Amanda Klimak, of Largay Travel, takes us along on her most recent vacation as she and her husband find a new balance in a COVID-19 world.
Who would have imagined arranging RV journeys for clients just six months ago? Certainly not me. However, here we are in a world where social distancing is everything and discovering new ways for our clients to get away is what we are adapting to.
Growing up, my family always took road trips for vacation. From our home in Western Connecticut, we would journey south to the Jersey Shore for our beach vacations, west to Lake George for boating and north to Mount Washington to hike and take the infamous Cog Railway. As a matter of fact, I think most of America drove to get away in the ’70s and it was wonderful. We would pack the car and off we would go for a week of fun and frolic. My dad called them “Captain Bob’s Misguided Tours” as they never went as planned and changed multiple times as things went wrong. Using a travel advisor was unheard of, and you NEVER asked for directions.
Certainly my life has changed, as I joined the travel business and the world became more accessible. Until recently, journeys to far-away places became the norm for me, my family and many Americans.
Then came COVID-19, and we all started looking for experiences that would keep us safe while still allowing us to get away. Clients began asking about drive destinations and requesting the dreaded RV journey.
Amanda Klimak, of Largay Travel, (here and below) rented an RV (top) and went on a trip to upstate New York with her husband, Gary.
So I had only one choice: Test it out for myself, which is just what I did. Normally, I would work with an amazing Virtuoso supplier like Abercrombie & Kent or Excursionist, who both arrange luxurious RV trips. However, time was of the essence, so I decided to DIY my journey. Now, I know this is the antithesis of what we tell our clients to do, but I had the guidance from my amazing Largay Travel New York specialty team, and they were fantastic. We rented the RV through Outdoorsy, which does private rentals similar to AirBnb. The initial experience of looking at the RV was great, the owners were wonderful and my husband, Gary, and I were excited for a journey. We had a 33-foot Winnebago, fully equipped with all the creature comforts. Our initial plan was to go to Vermont and New Hampshire for hiking and breweries, however, the rules for a 14-day quarantine for out-of-state visitors never lifted, so upstate New York it was.
My team of specialists, which included Carissa Gulyas, Stephanie Reiner, Paula Jaye, Betsy Bouche, Trisha Iannazzi, Sherri Guglielmi, Debbie Ames and Elizabeth de Quillacq (our resident RV specialist), planned an itinerary that included an orchard and brewery in upstate New York, a second night at a vineyard, four nights at a KOA Campground on the Finger Lake Region of New York and a final night on a farm.
The route was planned and we were leaving in just over a week. Then the text message came. “Amanda, the previous renters have had an accident with the RV, it is still drivable; however, you need to come look at the damage, as you may want to cancel.” This was a pitfall I had never even fathomed, but one that is always possible when you rent privately and not through a fully vetted company. This meant no back-up vehicle, and we were concerned our plans would need to be cancelled if we couldn’t find a replacement RV.
Fortunately for us, the damage was superficial, so a little duct tape later, we were on our way to experience the great outdoors. I have to admit that we were terrified that we, too, would dent or crash this behemoth of a vehicle.
Outdoorsy did offer insurance, which we willingly bought, and we were off. Our first stop after picking up Miss Winnie, as we affectionately referred to her, was our house, where we loaded up with everything we could think of to create the type of “Glamping Experience” my clients would be after. I prepared for sundowners each evening, similar to a Micato Safari experience in Africa, except instead of lions and elephants to gaze at, we would have squirrels and chipmunks.
Our first night was just what we hoped for. Booked using Harvest Hosts, Wright’s Farm is a beautiful field bordering an orchard with a fire pit and picnic table under the stars. We were the only campers there, and the fresh produce, cheeses and wine from the farm shop allowed for a romantic dinner and evening under the stars. This was nirvana, and we were hooked.
Waterfalls were one of the highlights for Amanda and Gary at Watkins Glen.
We had planned on staying on a vineyard the second night, but it was raining heavily, so we were concerned it might be muddy. Team Largay sprang into action and asked the KOA campground if we could check in early. It was not a problem, so we continued on directly to the KOA Resort in Watkins Glen, NY.
The plan was to get a car rental before getting to the campground, so we wouldn’t have to unhook the RV each day to get out and explore. The plan was perfect, but when we arrived at the car rental location it was closed and a sign directed us to the airport to pick up. I immediately panicked and called the rental company who replied that they had not gotten around to calling me. As a seasoned advisor I would have normally reconfirmed for my clients; however, we all know we are our own worst clients. I couldn’t imagine taking our 33 feet of Winnebago to an airport.
Gary was a trooper, though, and immediately said, “We got this, babe,” and off we went to the airport. As it turned out, the Elmira Corning airport is the size of a postage stamp and picking up the rental car was no big deal. It turned out to be worth its weight in gold. When we arrived at the campground, we immediately hooked up to the electricity, water, cable and sewage and set up our homestead. We were pioneers ready to take on anything.
Surprisingly, the hookup and setup of the RV was incredibly easy, as our hosts had provided us with detailed instructions for Miss Winnie. This home away from home provided us with everything we needed, including a private working bathroom and shower, a stove and microwave and cable TV, which we never actually used. The best part was we came into contact with no one along the way. Social distancing had been maintained and we felt safe and secure in our home on wheels.
I have to admit that initially I was a bit put off by the closeness of the other campers and was fearful that they would stay up all night partying, however, that was never a problem and everyone else was just as happy being away and socially distant, too. The other people in the campground had everything from tents to massive buses and were pleasant and friendly.
Geocaching was one of the activities the couple indulged in when they visited the KOA Resort.
Each day, Gary and I would take off in our Jeep Cherokee rental for a day of hiking, geocaching, disc golfing and exploring. We hiked the gorge at Watkins Glen on a weekday to avoid any possible crowds, and Team Largay found lesser-known places for our weekend adventures. Waterfall after waterfall filled our days and beautiful views of the lakes and vineyards were around every bend. We sat around our campfire each evening and cooked fun meals together, which was wonderful. Late night card games allowed for deep and lively conversations, which hadn’t seemed to happen much lately with all the news. We disconnected from the world and took a mental sabbatical from reality, and it felt amazing.
On the last day at Watkins Glen we packed up the RV and did our first black-water dump. It is just what it sounds like, and we were nervous, as we had watched Robin Williams in the movie “RV” and watched his giant sewage fountain scene (you’d know it if you saw it), and it had us petrified. However, it was not a big deal at all and only took all of about five minutes, two sets of rubber gloves and a nose plug to accomplish.
We dropped off our car rental and headed toward our last stop in New York at BeaverWood Farm. Our team found this little gem on HipCamp, which offers camping on private lands and farms.
As a lover of animals, this was the perfect stop for me. Our hosts, Paul and his wife, were amazingly accommodating. They helped us find our spot in the field and talked to us about the goats, horses, cows, turkey, donkey and chickens. They provided firewood for our campfire and invited us to wander the farm and interact with the animals, who were all friendly. I was in heaven and quickly grabbed a bag of Wheat Thins, which Paul pre-approved for animal treats, and set out to make friends. The experience was amazing, as the goats followed us around, the chickens dove at the treats and we made friends with the horse and donkey.
I could only imagine this would be perfect for families with kids. Of course, you couldn’t avoid the random poop piles that exist on the fully functioning farm, but for those who don’t mind, this is a gift from nature.
At BeaverWood Farm, Amanda got the opportunity to wander the farm and interact with the friendly animals.
After doing our final empties and propane fill of our RV rental, we returned Miss Winnie back to her rightful owners and unpacked from our adventure. I can’t help but feel like I was transferred back in time to a simpler way of vacation, one that didn’t include packing suitcases and airport screenings but included a more wholesome adventure in the outdoors.
I am quite sure this type of vacation is not for everyone; however, for those who are looking to social distance in these early phases of reopening and are willing to do a little work, I think it’s perfect. Certainly not everyone wants to cook every night while on vacation, and farms and orchards may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those who don’t mind roughing it, want the closeness that disconnecting from the world creates and want to maintain a safe distance from others, this vacation is just right.
I’m sure it won’t be long before we are all able to explore the world once again, but for now, I am so very happy that I had a chance to travel small once again.
For my clients, as relates to RV journeys, I think it’s hugely important that they know what they are getting into. They need to be aware of the risks of a DIY adventure and the many benefits of a curated RV experience that our travel specialists are able to create.
Companies like Abercrombie & Kent and Excursionist are creating these experiences, as well as many others. Clients also need to realize that if they want to do an RV journey right, it may cost as much as that European vacation they are accustomed to.
They also need to realize that if they make the investment into doing their drive trips and RV vacations right with a knowledgeable travel specialist, they will be just as wonderful and memorable as the trips abroad of the past and future.
RV trips, according to Amanda, can be fun if planned correctly and be a source of income for advisors during these times.
I personally can’t wait to take my next RV adventure and work with clients on these journeys. They can be so very fun if planned correctly and provide income for advisors now, which will sustain us until the better days ahead.
We are a strong industry and will come out of the crisis better than ever if we can just survive the storm, and I truly believe drive vacations and RV journeys are what will get us through to the other side.
Happy trails everyone and stay safe and well!