15 things I learned from my biggest mid-pandemic trip to date
Like many Americans, during the early months of the pandemic, my travel was limited to unavoidable trips to the grocery store, and short, distanced walks around the neighborhood.
It wasn’t long before I began searching for safe, grand adventures, though, and in May, I booked an Airbnb rental in northeast Maine for the entire month of August. Best yet, I had locked in an Audi Q5 rental from Silvercar, the same SUV I brought along on shorter trips to Colonial Williamsburg, plus a week on the Outer Banks.
On the morning of our NYC departure, my girlfriend and I folded down the two rear seats and loaded up the Q5 with suitcases, a pair of folding bikes, two inflatable kayaks and even our Peloton exercise bike, for the eight-hour journey to Acadia National Park in Maine. Here’s what I learned from my biggest pandemic road trip to date.
Renting a car adds a ton of freedom
Before the pandemic, I was far more inclined to book a flight than plan a road trip. Sometimes I’d rent a car, but I often relied on ride-hailing services, or public transportation to get around. I completely changed my approach this summer, though — we haven’t taken a single commercial flight, opting to explore the East Coast with a borrowed Audi Q5 from Silvercar, instead. I’ve even learned to drive a mile or two off the highway to avoid packed gas stations, and always wear a mask during very brief bathroom breaks indoors.
It’s fun to work in some stops en-route
Flying is the fastest option if you’re traveling long distances, but I love the variety a road trip provides. Keeping local quarantine and entry requirements in mind, you can enrich your journey with some mid-trip stops. This time around, the true highlight was our afternoon stop near Portland, for an absolutely incredible lobster roll at Bite Into Maine.
The crowds were there, but easy to avoid
This is where having your own car really comes in handy, and Google Maps’ satellite view. Regardless of where you’re headed, there’s a good chance you can find a less-crowded beach, lake or trail — if the hot spots are too crowded, do a few minutes of research and create your own adventure, instead. We were able to find a fantastic (very quiet) beach, for example, and a top-notch spot to launch our kayaks, too.
Don’t forget to slow down and explore
I’ve been known to pack my schedule full of activities, but having a month in Maine encouraged us to slow down significantly — spending two hours shell-hunting on a beach or setting up fun photos certainly wouldn’t have even been on my radar before.
It pays to disconnect
I’ve never been good about heading “off-the-grid,” despite the best of intentions. But it was nice to be disconnected here and there — much of Acadia doesn’t have cell service, for example, and our favorite beach was without signal as well. Being away for a month meant this was largely a working trip, but it was nice to unplug a bit when we could.
Folding bikes are the way to go
They might look a little silly at first glance, but I’ve become a huge proponent of folding bikes. We brought two along to Maine, and since they’re so compact, we kept them in the car for day trips, making it easy to always have a bike at your disposal whenever you encounter some fun trails. Dahon’s Mariner D8 has become my go-to (it’s listed for $749, but I got one new for $600 on eBay).
Get an inflatable boat, too
It pays to be self-sufficient during the pandemic. There were bike and boat rentals available in Bar Harbor, but operating hours may vary, prices can be steep and you’ll have to worry about sanitation, too. We decided to buy a couple of very affordable inflatable kayaks, and we had no problem fitting two in our Audi Q5, even with our luggage, folding bikes and the Peloton for at-home workouts. My favorite so far is the Intex Challenger K2, which I picked up at the beginning of the summer for just under $100 on Amazon.
Always have your mask
A mask wasn’t necessary throughout much of our trip — driving, kayaking, sitting on an empty beach — but other travelers seemed to pop out of nowhere each day, especially when hiking on a crowded trail. COVID-19 is contagious, but courtesy is too — we made a show of popping our masks on when approaching other groups of travelers, and more often than not, they did the same. If they didn’t, we would simply step (far) out of the way to let them pass, and take that time to enjoy the view.
Online restaurant ordering saves lots of time
We had our fill of lobster rolls throughout the month — well over a dozen. And while parts of Maine are certainly less crowded than they have been in past years, there were often long waits at the prime lobster spots. Fortunately, online ordering was an option at many, and in some cases, you’ll still be able to eat on-site, especially when distanced picnic tables are on offer. Plus, being able to avoid a busy line made it easier to limit our time around others, even though most restaurant visitors were very good about wearing masks.
The safest place to eat is at home
Most tourists were respecting the local mask guidance, but that wasn’t always the case. If distanced outdoor seating wasn’t available, we would simply ask for our meal to go and eat it back at our rental house. We didn’t save any money — we always included a generous tip — but it was far less stressful to be able to enjoy the best Maine has to offer without unmasked diners nearby.
House rentals add flexibility
There’s no beating the ease of checking into a hotel — and the confidence that you’ll end up getting what you pay for — but having a private house to call our own really enhanced the experience throughout the summer, and it’s made dining more fun and affordable, too. We had plenty of take-out meals during our month in Maine, but we also took our trip as an opportunity to get more creative in the kitchen, such as the chirashi bowls I whipped up after encountering incredible tuna at the fish market.
You can create your own nightlife
We certainly redefined “going out” during our month in Maine. Instead of late-night restaurant dinners or a Bar Harbor pub crawl, we kept to ourselves, sampling craft beers at home or hitting up some of our favorite daytime spots for some stargazing. Here, being away from the action is a good thing — for one, it gave me a whole new appreciation for the night sky.
It’s worth investing in a great camera
Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro Max has been my go-to cam for almost a year, and for most of the shots I need, it does a great job. But on this trip, I borrowed a Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra as well, since I knew I might encounter a few scenes that would benefit from a longer zoom. The $1,300 Note has a 5x optical zoom camera built-in, which brought me far closer to the action without any quality loss. I was even able to snap some great shots at 10x, which works in some digital zoom as well, but the 50x “Space Zoom” generally fell flat — if a true superzoom is what you’re after, you’ll still want a dedicated camera for that.
Boost your photos with a drone
Also on the photography front, I recently added an FAA remote-pilot certificate to my list of travel writer credentials, and I learned a ton about how to safely operate a drone during the process. Best of all, I discovered that you may be able to legally fly in areas you might assume to be off-limits. My favorite spot: over the water just outside of Bar Harbor, with my DJI Mavic 2 Zoom ($1,350). National parks are a no-go, though, including Acadia — be sure to check local ordinances and the FAA’s B4UFLY app to make sure you’re a-okay.
Keep the time of day in mind
You can file this under “photo tips” as well, if you’d like, but it really goes far beyond photography. We quickly learned to plan our adventures around certain times of day — mornings were great for more comfortable hikes or trips to the beach, and sunset was the ideal time to take some photos, but we also had to keep an eye on the tides, especially when it came to snapping the photos I was after, or safely launching our (somewhat-fragile) inflatable boat.
Our month in Maine turned out to be just as magical as I expected. We had some incredible food, lots of adventures at sea, challenging hikes and some of the most pleasant summer weather I’ve ever encountered.
Plus, having an Audi Q5 from Silvercar made the trip as easy as could be — it was so nice to be able to take two kayaks, bikes and our Peloton with us for our month away, helping us save on equipment rentals and stay fit as we stuffed our faces with delicious lobster and other treats throughout each day.
Featured photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy
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