Planning a summer road trip while staying away from the crowds is not easy. Here are our tips to plan a safe and healthy road trip this summer while avoiding any illness on the road. Also find ideas on where to visit, what to pack, and how to plan your route. You may also like our post on Best Social Distancing Vacations & Road Trips to take this summer.
To travel or not, that is the question.
The answer just a few weeks ago was relatively easy. We stayed safe at home, toured the zoos around the country virtually, saw the artwork in museums on the laptop, and kept rereading travel inspiration type articles including the Best Places to Visit in the USA.
However, now everyone is stepping out to enjoy the great outdoors and national parks and state parks are becoming top bucket list destinations.
Do you wish to get outside this summer but are uncertain how? Here are our tips to plan a safe and healthy vacation this summer.
Tip #1: Say bye-bye to air travel and cruises for now
While a trip to London or Budapest was the dream summer vacation for several years, now is not the time for an epic European vacation. Several countries still have restrictions on air travel and even if things change, flying in close contact with many others is not safe at the moment.
Domestic flights are also out for the very same reason. Even if flights start practicing social distancing, the rates are already getting too high to make vacation affordable for a large family. Also, the risk of exposure to diseases remains high at airports and in transit.
Many airlines have also stopped flying and experts say that it will be quite sometime before the airline’s industry resumes a normal level of service. The same applies to cruise ships and the cruise industry. 2020 is definitely not the year to be on a ship with hundreds of others.
Tip #2: Theme parks and city breaks are also not happening
All theme parks in the USA are closed and their reopening dates and rules keep changing every week. Even if they open, they will require visitors to follow a lot of rules, and still, there’s a chance of catching some infection.
The same goes for popular cities like Chicago or Los Angeles. They have too many people and most cultural attractions including museums and zoos are closed or limiting entry. Even restaurants and malls in the cities are not fully operating and hence, it is better to skip visiting cities for now.
Tip #3: Road trips are probably your best bet
If not fly or cruise or visit theme parks or go on a hop on hop off bus tour, then exactly where do you go and how? In a word, road trips! Road trips stand for freedom, even in the times of the virus. Take your car and travel to the place that no one else is going to.
While the ‘socially distanced summer road trip’ is the latest travel trend, we have been road-tripping to remote destinations for a long time. We have been on several trips where there was no car on the road apart from ours and no one else to see the attraction because we chose a less popular time.
We have eaten at hole-in-the-wall places where no one else ate and cooked our own meals at campsites. It is totally possible to go on a road trip, see exotic landscapes, and still not come in contact with anyone. Also, the gas prices are at all-time lows, making road trips even more affordable.
We have been on several road trips in the country and love this way of hands-on, experiential traveling. In fact, several destinations in the USA are amazing for socially distancing road trips. Some of our favorites are Black Hills road trip in South Dakota, a road trip along Texas Gulf Coast all the way to South Padre Island, and a road trip through less-visited parts of Northern California. To see the best road trips in the country, read this post.
Tip #4: Even solo travelers can go on a road trip!
Looking to get away from your family after being cooped up with them for so long? Planning to drive home from college now that spring semester is over? Might as well travel since you are working from home? Welcome to the summer of the road trip!
Road trips are a great option for solo travelers and students. It’s not the same as backpacking, sharing a bed in a hostel dorm, or couch surfing but you do get to have all the fun. Try car camping – pack an air bed and keep it in the back. Pack personal hygiene products, food, and snacks and embark on a great journey by yourself. Pick a destination that allows minimal contact exploring.
Tip #5: Renting a car or RV is quite safe
So what if you plan or need to go on a road trip but don’t want to drive your own car? Thankfully, car rentals are operating, in fact, RV rentals have seen huge surges compared to previous years.
The car rental companies are emphasizing cleaning and disinfecting cars after every rental period. So you do not need to worry about catching any kind of flu from renting a car or RV. Also, car rentals are quite cheap at the moment, you can rent a minivan for a more spacious road trip.
Tip #6: Plan an outdoors focused trip
There is no point in traveling safely if you plan to visit a crowded city or an extremely popular tourist attraction. There will be another time to take a Statue of Liberty Cruise, another summer to bike the Golden Gate Bridge.
For now, plan an outdoor-focused trip to less popular destinations. Choose national parks, state parks, monuments, memorials, lakes, recreation areas, national forests, scenic byways, and BLM lands. Plan your activities around hiking, biking, and kayaking. Rent an RV or go car camping in the wilderness to avoid contact with others.
The time spent outside will also benefit you immensely after the last few hectic and anxious months. It will also get you fit and ensure you spend quality time with your family. This is a great opportunity to go on an educational trip with the kids – one focused on scavenger hunts.
Travel Tip: Planning to spend a lot of time outdoors? Consider this solar powered smartphone charger. It attaches to your backpack and can charge your phone even when you don’t have electricity! Plus it is sustainable and environment friendly.
Tip #7: Keep bucket lists for later
If an attraction or an activity is on your bucket list, so is it for most others. That means large crowds and getting in close contact with other people. And this applies to outdoor attractions as well. Guess how many people are still planning to see a panoramic view of the Grand Canyon from Hopi Point? And how many are still planning a vacation to Miami Beach?
This is the time to think out of the box. Be smart about where you go. Explore underrated attractions like the coast of North California or hidden gems like South Dakota’s scenic drives. Visit Badlands National Park instead of Grand Canyon National Park and go camping on South Padre Island National Seashore in Texas.
The USA thankfully has many destinations that are off the radar and perfect to go now. We have covered over 25 amazing remote road trips ideas throughout the country in our post, Best Social Distancing Vacations and Road Trips to go on this summer. Read it now for more inspiring ideas including Sawtooth National Recreation Area in Idaho, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and the Olympic Peninsula in Washington.
Tip #8: Consider slow travel
Another option is slow travel – travel to an outdoor destination without stopping and stay put in your RV or tent for a few days to a week. Most campgrounds allow visitors to stay up to 14 days.
Spend the day hiking and biking or on the water, cook by the fire in the evening, and sleep under the twinkling stars at night. Read a book. Enjoy the chirping of the birds. Feel at home with nature.
As long as you take enough supplies to last for a number of days, you are not interacting with any strangers, making slow travel an amazing alternative to a road trip filled with a number of pit stops.
Tip #9: Plan shorter trips than long ones and explore local treasures
If this is your first-time road-tripping or planning an outdoors focused trip, then cut yourself some slack and plan a shorter trip. Give yourself time to adjust to the new way of travel and you will come to love it. If you are worried about being outside for long, plan a trip to nearby attractions.
This is also applicable to those who still don’t feel safe enough to travel outside. Keep reassessing situations and stay at home orders and plan a last-minute short road trip towards the end of the summer or even fall, if you want, to nearby destinations.
Explore local gems and small towns within driving distance of 1-2 hours. That allows you to make a quick day trip and come back home in the evening. We recently did just that in mid-March. We visited Washington-on-Brazos and Brenham, two super close destinations that we had never seen before. It was a fun trip and a great way to clear our heads.
Tip #10: Research your destination thoroughly
Research your destination from the pandemic perspective. No trips to hot spots or crowded cities, please. While some stay at home orders are expiring, still others continue to be in effect. Some destinations require visitors to self-quarantine and are imposing heavy fines on rule-breakers. As such it is essential to know what is the local pandemic related law at each and every destination on your trip.
Some other destinations such as state parks and national parks are requiring online reservations and day passes. The other day we wanted to visit Mustang Islands State Park on the Texas Gulf Coast, but could not as the day passes were sold out. Now is not the time to just walk up to major attractions and expect a smooth entry. To see the CDC guidelines for travel within the US, see here.
Tip #11: Prep your car for the upcoming trip
Prep your car for the long journey ahead. Clean the car thoroughly from the inside. Use disinfectant wipes on most commonly touched surfaces including steering wheels, keys, seat belts, buttons and knobs, door handles, etc. Take it to the mechanic for a pre-trip check. Check oil, tires, alignment, etc. You should also know basic car maintenance. You definitely do not want to be stranded in these times.
Pack your car with these essentials: Car travel first aid kit. Include fever medicines, cough and cold medicines. Car emergency kit with jumper cables and tow rope. We also always keep a car tire inflator kit on hand during our road trips. Pack spare charging cords and batteries for smartphones and devices for the car. We also recommend carrying a portable coffee maker and supplies just in case rest stops are closed.
Tip #12: Add PPE to your road trip essentials
It is essential to practice excellent personal hygiene, now more than ever. That means carrying PPE or personal protective gear for everyone in the family. Keep on hand a lot of hand sanitizers, disinfectant wipes, hand soap, gloves, and face masks. The masks are especially critical as some states won’t let you in stores unless you wear a mask.
Other essentials to add? Paper towels and travel toilet paper. While the paper towels will be useful for wiping hands and surfaces, travel toilet paper rolls are extremely compactly packed rolls that you can easily fit in a purse or backpack.
Another great sanitary gear essential? Disposable travel toilet seat covers! Use them whenever you use a public restroom to be extra cautious. These items should be part and parcel of your trip packing well into 2021. Consider getting a car back seat organizer to keep the essentials organized and handy for the pit stops.
You need to carry enough essential supplies for everyone in the family. You cannot rely on being able to restock supplies at your destination. Many small businesses are closed and the bigger grocery & department stores are having short supply and restricted opening hours. Adjusting your expectations and habits is the best way to a safe and stress-free summer road trip this year.
Tip #13: Get creative with your route planning
When you plan your road trip using maps, consider making detours and taking alternative roads to avoid crowded destinations. For example: while visiting Yosemite, the most popular entrance is from the western side of the Sierra Nevadas – however, this is also the most crowded route. Instead, consider driving from the Lee Vinings road from the eastern side of the Sierra Nevadas. You will encounter way fewer crowds and see a different side of Yosemite National Park.
Also, plan the trip route around the restricted opening hours for major attractions. After you are done with route planning, consider printing a copy of the map for your records. Or at the very least, download a copy of offline maps of the destination just in case you have network issues. We would also recommend buying a dedicated GPS and / or paper maps for your destination.
Be as creative and as inventive as you want! Explore newer areas and spend more time away from civilization. You’ll definitely have a safer and enjoyable road trip!
Tip #14: Plan your road trip stops down to the tiniest detail
When we went on a 15-hour long essential road trip to Atlanta in early April, we planned our stops to the barest essentials. We carried a lot of picnic lunches from home, we ordered take out wherever necessary and followed a strict procedure involving a lot of hand sanitizer and hand washing while filling up on gas. We had a system that ensured we stayed as clean as we could.
On your next road trip, we would suggest stopping at only trusted gas stations, restaurants, and rest stops. Use contactless methods of purchases and delivery wherever possible. And of course, wipe all door handles, gas pump nozzles, and credit cards before you use them.
Tip #15: Reserve accommodations in advance
Many hotels are still closed to recreational tourists, while some others are keeping a minimum 2 nights free between two guests. Because of the lower available rooms, they are getting booked faster and also getting more expensive. We recommend picking and reserving accommodations as soon as possible to avoid last-minute hassles.
Most hotels are taking lots of precautions and sanitizing rooms extra carefully. However, you can still disinfect the room once you arrive and keep the ‘Do not disturb’ sign on for the rest of your stay. If you feel more comfortable declining housekeeping, then do that.
If you can’t find a hotel, consider vacation rentals and AirBnBs. We know of many friends, families, and readers who are renting villas/beach houses and wiping clean every surface after arriving there. While it is not necessary to take all the extra precautions with well-known hotels, you can still wipe down all surfaces of the room to feel safer.
Another great option is renting an RV or camping. You do not stay where other people have stayed, you are not coming in contact with anyone, you are practicing social distancing to the utmost! Works amazingly for everyone. If the bigger campgrounds are full, consider staying at smaller private campgrounds.
Tip #16: Minimize food-related breaks
Gas station and restroom stops are something you can’t avoid but food stops if properly planned can be definitely minimized. Carry insulated coolers filled with drinks and picnic lunches, as well as foods with a long shelf life on your trips. Protein bars and granola are great road trip superfoods. They do not spoil and provide great nutrition.
Whenever you need to stock up, visit the grocery stores at less crowded times, and buy as much as you can in one go. Freeze-dried foods are one of our essentials in such times. If you can’t find a grocery or restaurant that seems safe to visit, then you easily cook these packets on a camping stove at many places.
If you do want to eat out, prefer delis and food trucks over sit down restaurants. We really love food trucks as you won’t really come in contact with people plus get amazing cheap food. For restaurants, we would recommend calling them in advance and checking if they have reservations as current policies differ from state to state.
Tip #17: Have all the necessary documentation
You are going to be away from home for a long time. You need to have all necessary documentation including driver’s license, any additional IDs, car insurance. Check the services covered by your car insurance including coverage for rental cars, protection for additional drivers, roadside assistance, etc. Consider upgrading your insurance if what you have is very basic.
Also, consider buying travel insurance. We always do and have used it when our car has a break-in in a San Francisco parking garage. Also, consider buying an anti-theft backpack or RFID blocking wallet to safely store your essentials. We know from experience that shopping for new clothes and toiletries during a trip because your bag got stolen is no fun.
Another critical document to carry right now is travel insurance. Yes, we are planning for a safe and healthy road trip but you never know when emergencies arise. Carry a copy of insurance for each member of your family. Also, research the covered services/providers at your destination beforehand. Carry all your existing prescriptions and medicines with you.
Tip #18: Have a back-up plan for all sort of emergencies
Emergencies can take many shapes and forms: you can have a flat tire, run out of food, or your accommodation can suddenly cancel on you. Have a well thought out back-up plan for all kinds of emergencies. Keep extra supplies and repair kits in the car and be well-versed in how to handle emergencies yourself.
Keep someone in the family informed about your whereabouts and your itinerary, write emergency contact phone numbers on a piece of paper and keep it in the car, learn how to change a flat tire, keep an emergency tent or airbed in your car, and pack a few warm blankets – after all the weather can change anytime during your trip.
Tip #19: Be overly cautious around kids and let them know what to expect
If you have got kids that love to touch each and everything including doorknobs, walls, counters, etc. then you need to be extra careful. We have a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old who simply do not listen. I have bought a couple of kids’ hygiene and germs related books for them to understand the importance of washing hands, not touching the face, and avoiding unclean surfaces.
We have seen some success but being kids, they forget what they’re not supposed to do at times. I always keep an extra hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes pack in their diaper bags/backpacks. The important thing is to remember to wipe their hands every hour as they constantly keep exploring with their fingers and palms.
We also pack a few essentials for them including portable potty for them, travel toys, road trip games, their fire tablet, etc. We also emphasize that attractions and businesses may be closed or there may be huge crowds and they may not always get what they want. The setting of expectations is critical to avoid meltdowns on the road. Plan your trip around how long your kids can sit in the car in one go.
Tip #20: Be tourists in your own city
Everyone needs a vacation. Whether you go to a new place or revisit the same old, you still feel less stressed just being away from your work. (Unless you are like me and think about work, when away from it! But we hope not!) If you can’t go anywhere else, see your hometown or city with the eyes of a tourist.
Explore hidden gems or forgotten attractions in your city. Pack a picnic and spend a lazy day in your nearest park. Visit the most popular spot in the city and admire it without the usual crowds. Take photos of isolated downtowns and abandoned tourist spots.
Or make up a scavenger hunt. Visit all the independent bookstores in your city or do a mural walk and visit all the murals in your hometown. Once you start thinking of it as a game, you will have plenty of ideas to just go out and have fun without meeting anybody.
Tip #21: If nothing works, plan a staycation
If you are not comfortable traveling, then there is absolutely no need to feel pressured. There are many ways in which you can travel safely from your home. You can even plan a staycation in your own home: camp out in your backyard, order takeout, and buy a wading pool for the kids! We have one and the kids love running through the water sprinklers and splashing in the pool.
There are several ways to travel from your home. Build a travel scrapbook from your favorite trip, cook your favorite country’s cuisine, read a travel book or memoir, read inspirational travel articles, see virtual tours of attractions, and more.
Here are a few other ideas: visit your local family if you all are comfortable spending time together. Or house sit your friend’s house while they do the same for you! It’s like a vacation – you are in different surroundings and have zero to minimum chores. This works especially well if your friends happen to have a large pool!
We hope you have a safe and happy trip and get to enjoy the great outdoors without any stress. Have any other great ideas to travel safely this summer? Let us know in the comments, we love hearing from y’all!