So many of us loved to travel before the pandemic hit. So how can you still get your travel fix while while being safe?

WASHINGTON — Gabby Beckford is known as a Generation Z Travel Expert. At 25, she’s passionate about zipping around the world and just left a full-time engineering gig in February to make traveling her life.

But right when she made the switch, that’s when she found Coronavirus covering the globe instead of her.

“Like many people — especially me, working in the travel space — I was like, what the heck am I going to do?” She remembered from the time when lockdowns and travel restrictions began to set in. 

Before the pandemic hit, she’d already racked up a list of destinations people spend lifetimes dreaming about, from Colombia and South Korea to Sweden and Dubai.

But this summer she found a new, safer destination to explore: her some state of Virginia.

“I wanted to do it in a safe and responsible way, especially with a platform,” she said. “I knew I didn’t want to advocate travel if it’s irresponsible or dangerous. So I did my research.”

For many travel lovers, a home-state vacation might be a step back — but not for Beckford. Her trip was packed full of new experiences, from viewing an outdoor play in Stauton to horseback riding in Charlottesville, rock climbing in Richmond and kayaking in Giles County.

Not to mention riding around in the mud on ATVs and swinging through the trees while ziplining.

She said her experience with the ATVs was the real moment she realized how much a getaway was needed. 

“We were soaked to the bone with mud and we’re screaming and laughing. In that moment, I just thought, Oh my gosh, I’ve been inside for so long,” she remembered. “When’s the last time that I laughed this loudly and forgot to be worried? I relaxed my shoulders … [and thought] this is so much more needed than I could have imagined for myself.”

Overall, she said she was surprised by the variety of experiences a state she grew up in had to offer. “I would have never ever, ever been able to guess just how diverse a landscape could be or how different foods could’ve been in just one state.”

She always recommends bringing all of your tools, like masks, disinfectant sprays, sanitizers, and even your own pillows or sheets if it provides extra comfort when you’re out on the road.

Plus, she says to be diligent about your research ahead of time so that you can ensure everywhere you’re stopping helps you feel secure.

“Some things that I’ve seen on the road trip that just stood out to me were limited occupancy rules policies. So [for example] if you are staying in a room, it might’ve been empty for three days prior, just to help mitigate the risk of transmission of disease.”

Beckford said she prefers to eat outdoors and likes to call restaurants ahead of time to see how many people are currently seated. She also tries to stop by right after open or before close to ensure a low density of patrons in order to maximize her social distancing. However, she pointed out there are certainly options for avoiding restaurants altogether, like trying out a hotel or Airbnb that has a personal kitchen and taking a trip to the grocery store for your meals. 

“I’ll admit that I was nervous before I went, like, just how good will different parts of Virginia be, is it like different states? I’ll just say cohesively Virginia has done an amazing job.”

She encourages everyone to get on the road and give staycations another try if they’re itching to get back on the move.

“I was like, if I didn’t know better, this could be Thailand. This could be Sri Lanka. And this is in my own state. I mean, this is four hours away and just that realization that travel is not how far you go or how much money you spend … It’s having an open mind and talking to local people. And you know, just taking every moment to pause and be mindful and that’s what really that’s the spirit of travel and that can be done in your own backyard.”

You can find Beckford’s full itinerary for her Virginia trip on her website.

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