How to Plan a Trip for Your Bubble

family floating in swimming pool relaxing
(Photo: @eggirinaldy via Twenty20)

As more vaccines meet more arms, many people are taking the first tentative steps back to vacation planning. Possibilities abound for a post-pandemic vacation, even for would-be travelers who don’t feel quite ready to plunge back into close quarters and shared airspace. That’s because hotels, tour companies, and other travel providers are actively crafting bubble travel options for people seeking a vacation experience while limiting contact outside their immediate group.

While no vacation offers an airtight bubble—the point of travel, after all, is to experience the world—keeping within a trusted group while in transit, dining, and where you stay can reduce both stress and risk. These so-called bubble trips provide another bonus as well: the chance to reconnect with friends and family after extended separations.

Book Your Bubble with Private Tours

Once outside the realm of financial possibility for most travelers, private tours are making their way into the mainstream—at least for now. Prices are still higher than equivalent larger-group tours, but there’s a way to balance out the bump in cost: build your own tour group. Bubble up with a few families, close friends, or couples, or extend your bubble to include multiple generations of family. Match your group to a tour and you’ll get your own itinerary, tour director, transportation, and private trip.

And when you take the private tour path back to travel, you’ll have plenty of choices. Adventures by Disney recently debuted its new-for-2021 Private Adventures. Groups of up to 12 people can book itineraries in Costa Rica, Egypt, Greece, Italy, and Peru—some of the most popular itineraries the company offers—with travel dates starting in April. There’s no age minimum (except for the Peru trip), and you can choose your own travel dates. Best of all, on a private tour, your group gets more dedicated time with the local Private Adventure guide. That means more immersive storytelling, which families say lends a special and authentic connection to the destination.

Adventure tour operator G Adventures recently unveiled its Book Your Bubble Collection, consisting of 80 private tours designed for bubbles that offer the same benefits of a small group trip—including in-depth itinerary, accommodations, and local guides. This collection of private tours has flexible booking conditions and discounted tours for trip organizers. The eighth spot is 50% off, the 12th spot is complimentary, and discounts can be spread across individuals, making the tours even more affordable.

Back in 2018, Globus launched Private Touring, and more recently, its sister brand Cosmos joined in with private tours too. Both brands offer a private option on all their European itineraries. Structured for groups ranging from two to 24 (though clearly, in the time of the bubble, less is more), private tours come complete with private transportation and driver, tour director, professional local guides, and the chance to move at the pace you choose.

Sustainable tour operator Intrepid Travel, best known for its small group trips around the globe, isn’t new to the private tour game either. Its Tailor-Made tours have long been popular with families and groups who want to travel together on an entirely private and customizable adventure. But, says Matt Berna, Intrepid Travel’s managing director in North America, in the past year “our Tailor-Made product has become more popular as exploring within your ‘bubble’ is increasingly interesting to groups of travelers.” In fact, Intrepid saw a 41% bump month over month in the last three months of 2020, a trend that looks likely to continue in the new year.

Even if you’re not ready to commit to a private tour, there are still plenty of creative ways to vacation with your bubble. Outdoors-focused accommodations, inns and B&Bs, luxury properties, and vacation rentals are often well-suited to cater safely to bubble groups.

Social Distancing at State and National Parks

National and state parks offer a fresh-air backdrop for families and groups looking for inspiring nature and the built-in safety of social distancing outdoors. Many parks offer private, rustic cabins that not only help to accommodate budget-conscious vacationers, but also offer isolation and social distancing to continue to keep families safe. 

With a prime location next to Grand Teton National Forest, Yellowstone National Park, and Bridger Teton National Forest, Togwotee Mountain Lodge has 54 rustic cabins with kitchenettes. In Washington’s Olympic National Park and Forest, Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort has 32 cabins, access to natural hot springs, and plenty of room for safe social distancing. In Shenandoah National Park, Skyland, Big Meadows Lodge, and Lewis Mountain Cabins all offer individual cabin accommodations.

And happily for those who prefer comfort over roughing it, rustic is not the only option. Just outside Yosemite National Park, for example, Rush Creek Lodge’s accommodations include standalone cabins and villas with hundreds of acres of open space to let everyone spread out. Even better, the lodge’s Rush Creek Spa is offering takeovers of its Yosemite-inspired experiential spa. Couples or groups can reserve the spa—with features like a granite waterfall hot tub, cool mist showers Himalayan salt sauna, and warm river rock immersion beds—for private use.

Camping and RV Travel

If affordability and flexibility are at the top of your bubble-trip wish list, family camping or RV travel might be the perfect fit. Ashley Rossi, managing editor of Togo RV, notes that “traveling with your travel bubble to a family campground is one of the easiest ways to follow social distancing and maximize your time outside—you can avoid indoor dining, bring everything you need with you, socialize comfortably outdoors, and get direct access to hiking trails and other outdoor activities.” 

Camping doesn’t have to mean sleeping on the ground, either. “So many campgrounds now offer cabins and other glamping experiences,” Rossi adds, noting that if you’ve never tried RV travel, this might be the year  to give it a go. “Traveling by RV gives you your own space and bathroom, and it’s easier than ever to rent an RV with platforms like RVshare and Outdoorsy.” 

Luxury Stays

Privacy has long been a standard offering at luxury properties. But what was once a draw for celebrities looking to unwind in peace is now a perk for bubble groups looking to vacation sans crowds.  

The picture-perfect Grenadines is home to the private island resort of Petit St. Vincent. There, you can take bubble-ready tropical distancing to the next level with a stay at the resort’s PSV Peninsula, a small collection of one- and two-bedroom cottages on a secluded part of the island. Groups can book up to four cottages, and with all-inclusive amenities and two acres of Caribbean bliss per person, a stay feels both pampered and private.

In Southcentral Alaska, Tutka Bay Lodge on the Kachemak Bay and Winterlake Lodge at the entrance to the Alaska Range offer remote wilderness luxury and plenty of room for your group. These small lodges are by their very nature socially distant. And guests can choose additional measures like having their meals in-room and opting for “refresh packages” instead of housekeeping. 

Cabo San Lucas calls, and The Cape answers. The boutique luxury hotel on the Sea of Cortez offers its A Villa State of Mind package as the answer to families and small groups who want a week-or-longer stay. Multi-bedroom villas come equipped with kitchens, large outdoor patios with hanging daybeds, washers and dryers, and ocean views for miles. Other villa options include private plunge pools, outdoor BBQs, and direct beach access. The package bundles a villa stay with high-speed Wi-Fi, daily breakfast, a personal concierge, and private cooking classes. 

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Christine Sarkis
Christine Sarkis is a traveling parent and longtime travel writer and editor. The former executive editor for TripAdvisor travel magazine SmarterTravel.com, Sarkis has spent nearly two decades finding and sharing the best places to go with an audience of enthusiastic travelers. Her stories have appeared on USA Today, Conde Nast Traveler, Huffington Post, and Business Insider. Her expert advice has been quoted in dozens of print and online publications including The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, and People magazine. She has also shared travel tips on television and radio shows including Good Morning America, Marketplace, and Here & Now. Her stories have been published in the anthologies Spain from a Backpack and The Best Women's Travel Writing 2008, and she is working on a travel memoir.