Pondering what travel will look like as the pandemic drags on? Pundits suggest that 'pod travel' is on the rise. Family and friends can form a pod with like hygiene habits and hit the road as a health conscious unit.
The COVID-19 pandemic will change the way we travel, but it certainly won’t stop us.
Always eager to explore, travellers are finding ways to cure the travel bug while adapting to the new normal. And one of the latest trends to come out of the US already has a name: ‘pod travel’.
As lock-downs ease, close-to-home travel has surged, especially intra-state short breaks and road trips. And while multigenerational travelling — where grandparents, parents and children create travel memories together — has long been popular, pod travel, while similar, is a variation of the concept.
It’s all about travelling in a group with a like-minded approach to staying well, and keeping your group reasonably self-contained. Travel pods minimise the possible health risks associated with contact with other travellers, while still ensuring a highly social experience. Pods can include family groups, groups of friends, or even housemates who have quarantined together. In fact, anyone who shares the same philosophy on social distancing, personal hygiene, and even mask-wearing, can form a travel pod.
Once you have a pod in place, draw up a charter of shared rules and expectations for the trip in terms of hygiene practices and efforts to avoid infection. Then it’s time to decide how and where to holiday. Obvious options include renting a private villa or home, a camping trip, chartering a house boat, booking a private tour, or even a total group buy-out of a small hotel or resort.
The results of a recent Virtuoso Flash Five Survey showed that 79 percent of families would be happy to take part in some form of pod travel. Boutique beach destinations are a popular option, due to lower visitor numbers, the ease of social distancing in the open air, and the wide availability of self-contained accommodation.
Here are some ideal pod travel destinations.
Maleny, Sunshine Coast Hinterland, Queensland
Driving into this charming hinterland village, 90 minutes north of Brisbane, will have you breathing deeply and ready to relax. Set up your pod base at one of the region’s boutique B&Bs or small hotels, before taking in the sublime natural surroundings.
Maleny’s quaint Maple Street is lined with shops, restaurants and boutiques, and while it can draw a crowd on weekends, it’s still small enough to make social distancing relatively easy. Weekdays make it a breeze for long lunches in garden café settings, while window-shopping opportunities are plentiful.
The area is also a picnicker’s paradise, with countless parks and gardens to choose from. Try beautiful Lake Baroon, which offers oodles of space and excellent amenities.
After a group wine tasting (and cellar door purchase) at Flame Hill Winery, make a stop at Maleny Cheese, before heading back to McCarthy’s Lookout. Here your pod can take in the spectacular views across the Glass House Mountains range.
Ballina, Northern Rivers, New South Wales
While tourist magnet Byron Bay attracts most of the attention of visitors to the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales, regional gateway Ballina makes a savvy pod travel base. This city of just under 20,000 people is significantly quieter than Byron (particularly in peak season), yet still offers easy access to the gorgeous coastline and rolling Hinterland that make this area so special.
Choose from a wide range of group-friendly accommodation options, including historic Riversleigh House. Built in 1880, this Georgian-era home can accommodate up to 12 guests and is an easy walk from the riverfront and beach. Nearby, heritage-listed Ballina Manor features just 12 guest rooms, each furnished with exquisite period detail.
Spend your days exploring the Hinterland’s idyllic villages, getting into the region’s arty vibe (check out what’s on at the Northern Rivers Community Gallery), or just relaxing by the beach.
Robe, Limestone Coast, South Australia
There are plenty of pod-friendly travel destinations within easy reach of Adelaide, and Robe has to be one of the best. The drive to this historic port town takes around four hours, so break it up with a stop to take in the beauty of the Coorong National Park.
Robe offers a plethora of holiday cottage rentals and larger groups will easily find neighbouring properties that will double your space. Fresh seafood is plentiful. Locals will tell you of the time when it was possible to go down to the marina and buy crays straight off the trawlers. Those days are gone, but Sky Seafoods is the next best thing!
Outside of peak holiday periods, crowds are a thing of the past for your pod, and the region’s epic stretches of beach are sure to please everyone. If you’re travelling by 4WD, beach driving on Long Beach is an awesome experience.
Albany, Western Australia
Surrounded by King George Sound and Princess Royal Harbour, Albany was home to the first European settlers in Western Australia — a moment in history dating back to 1826. A scenic 5.5-hour drive south of Perth, today this airy city offers easy access to uncrowded national parks, beaches and civic recreational spaces.
Albany’s museums and art galleries display its heritage proudly, and you may find that your pod has each facility all to itself. You can even walk the plank on a replica of the Brig Amity — the vessel that ferried convicts and settlers to a new land and life.
On the return journey to Perth, consider following the PUBLIC Silo Trail — a 1,000-kilometre scenic self-drive experience, where epic grain silo artworks dot the landscape. This open-air art gallery is unlike anything you’ve seen before!
Jamala Wildlife Lodge, Canberra
If the idea of a luxury family safari in search of all things wild sounds appealing, you’ll love fabulous Jamala Wildlife Lodge. But here, travel to Africa is not required!
Located at Canberra’s National Zoo and Aquarium, Jamala brings the wilds of Africa right into your bedroom or lounge room — literally. It’s a family experience unlike any other. Choose from various themed rooms such as the Giraffe Treehouse (where you can feed Hummer, the resident giraffe, from your balcony), or the Jungle Bungalows, which adjoin various animal enclosures with a glass wall between you and your possibly carnivorous neighbour!
Welcome to The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a sneak peek inside Canberra’s fabulous Jamala Wildlife Lodge! Fancy waking up with a pride of lions or a brown bear just metres from your bed? It’s possible at Canberra’s National Zoo & Aquarium with the opening of the fabulous $20million Jamala Wildlife Lodge.
Stays include a morning and evening safari, accommodation, beverages, dinner and guided safaris around the zoo. Extra safety measures to protect your pod include staggered check-in and dining times, smaller group tours, and a new self-guided tour that your pod can take at its leisure. And with 22 hectares of space, the zoo itself makes social distancing a breeze.
Book your pod travel experience
The Big Bus now offers readers access to wholesale rates on hotels and apartments, along with a wide range of private and bespoke tours and transfers.Simply email us the dates and details of your trip, and we’ll arrange a costing.
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Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Jason Dutton-Smith is an award-winning publisher, travel writer and content marketing speaker. He has written for Escape, Travel Ideas, Virgin Voyeur and Better Homes and Gardens, and several other outlets. Jason loves travel that is part planned and part spontaneous and is just as comfortable in a big city as a rural village. When at home, he is chief tea maker.