This year’s pandemic—and the new restrictions many states are implementing now—have forced us to redefine the term ”family vacation.” What was once an easy decision (let’s jet to Hawaii!) is now a nail-biting process, as we debate who we travel with, where we choose to go and if we even go at all. Welcome to the new normal—as if parenting wasn’t stressful enough.
As we try to balance our mental health and mitigate risk, many families have chosen to adopt a digital nomad lifestyle, turning to long-term Airbnb rentals to satisfy their wanderlust. According to Airbnb, digital nomads are those who stay longer than 28 days at any given place. But for many families itching for a change of pace during the pandemic, this escape can be done in a week, oftentimes coinciding with school or daycare closure.
The silver lining of the pandemic? This travel trend, which was once only reserved for the glossy Instagram travel feeds from childless millennials, is now attainable by families. Yes, you can work and play in a new place! Yes, you can bring your dog! Yes, you can still do it safely! How do I know? I adopted the digital nomad lifestyle for a week with my husband, parents, two kids under three, and dog. Here’s my advice if this is something you’re considering doing with your family:
I repeat: do only what you feel comfortable with. If you are more risk-averse, staying in an Airbnb may not suit you. I totally get it, but for what it’s worth, Airbnb has upped their enhanced sanitizing game that even impressed my Asian mother who came armed with bottles of hand sanitizer and Lysol wipes. We’ve heard from other savvy travel parents that once they arrive at a rental, they’ll wipe down all surfaces and open the windows and doors to promote air circulation. Other tips included bringing your own linens and communicating with the host about their cleaning protocol.
Of course, follow all local restrictions when it comes to travel, mask mandates, social distancing and other COVID precautions. My family has generally been risk-averse this pandemic—picking up groceries, social distancing from friends and family and gravitating towards outdoor activities with just my immediate family. So this road trip was a big deal, especially for my 9-month-old who has never slept anywhere overnight but the hospital and our home.
We were lucky and traveled before November’s spike in cases. If you need to postpone or cancel your trip, check with Airbnb and your rental’s cancellation policy. Here’s Airbnb’s cancellation options and their resource hub for everything COVID-related.
2. Give your boss or work a heads up
Even before the pandemic, Red Tricycle was a remote-first company, so working from places other than home was accepted and even encouraged. I always gave my boss and my direct reports a heads up that I’d be working from a different location and this experience was no different. Red Tricycle has succeeded as a remote-first company because of the transparent communication between team members, amongst other things—and it doesn’t hurt that most of us are parents who inherently understand and are sympathetic to the challenges of working with kids at home during a pandemic.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but confirm that your rental has high speed wireless internet that reaches to the far corners of the home. Our Airbnb rental had Mesh Wi-Fi which reached into the backyard, deck and throughout the house. Depending on the home’s set up (and the proximity and volume of your kids), you may need to retreat to a corner closet, patio or even the garage to take a work call or zoom meeting. Or, if you have school-aged kids, they’ll need to be signed onto Zoom for virtual schooling. Ensure it’s a seamless experience by reaching out to the host and reading the Airbnb reviews beforehand.
Depending on the ages of your kids, you may need to schlepp pack and plays, travel high chairs, food and toys. I’m embarrassed how much stuff we actually packed for our short one-week stay and will probably be equally as horrified once we start air travel again (side note: we invested in a hard-shell cargo box similar to this one, which was crucial since our 70-pound dog takes up the entire trunk space). So if you can, book an Airbnb that has kid amenities. Many do, including the rental we chose in Truckee, California that featured a treasure trove of toys, books, games and blocks. If it were up to my toddler, he would have never left the toy closet our entire stay.
4. Bring your pets—just make sure it’s pet-friendly
When we packed up to experience the digital nomad lifestyle for a week, our seven-year-old dog was invited along. And, apparently we aren’t the only family traveling with Fido. According to Airbnb, the number of amenities searched using the “allow pets” filter jumped 90% compared to last year.
Before booking double check to make sure the rental allows pets, and if there are any weight restrictions, extra security deposit required or house pet rules. Pro tip: research dog-friendly destinations beforehand since some trails, beaches or public land aren’t welcoming to your furry friends.
5. Adjust your expectations: you still need to work and they still have to learn
Rejoice! You’ve finally broken out of your Groundhog Day routine. But wait, your Slack is still blowing up and you’re still required to attend the dozens of video Zoom calls?! It’s true, digital nomads must work, but for me, getting out of my routine—and the dining room table that I call an office—was refreshing. I felt more motivated, relaxed and happy to be somewhere different after months of the same schedule. I must be onto something because a recent Harris poll cited by Airbnb says that nearly half (46%) of remote workers in the US say that they’ve already used Airbnb to find a remote working destination.
If you have older kids, think about what they may need to successfully learn remotely outside your home. Do they need their laptop, charger, pens, white board, printed-out schedule or notebooks? Make sure they’re set up for success by bringing along all their school gear and technology from home.
6. Think about childcare
My kids are 9 months and almost 3 years old and they’re normally in a small home daycare part-time while my husband and I frantically try to pack in our important projects and calls before we’re summoned to build Duplo towers and pillow forts. To help wrangle the kids during our stay, we decided to invite my parents along for the trip. We’ve been social distancing from them all year so this was a momentous decision. After all adults tested negative and we accepted the risks involved with multi-generational travel during COVID, we agreed to move forward.
My parents got to hold my baby for the first time since March and play board games with my toddler who was just a wee bit confused why we weren’t all wearing masks. Like many parents now, I often feel like I’m in an either/or situation when my kids are at home during the workday: I’m either a dedicated, engaged mom or a dedicated, engaged employee, but I can’t be both at once.
But this week with our family felt like a luxury to not feel torn, and dare I say I felt like things were…normal? They devoted hours to my kids as my husband and I worked effectively. It was also a gentle reminder that I had been craving the in-person support of family and friends, which is a feeling I imagine many mothers—and new mothers to 2020 babies in particular—are all too familiar with.
While many families looking to spring for a long weekend rental or digital nomad experience, approach it from a guest perspective, we suggest looking into hosting (again, only if you feel comfortable doing so). Curious about some of Airbnb’s hosts around the globe? Read some of their stories here.
8. Find a community if you plan to stay awhile
If planning an extended stay, you may look into finding local mom Facebook groups to join or mapping out the playground and kid hotspots before booking your trip. Depending on your level of comfort, it may be nice to do a playground masked meet up with other moms who have kids your age. Or at the very least, find a digital community who can recommend nearby hangouts or be a sounding board if you have a question about local protocol.
9. Enjoy it
Embrace the digital nomad lifestyle and get out and explore. We purposefully chose a remote mountain town that we were already familiar with and used it as an opportunity to spend time with family (something I’ll never ever take for granted after we emerge from the pandemic). This meant leisurely walks in the woods, exploring Tahoe’s lakeside beaches before winter arrived and teaching my son to skip rocks at Donner Lake. Because we’ve been to Tahoe dozens of times, we didn’t need to research where to eat and play. Like my family, Airbnb cites that 46% of longer-term trips were taken to places guests visited three or more times in the past, have lived before, or currently live.
Whether you’re looking to embrace the outdoors, introduce your family to a new culture or destination, or merely want to break out of your pandemic routine, renting an Airbnb and living like a digital nomad will check those boxes, and more. And if you’re lucky like me, the experience will be a necessary gut check that despite 2020 going totally off the rails, there’s still opportunity to create new memories and special moments, even in a pandemic.
Psst…curious about where we stayed? This home in Truckee is one of the most kid- and dog-friendly places I’ve stayed (and my family has rented too many Airbnbs to count). Here are a few other cabins in Lake Tahoe we were considering:
—Erin Lem (photos, too!)