Road trip

Road Tripping in the Time of Covid-19

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COVID-tripping? Pandemic on the road? Corona-in-the-backseat? I am failing miserably at coming up with a clever term for road tripping in the time of COVID-19, but since lots of us are doing it this summer, I wanted to offer some tips from my recent multi-state road trip during the pandemic. 

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Four months into this pandemic, it’s safe to say that most of us are getting sick of staying home. Borders are closed (as of this writing in June 2020 the border between the U.S. and Canada is still closed to nonessential travel) and air travel is WAAAAY (like 50-75%) down. That means the best vacation most of us will get this summer is a road trip.

Hotels during pandemic
Empty outdoor seating at Red Cliffs Lodge made us feel very safe eating breakfast at a hotel restaurant. Sure, it feels a little risky, but not impossible, to stay at a hotel during the pandemic.

So although I agree philosophically that the best thing for public health is for all of us to stay home, we did pack our family of five in the minivan and traverse three states to visit the grandparents. 

We have done this approximately six billion times in the ten years we’ve had kids, which I’ve detailed before in posts about 10 rules for road trips with kids, the best snacks to pack for travel with kids, and the best toys to pack for road trips.

But pandemic travel is different. After our most recent trip, here are my tips for road tripping in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Minimize stops. Traditionally our 14-hour drive would involve at least one restaurant meal, park stops, and occasionally a grocery store. This time, I packed multiple meals in our cooler and we stopped only at gas stations when necessary for gas and bathroom breaks.
  • Speaking of bathrooms…plan ahead for potty breaks. Bathrooms are the one non-negotiable stop as well as the germiest space any of us can imagine. If you don’t think your kids can be trusted to avoid touching anything unnecessary and using hand sanitizer liberally upon exit (even after handwashing), consider other options. For toddlers, this might be the year to consider one of those portable potties that can be used on the side of the road or in the back of your minivan. 
  • Keep masks and hand sanitizer handy. Masks for all my kids and the sanitizer sat on the dashboard. The kids know by now when and how to use them! 
  • Plan meals. I have found rest stops to be open, and picnicking at those is often a decent choice. If you don’t want to/can’t pack all your meals, you’ll want to do at least a little planning ahead. For example: we have a usual stop on our way home at a pizza place in Yakima with a playground nearby. This time, we found that while the pizza place WAS open for take-out, it didn’t allow public use of their restroom; the playground was closed; and also that county is having a terrible outbreak of the virus. I had to feed desperate kids pizza in a van (because tradition) and beg to use a restroom. (Yes, I regret this whole stop, thanks for asking.) Research is recommended.
  • Don’t discount hotels, especially in rural areas. My husband and I stayed in a hotel (Red Cliffs Lodge) in Moab for a couple nights on our trip, and I was very impressed by their health and hygiene measures. People were social distancing, the lobby had plexiglass barriers up, all the staff wore masks, hand sanitizer was required before entering the restaurant, and in general I felt quite safe. Additionally, it was a hotel with rooms where the doors opened to the outside, minimizing contact with other guests.
  • Be prepared for anxious kids. There’s general pandemic anxiety, which we all already feel. Then there’s seeing everyone in masks at gas stations…or not seeing them in masks. (Both will set my kids off). One of my kids accidentally consumed a tiny amount of hand sanitizer at a stop, read the package insert, then had a full blown panic attack in the backseat about his potential death and my unwillingness to call poison control about it. All I’m saying is…we’re all anxious, kids especially, and the world is going to look different. Prepare your kids and yourself.
Road trips during COVID 19
Saddle up your car for a road trip this pandemic summer, when none of us are supposed to be traveling at all…and most of us are terrified to fly. The good (or bad) news is: you won’t be alone. This is a parking lot at Arches National Park, June 2020.

Calculate risk. You’ll want to know the “hot spots” for the virus at the time of your travel and avoid public spaces in those areas if possible. It’s not worth traveling to an area where the current rate of transmission of the virus is very high unless you have to. State health department websites are the best source for this information and can give you county by county (and sometimes neighborhood by neighborhood) data.