I normally travel a lot and not doing so has certainly left life with a little less color, so when the opportunity arose to travel cheaply to wine country with my mom, we leapt at the opportunity. While the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is still being felt, many states have begun to loosen restrictions on travel - Sonoma County in California just recently began reopening for leisure travel days before we departed. We both felt rather comfortable with the idea of flying, particularly on Southwest where the focus certainly appears to be on passenger safety versus the experience on American and United where social distancing is no longer in place. We still, however, were not sold on spending our time in an urban area - so a socially distant wine country visit it would be!
We booked our stay at the Hyatt Regency Sonoma - Wine Country, found a great rate with National Car Rental and scored some cheap award flights with Southwest Airlines - we were on our way to enjoying virtually empty wineries and spending time in the great outdoors of Northern California!
UPDATE - JULY 20TH, 2020: We've also updated this piece to reflect a visit taken to Colorado Springs, Colorado which includes updates on the rental car front, and the addition of the airbnb experience during COVID-19. You can find these updates in Italics in the article below.
At the Airport
Our journey begins at Chicago Midway International Airport, where traffic was much higher than expected - I’ve since learned from a friend at Southwest that Midway is currently their busiest station. On the landside, social distancing is in place at the check in desk and plexiglass shields have been installed at every employee station. Over at TSA, the same is true. You now must place your own boarding pass on the scanner, which was always the case for mobile ones, and once received, an agent reviews your ID as normal and asks you to quickly remove your mask for verification.
With the exceptions of the requirement to wear masks and the lack of open businesses in the airport, it felt surprisingly normal - in fact, the amount of crowding and lack of social distancing, despite clear markings, was a bit alarming at times. I was also shocked by the lack of hand sanitizing locations in Midway.
Once we arrived in San Francisco, deplaning happened just the same as it normally would, although with a bit less cramming and urgency, and we were soon out into a terminal that felt like a complete ghost town. Back at Oakland, the experience on the ground was nearly identical to that of Midway, but with many more concessions and shopping options in operation. Upon arrival back to Chicago-Midway, social distancing was also in place at the Baggage Claim, although it was non-existent out on the curbside.
When the realities of COVID-19 began setting in in early March, many of us were hopeful that we would see a quick demise of the virus. Unfortunately, the opposite is true, and as such we have seen our world forever changed. While June is usually a time that many of us like to march through various cities, this year looks a little different. Expressing our pride this year will take place a little closer to home - virtually.
The history of the LGBTQ+ Movement traces much of its momentum to June 28th, 1969 when the New York City Police Department raided the Stonewall Inn - a gay club in Greenwich Village. Near constant raids were a regular occurrence, and part of a broader institutionalized oppression against members of the LGBTQ+ community. After the raid on the morning of June 28th, a tipping point was finally met. One evening of protests turned to a second, with both turning to violence and rioting after met with aggression from the NYPD. Although not the beginning of the movement, the Stonewall uprising became a galvanizing force, in part because it was spearheaded by a number of activists, many of whom were black, latinx, and transexual.
Traditionally celebrated on the last Sunday of June - in commemoration of the aforementioned 1969 Stonewall Riots, Pride has evolved into a worldwide show of solidarity, persistence and strength for the LGBTQ+ Community. Events, parades, and festivals traditionally take place throughout the month of June, but due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, many have been cancelled, postponed or adapted for a digital presence. A shortlist of ones on our radar are found below!
Beginner's Guide to Car Rental
For most of my life, I've been interested in cars; in fact, at a young age I can remember picking up the rental car being one of the most exciting parts of a family vacation - secondary to the flight of course! So, naturally, when I came of the age of being able to do it myself, I learned as much as I could about the process, as well as the tips and tricks to allow me to get a vehicle at just 20 years old. In this guide, we’ll lay out some base level information to help you get on the road with less hassle and for less money!
First, I think it’s helpful to explain the makeup of the rental car industry as it's primarily dominated by three main companies: Avis, Enterprise and Hertz; all of whom have several brands under their umbrella: Avis has its namesake brand, which caters to business travel, as well as Budget, who targets the budget traveler; Enterprise is primarily neighborhood based and also holds Alamo, a low cost brand and National, primarily for business travelers. Hertz has a robust local presence and also targets business travelers at airports, it also owns Dollar and Thrifty which target low cost travelers. There are also many other players such as Advantage, Fox and Sixt which have smaller North American presences.
I’d be remiss not to mention the impact that COVID-19 has had on this industry, as well as all travel related companies, and as such there are many changes that have been made. Enhanced cleaning procedures are common from all of the major agencies, some fees have been reduced or removed and agencies are turning to new technology to avoid contact - Hertz has begun installation of biometric Clear kiosks for vehicle check out. This all being said, I’m confident in the safety of rental vehicles and think that they can offer an excellent opportunity for a temporary escape from the city and will be key to the reintroduction of the travel industry - we at From the Window Seat predict that domestic road trips will likely be where the initial regrowth will take place.