By Maja

This summer our family was unable to fly home to Croatia to see our parents, relatives, and friends due to COVID-19 pandemic and travel restrictions.

Although heartbroken, we decided we would not let this precious summer with our two young children (aged 5 and 8) go to waste. We did a lot of research, planned carefully and booked a trip to California. Of course, the point of the trip was not getting from A to B in a straight line by plane, so we had made a fun itinerary of catching a safe flight from Detroit to Denver, Colorado as our first stop. By safe, I mean we took Delta Airlines because they kept their flights half-full and each row had a middle seat empty. This gave our family plenty of room for a pleasant flight. Masks on throughout the flight was not a problem for our young troupers. We stayed for 2 nights with friends and visited beautiful Colorado mountains, several National Forests, went horseback riding, hunted for gold, stopped at a deserted mining town, walked across a huge dried up lake, and took a cable car ride to 11,200ft in Aspen. Another very safe option during a pandemic, staying outdoors and exploring the natural beauty.

We then continued our journey westbound onboard a California Zephyr panoramic train. This was a good plan, but quite intense and nerve wrecking. On top of the pandemic there were many severe wildfires throughout Colorado and in California. We had a backup plan to fly onward to California if the train got canceled, as many train lines had been rerouted or canceled. Fortunately for us, the train was on time and we looked forward to spending 33 hours onboard the train, traveling through the Rocky Mountains and seeing beautiful landscapes on our route. As for the accommodation, the best family option was to book two sleeper cars on the train. That meant we had two (connected) private bedrooms with our own bathrooms and a shower, as well as three meals included in the price. During COVID-19, I was not prepared to share facilities on a long journey with small children. Everyone had a fantastic time on the train! We passed time playing board games, reading, dining in the restaurant and looking out of the window.

After a restful night on the train we traveled through Utah, Nevada and finally California. We arrived to Sacramento, CA on time and took a rental car to continue our journey. Our itinerary included a beautiful stay on Bass Lake in California, we booked a hotel that had fully furnished private condos for the guests, that way we didn’t mingle with other guests ensuring a safer environment. Our next stop was Yosemite National Park, another beautiful location with plenty of trails for all to enjoy where we marveled at gigantic sequoia trees.

The last leg of our trip included a road trip to San Francisco Bay where we visited Sonoma and Napa valleys and had booked outdoor wine-tasting at a famous winery (yes, children are welcome and they get a glass of juice and nice cheese and crackers to taste as well) followed by a short break on the longest sandy beaches we had ever seen. We said goodbye to the Pacific Ocean, drove over the Golden Gate bridge, stopped to grab some delicious San Francisco ice cream sundae at Ghirardelli’s, where the company originated and took another safe flight back to Detroit.

This pandemic may be scary and uncertain, but we didn’t let it stop us from showing our children what a wonderful world we live in.