Summer vacation season is in full swing, but holidays in a global pandemic look much different from the typical jet-set getaways. With plane travel being ill-advised until there is a vaccine, many are opting to hit the road and explore their own country by car this year instead.
The best way to stay healthy and keep others safe is to stay at home. However, after months of quarantining, many people are naturally itching for a change of scenery and to take a break for their relaxation and mental health. If you are in a region where COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, you may be planning to get out and take a road trip holiday.
It’s important to consider not just your health, but the health of those around you. While you may not be in the at-risk category, you may carry the virus and expose those who are. Even if you are young and healthy, the novel coronavirus can still seriously impact your health or even kill you, and you should take the risk very seriously. If you encounter vulnerable people in your family, professional, or social life, you may want to consider staying home instead to prevent undue exposure.
The more you have direct contact with other people, the higher your risk is. Be a responsible traveler and take great precautions so you don’t contribute to rising infection rates. But if done responsibly, it is possible to take a road trip that does not cause undue risk to others.
Here are 5 road trip safety tips amidst the COVID-19 pandemic:
1. Do your research
Traveling during these times requires much more research than you may typically do for road trips. Carefully check the regulations of all areas you intend to visit, and see which restrictions are in place. Check and follow CDC guidelines and avoid regions restricted against non-essential travel. Also check if any of your intended destinations are closed, as many tourist spots are temporarily closed for the duration of the pandemic. Research infection rates in your destination and in scheduled stops along the way; if they are on the rise or not under control, choose a safer spot.
If you are from a city, take care with deciding which areas you will stop; you don’t want to risk exposing rural communities to the virus. With their reduced healthcare infrastructure, an outbreak in small communities would be devastating. Pre-plan your intended stops and limit them to the bare minimum.
Research whether or not your destination requires visitors to quarantine themselves for 14 days prior to or upon arrival, as you may choose to visit a non-restricted place instead. Also learn whether your city requires you to quarantine for 14 days upon return from your trip, and factor that into your vacation time, especially if you are unable to work from home.
If you haven’t had your car serviced recently, take it to the mechanic for a tune-up prior to your trip so you avoid car troubles enroute. This reduces the possibility of needing emergency services or unexpected stops along the way. Car troubles could demand that you book a last-minute hotel option that you aren’t able to thoroughly research and prepare for.
2. Choose accommodations carefully
When deciding on accommodations, choose options with the fewest traffic of people, and ask hotels about their cleaning procedures. Many hotels are opting for contact-free check in, or implementing “Booking Buffer”, allowing 72 hours between guests of each room, which allows the virus time to neutralize between guests. If you do choose a hotel, wipe down surfaces with disinfectant wipes when you enter, and say no to housekeeping surfaces to reduce the amount of people entering your room.
A home-stay option such as Airbnb can be a great option, as it has fewer guests, and also gives you access to a kitchen. This eliminates your need to visit restaurants, reducing the number of people you come into contact with. Many Airbnb hosts are also following Cleaning Protocol guidelines which requires 24 hours before the host enters to clean the room, reducing infection risk.
Choosing to stay outdoors and camping is a great alternative that allows you to avoid human contact. A universal roof rack is a fun, compact, easy to assemble way to enjoy car camping. Because it doesn’t sit on the ground, you can camp in more rugged areas, and the height of the tent allows you to enjoy sunrise views from your tent window. Camping has the added benefit of avoiding restaurants and being more socially distant. Renting a motorhome can also be a good option during COVID-19; just ensure that you disinfect it thoroughly before hitting the road.
3. Avoid tourist spots and get outside
Plan to skip the busy tourist spots, and focus on outdoor activities that allow you to effectively socially distance.
Hiking is a healthy way to enjoy nature, see the country, and get exercise. Ensure you research the trails beforehand and pack your bag with food, water, a first-aid kit, and navigational tools; the last thing you want to do is get lost and require emergency services! Take care with outdoor activities so you are not risking injury and thus requiring essential services that should be allocated towards fighting the pandemic. Beach getaways, mountain climbing, stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, cycling, canoeing, and fishing can also be great COVID-19 friendly outdoor activities; just take care to be in non-touristy areas and keep a 6 feet distance between everyone you encounter.
4. Pack appropriately
Road trips during the COVID-19 pandemic require careful supply packing in order to keep you and others safe. Take a generous supply of masks, gloves, hand disinfectants, and sanitizing wipes. If you can, take a thermometer so you can watch for fever during your trip. Take a cooler in your car, and pack snacks and meals that you can eat on the go so you avoid roadside stops. Pack portable cutlery, plates, bowls, and ice packs; if you are traveling with a pet, carry extra food and water for them. If you are camping, take a portable stove for cooking and extra stove fuel and lighters. Take clothes for inclement weather, extra toiletries and any other essential items so you can avoid unexpected runs to the store, reducing the amount of people you come into contact with.
Consider whether your destination has cell phone service, as your GPS may not work. Bring maps and detailed directions to prevent having to stop and ask for directions. Also pack a car emergency kit to keep you safe in the case of unforeseen events.
5. Limit surfaces you touch
The COVID-19 virus spreads mainly through contact, so ensure you avoid touching your face and all external surfaces as much as possible.
It’s always a good idea to disinfect your hands before eating, and when filling gas, use disposable gloves to pump. If you don’t have gloves on hand, use a disinfectant wipe prior to contact. Disinfecting wipes are effective and prevent infections when used properly. Use contactless payment instead of cash whenever possible. Wash your hands as frequently as possible for at least 20 seconds, and use a paper towel on door handles to avoid picking up germs. And whenever you make any roadside stop, wear your mask, and ensure it effectively covers both your nose and mouth.
Before you enter your vehicle, use hand sanitizer, and regularly disinfect your car’s high-touch surfaces such as your steering wheel, indicator, cup holder, door handles, seatbelt, radio, and gear shift. Don’t forget your dashboard, because even if you don’t often touch it, it’s a hot spot for airborne particles. Crack your windows when you drive to air out the car and allow any airborne particles to escape, and if you can, avoid ride-share services.
COVID-19 has changed the world economy and almost every aspect of our lives. With over 14.5 million confirmed cases, 216 countries reporting infections, and 612,000 confirmed deaths, the last thing you want to do is cause undue exposure and risk contributing to infection rates. It’s not just about safety: rising infection rates have devastated the economy which indirectly leads to poor health outcomes and social problems.
Experts estimate that travel will not return to pre-COVID-19 levels for at least a year. Road trips are the chosen holiday of many this summer, and can be done responsibly when done right. Drive particularly carefully to reduce the risk of car accidents. Before your trip, take an honest assessment of your health and how you are feeling, and if you demonstrate any symptoms of the COVID-19 virus, stay home instead and get tested. Because COVID-19 is so new and new research is constantly taking place, check frequently for updated news and recommendations before starting your trip; the Centre for Disease Control and World Health Organization are the best sources for accurate and up to date data. Quarantine can take a toll on mental health, and while the virus is very dangerous, depression can also negatively impact your health. Vacations taken in a responsible way can be beneficial in lifting your mental status and preventing mental decline. By taking the utmost precautions, you are able to minimize risk to yourself and others, and enjoy a fun summer getaway in the great outdoors.