Amy Holditch isn't the kind of woman to let fear dictate her life.
"No, she's not," says her mom, 73-year-old Sandra Gillis. "She pretty much gets her mind on something, then it's probably going to happen."
So when the coronavirus cancelled her family trip to Hawaii, she didn't postpone the trip with her mom and 12-year-old son for another year.
"I just kind of jumped off the cliff and did it."
She found a recreational vehicle, or RV, to rent even though she had never driven anything larger than an SUV — not even a van or U-Haul. And she set about mapping a route from Madison, Ala. to Cape Cod, Mass.
The summer vacation, an annual rite for so many, is not an easy thing to give up, even during a pandemic.
Families long-accustomed to getting out of their houses each summer yearn to get away, but not if it means being exposed to the coronavirus in an airplane, restaurant, or even the elevator in a hotel. Cruises are definitely out, but cruising the highway in what is essentially a land boat?
There will be a lot of new RV drivers pulling-in to campgrounds this summer. The peer-to-peer renting web site RVshare says it is seeing three times the amount of bookings this summer compared to last summer. CEO Jon Gray says people wanting to avoid shared spaces are giving it a go.
"People can bring the bathroom with them. They can bring their kitchen with them. And that premium of control that has always existed in RV travel is even more of a premium this year."
Plus, with gas prices down, it's more affordable than it's been in years. Gray says the cost of renting an RV runs from around $50 a night for a popup camper to $1,000 a night, depending on size and level of luxury. But he says for most, he says the cost averages $1,000 a week.
A skin care specialist who sets her own hours, she's conquering more and more things on her own since she and her husband separated a couple years ago.
"And so there was a little bit of uncertainty, of doing it myself, but I've always been able to do it myself before," Holditch says. "For the most part. And, you know, I struggle sometimes. But, I think I can do it. I feel confident in my driving skills. I'm a good driver."
Though, she admits, she is a bit nervous about driving the 32-foot house on wheels on the New Jersey Turnpike.
The first hurdle to overcome is learning everything she needs to know about how the RV works, which she does before setting off on the journey.
First, there's all the indoor stuff: how the benches turn into beds, when to hook up to electricity, when to use the generator, how to turn on the generator. Not to mention all the outside stuff, like power and water hookup, and the all-important sewage dumping protocol.
It's a lot to remember, and it takes the RV owner two hours to show her everything. Duncan and her mom have maxed out by this point and it's up to Holditch to remember how to use the blocks and pads to level the vehicle when they park in the campgrounds at night.
For anyone interested in renting an RV, there is one additional level of difficulty this summer: making sure the place you're going is actually open.
"It's even more important that you're doing your research," says Jeanette Casellano, a spokesperson for the American Automobile Association.
"You want to plan your trip from point A to point B, not just to know how you're going to get there, but where and when you're going to make stops. You want to know that when you get off at the next exit, things are open."
It's also important to know if you're travelling to any state that will require you to quarantine once you get there.
"Do as much research as you possibly can, so that you can enjoy your trip and relieve any anxiety you have before you get there," Casellano says.
If things go well, the thousands of people trying out the RV life this summer, might decide to stretch it out into the fall. With more people working from home, and schools deciding to offer virtual learning for students, life on the road could become regular life.
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Flying is not all that attractive these days, but with gas prices low, travelers are hitting the road. Some of them, worried about staying in hotels and eating in restaurants, have decided to go a different way. They're taking an RV, a recreational vehicle, for the first time. Melanie Peeples has more.
MELANIE PEEPLES, BYLINE: Like a lot of people, Amy Holditch has never driven anything bigger than an SUV, but she's about to get behind the wheel of a 30-foot-long house on wheels. Getting their first look at their home for the next 10 days, Amy, her mom, Sandra, and especially her 12-year-old son, Duncan, are thrilled.
AMY HOLDITCH: All right.
DUNCAN: This is amazing. Oh, my gosh.
SANDRA: Very cool, very cool.
PEEPLES: It looks plenty big for their trip from Madison, Ala., to Cape Cod, Mass. There's a table, a kitchen, a back bedroom, even a shower and bathroom, not to mention walls that slide out to make their living space even bigger. Cheryl Huettel is the owner of the RV.
CHERYL HUETTEL: OK. So normally, we start at the front door. We're just going to go around, and everything's been cleaned with bleach because of COVID.
PEEPLES: You wouldn't think it, but it takes two hours for Huettel to show Holditch everything she needs to know. There's all the indoor stuff - how the benches turn into beds, when to hook up to electricity, when to use the generator, how to turn on the generator, not to mention all the outside stuff, like power cord and water hookup.
HUETTEL: All right. Now we get into the meat.
HUETTEL: Control panel, air conditioner - where are you headed to?
PEEPLES: This wasn't the vacation Holditch, who works as an aesthetician in a salon, had planned for her family. They were all supposed to fly to Hawaii. And, sure, they could have just put that off for another year. But Amy wanted something for making memories this summer.
HOLDITCH: My dad has Alzheimer's, and my mom has a progressive memory loss, as well. And I knew - I don't know how many trips we have left in us, you know? There's a lot of uncertainty right now, and I just kind of went with it. I just kept thinking about it and kept thinking about it, and I just kind of jumped off the cliff and did it.
PEEPLES: That is not to say she doesn't expect challenges, but as she's navigating her new role as a single mom, she's discovering learning to overcome them is a good thing.
HOLDITCH: And so there was a little bit of uncertainty of doing it myself, but I've always been able to do it myself before, for the most part. I, you know, struggle sometimes, but I think I can do it.
PEEPLES: She doesn't want to look back on this year as the year coronavirus ruined everything. Holditch is not alone. Nationwide, three times as many people are renting RVs this summer, according to the RV renting service RVshare. CEO Jon Gray says people who are leery of shared spaces are discovering what's great about RVs.
JON GRAY: People, you know, can bring the bathroom with them. They can bring their kitchen with them. And that premium of control that has always existed in RV travel is at even more of a premium this year.
PEEPLES: Prices run from $50 a night for a pop-up camper to 1,000 a night, depending on size and level of luxury. Despite the coronavirus, Americans certainly aren't sitting at home. The American Automobile Association, or AAA, expects 683 million car trips this summer. That's only a 3% drop from last year.
JEANETTE CASSELANO: Bottom line is Americans plan to travel.
PEEPLES: Jeanette Casselano is a spokesperson for AAA. One thing different this summer, she says, is people have to plan ahead.
CASSELANO: You want to plan your trip from point A to point B, not just to know how you're going to get there but where and when you're going to make stops.
PEEPLES: And that's exactly what Holditch has done, mapping her route all the way up to Cape Cod, making sure she won't have to quarantine along the way. Speaking of Holditch, she's gotten her last bit of RV instructions, and the family is all inside, buckled up and ready to ride.
(SOUNDBITE OF ENGINE STARTING)
HOLDITCH: All right. Here we go, guys. Oh.
PEEPLES: She'll be fine. No, really. She made a perfect three-point turn in reverse after that, and then they were gone, off on their big adventure.
(SOUNDBITE OF HORN HONKING)
PEEPLES: For NPR News, I'm Melanie Peeples.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Since Melanie reported that story, Amy has made it safely to Cape Cod but says driving an RV through the Lincoln Tunnel is not something she would advise.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOLIDAY ROAD")
LINDSEY BUCKINGHAM: (Singing) I found out long ago it's a long way down the holiday road. Holiday road, holiday road... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.