Traveling in the time of COVID-19: the Connecticut shoreline


To say that the coronavirus pandemic altered the way in which we spent the summer would be a hilarious understatement. While it might have been possible to host socially distant barbecues or attend outdoor movie screenings, the standard summer travel plans were just not the same. With international travel made near impossible and out-of-state travel severely restricted, many people were forced to come up with alternatives a little closer to home. 

I, like many New Englanders, flocked to the shoreline for the taste of a typical summer vacation. Public beaches all across the region were filled to capacity on a daily basis. It was not possible to enjoy a day at Rocky Neck or Hammonasset State Parks without leaving the house at 8 in the morning. Private beaches were similarly packed, with many members spending the entire season by the shore. 

My mother’s family owns a cottage in Old Lyme, Conn., a small beach community that hosts a few thousand homeowners and renters every summer. My great-grandfather built the house when my grandmother was a little girl, and since then, every member of my family has enjoyed many summers at the beach. None of these summers, however, included a worldwide pandemic. What would the town look like? Would we be able go on the beach itself? Would our favorite restaurants and shops be open? All of these questions had few answers, but like many people, I was just happy to have a change of scenery. 

Probably the most shocking aspect of my vacation to Old Lyme was how normal it actually felt. While there were measures taken to reduce contact in public places, many areas, like the beach itself, carried on with business as usual. Public beaches like Soundview were severely restricted, with a team of park rangers stationed at the entrance of the beach to control the flow of people. Soundview, as a public beach, falls under the jurisdiction of the town. Private beaches are managed by the beach associations themselves, so they did not necessarily have to follow social distancing guidelines. After all, if the members are paying their annual dues, technically making them co-owners of the beach, how do you determine who can use the beach and who can’t? It was a difficult situation because many people had the same goal: keeping their families safe and healthy while trying to regain a sense of summertime normalcy. 

That being said, the downtown area certainly took the biggest hit from the coronavirus;the classic strip of eateries, ice cream parlors and souvenir shops had to operate through to-go windows covered by Plexiglas. Even the carousel, a staple of Hartford Avenue, had to board up its doors and put the horses back in the stables for the summer.  

Vacationing in 2020 was certainly a trying experience. The whole point of a vacation, especially one at the beach, is to relax, unwind and not worry about your day-to-day lives, yet summer vacations this year presented a whole new world of concerns and difficulties. All I can say is that everyone is going to be in need of a true vacation to get away from the nightmares brought forth by this deranged year. 

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