Top 5 Tips for Navigating a Road Trip during COVID-19
Updated: Aug 3
It’s road trip season, y'all!
Time to get out the suitcases and sunglasses and hit the road! But wait ….. COVID.
Yep, there’s a risk. But wow the power of a good road trip to lift our spirits.
How do we navigate, how do we seek Tranquil Travel under such circumstances as these?
So many of us are afraid to board a plane right now. At the time of writing this post, Forbes reported that there are 33 countries denying entry to non-emergency U.S. travelers. At first glance, most international tourist travel is essentially tabled for the foreseeable future. But Scott's Cheap Flights said it well: "Ban today ≠ ban tomorrow." If you're set on exploring abroad, don't give up hope yet -- international travel may be back sooner than we think.
But there's no doubt that the great American road trip is the top U.S. travel trend this year. Not only did our We 5 Thrive family road-trip through 5 U.S. states during COVID-19, but countless others did too. If you have an RV or love to camp, chances are you’re able to be super independent and keep yourselves distanced. But if you’re planning to drive by car, here are our Top 5 tips for your ‘Rona Roadtrip. #1 is a no-brainer -- but it still takes a good shift in mindset. So let's count it down and bring on the adventures!
5. Plan your potty breaks.
Yep, now more than ever, you need to plan it out (whether or not you have kids in the car!). I actually went into a Starbucks desperate for a pee in Bloomington, Illinois, and was turned away. “It’s against the law,” said the young girl barring me from the bathroom. Ummm…. No it’s not, but okay. Thankfully an ophthalmologist next door let me use her facilities.
Always keep in mind the ever-changing status of the COVID spread. Some months, restrictions will be more stringent, others will be a little freer. Back in May, many rest stops were even closed! We 5 Thrive follower Ami (mother of four between the ages of 7 and 13) drove virtually nonstop from Atlanta to Central Illinois with her kids, and made sure to look up where the public rest stops were, and which ones were open during COVID. Because she planned it out, she knew how long the kids would need to hold it between stops -- no guesswork or driving around in desperation. No counting on businesses to be open, no navigating the unforeseen rule variations in 5 different states.
While June and July were much less restrictive for travelers, you just never know what's ahead. You might even consider purchasing a folding portable camping toilet (don't forget the bags and deodorizer!). Seriously. Imagine not only driving long miles between towns, but then adding on that once you reach that town, there may not be a toilet available to you? Yikes. We recommend this one for older kids and adults. If your kiddos are little, or even in potty training stages, add a child potty seat to the top, or grab this one - super convenient for travel. We took the little potty on our road trip from Los Angeles, California to Peoria, Illinois when Audrey was potty training. Just pulled over, set it up next to the car, threw an open diaper underneath to catch the mess, then tossed it in the next trash can we found. I’m pretty sure we have a picture somewhere of little toddler Audrey peeing next to a cornfield in Iowa!
We 5 Thrive follower Stacey, mother of three, road-tripped across the western U.S. in July, a month when there were less restrictions. But she was still cautious. If businesses and bathrooms are open, she recommends going to gas stations or restaurants a few miles off the highway, rather than those at the off-ramps. This way, you’ll avoid excessive tourist contact and often find cleaner bathrooms as well.
4. Bring extra masks.
Not only is it recommended to change and wash your mask on a daily basis, you are almost guaranteed the kiddos will leave one or two behind (we learned this the hard way). Either grab a box of disposables or a bunch of cute washables in bulk for girls or boys. Or better yet, you might like one of these, popular with hikers and outdoorsmen, and since they stay around the neck, they are less likely to be misplaced. Be sure to wash and hang them to dry each night.
Our own road trip this summer was to outdoor locales and national parks -- the Black Hills, Yellowstone, and Grand Tetons being our biggest hits. We found that with all the wide open spaces, we rarely needed to wear our masks. But we always had them in our pockets, should we come across others on the trail, in more crowded areas like Mount Rushmore or Old Faithful, or if we needed to enter a shop or other establishment. Masks fall out of pockets, get dropped on the ground, fall between the seats, etc., etc. Plan ahead. Trust me -- this mama got pretty exasperated.
(Extra tip: Keep in mind that the rules will vary from state to state, and even from county to county or city to city. The most stringent mask-wearing rules we encountered were in the town of Jackson, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which welcomes hoards of visitors each year. Wyoming as a state was pretty lax about the whole thing, but hoo-wee was the mayor of Jackson not taking any chances. Ironically, we were also able to have sit-down indoor meals at restaurants in that town. So just expect variety when it comes to dealing with restrictions, and be prepared to roll with the punches.)
3. Plan self-reliant meals.
Honestly, we have always done this, even before COVID-19 hit the scene. Having a back-up meal or two, especially with a car full of kids, is a sanity-saver, and making our own meals on the road keeps the pocketbook healthy. But now that restaurants are navigating ever-changing policies for handling COVID? Yikes. Yep, self-reliance is the name of the game.
BREAKFAST. This summer, we weren’t sure what hotel breakfast buffets would look like. Each hotel navigates this differently. For the most part, those that usually offer a buffet have resorted to “grab and go” bagged breakfasts. In our experience, they usually included a piece of fresh fruit, a yogurt or parfait, a granola bar, and a hot item (depending on the quality of your hotel, you might receive a chef-made breakfast burrito, or keep your expectations a little lower just in case you get a microwaveable ham and cheese Hot Pocket).
Because some hotels have eliminated free breakfasts altogether, we also had on hand shelf-stable single-serving milks, poptarts, more fresh fruit, and cheerios. We learned this trick when our kiddos were little -- we made deals with them that if they woke up in the hotel before Mommy and Daddy, they could quietly eat their treats and read books, and in return they let us sleep in … perhaps all of 20 minutes, but still. It was worth it.
LUNCH. For lunches on the road, again, self-reliance will serve you well. Keep a well-stocked cooler or two. We keep an inexpensive stackable, smaller cooler for easy access to drinks and fresh snacks without stops, as well as a bigger cooler stocked with deli meat, cheese, mayo, mustard, lettuce, and all the other good stuff for sandwich-making on the road. Now that road trips are most likely going to be the norm for travel this year, we are considering upgrading to a Yeti, to reduce all the stops for ice.
DINNER. We love to stay in Airbnbs where we can make our own meals. But how to navigate at hotels, when restaurants and room service may be closed? This summer, we upped our game by adding a electric infrared burner to the mix. In one duffle bag, we packed the burner, a stock pot, a wooden spoon, a few boxes of pasta and jars of sauce, and an IKEA dinnerware set. Such a kid-friendly, easy go-to way to fill empty stomachs. And when you’re just boiling water and heating up the sauce in the microwave, there’s no chance of setting off the smoke alarm! (Extra tip: Consider setting up in the bathroom with the fan on, to dissipate the steam from the boiling water.)
There are so many other ways to eat independently on the road, with heating appliances that plug into your car, a slew of delicious camping meals from which to choose, and even portable espresso makers (this one is going to make it onto my Christmas wish list this year!)
SNACKS. Duh. Every mom worth her salt knows to pack snacks for the road. Hungry kids are cranky kids, and cranky kids … well, no parent wants that! Go for some of the healthy stuff: granola bars, raisins, fresh fruit, veggie snack packs …. And maybe a few treats too. Our kiddos love getting to choose from those overpriced small packages of chips or cookies on the road - something we never buy at home.
2. Don’t hang hopes on the hotel pool.
On road trips, we ALWAYS try to book hotels with a pool. Let the kids swim out their pent-up energy before lights out. While every hotel we visited this July did, in the end, have their pools open, none of them were promising it before our arrival. There were just too many variables, and even when they did finally get the OK to open them, they could have to close them again at a moment’s notice.
So we were careful to prepare our kids for the chance that there would be no pool. And at check-in, the question was always asked …. “Is the pool open?” followed by a smiling nod behind the counter and wild, boisterous cheers from our masked kiddos.
Now keep in mind, evenings are ALWAYS the busiest at roadside hotel pools. If you want to social distance, try reversing your day. Twice on our trip, we opted for a morning swim instead of an evening swim. We had the pool completely to ourselves!
And our #1 Coronavirus travel tip for you? Drumroll, please... (but it’s not rocket science….)
1. BE FLEXIBLE, a.k.a. ADVENTUROUS.
Roll with the punches, my friend. This has always been a key component to our Tranquil Travel paradigm, and it will serve you well in 2020 too. Think of it as a part of the adventure. You get to be spontaneous. In an effort to avoid crowds, you get to seek out some of the off-the-beaten-path destinations that you wouldn’t normally have considered (another key tenant of Tranquil Travel!). Embrace the challenges that come your way with optimism and a sense of humor. This, too, is a part of your travel adventure!
So there you have it. Our top 5 tips for your ‘Rona Roadtrip. But we want to hear from you, too! What has worked well for you this year? What would you add to this list?