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We are vacationing with another family in a shared rental house in July.

Families Socializing Travel

We wipe down our groceries. They don’t. We wear masks whenever we’re outside. They don’t. How is this going to work? I really need this to be a relaxing break for everyone but I’m already stressed.

A: Oh, we hear you! Several Nerdy Girls are negotiating similar arrangements this summer. To help make this smooth sailing for all, we recommend a 4-step SAFE plan:

S: SHARE
A: AGREE
F: FOLLOW
E: EVALUATE

Share: In advance of the vacation (preferably before putting it on the calendar and plunking down the money), SHARE with your fellow travelers: What are you most worried about? What is your risk tolerance? What behaviors and rules are most important to you? Open, transparent communication at this stage is a must.

Agree: Once everyone’s cards are on the table, AGREE on some explicit rules that the whole group will follow. Jot them down in an email that everyone receives. Keep the number of rules short, and be really clear and specific. Rules might cover: quarantining and testing in advance of the vacation; traveling to the vacation site; masking practices; food shopping and handling; policies about other guests stopping by; activities while at the vacation site (Is it ok to golf? To go to a public pool? To go to a crowded park or tourist site? Restaurants?). Rules should try to accommodate the most important “non-negotiables” for each person, and should also take into account the COVID-19 statistics at both your origin and destination.

Follow: Once you’re there and having fun, everyone needs to FOLLOW the rules you agreed to! This may sound obvious, but shared commitment to the rules will go a long way towards minimizing stress and maximizing relaxation. If your kids are traveling with you, you are responsible for their behavior as well. Printing out the rules to stick on the fridge can help jog people’s memory and boost compliance.

Evaluate: This is the secret weapon! Build in a couple of check-in points up front — like, on the morning of Day 2 and the evening of Day 4 — where everyone revisits the rules to EVALUATE how they are going. Is adherence spotty? Do the rules still make sense? Renegotiate and update as needed, making sure everyone is on board.

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As the Nerdy Girls think about how to expand our own bubbles and quaranteams, we were inspired by Melissa Hawkins’s article in PBS Newshour’s The Conversation. Dr. Hawkins is a professor of public health and director of the Public Health Scholars Program at American University (and also an epidemiologist and mom of 4!).

Dr. Hawkins reminds us that harm reduction — not the complete elimination of all risk — is the name of the game here. She also notes the importance of social ties to our mental health, and how bubbling or podding up in quaranteams can actually limit COVID-19 transmission.

Her tips for making your quaranteam work out mirror our SAFE Plan: Establish where everyone’s risk tolerance is, agree on rules based on those tolerances, and then be accountable and transparent about following the rules! She also recommends being explicit about consequences in the event rules are broken or someone in the group is exposed to an infected person. Communicate communicate communicate!

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We hope everyone has a truly relaxing summer vacation — we all need it!