…what do you mean you traveled during this pandemic?

The fog looked like smoke at first but the closer we got, the heavier it became. Photographer – dfav, 10/22/2020

Way back in March of this year my husband and I had been planning a small getaway to the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee. Right at the time COVID-19 was causing shutdowns, back-ups in medical care and my husband became deathly ill. Prior to this it had been nine years since we took a “vacation” and fourteen since we went anywhere just the two of us.

My husband grew up in Knoxville and his mother, sister and her family still live there. His mother had just recently had knee replacement surgery and this was one of multiple hospital stays for various reasons in the last few years. We both felt it was important he see her. Plus it had been fourteen years since we saw her.

We talked about our missed getaway and decided to tack it onto our trip to Knoxville. Then, yes, we went to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Yes, we dared travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. I assure you, it’s possible if you plan ahead and are prepared to practice safety measures in the area you are in at that time.

First, lots of people criticized Tennessee for reopening too soon. As a state and from what we witnessed, the citizens are taking COVID-19 seriously. All but one movie theatre was closed. Many fast food restaurants had their indoor dining closed but drive-thru’s were doing a brisk business. Eat-in restaurants operate under limited seating and capacity. All business, including any based on food service, had limited hours they were open.

The one open movie theater afforded us a delightful experience. A movie on a true big screen with complete surround sound. Cinemark, the theater that was open, had some seriously preventive measures going on to stop the spread of COVID-19.

  • First, there is great encouragement to purchase tickets online and choose your seats. They in turn blocked off all other seating within six feet of you. You run the risk of not being able to sit together with the people you come with or getting tickets at all if you show up and purchase tickets at the time of the movie showing.
  • Second, movie times were staggered so people from one movie weren’t waiting for concessions, even six feet apart, at the same time. People weren’t just hanging around in the lobby either.
  • Third, Cinemark had some serious sanitary equipment in operation between movies, before opening and at closing. (And their seats are the big cushy recliners with a heat feature.)
  • Fourth, facial masks were required, social distancing mandated.
  • Fifth, concession prices were lowered.

We ourselves always followed the requirements for safety on this trip. But, not one time did we have to wait to enter a store, even at 50% capacity. We did have to wait outside for a table at two restaurants. We took extra sanitary precautions in our hotel room and kept our hands to ourselves going through lobbies. We also didn’t go in anywhere that we didn’t have a real reason to go. We had a bottles of hand sanitizer in our car, my purse and our hotel room.

We drove into the mountains and were amazed at the fall foliage. To witness the change of seasons after being shut up inside our home for seven months was like seeing it for the first time in our lives. Shopping was limited to outlet stores for specific items and there was no extra “just looking”. One of our great treats was from Ben and Jerry’s, we had the best tasting ice cream because we had it outside at a little table where no one got to close. The traffic, which is legendary in this area, wasn’t that bad either, as if the 50% capacity applied to traffic as well.

We left Tennessee much re-energized and more relaxed than when we left home. We’d done it. Managed a sweet, brief trip on our own schedule. Back home all of the realities were waiting. I for one, find myself allowing my creative side to have more freedom. Inspired by the colors, the people, the sights and the sounds my senses rediscovered.

If you’re thinking of a getaway or a vacation as a couple or as a family/group you have to be smart about it. Don’t go to any place with known issues. (Recent outbreaks, riots, upswing in crime.) Go to places where measures are in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Follow those requirements. Know where you’re staying, how it’s cleaned, keep your hands to yourself and be prepared to take precautions on your own. (Wipe down surfaces with a disinfectant for example, in your hotel room.) But, if you can’t go without stressing over COVID-19 then I’d say stay home. You won’t have a good time if you can’t get past the possibility of a crazy virus being near you.

If you can travel and plan ahead to be extra careful I suggest going for it. I would avoid some areas like New York City though.

—-Donna

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