My year of pandemic lockdown has taught me many lessons and among them is changing my travel mindset to: Consider the accommodations your destination.
It’s a philosophy I’m taking into this year, too, as the world continues to wrestle with COVID-19 and my mental health benefits from a change of scenery once in a while.
Booking a vacation home rental within one day’s drive has become an escape for my husband and I that feels safe and responsible. Staying at a private rental versus a hotel isn’t new to us, but what has changed is that we look for a space where we would love to spend time versus a place to sleep between heading out to attractions and restaurants.
We are not alone. One friend took her family to a house on Oklahoma’s Grand Lake over the summer, then rented a Kansas state park cabin at Thanksgiving. Another friend who had distanced from her parents all year finally spent time with them in the fall by renting a house in Great Bend, to which they drove separately then stayed on opposite ends of the large house, had distanced meals outdoors and spent days at nearby Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area.
Our method is to choose a destination within a day’s drive and begin looking at options on Airbnb.com and Vrbo.com (stands for vacation rental by owner). The search is part of the experience; you get to look through hundreds of photos of dreamy homes and unique spaces.
Everyone’s style preference differs, as well as how many beds they need, the amenities they want and how much they are willing to spend — there are so many listings that odds are you’ll find a fit, especially if you remain flexible on location and dates.
Over the years we’ve refined our search parameters to include things that are a necessity (air conditioning) and things to avoid (bedrooms that get too much light in the mornings). Since the coronavirus, we’ve added requirements: a nice outdoor grill so we can prepare our own meals, hiking within walking distance and furnished, private outdoor space that makes you not want to leave the property.
Leaving your own home carries risk of exposure to COVID-19 and only you can determine if you’re comfortable to travel. If you decide to, follow CDC guidelines on masks, handwashing and distancing to help limit the spread of the virus.
If traveling to another state, research statewide and local restrictions, safety mandates and rates of infection. If you’re visiting an area for a specific attraction, check its operations before you book and again before you visit. For example, Texas state parks currently cap the number of visitors and are selling day-use passes 30 days in advance.
You’ll also either need to pack your own food in coolers or find out if there is a grocery store in the area. Dining in or ordering takeout from restaurants also takes pre-planning as each community is operating with different regulations.
In 2020, we rented homes in New Mexico and Colorado. In the coming months, we hope to make separate trips to Oklahoma and Texas. Below are 10 ideas for places to book within a day’s drive of Wichita, including two where I’ve personally stayed. Because prices fluctuate, I chose mid-May to give a price reference.
Blue Pine Haven near Westcliffe, Colorado
Drive from Wichita: 480 miles
3 bedrooms, 2 beds, 1 bath, up to 4 guests
$150/night on Airbnb
This is the cottage that made us realize what we were missing in outdoor living with previous rentals. It is about 75 miles southwest of Colorado Springs, near the small town of Westcliffe and within view of the Sangre De Cristo mountains. During our September visit, we alternated between the gazebo with comfy seating and a propane fireplace and the patio, furnished with a sofa, firepit and a barbecue grill. A third bedroom has been converted to a tranquility room with an infrared sauna. Note: no pets or children allowed.
Doves Rest Cabins near Canyon, Texas
Drive from Wichita: 440 miles
1 to 4 bedroom options
Starting at $199/night on Airbnb or dovesrestcabins.com
We fell in love with the view from the rim of Palo Duro Canyon, the second largest canyon in the U.S., as well as the 1.5-mile drive to Palo Duro Canyon State Park from these luxury cabins. They are adding seven cabins by March for a total of 19 that range from sleeping two to eight people. Our one-bedroom was oversized; we want to return to try their new micro cabins, which at $199/night are closer to our budget.
Matfield Station near Matfield Green, Kan.
Drive from Wichita: 60 miles
studio, 1 bed, 1 bath, up to 2 guests
$75-$90/night on Airbnb
Bill and Julia Fabris McBride have converted a historic bunkhouse used for 10 railroad workers on their property near Matfield Green into three studio apartments offered on Airbnb. Two end units with king size beds rent for $90/night each (one also has a twin sofa bed and allows up to three guests) while the middle unit has a queen bed for $75. Travelers are warned they will be sleeping 50 feet from an active rail line. Reviews show they love the sense of place offered by the tracks and Bill’s PrairyArt Path trail system through the surrounding tallgrass prairie.
Paw Print Cabin near Elmwood, Kan.
Drive from Wichita: 70 miles
1 bedroom, 4 beds, 1 bath, up to 4 guests
$100/night on Vrbo
This restored Chase County farmstead opened to rentals in late 2019 and doesn’t have a lot of reviews yet, though the 11 it does have are all five stars. There’s no Wi-Fi or TV reception; a DVD player is connected to a flat screen TV. There’s an indoor fireplace and a firepit outside. The outdoor space and setting are why you’d visit: a covered wraparound porch, plenty of seating, a grill and access to Middle Creek for fishing, bird watching and exploring.
True Prairie Home near Cottonwood Falls, Kan.
Drive from Wichita: 80 miles
3 bedrooms, 3 beds, 2.5 baths, up to 6 guests
$290/night on Airbnb and Vrbo
Debbie and Jerry Langdon of Olathe built this vacation home using local limestone from an old barn in 2008, and they made it available to rent about five years ago. Travelers rave about the views of the tallgrass prairie through large windows and from the wraparound porch. The Langdons own 5 acres and have created a path to a neighbor’s property, where guests have approval to walk for miles.
Castle Cove in Bentonville, Ark.
Drive from Wichita: 250 miles
3 bedrooms, 5 beds, 2.5 baths, up to 8 guests
$200/night on Airbnb or Vrbo
This looks like a normal house on a cul-de-sac near Crystal Bridges Museum of Art, but your kids will want to spend the entire visit in the backyard (and you won’t mind spending time there either). Book between April and October to take advantage of the in-ground pool and fun outdoor space. There’s a pool house, covered cabana, multiple seating areas, grill, fire table and privacy from neighbors. The listing promises a fourth bedroom and pool renovation in time for spring bookings.
Field of Dreams Farm House in Dyersville, Iowa
Drive from Wichita: 580 miles
3 bedrooms, 3 beds, 1.5 baths, up to 7 guests
Starting at $500/night at fieldofdreamsmoviesite.com
Does it help your sticker shock to know this is half the price the recognizable house from the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams” rented for when it first opened to overnight stays? The second floor of the farm house was recently remodeled and your stay also comes with a welcome basket. Pricing changes based on how many bedrooms you’ll use, day of the week and whether you want exclusive access to the famous ballfield right outside (Field of Dreams Movie Site Field is typically open to the public sunrise to sunset).
The Batch in Perry, Kan.
Drive from Wichita: 160 miles
tiny house, 1 bed, .5 baths, up to 4 guests
$74/night on Airbnb
A great way to try out tiny house living is to rent one and there are lots of options in the region. The Batch has more than 250 reviews and a near-perfect 5 star rating on Airbnb. Travelers call the 186-square-foot structure private and clean, and appreciate the peaceful setting about one half-mile from Lake Perry and surrounded by 40 acres of accessible nature. If you haven’t spent time off the grid, you’ll want to read the details to prepare. The hosts offer several add-ons, from a breakfast package with foods from local farms to kayak rentals.
Cozy Cabin Retreat in Tonganoxie, Kan.
Drive from Wichita: 175 miles
1 bedroom, 2 beds, 1 baths, up to 4 guests
$81/night on Airbnb
This cabin shares property with Sacred Hearts Healing Center, though travelers commonly call their stay here private and peaceful. Reviewers love the amount of hiking trails through 15 wooded acres and were surprised at the variety of terrain. There’s a catch-and-release pond, a fire pit and other outdoor features. The cabin’s renovated interior gets high marks, too, including the rain shower head.
Big Cedar Lodge near Branson, Mo.
Drive from Wichita: 300 miles
1 room tents to 2 bedroom cabin options
Starting at $149 at bigcedar.com
There’s no shortage of vacation rentals in the Branson area. You can go the individual property route or check out Big Cedar Lodge, the 4,600-acre lakeside retreat created by Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris. Besides traditional lodge rooms, Big Cedar has standalone options ranging from private cottages and log cabins to shepherd’s huts, couples and family cottages. Luxury glamping tents on the shores of Table Rock Lake opened in 2019 as part of the seasonal Camp Long Creek (open March 5 to Oct. 30 this year).