In Covid Times, the biggest enemy is the unknown. The whole reason we protect ourselves with masks and social distancing is we can’t be sure who might be infectious. So the easiest way to feel relaxed about interactions is to monitor closely the health status of everyone you hang out with.
That’s why the travel industry is seeing a surge in requests for private vacations. Brokers who rent exclusive islands have seen interest soar to the highest level in decades. Not everyone can afford to live like Kim Kardashian (nor would most of us want to), so not all of us can tweet about how “humbled and blessed” we are to be able to whisk friends and family to private tropical resorts for birthday parties.
But we can still vacation with the people we love in social bubbles, and several sectors of the travel industry are revising their offerings in 2021 to open routes for safe, pre-tested group bookings. Provided you can get into the countries where you’ve made reservations—make sure you’ll be able to meet national entry requirements before you book anything—you can gather your squad, split costs, and make your next big journey a joint effort.
Unlike giant ocean-going cruise ships, river cruise ships—and in particular, canal barges—are sometimes small enough to be rented by a single party. Several of the major operators on Europe’s rivers are setting aside smaller boats to serve as charters for social bubbles. European Waterways, to take one, is renting out “hotel barges“: The 12-passenger Spirit of Scotland and the 8-passenger Scottish Highlander take private groups on itineraries along the Caledonian Canal in Scotland.
On a cruise like that, expect an open bar (European Waterways brags about serving 18 types of single malt scotch on Scottish itineraries) as well as meals and tours included in the price. A small, carefully tested staff does the cooking.
A great way to start a search for this kind of trip is to look at the operators that normally run cruises on the river you’re interested in seeing; a great source is Frommer’s EasyGuide to River Cruising. Then ask if the company arranges charters.
For ideas, zero in on a popular canal system, such as France’s Canal du Midi, which is profiled here. In the U.S., look at places such as the Erie Canal in New York State or houseboating on Lake Mead near Las Vegas.
In response to a shift in demand, many of the most respected names in package tours have figured out ways to craft escorted itineraries to cater to unified groups. Unlike on a normal escorted tour, you won’t have to share the motor coach, guide, or meals with strangers—your group will be the only group. For many of these social bubble tours, which follow the same routes as publicly available offerings, the minimum number of participants is around 12, although each company sets its own requirements.
Several of the major tour brands that are now tailoring their standard products to suit bubbled groups include Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold, Country Walkers and VBT Bicycling Vacations, and Trafalgar Travel. Read more about these new types of tours here.
For other operators, group tours like this aren’t a novel undertaking. Some upscale companies such as Abercrombie & Kent have already been operating private, small-group trips as a luxury product for many years.
Boat rentals can come with skippers (for a price), chefs (that’s awful nice), or you can exert maximum control on your group for less money by serving as your own DIY captains and cooks. We’ve rounded up great sites for finding the right vessel—click here for that feature.
Destinations that are particularly rich with quality boat charters include the Caribbean (especially around the Virgin Islands), the Greek Islands, and the Adriatic Coast of Croatia.
Big concert acts aren’t touring right now, so their luxury motor coaches—drivers included—are available to be rented by the rest of us.
Check out our article about the lavish tour buses from Hemphill Brothers Coach Company.
Home rental is probably easiest of all—pick a destination that will please everyone and rent a mansion big enough for the bunch of you.
Just make sure you reserve a place well in advance of travel. You’re not the only person to have thought of Airbnb, Vrbo, or other vacation home rental sites.
They’re so popular right now, in fact, that prices for rentals have climbed higher than hotels in many places—all the more reason to try out VacationHomeRents.com, a newly launched search engine aggregator that looks for vacation rentals from a variety of sources and collects them on one page.