12 Affordable Private Travel Experiences Perfect for the Pandemic
Leery of hitting your usual vacation spots right now? You're not alone. But these amazing retreats will make social distancing easy—and super fun.
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Two words: Start packing!
Many people have, with heavy hearts, canceled their annual family trips. Lots of us, especially if we have grandparents or babies in our traveling mix, felt more dread than delight at the prospect of taking our traditional vacations. But there’s some good news. In response to that trepidation, a trend has taken hold: private travel experiences. From off-the-grid private tours to boutique hotels you’ll have all to yourselves, hotels and travel companies are getting creative. And before you write them off as too expensive, know that these trips can be particularly affordable if you go in with a group of friends or relatives—while, of course, taking proper COVID-related safety measures. What if you’re traveling solo? Check out these savings secrets from travel booking companies.
The Eastwind Hotel & Bar, Windham, New York
Think of this lovely boutique hotel in the Catskills as your very own family vacation compound. It offers a complete buyout for $4,500 per night, which may sound like a lot until you realize it’s meant to be split among 19 accommodations. That works out to around $236 per room, per night. Group buyouts can enjoy a full-service cocktail bar, a fireplace, and an array of games, as well as outdoor decks, a fire pit, live music, private yoga classes, and a wood-barrel sauna. On the property, you’ll also find excellent hiking trails, including the Hudson River School Art Trail and Diamond Notch Falls. Just five minutes away lies Windham Mountain, which offers mountain biking, ziplining, and skiing. Opportunities for golf, fishing, rock climbing, and horseback riding are nearby, too. Here are more of the best boutique hotels in America.
Calistoga Ranch, Calistoga, California
How does a private wine-country getaway sound? That’s what we thought. Calistoga Ranch offers individual lodges nestled in scenic Napa Valley (the landscape is often compared to Tuscany). Guests can choose between various types of lodges, all of which feature spacious rooms and inviting outdoor spaces. Groups can also take over the spa and have the entire place to themselves. That package will have your crew enjoying heated mineral pools, a variety of treatments, and other relaxing experiences in full privacy. Just make sure to follow these 13 etiquette rules when you’re indulging at the spa. While you’re at it, arrange for one-on-one or small-group fitness instruction and private dinners served right in your lodge. Rates for free-standing, two-bedroom lodges start at $1,389.
Hotel Beatnik, Ocean Springs, Mississippi
This brand-new hotel on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast is unique in design and vibe. Inspired by the beatnik culture of the 1950s and ’60s, the property strikes the perfect mix of nostalgic and modern. You’ll settle into one of four individual cabins, complete with wet bars, private outdoor showers, a plunge pool, small swing bridges, and a meditation garden. The cabins include self-check-in for an extra measure of safety. The landscaping adds to the feeling of a secluded escape, with colorful flowers that draw pollinators, as well as plants that bear fruit like grapes, blueberries, and kumquats. A crackling fire at the fire pit and a bounty of birds flitting about round out the feeling of serenity. Rates for each cabin start at $150—yes, really.
Whitney Peak Hotel, Reno, Nevada
Many folks rescued dogs from their local shelters during the pandemic. You don’t need to leave your new (or old) furry family member behind while you’re enjoying your long-awaited family reunion. Book the big gathering at the trendy Whitney Peak Hotel in Reno. Dogs of all shapes and sizes are welcome; they even get a swag bag at check-in. Humans can tap the hotel’s active-lifestyle concierges, who know the ins and outs of the more than 50 nearby hiking and biking trails. The world’s tallest climbing wall is actually built into the side of the hotel, a perfect place to have some laughs and get fun Instagram shots with the extended family. You’ll find an indoor bouldering park, too, and pooches can hang with their people throughout the property.
Whitney Peak has single-floor buyout, with rates starting at $129 per night, per room. A full buyout of all 16 floors is also available. Can’t get to Nevada right now? Here are more of the best pet-friendly hotels in America.
Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort, Solvang, California
If you were hoping for an off-the-grid retreat (and really, who doesn’t want to get away from the world right now?), consider this Santa Ynez Valley destination. It offers a classic California dude-ranch experience, complete with an on-property lake and horseback riding. You even get free breakfast, dinner, and alcoholic drinks. The new Private Ranch Retreat Package allows groups of families and friends to book a block of 10 to 20 rooms, as well as group horseback-riding lessons and outings, water sports on the lake, mountain-biking sessions, and kids’ activities—all private. Even the largest extended family can spread out across the ranch’s beautiful 10,000-acre property for the perfect socially distanced getaway. These are more of the best U.S. hotels and resorts for social distancing.
The Inn at Death Valley, Death Valley National Park, California
OK, Death Valley might not sound like the vacation of your dreams but put the name aside. The weather in fall is dry, sunny, and warm—but not super hot—and a drive through Death Valley National Park happens to be one of the best national park road trips you can take all year long. The Inn at Death Valley is an AAA-rated, four-diamond resort situated right at Death Valley National Park. The classic mission-style property features 22 new, private casitas surrounded by a palm-tree grove and a natural spring-fed swimming pool. Each casita, or “small house,” is more than 500 square feet; one TripAdvisor reviewer called them “very spacious” for five people. Rates for each casita start around $379. Guests can also use complimentary golf carts to scoot around the property.
Amtrak fits right in with the private-travel trend, thanks to its private rooms. Relax and snooze in your own personal space, outfitted with free Wi-Fi, charging outlets, and a picture window to take in the passing views. More perks include lounge access, priority boarding, complimentary meals, and a dedicated attendant who can assist with luggage and provide turndown service. The rooms come in different sizes to suit single travelers, couples, and families, so that, along with your destination, will affect the price. But as an example, a one-way trip from New York City to Tampa in a private room for two people will cost around $680, all-in. Bonus: Stringent new cleaning protocols are in place for Amtrak stations and trains, so you’ll always be traveling in a freshly sanitized room.
As to where you’re traveling to, it’s essentially up to you! Amtrak serves 46 states and three Canadian provinces. Glacier National Park and the Grand Canyon are two of its top destinations. If you’re considering flying to popular attractions like those instead, you’ll want to check out our rundown of how travel—especially flying—may change forever.
The Ocean House, Watch Hill, Rhode Island
This summer, the historic Ocean House began offering buyouts of the entire property, but it also continues to rent its private Cottage Collection residences. Located throughout the beachfront resort property, these luxe cottages range from two to seven bedrooms and come equipped with full kitchens, a yard with high-end grills, and laundry facilities; some also have private swimming pools and hot tubs. At the on-site Center for Wine & Culinary Arts, you can take cooking classes, as well as classes on wine tasting and pairing. To add to the individualized, worry-free experience, a dedicated concierge will be on hand to stock your private cottage with whatever you need before you arrive and to attend to your family throughout your stay. Rates for the Up, Up & Away Cottage, which boasts seven big bedrooms, start at $4,500. If you really want to be at one with nature, check out these 25 amazing spots where you can camp on the beach.
Villa Royale, Palm Springs, California
If you’ve been dreaming about a girls’ getaway, a guys’ weekend, or a college reunion with a fun, tropical flavor, then Villa Royale may be the pandemic-friendly choice for you! It’s a secluded, adults-only hideaway set in a desert palm grove at the foot of the San Jacinto Mountains. It has a mere 36 rooms in total, each with a private patio. Despite its relatively low number of guests, though, the boutique hotel boasts three pools, so you’ll have plenty of space to kick back with your cocktail. Villa Royale is now offering a full buyout for groups that want the entire property to themselves. Aside from taking over the pools, your gang can hold court at the pool bar, take a yoga class on the lawn, and basically have it your way, all day, at this private desert oasis. This will cost around $7,000 per night, which breaks down to less than $200 per room.
The Cloister at Sea Island, Sea Island, Georgia
The Cloister at Sea Island, part of the Golden Isles of Georgia, just opened up King Cottage for small groups of eight to 10 people. Golf aficionados in your group? Look no further. Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the cottage not only boasts four big bedrooms, each with a private bath and a spacious kitchen, living, and dining area—it also has (and hold onto your golf hat here) a private, indoor hitting bay, where players can hit directly onto the driving range. And steps away is the brand-new, massive Golf Performance Center that caters to both beginners and seasoned golfers. Don’t worry, though—your crew will find plenty of activities in addition to golf that lend themselves perfectly to safe social distancing, including lounging at a private beach club, horseback riding, tennis, paddleboarding, and kayaking. Book a group stay for $2,299, which works out to $230 per person, per night. Don’t miss the best-kept secret in Georgia—and every other state.
Twelve Sense Retreat, Encinitas, California
This pretty stretch of the SoCal coast is known for its colorful mix of surfers, yogis, and wellness seekers. That healthy, healing vibe is epitomized at Twelve Senses Retreat, a micro-hotel that keeps sustainability and respect for nature as its focus. Traveling friends looking for both privacy and some serious self-care can block out all four rooms for two nights for $2,000. A takeover of this holistic haven gets you private access to a mother lode of wellness experiences, such as guided meditation, energy healing, yoga, and paddleboarding, as well as craft cocktails for each room inspired by the four elements of nature (fire, earth, air, and water).
Booking a stay here is as flexible as it is dreamy: If your plans change, for COVID-related reasons or otherwise, your booking credits can be applied to a visit anytime within two years. While we’re on the subject, here are some effective ways to get hotels and airlines to bend their rules.
All-out adventure in Colorado and Utah
A top option for a private group tour is Trafalgar, and arguably one of their most memorable journeys is the seven-day Best of the Canyonlands adventure. It will take you off the grid to some of the most stunning locales in the American West. Your group will explore artsy Denver and chic Vail in Colorado, Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park in Utah, and the legendary cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park, Monument Valley, and the Grand Canyon. Lodging, transportation, and most meals, including a cookout with an indigenous Navajo community, are all included. Private tour rates start at $1,796. Next, check out the hidden travel gems that are way cheaper in the off-season.