12 Tips for a Fun, Safe Post-Pandemic Road Trip
By Kathleen Flinn
Plan right for a safe road trip!
In late December 2019, my husband and I shipped our new Tesla to Florida. Our plan seemed perfect. We’d spend a couple of months at our second home there then take our first cross-country trip together to our home city, Seattle.
We spent many evenings contemplating the route. To make it an enjoyable experience for both us and our small dog, we planned to drive less than five hours a day. We got maps from AAA, scoured road trip blogs online, and started to put together a dossier on towns we wanted to visit that were new to us.
Like everything in our life, our destinations were determined by food. We would leave Florida, spend a couple of days feasting in New Orleans, visit family in Texas while partaking BBQ, then head across the Southwest consuming TexMex. The final leg of the trip is a winding route through the wine country of Northern California and the Northwest.
We set a date to embark on our journey: March 20, 2020. We had everything ready. But we held off packing the car as news of an emerging virus dominated the news.
Enter the Pandemic
As you can imagine, that trip didn’t happen. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Cities and states shut down. Travel restrictions made a safe road trip dubious and frankly, we were too skittish to make the trip. We hunkered down to quarantine in the Sunshine State and flew home months later than expected. Now, one year later, we made the trip in late May.
Now, the route looks the same, but it looks a bit different. Even as the pandemic eases its grip on an increasingly vaccinated population, we were cautious. Our plans changed, even if our appetites have not.
The coronavirus isn’t the only infectious disease out there. For a while, every time I take a long drive or flew on a plane, I took home a wicked case of the flu as an unwelcome souvenir. Some of the habits we’ve taken on for safe road trips during the pandemic will remain long after its daily impact is gone.
How to plan a safe road trip following Coronavirus
This long-awaited long road trip was not my first. My parents bought a second home in Florida when I was eight, so we made the 1,200-mile trip there and back along I-75 dozens of times. Later, I went to college in Chicago, so I made the same drive at least three times a year. I’ve driven from Chicago to Los Angeles and from Seattle to New York. All of this experience went into our long-delayed trip and are good tips for anyone going on a long journey.
Have a Plan, But Be Flexible
Even if you have a detailed plan, almost down to the mile, understand that in any long road trip, the unexpected can occur when heading out on the open road. That’s even more likely in the time of a pandemic, so be prepared to make last-minute changes as needed. As we called restaurants to determine whether they were open, we found many permanently closed. Some hotels that were dog-friendly no longer accept canines.
Check Local restrictions
Check your destination’s most current coronavirus-related travel restrictions. Although many states have eased requirements, it’s still important to see if any limitations remain. If you’re planning a trip that crosses the Canadian or Mexican border, it’s imperative to see what the most recent rules require, such as proof of vaccination, a negative COVID-19 test or quarantine or a combination of all three. AARP maintains an updated list of state rules for travelers.
Get State by State Info
The Federal Highway Administration maintains a list of every state’s transportation department website. This not only has the latest state-specific coronavirus-related changes, but other important things for a safe road trip such as traffic and weather alerts, including construction schedules.
Make a Sanitizing Car Kit
We have a “sanitizing kit” with disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizers, bleach-based cleaner, sanitizing spray, disposable gloves, paper towels, face masks and my favorite moisturizing hand wash by Raw Sugar. We can wipe down and sanitize any space we find ourselves in including Airbnbs, hotel rooms and road side rest stops. We have a mini version that can be discreetly taken into any public bathroom or gas station. We use that car kit all the time, even if it’s just for bathroom breaks during errands around town or short day trips, but its indispensable to a safe road trip.
Sanitize that Gas Pump or Charger
Since we’re driving a Tesla, we wipe down touch points at Supercharging stations. For traditional vehicles, wiping down the touch points at a gas station is a good idea even when there isn’t a pandemic; gasoline and oil can get into the skin via osmosis and who knows how many people have had their hand on that gas pump. Wipe down the keypad, the nozzle handle and even the squeegee handle.
Practice First Aid and Safety
Get a good first aid kit to keep in the trunk. Be sure it contains gastrointestinal and motion sickness meds, as well as band-aids. This way, if you have any minor health issues, suffer from indigestion or small accidents, you can take care of it without having to search for a pharmacy or health clinic.
No one wants to break down on a getaway, but just in case, we ordered rechargeable road flares. Each has a magnetic base to attach to the rear, hood and doors of your car to warn drivers if you’re stuck on the side of the road. While you’re at it, if you don’t have emergency road service, consider signing up for AAA. A little extra prep ahead can maintain a safe road trip even when the unexpected happens.
Invest in Portable Tech
Obviously, you need chargers for phones and iPads or tablets that you might be using on the journey. Since we have only two USB chargers in our car, my husband also bought a six-port USB adapter to accommodate our various gadgets.
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Even if you’re not mechanically savvy, it’s worth picking up a handheld diagnostic tool. Compatible with all ODB2-certified 12V vehicles manufactured after 1996 (virtually every gas-powered vehicle in the U.S.), you simply plug into the diagnostic port and it gives you an answer on the 2.8″ color screen. This is also a good hedge for non-road trip issues, as it can give you a heads up on any engine before taking it into a mechanic.
Although we can all get maps and directions on our phones now, consider getting a dedicated GPS if your car isn’t equipped with one. That way, you won’t be tempted to pick up or monkey with your phone while driving.
Plan on Creature Comforts
Since we have a small dog, we can’t eat inside restaurants or fast food places. Sitting in the car wolfing down a burger may be a necessity sometimes, but it isn’t something I want to do on a regular basis on our road trip. While being comfortable isn’t necessary for a safe road trip, it is for an enjoyable road trip.
Years ago, I bought a lightweight backwoods-style folding table and chairs for weekend getaways and camping trips. I top the table with a wipe-down friendly tablecloth and battery-operated candles. I have a food kit with knives, napkins, a bottle opener and salt and pepper grinders. Being me, I also picked up high-quality Titan plastic stemless wine glasses. That way we can dine on food from a takeout place, drive-through or even a local grocery store in any rest area, green space or, as part of our planning would take us, wineries or national parks with a bit of style and civility, a welcome break in a day of driving.
We also have a K-Box electric cooler so we can keep beverages, snacks and cold beer and wine available for stops. The cooler comes with both an 110 plug-in and a 12 volt DC car adapter so you can move it from the car to Airbnb or hotel room. It can keep temperatures steady at 40F (4C) without dealing with melting ice. Driving in cold weather? Flip a switch to heat it up to 130F (54C) to provide hot soup, warm snacks or coffee.
Book Safe Stays
For our upcoming trip, we decided to shift some of our longer stays to Airbnbs instead of hotels. As long-time Airbnb hosts ourselves, we feel comfortable staying at an Airbnb with a couple of requirements. Look for Airbnbs with Superhosts, experienced hosts who have to pass a high bar in terms of bookings and reviews. Look for hosts who had the company’s “enhanced clean” symbol on their listing and self check-ins. This eliminates crossing paths with other guests in lobbies and elevators.
Also, unlike large hotels, most Airbnbs have windows that can open to allow airing out a space once we arrive, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
We kept our hotel nights in places where we felt we could still social distance, and called ahead to confirm those reservations before heading out. We placed a premium on places that touted high-end air purification systems and enhanced cleaning procedures based on CDC guidelines. Before the pandemic, we picked up a UV light sanitizing wand for hotel rooms, and we’ll be packing it for all our future road trip stays, too.
Eat at Restaurants, Safely
Many were hard hit by the pandemic. Call ahead to confirm hours and any local restrictions. Some restaurants have shut down or changed their focus altogether. We selected restaurants, in part, based on patio dining spaces that can accommodate our small dog. We were most interested in places where we can practice social distancing while dining to maintain a safe road trip. Check out their web sites or give the places a call for the latest updates. Also, focus on small restaurants, rather than chains; they need the business more than ever.
Sanitize Rental Cars
Although we plan to take our own car, many reading this may be contemplating a long road trip using a rental car. Most rental car companies have stepped up their sanitation practices, but you can also mitigate any lingering issues by wiping down all the surfaces of the interior, notably high-touch areas like door handles, the steering wheel, navigation knobs, etc. and opening all the windows before getting in to thoroughly air out the vehicle. This is actually a great long-term habit, especially during cold and flu season.
Pack comfy clothes
Last but not least, if you’re going to be in a car for hours on end, comfort is a must. I’m not a 17-year-old girl who can get away with wearing pajamas and lugging a pillow. Instead, I am packing comfy leggings, breathable tops, comfy sweat tops, and shoes that were easy to slide on and off. Want the details? We’ve shared all our comfortable fashion secrets already.
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