking around 14k (!) in total trying to see it all! We felt safe and enjoyed being able to see the city with more local vibes. There was a lot of construction and I think the city is taking this time to ensure everything is perfect when all travelers are allowed to visit.

Florence is essentially a timeless city, there are still aperitivos (though sadly without the buffet), there are still piazzas and people sitting and enjoying the beauty at every turn.

delicious cone of gelato in Florence Italy

And most importantly: you can still go for some of the best gelato I’ve had in Italy. 

You provided excellent guidance for us. I appreciated that you really had us think about what was most important to us when we were selecting the right cruise – and not to totally focus on what other people had to say. THANK YOU for helping to make this a memorable trip for our family! It really was a trip of a lifetime!

Clare and Mark (family cruise to Alaska)

The level of service we experienced was out of this world (and we did NOT make it easy on Ann). We weren’t quite sure where we wanted to go, when we would be able to go, or what “vibe” we were going for. After asking us some key questions (what we liked, didn’t like, why, etc.) Ann helped us narrow down our trip details and planned the honeymoon of our dreams. She helped book some of our excursions, answered some emergency questions while abroad and was always available/willing to help. I think it’s safe to say we won’t be using anyone else for future travel planning – Ann is a rockstar!

Carli (Italy and Spain)