With countless travelers seeking to avoid the uncertainties associated with airplane trips amid COVID-19, the appeal of hitting the open road in your own vehicle has grown exponentially. In fact, a recent Expedia poll found that a whopping 85 percent of U.S. travelers are likely to take a road trip this summer. But not so fast. While a road trip certainly has many upsides amid a global health crisis, there are also plenty of potential challenges and issues not faced on the classic road trips of years past. Where will you find food with many restaurants shuttered as a safety precaution amid COVID-19? And what about bathroom breaks? They, too, can pose a minefield of health concerns. If you’re planning to hit the open road on an extended escape, you’ll need far more than the masks and hand sanitizers that have become standard essentials for leaving the house these days. Read on for the must-haves and safety tips to keep in mind when preparing for your journey.
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This first must-have is likely already being packed by savvy road trippers, but for those who may have forgotten — disinfecting wipes are essential for any trip beyond your home these days, says Molly Fergus, general manager of TripSavvy. “I could not imagine taking a road trip right now without disinfecting wipes. The uses are basically endless — I’ll be packing these for trips long after the pandemic ends,” says Fergus. “Wipe your hands with them after visiting a rest stop, hold onto a gas pump with one if you’re out of gloves, and clean up the inevitable coffee spill. Plus, when you get to your destination, they’re handy to have for picnicking, hiking, kayaking or any other outdoor activities where you want to limit how much you’re carrying around with you. I keep a large pack handy in the glove compartment, and a portable version in my purse or day bag.”
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Preventing contact with strangers in new cities and towns is more important than ever amid COVID-19. To help with that effort, pack plenty of food that won’t go bad when stored in your car, says Lindsey Maxwell, co-founder of Where You Make It, a website about RVs and converted vans. “You won’t have to stop so often at restaurants and gas stations if you take your own non-perishable meals or snacks, such as sandwiches, peanuts, pistachios, and applesauce,” says Maxwell, who travels all over the U.S. in a converted van. “It will also save you time on the trip not having to stop so much.”
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Step up your efforts to avoid restaurants and prepare your own meals by packing a propane stove, says Daria Bachmann, creator of the travel website Discovery Nut. “Use a small and easy-to-carry stove that can help you to boil water to cook quick meals such as soups or instant noodles,” says Bachmann. “It’s an especially great alternative for places prone to wildfires, as it eliminates the need to set up a campfire and extinguish it later. You can also replace a propane tank very inexpensively.”
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In order to be fully prepared for long desolate stretches on the road and to allow you to skip as many stops as possible, it’s essential to pack enough drinking water for all of the travelers in your vehicle, says Vickie DeSofi, creator of the travel site Travel Eat Cook. “You should have enough for one gallon per day per person,” says DeSofi, “You may not drink all this water, but it will come in handy.”
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Don’t embark on a long road trip without a digital thermometer, says Fergus of TripSavvy. “A digital thermometer can be used to monitor fevers and to determine if you should seek serious medical help,” says Fergus. “This is particularly useful in places where COVID spikes are increasing.”
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Safety Packs for Each Traveler
To simplify sanitization efforts during your road trip, consider creating individualized safety packs for each traveler, says Terika Haynes of Dynamite Travel. “The safety pack should include gloves, hand sanitizer, and masks,” says Haynes. “This will help to ensure that everyone has appropriate tools to stay safe. Also, having a safety pack helps to prepare items that will already be divided so that’s one less step that you’ll have to do while you are traveling.”
Mikah Meyer, a road trip expert who spent three years traveling non-stop to all 419 national park service sites, says it’s a good idea amid COVID-19 to pack an old-fashioned, hard copy road atlas for your trip. “Since you probably won’t be stopping in state visitor centers to grab maps and brochures that others may have touched, an atlas provides a great way to capture that classic sense of whimsy that GPS enabled-phones have taken from us,” says Meyer. “There’s nothing like getting lost in a map while a passenger on a road trip, which can often lead to routes and roadside stops that you wouldn’t have planned or found on Yelp.”
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Since COVID-19 has the ability to spread by aerosol transmission and respiratory droplets, being in the vicinity of an infected person can actually result in transmission through the eyes, says Kevin Lee, an eye physician and surgeon from the Golden Gate Eye Associates at the Pacific Vision Eye Institute. With that in mind, Lee recommends being sure to pack eyewear. “For instance, if someone who has the coronavirus sneezes, the droplets can actually enter through one’s eyes,” says Lee. “I recommend wearing glasses — or in this case, sunglasses for those sunny drives — as a protective barrier or shield from little respiratory droplets.”
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Leave the Contact Lenses at Home
One more tip about your eyes and the transmission of COVID-19 on a road trip: Lee of Pacific Vision Eye Institute suggests not bringing your contact lenses along for the ride. “Contact lens wearers have a higher risk of transmitting the virus through their eyes,” says Lee. “This is especially true if contact-lens wearers do not practice good hygiene such as not properly cleaning their lenses, sleeping in contacts, not washing their hands, or extending the wear of their contacts past the recommended date. Since it’s more difficult to practice good hygiene on a road trip, I recommend replacing contact lenses with glasses to lessen your chances of transmission.”
Sheets, Towels and Pillows
COVID-19 can also be transmitted by the use of shared face towels and pillow covers, says Lee. “If you’re staying in a hotel, avoid using bathroom hand towels on your face,” Lee explains. “This is also true for shared pillow covers in common spaces. I suggest traveling with your own pillowcases and towels in a clean bag to ensure there’s no cross contamination in any hotels where you stay. Remember not to share your own towels with family or friends.”
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It’s best if you can avoid public bathrooms as much as possible, says Rosanna Mitchell, a biologist and founder of A Pragmatic Lens, a site dedicated to outdoor family adventures. To do this consider packing a portable potty for children. “We avoid bringing our little kids into gas station bathrooms,” says Mitchell. “We line a disposable potty with potty liners, which we double-bag before throwing it away.”
Household Cleaning Supplies
Not all hotels are offering the same level of housekeeping services these days, says Haynes of Dynamite Travel. To give yourself peace of mind when bunking at a hotel, be prepared to do some preliminary cleaning after checking in. “You may want to bring your own cleaning supplies to use in the room,” says Haynes. Examples would include bathtub and shower cleaner, and disinfectant spray.” You’ll also want to be sure to have paper towels and some antibacterial cleaning spray. Dish soap to clean your own dishes, cups and utensils is also another handy item to pack.
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While vitamins might not be the first item that comes to mind for a road trip, there’s a good explanation behind this recommendation (particularly amid a global pandemic), says Geneva Long, CEO of Bowlus Road Chief, a luxury travel trailer company. “On road trips people are often going to several places in one day meaning they’re exposed to a lot more than usual,” says Long. “I like to give my immune system an extra boost during trips to ensure I stay healthy and am feeling my best during the entire trip.”
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Yet another key item for bringing along and preserving food on a road trip, coolers are essential. Ideally you’ll want to pre-fill it with food and drinks from home. “That way, you can easily have lunch at a park or rest stop and avoid going to restaurants where safety is not assured,” says Reuben Yonatan, founder and CEO of GetVoIP and a father of four who’s planning a road trip this summer.
The hoarding of toilet paper became fodder for comics early in the pandemic, but when it comes to taking a road trip, being caught unprepared is no laughing matter. You’ll want to pack plenty as many restrooms are not being staffed and cleaned as regularly as they once were. And perhaps more importantly, if you are using a portable potty, you’ll need your own toilet paper supplies.
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