Sitting in a white Adirondack chair alongside a dock in Kennebunkport with both a perfectly charming lighthouse and classic sailboat in view, something just felt right.
The day was as quintessentially Maine as you could imagine and, perhaps for the first time in many, many months, had a sense of normalcy. I was in the middle of a New England road trip organized by luxury travel company Black Tomato and the Auberge Resorts Collection, my first big jaunt since the coronavirus pandemic stymied travel. And while the trip was filled with many firsts — first hotel stay, first time eating indoors, first time on a tour — my anxieties were eased by my discovery that travel had not only adapted to the pandemic but hadn't lost a step.
Safely onboard our private charter on The Pineapple Ketch, the sails unfurling fast in the wind, I couldn't help but think this was the perfect activity to dip my toes back into traveling.
And I'm not alone. John Martin, the owner of The Pineapple Ketch, said while COVID-19 has changed some aspects of the business, people still came out all last summer and into the fall.
"In normal years when something bad happens like an economic downturn, Kennebunkport is a little bulletproof. COVID is a little bit of a different ball of wax," he told me as we talked travel restrictions and months of uncertainty over the howling wind as we sailed out past the rocky coastline. Swaying back and forth, an empowering sense of freedom came over me, blocking out any worries the pandemic had instilled.
Typically, Martin said he would sail about one or two private charters per week, but the pandemic shifted that. Last summer, it was up to nearly two a day.
"It's just been weird," he admitted. But somehow — like many in 2020 and into 2021 — he found a way to adapt.
The next morning I opened the door to my room at the White Barn Inn, the sun streaming in as I picked up an adorable basket filled with fresh coffee and mini chocolate croissants, the complimentary delivery service a reminder of everything I had missed about traveling. Between coastal bike rides and walks along the water-sloshed boulders, to after-dinner s'mores with the White Barn Inn's homemade chocolate amid socially distanced conversations with fellow guests, it was clear travel is an experience you just can't replicate over Zoom, and the industry is finding ways so we don't have to.
We had started our trip a few days before, driving up from Brooklyn to the sprawling grounds of the Mayflower Inn & Spa in Connecticut (practically made for social distancing, it's spread over 58 acres, both perfectly wild and exquisitely manicured).
And from the very moment I stepped out of the car to the moment I drove back over the Brooklyn Bridge, I felt safe. I felt safe relaxing on the four-poster bed, I felt safe strolling through the Shakespeare Gardens at dusk, a perfectly shaken gin fizz in hand, I felt safe sitting back and watching the embers dance and jump from one of the many fire pits spread out along the lawn.
I would find that same feeling every step of my trip, and came to realize that while hotels and tourist experiences may be different (with masks, hand sanitizer, and social distancing rightfully built-in), ultimately, hospitality is far from dead.
Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she's not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.
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