My cabin fever started the minute coronavirus canceled my spring trip to Curaçao. It was early on in the quarantine, but as the pandemic continued altering plans and changing lifestyles, that tiny nagging daydream of a change of scenery grew into a desperate need to get in a car and go.
Travel is an important part of my life. I strategically plan my annual allowance of time off from work and squirrel away portions of my paychecks in anticipation of a new location on a map and a break from the daily grind. From family spring breaks with my kids in Washington, D.C. and New York City to romantic adventures with my boyfriend in Belize and Iceland, my travels give me something to work toward, something to look forward to, something to prevent burnout and release the pressure valve of stress.
But 2020 changed everything. After my April Caribbean vacation turned into a staycation and then my June family reunion turned into another staycation, I wondered what I could plan for the week of use-it-or-lose-it time off from work I decided to take in early September the week before my kids went back to school.
“What do you think about spending a few days in Shenandoah?” I asked my kids, who had already shot down my suggestion of a road trip to the Outer Banks as well as a beach house rental nearby.
“Okay,” said my 16-year-old son.
“Okay,” said my almost 13-year-old daughter.
Two yeses. From two adolescents. I couldn’t let this opportunity pass me by. Planning started immediately.
Not everything went as planned. But I didn’t need a perfect trip. I needed exactly what this last-minute family getaway gave me.
So what did we do on our short road trip to Shenandoah?
After a four hour morning drive the day after celebrating my daughter’s thirteenth birthday, we arrived at Shenandoah National Park and parked at the campsite we booked in the Big Meadows campground.
We made sandwiches for lunch and then got back in the car to drive to the entrance of our first hike: Stony Man.
There were two suggested trail options, and we chose the longer one, taking our time on the four mile hike while inspecting centipedes, stopping at a small waterfall and talking about everything and nothing at all.
We hiked through drizzling rain, and as we experienced throughout our initial drive into the park, we reached the Stony Man summit to see fog obstructing what would have been a beautiful view.
I had reserved a campsite online, but as we chatted on the way down Stony Man, we decided we’d have a more enjoyable experience staying in a cabin at the Big Meadows Lodge instead of sleeping in tents in the rain. Thankfully, our mid-week trip meant lodge availability, and we moved into a cabin with no air conditioning or television.
Because I wanted to still have some semblance of a camping experience (and because I had prepped a cooler-full of food to be cooked at the campsite), my boyfriend set up the camping stove in front of our room, cooking hot dogs and marinated shrimp with veggies.
(We missed out on making s’mores over a campfire, but the kids didn’t seem to mind assembling the ingredients and eating them without cooking.)
After showering (another perk of getting a cabin), taking advantage of Wifi and adult beverages in the lobby and making a plan of attack for the next day, we turned on the cabin’s fan and went to sleep.
I was disappointed to wake up and head to the lobby for coffee to see the porch view of the valley completely obstructed by fog again. But as my boyfriend set up the camping stove, frying bacon, scrambling eggs and sauteing the diced potatoes I boiled before we left, the rain stopped and I spotted some blue sky poking through the fog.
As checkout time approached, we had to make a decision about sleeping arrangements. After enjoying beds and real showers and with more rain in the forecast, we decided to not only book a cabin for another night, but to also upgrade to a room with air conditioning (no loud fan keeping me up half the night!) and a television.
We moved our belongings to the other side of the lodge, crossed paths with four deer and hopped back in the car to drive about an hour to Luray Caverns.
We made sandwiches for lunch, and then it was back to Shenandoah. The weather was looking iffy again with rain drizzles so we stopped for another hike before heading back to Big Meadows.
The Hawksbill hike was short, but the summit is the highest point in Shenandoah National Park so it was much steeper than Stony Man. And without the fog we had on the first day, we finally got the view.
Back at the lodge, my boyfriend set up the camping stove for the last time for the Mac and Cheese I made before the trip as well as Walking Tacos (basically taco ingredients mixed inside snack-sized Frito and Dorito bags).
We saw a rainbow while checking email in the lobby, and while walking back to our room, we noticed a sign for a super short hike that claimed beautiful views, which was perfect timing for sunset.
We liked the quick hike so much we went back up later to look for stars before going to bed.
We grabbed hard boiled eggs and string cheese from the cooler for breakfast as we packed our bags and checked out of the Big Meadows Lodge. Two hours of driving later, we were buying buckets of animal food at the Virginia Safari Park.
For an hour we drove slowly through the park, feeding animals that ranged from the surprisingly aggressive llamas and emus to Japanese Sika deer and Rocky Mountain elk, among many others.
We got out of the car to walk through the Safari Village before officially ending our trip and heading back home, in desperate need of a car wash but thankful for the opportunity to get out of the house, get out of town, shake the cabin fever and have some fun.
The trip was brief, but it was the perfect end-of-summer unforgettable family getaway.