Within 24 hours of President Trump’s European travel ban in March, Laura Jones had three inquiries to rent her house in the Catskills for a month. “We had never been able to rent it for more than four days before, and most were for just a weekend,” Ms. Jones said. The house has already had two groups for one month each, and a three-month renter will soon take the place.
Like a newly reopened barbershop, vacation properties are seeing a surge of bookings, especially now that states are reopening and loosening health and safety restrictions. A typical summer vacation may take the family for a week or two to the beach or mountains. This year, as many employees have been shooed from the office and summer camps have been canceled, some of those travelers still in an economic position to do so are relocating for a bit longer.
Steve Chadwick and his wife, Kate Smith, decided to decamp from Bernardsville, N.J. to the Outer Banks for a month, starting on Memorial Day. They chose the area in part because it was an “easy drive” and less expensive than the Jersey shore.
The couple thought, “We really won’t get an opportunity like this again to go away for a month and still be able to work ‘normally,’” Mr. Chadwick said. Their three teenage children, whose summer sports practices, camps and jobs have been canceled, brought along their schoolwork.
The family is already thinking about extending their stay.
In Maine, a “steady unraveling” of reservations at the beginning of the pandemic left every rental home in Scott Dobos’s portfolio unoccupied through the end of May. Mr. Dobos, director of rental operations for Legacy Properties Sotheby’s International Realty, manages about 50 vacation properties, with each typically renting for one to two weeks.
Instead, there was a “swift and noticeable” shift to inquiries for one- to six-month rentals he said, and in the last three weeks, nine homes have been rented for a month or longer to people driving in from out of state.
This summer, most Americans are expected to stay fairly close to home. A recent survey conducted by MMGY Travel Intelligence and the U.S. Travel Association showed that most travelers felt safer in their own cars than on an airplane. Only about 20 percent of the respondents said they were willing to drive 500 miles or more one way to reach their vacation destination.
Families with school-age children are facing the fact that most summer camps have been canceled. Angela Rice, a co-founder of Boutique Travel Advisors in the Scottsdale, Ariz., area, said that some clients are looking at rustic long-term rentals — near lakes, trails and waterfalls — as an alternative. She has received inquiries from clients with children who are looking to take road trips to a “lodge, ranch, ski resort town,” or anywhere with stand-alone lodgings and outdoor activities.
“Once they drive all the way out there,” Ms. Rice said, “they want to stay awhile.”
Many travelers are ready to depart immediately, perhaps because they have cabin fever, feel more comfortable as officials relax restrictions or are unsure about booking too far into a future with hazy conditions. Evolve Vacation Rental, which manages 14,000 vacation homes across the country, said trips booked within seven days of departure are up 300 percent compared with last year.
Earlier this month, Alex Lucey, 30, and seven friends booked the entire six-room Waldo Emerson Inn in Kennebunk, Maine, for the month of June. While the group, who are in their late 20s to early 30s, “spends money judiciously” and wouldn’t normally rent a house for so long, “we saw the distancing measures were going to continue for a few more months at least,” he said.
They all wanted to get out of New York City. Mr. Lucey, an investment banker, said he will keep his work schedule during the day, but looks forward to hanging out in the evening with his friends, eating dinner outside and going for hikes and bike rides on the weekends.
“It will be a meaningfully different experience than my apartment in Brooklyn,” he said.
The worry over virus transmission has other groups and families choosing smaller properties they can rent out entirely, so they won’t cross paths with other guests in the hallways or dining rooms.
Amy Lansky of Princeton, N.J., rented an oceanfront house in Maine for 10 weeks starting in mid-June. For her family of five, including school-age children, “summer is usually a social time at home,” with friends and camps and going to the local pool, she said. But with the pandemic, she was looking forward to “isolation” in Maine, going to the beach and for walks and bike rides without seeing many people.
Ms. Lansky’s parents live about an hour from the rental. After a two-week quarantine, “which we respect and appreciate,” Ms. Lansky said, the children will be able to go visit their grandparents and go boating.
Cate Caruso, owner of True Places Travels in Vancouver, Wash., got a request this year from clients — a set of families that take an annual summer trip together — about renting an entire lodge. In some states, lodgings are required to operate at reduced capacity, so families booking a few rooms may end up getting the whole property at a fraction of what it would normally cost, she said.
The setup is better for owners, too. Renting to a single group rather than to multiple parties makes social distancing, food service and cleaning easier.
“People are peeking out from under their rock and seeing what their options are,” Ms. Caruso said. “We’re trying to figure out if this is a trend or the new normal.”