Thinking of taking a road trip but now sure what to expect when traveling during the pandemic? Are you asking yourself a question, is traveling by car safe? What risks are involved, and how can I minimize them? One thing for sure, a lot has changed in the travel industry for the safety of travelers. But is it enough to make you feel comfortable taking that step? This post is aiming to answer some of these questions. Here is what I learned about traveling safely during my recent trips.

The best way to see America is from the road.
The best way to see America is from the road.

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I did travel this year. I needed it for my mental health. I started with one of the safest ways to travel during the pandemic – primitive style camping. Even though I enjoyed all three of my camping trips, I hated the packing and unpacking part and decided it was enough for one year. 

When the numbers of Covid cases in the Northeast went down to a relatively safe level, I decided to take a fall road trip and stay in hotels. I knew that summer crowds were gone, and the travel industry has its safety procedures already in place. That gave me the courage to make a move.  

Camping offers a lot of personal space, but packing and unpacking are challenging.


Can You Handle the Stress of Traveling During the Pandemic?

To enjoy your trip, you need to be able to tune down your worries about the virus while still diligently following all safety precautions. If your fear overshadows your entire experience to the point of near panic, you should stay home. 

Stress Level When You Return Home

For me, the trouble begins when the excitement of the trip wears off, and I am “safely” home. I second guess my decision to travel during the pandemic. What if I got infected despite taking all precautions? As you know, it takes almost two weeks to find out. Take this fear under consideration when deciding on taking a trip. 

Trap Pond State Park in Delaware is practically deserted when weekend crowds are gone.
Trap Pond State Park in Delaware is practically deserted when weekend crowds are gone.

Is Travel During Pandemic Safe? 

Let’s start with the facts; there’s really no such thing as safe travel during a pandemic. But how is it different than everyday life? We can get exposed to the virus during our daily activities. For example, if you go grocery shopping, you enter an area where other people come and go all day long. 

When not traveling, I am practically sheltering in place. I am retired, so I do not have any need to leave my house. I do all the shopping online. That was the first step in my decision making. I knew I would not be bringing the virus with me. Think of it before you decide to take a trip! 

I can’t stay in my house forever. I realized that the virus is not going anywhere for a year or longer, even with the vaccine. This is why, when I saw a window of opportunity, I decided to take a chance. 

Not being able to travel is especially hard for me since I do not know how much time I have left to enjoy life. 

Loving each sunset I get to see.
Loving each sunset I get to see.

Where to Travel During Pandemic 

Once you establish that an area on your radar is relatively safe to travel to, look for a destination where you will not encounter many people. Nature, of course, is better than the cities. Luckily, we have an absolutely stunning nature here in the USA!

If national parks are on your radar, check out the rules before you go. Many parks operate differently in the time of the pandemic in order to control the number of visitors. 

Consider visiting lesser-known national parks. Also, the off-season is a good time to go to avoid interacting with people. 

What is the Major Risk of Traveling by Car During the Covid-19 Pandemic? 

When traveling by car, making stops along the way for the gas, food, or bathroom breaks can put you in close contact with other people and frequently touched surfaces.

Public Bathroom – the Scariest Place When Traveling During the Pandemic 

Public bathrooms at the rest areas or gas stations were never pleasant, even before the pandemic. Now, the thought that someone infected was there just before me gives me chills. I avoid this situation as much as possible. If I need to use a bathroom, I use my N95 mask. (This is the only occasion I use this type of mask.)

Also, try not to touch anything after you wash your hands. Never use the hot-air hand dryer! It is confirmed years ago that these dryers inhale bacteria from the air and deposit them on your freshly washed hands.

Look for touchless paper-towel dispensers. On your way out, after drying your hands, use a fresh paper towel to open the restroom door. Bring your own paper towel sheet with you just in case. 

The good news is that everyone I encountered during my trips was wearing a mask at the bathroom. Additionally, the bathrooms were much cleaner than before. Also, in many rest areas, the doors and windows were wide open, allowing the fresh air to circulate. 

Look for national forests if you want to stay away from others. They are free and almost deserted.
Look for national forests to find isolation. 

Have a Box of Disinfecting Wipes in Your Car 

It is always a good idea to have a box of disinfecting wipes in your car, especially now during the health crisis. Use them to wipe your hands and surfaces when needed. 

Get Educated About the Area You Plan to Travel to 

As a first step, check the covid numbers at your destination. If the positivity rate is high, do not go. You will not only expose yourself to the risk of getting infected, but you can also potentially spread the virus to your own state and others on your way.

Also, make sure to read the travel alerts about the state you are planning to travel to. Some states require quarantine or even ban any travel. Again, do some research regarding mask-wearing culture in the area you are planning to visit. 

At Cliff House hotel in Maine, I cannot use indoor public spaces but did not mind. The views compensated for that.
At Cliff House hotel in Maine, I could not use any indoor public spaces but did not mind. The views compensated for that.

What Does it Mean to Quarantine? 

If you do not have a current negative Covid test when visiting states with travel restrictions, you will have to sign the form that you will quarantine.

Quarantine sounds worse than it really is. Almost all the states I travel to officially required Pennsylvania residents to quarantine. It did not mean I have to stay in my hotel behind closed doors. 

You can still go out and do outdoor activities, but you will be asked to avoid other people. That means no indoor dining, no pool when people are present, and definitely no gym. 

 This is more of an honor system. No one will follow you to make sure you obey the rules. Still, take it seriously! 

The restaurant at Cliff House in Maine certainly looked fabulous, but as a visitor from Pennsylvania, I could only use the delivery service.
The restaurant at Cliff House in Maine certainly looked fabulous, but I could only use the delivery service as a visitor from Pennsylvania.

Avoid Other People for Your Own Safety and Safety of Others 

Regardless if you need to sing quarantine papers or not, avoid people as much as possible. This is not a good time to make new friends. Keep your distance at all times. 

Wear a Mask and Have Many Extras 

Even though when taking a road trip during the pandemic, your exposure to other people will be limited; make sure to follow all safety guidelines, and that includes wearing a mask. 

When I am home in Pennsylvania, I do not go out, and therefore I am not used to wearing a mask. When on the road, I keep forgetting to put them on when I step out of the car. For that reason, I bring a lot of extra ones and keep them within reach. I always have one in my pocket and more in my camera bag. 

My packing skills need improvement. Blue pickup truck.
I always overpack, but especially during a pandemic. 

What to Expect at Hotels 

A lot has changed in the way hotels operate during the pandemic. The goal is to avoid physical contact between people, and therefore most operations are touchless. 

Plexiglass Shields at High Traffic Areas 

All hotels these days protect their guests and staff with plexiglass shields. They also strictly enforce a 6-foot distance. 

No breakfast 

The vast majority of hotels do not offer breakfast anymore, especially the buffet style. Even if your reservation shows “breakfast included,” do not count on it. Most likely, it means that the hotel did not bother to change their information. 

In some hotels, pick-up or delivery is available.

Hyatt Cambridge Overlooking Boston shows what to expect at hotels during the pandemic.
Hyatt Cambridge Overlooking Boston shows what to expect at hotels during the pandemic.

Bring Your Own coffee Maker

In my eyes, the coffee situation changed for the worse, and I am not sure why. (Maybe it was like before, but I did not notice it). Many hotels offer coffee only in the common areas. What you will get is tasteless coffee and exposure to surfaces that other people are touching. Not a good thing at the time of the pandemic. 

Many Hotels Upgraded Their Ventilation Systems 

Before booking a stay at a hotel, call to ask whether it is possible to open the room’s windows and whether the hotel has made any upgrades to their ventilation systems. 

Crowne Plaza Lake Placid. A room with a view and balcony was always my priority, and that is even more important now.
Crowne Plaza Lake Placid. A room with a view and balcony was always my priority, which is even more important now.

No Everyday Cleaning 

Again, this is to minimize even indirect human contact. Once you check in to your room, no one will be coming in and out. If you need anything, call the reception desk.

Touchless Check-Out 

You will have to drop off your room keys outside of the reception window. Then the keys will be disinfected. 

Consider Staying in a Motel 

Motels are gaining popularity during the coronavirus crisis since they are a great option for a road trip during the pandemic. Outdoor-facing, low-rise motels benefit from being typically reached by car. People can go directly to their rooms and reduce coronavirus exposure.

When choosing a motel, check its online rating regarding Covid-19 precautions and cleanliness. 

I liked the convenience of motels accommodation even before the pandemic.
I liked the convenience of motels accommodation even before the pandemic.

How Eating Out Changed During the Pandemic 

The main change I noticed is that restaurants require your name and telephone number before you enter. That is for contact tracing, just in case they need to get in touch with you. 

Another change, many restaurants added or expanded their outdoor areas to follow 6 feet guidance. Most of the business these days is taking place outside while the indoor areas remain empty. Bring weather-appropriate clothes if you are planning on eating outside. 

If you are visiting a popular area, like Amazing Newport, RI, for example. Make sure to call ahead to make a reservation. The restaurants there operate at 30% capacity, so walk-in is practically impossible. 

Many restaurants became very creative to keep their consumers happy. This one created huge sidewalls without blocking the views.
Many restaurants became very creative to keep their consumers happy. This one created huge plastic walls to keep the views. 

What to do About Food When Taking a Road Trip During the Pandemic 

If you consider that many hotels do not offer breakfast, the best way to handle it is to take breakfast and possibly lunch food with you. I usually have a bagel with cream cheese for breakfast. Since this is not something that would not normally eat at home, it is a treat for me. I often add to it a hardboiled egg and with a touch of mayonnaise on it. 

To make your road trip during the pandemic easier, you can invest in an iceless electric cooler. It allows you to keep your food cold on the road and in a hotel without packing and unpacking it. 


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