New Hampshire Road Trip: First Post-Vaccine Travel Experience

   What I wanted
in the pearly repetitions of February
was vision. All winter,
grieved and dull,
I hungered for it.

– Robert Hass, from “In Weather”

Like many people, I was going a little stir crazy after more than a year of Covid-19 restrictions and anxiety. When my company gave us an extra day off for Memorial Day weekend, I determined it was time to get out of New Jersey — I was vaccinated and infection rates were low; it seemed like a good time for a road trip. I decided to head north to New Hampshire.

New Hampshire state house
The State House in Concord, NH — the oldest state house in the US

It was the best choice for a few days because New Hampshire was in the opposite direction of traffic — everyone else was heading to the beach. Plus, I had never been to the state. I added a day in Vermont to make the drive home slightly shorter. I figured this would be a weekend away with fewer people and some hiking trails, providing a relaxing and low-stress travel experience.

Mother Nature had other ideas.

The weather forecast for the Memorial Day weekend was awful, but I had my hotels booked and I wasn’t turning back. I could skip the hiking and settle into breweries and restaurants for a few days. I might have expected a little too much on that second point.

New Hampshire street
Empty streets in the state capital

The downside to pandemic travel is that hotel prices seem to have increased, but service has declined (and I’m not referring to the staffing shortage). I stayed at a new Residence Inn the first night and I should have gone to the grocery store for breakfast — the hotel offered breakfast of packaged sausage and egg sandwiches that tasted chalky. There was also nowhere to refill a water bottle, though I could at least use the kitchen sink in my room (seriously, why did I have an efficiency apartment kitchen in my room for a one-night stay?).

new hampshire road trip
View of the Merrimack River in Manchester, NH

At my hotel in Concord, there was no food, but there was coffee and tea all day. Unfortunately, the hotel restaurant, which was supposed to be one of the best in town, had been closed since April 2020. The hotel felt desolate and dark.

Centennial hotel concord
The Centennial Hotel in Concord, NH

And in Brattleboro, the hotel eliminated breakfast (they had it catered by a local restaurant previously). They did, however, have a water bottle refill station. The town was also mostly closed due to Covid, Memorial Day, and it being Sunday, so there were more limited options for breakfast (even the Food Co-op was closed). With a lack of food options, I opted to drive home early.

brattleboro vt

Despite the issues at the hotels, I found staff to be wonderful — they were as helpful as they could be considering the circumstances. In the case of Brattleboro, the hotel staff wanted to be more helpful, but there’s not much to do when all but one restaurant is closed for the weekend.

Despite the CDC lifting mask guidance for vaccinated people just before the holiday, not everyone knew what to do — restrictions around New Hampshire and Vermont were not consistent. At my the first brewery I visited in Manchester, NH, none of the staff wore masks, but two other breweries had customers sign in for contact tracing and required masks when not seated. All the hotels I stayed in required masks in common areas (though not everyone followed that), and one hotel went so far as to require proof of vaccination while still insisting on masks.

to share brewing
Spaced seating at To Share Brewing

What should’ve been a highlight of my trip, turned into a bit of disappointment. I had chosen to visit Manchester, NH, because of the Currier Museum of Art. The art museum was open to fully-masked visitors, but the two Frank Lloyd Wright houses — the Kalil and Zimmerman houses — that are part of the museum were still closed due to the pandemic. I was told they’d reopen in a few weeks, but it’s unlikely I’d return so soon. The Currier Museum of Art was still worth visiting, but my plans for the day were altered.

The most confusing and anxiety-inducing part of the trip was the lack of options between indoor and outdoor dining and drinking. A lot of establishments only had indoor seating, which felt a bit uncomfortable after almost a year and half of avoid indoor spaces. There were a few places that had an outdoor option, but the weather didn’t help make that comfortable, particularly when there was no shelter from the rain. Or, in the case of visiting Hermit Thrush Brewery, outdoor seating was mostly covered, but it was so cold that I also bought a $47 hoodie.

hermit thrush brewery
I was sitting in a small lake, but the chairs were high enough to keep dry

Overall, the experience was worth the discomfort of reintegrating into society. It was a necessary escape from the city to see the green hills behind the rain and clouds. The days away were refreshing, which was probably my employer’s intention with our added day off, and it gave me hope for future road trips beyond a day of hiking in New Jersey.

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