Our Staycation As A Couple Was Just What We Needed
Last weekend, my wife and I had a staycation as a couple, and it was just what we needed. We needed to get out of our own 4 walls and see some different scenery. We didn’t go far, but traveling locally was a really different experience. The hotel stay, visiting little towns in the countryside, and the whole experience were both awesome and very different than before. Here’s a look at our weekend staycation as a couple.
My wife and I haven’t gone anywhere in a long time, like many of you. We live with my mother-in-law who checks all the boxes for ‘high-risk group’ for COVID-19. If she gets it, she’s dead, to be blunt. Because of that, we have been extremely cautious during this pandemic. After all this time, though, we’re all getting on each other’s nerves. There’s only so far you can get away from someone in a 2-bedroom apartment.
Because our travel plans for going to the Olympics were nixed, we wanted to still do something special for my wife’s birthday this past week. Since flying here in Brazil still presents more risks than we can take while living with my mother-in-law, we decided to take a staycation locally. On the other side of town, there’s a Hilton Garden Inn, so we decided to go there. We stayed Friday & Saturday nights and then did some day trips on Saturday & Sunday.
We got away for a staycation as a couple, my mother-in-law got the apartment to herself for the weekend, and everyone could refresh. This trip served many purposes, as well, including relieving stress, making up for a canceled trip, celebrating my wife’s birthday, and helping move on after our dog died recently.
Picking Up The Rental Car
We rented an SUV for the weekend, since part of our plan included countryside dirt roads. Our 10-year-old Ford Fiesta wasn’t going to make it there, and that was reconfirmed multiple times during the trip. I wouldn’t be home yet if we’d taken our own car. 5pm Friday, we picked up our rental car, and the paperwork process at the agency was pretty standard, as far as rental cars go.
However, they had installed glass between the employees and the agents. Masks were required inside, as per local law. The employees were all wearing gloves. The agent and the customer didn’t touch any shared objects; I held my license up to the glass for her to see the information on it, then enter it into the computer. The only object we both touched was when she gave me the keys to the vehicle. The vehicle had a tag on the rearview mirror stating who had cleaned & sanitized it, including the employee’s signature and ID number.
The hotel experience was massively different than I’m used to. To be honest, we weren’t sure if there would even be other people at the hotel. Who would coming to our city right now, in all honesty?
The check-in desk is right next to the front door. All other points of access to the hotel are locked. Going anywhere beyond the front desk requires a temperature check, and you must be wearing a mask in public areas. I had expected those. The hotel also went beyond these, including a health declaration form we had to fill out. They also had separate cups for sterilized pens & used pens, so no 2 customers touched the same pens. We were told that housekeeping was only available to clean the room after 3 days, but we were staying 2 nights, so we couldn’t request it. (fine by us, since we always decline it for short stays)
2 of the 3 elevators were turned off. The 1 elevator in use had plastic wrap over the buttons. I assume they’re replacing this at intervals, but no idea how often.
With all of the extras involved in the hotel check in, it felt very different than normal. Simply from having the Hilton Honors American Express Business Card, my wife has automatic Gold status from Hilton. It’s not anything special, but I’ve never stayed at a hotel where they didn’t mention something about earning points, loyalty, etc. It felt like the whole experience had so many items to “check off” that mentioning things like late check out, earning points, etc. just got overlooked. I found the check-in process tiring and didn’t even notice this aspect until later, when we were trying to figure out whether breakfast the next morning would be free. Then it dawned on us that the front desk hadn’t mentioned this.
The Hotel Room
The hotel room looked normal. The room was pretty small, but I was happy to see anything outside my apartment. Plus, I wouldn’t complain about a $45 room with free breakfast for 2 people anyway. The hotel is using only the rooms nearest the elevators. Only even-numbered floors are in use. Maybe this is to limit the areas they have to clean and reduce expenses during times with fewer guests.
The room was basic but still what you’d normally expect. The bathroom is where the differences showed up. The towels were in plastic wrap with a little card stating they’d been cleaned and sanitized. We also found this window with blinds between the shower and the bathroom to be … odd. I’ve never seen that or even heard of it.
The fridge in the room was empty. At check-in, the hotel gave us a bottle of water each and stated that we could purchase items downstairs and then take them to our room to keep in the fridge. They didn’t keep any snacks or drinks in the room that might be touched by separate guests.
Public Spaces In The Hotel
Public spaces in the hotel all had signs related to COVID-19. Our city was one of the first in Brazil to start a lockdown and quarantine procedures, even though it took a long time to get our first case of coronavirus. I credit that to the city acting before it arrived. Thus, “by local law” signs about numbers of people, hand washing, sanitizer, etc. were in all public spaces.
This is the empty hot tub at the hotel. It’s been drained, in order to comply with local regulations. The door to the pool outside was locked, but I assume the pool is empty, also.
This sitting area near the check-in desk looks lonely and sad. There’s no one here. I walked through it twice to see if the lights were motion activated, but they aren’t. The lights are turned off. The front desk staff said it’s to encourage people to not hang out here, in order to prevent large gatherings of people.
Lighting in the hallway is reduced, as well. The small lights right over the door are turned off. Lights immediately by the elevator are on all the time. Lights further down the hallway are motion activated, saving energy by turning off lights that aren’t needed. This reduces costs. All in all, we counted about 20 people staying at the hotel at the same time as us, even though there are 16 floors of guest rooms.
The hotel restaurant is not accepting dine-in customers for lunch or dinner. During those times, they accept room service requests only. Breakfast is typically self-serve on a buffet line. Now, it’s behind glass. You tell an employee what you want, and the employee makes the plate for you. Every 2nd table has a sign saying it’s “reserved”, as an indication to not sit there. This ensures social distancing. Everyone we saw at breakfast was in a couple, so it felt like we weren’t the only people looking for a weekend staycation as a couple to get some alone time outside the home.
Saturday’s Trip To Congonhas
The main focus of our weekend staycation was to see something beyond the walls of our apartment. Saturday, we went to a colonial town in the countryside that sits on the famous “Royal Roads” (Estrada Real). The main tourist point is the Congonhas Basilica, but the doors and gates are locked. Some of the tourist shops selling knick knacks were open, but independent hotels, numerous shops, and other businesses around the plaza were closed.
Walking through the town of Congonhas, numerous sites were locked and closed. Most anywhere that could result in people gathering is closed. Shops that are open cannot let people come in; instead, there are ropes at the entrance, and you stay outside while talking to employees inside. Only larger businesses with enough space for social distancing can have customers inside.
The most surprising thing we saw in Congonhas was this sink. It’s just there, in the middle of the sidewalk. The sign has some information about why hand washing is important. The soap and water are free for anyone to use. I’ve never been to Congonhas before, so I have no idea how long this has been there, but I was really surprised. My wife and I have talked numerous times about the issue of sanitation and hand washing for Brazil’s poor and homeless during the pandemic, so this is a great way for people in this area to be able to wash their hands frequently.
Sunday’s Hiking Trip
Sunday morning, we headed into the countryside for a hiking trip to a waterfall called Perdidos, which means “lost”. To get there, we had to pass through a small town called Raposos. Before entering the town, we came across a control point on the road, set up by the health department.
Medical workers who were fully covered came to the windows of the vehicle to check our temperatures. They asked if we felt sick. My wife’s temperature was normal. Mine was high. The man taking my temperature asked more questions. I explained that the sun was on my side of the vehicle, and I’d started feeling warm about 5 minutes prior. I’d turned on the A/C to offset it. The 2 workers compared the interior temperatures on my wife’s side and my side of the vehicle and then let us pass after some more questions.
Getting out of the city and seeing something beyond our 4 walls felt great. We were surprised to run into this health control point, but it makes sense. There’s only 1 way into the town, and attempting to control it can help prevent the spread of the virus. We saw a lot of people on the street as we passed through. The small farms we passed on the dirt roads out to the hiking trail were almost in a world beyond coronavirus. Life there seemed like it barely has been impacted. And the hike to the waterfall was awesome, of course.
Final Thoughts On Our Weekend Staycation As A Couple
This was just what we needed. After months of feeling cooped up, it was great to see something beyond our 4 walls. Stretching our legs and breathing fresh air felt amazing. At any given point, we weren’t more than 2 hours from home. We weren’t that far away, but it felt like another world after these last 4-5 months. Mark had a similar experience, as well.
Even though the hotel was just across town, taking a staycation for the weekend provided some major stress relief. It helped us and my mother-in-law. Everyone seems happier and refreshed. Tensions are lower. We got to do something special for my wife’s birthday, just the 2 of us, even if it wasn’t our dream trip to the Olympics in Japan.
If you’re feeling cooped up, a staycation might be just what you need. This is especially true for couples who either live with a parent or have kids, since you don’t have any alone time together. This just adds to the ‘cooped up’ feelings. We didn’t do anything Earth-shattering or overly special. We didn’t go that far way. But man oh man, I can’t tell you how great it felt to go beyond our neighborhood. Because we live with a high-risk person, it’s still not safe for us to return to travel as normal. This is what we were able to do, and we are already talking about our next weekend staycation as a couple, possibly next month.