The best road trips that will keep you happy and healthy take planning…
By Molly Barnes
The travel industry has taken a severe beating since the pandemic began. Now, months later, our lives are widely governed by restrictions amid new spikes of the virus. Many of these restrictions are understandable — we all want to keep the virus from spreading — but they’re still exhausting.
If you’re like most, you’ve likely experienced some level of quarantine fatigue and may need to take a break. A vacation would fit the bill.
However, traveling by air or train involves interacting with people, and many would-be travelers aren’t comfortable going that route just yet. Even so, they still want to see their loved ones over the upcoming holiday season. Gathering on Zoom doesn’t always cut it, which leaves many to wonder: “How can we celebrate together this year if we can’t fly?”
The answer might take the form of a road trip, as lots of people learned this past summer. Although numerous businesses are closed and some travel bans are still in effect, the highways are wide open for “business.” Hitting the asphalt makes it easy to social distance and stay in (almost) complete control of your trip — with extra planning and precautions, of course.
Plan Your Route for the Best Road Trip
Gone are the days — at least temporarily — when you could toss a suitcase in the trunk, jump in your car, crank up the music, and let the road take you where it would. Road trips now require much more planning, and this includes knowing which route to take.
Fortunately, Google is still here and can be a good friend this year. With Google you can:
- Plan your route
- Know what’s open or closed before you leave
- Identify road closures
- Find open locations along the way as needed
- Be sure to do plenty of research before you leave to identify clinics and hospitals along the way and near your destination, just in case you or your traveling companions need medical care. It also helps to pre-locate gas stations, rest stops (even porta-potties will do — remember, these are regularly sterilized!), restaurants, and accommodations where you can feel safe.
Give Yourself Extra Time
Road tripping in 2020-2021 is going to be unlike any time before. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst. Be proactive to reduce the chances of anything going wrong. This means leaving yourself some extra time in case any of the following scenarios crop up:
- You can’t find an open facility, or the places you planned to stop unexpectedly close or reach capacity.
- Your car breaks down at night, and you have to wait until morning to get help — then wait even longer for repairs.
- You need to thoroughly disinfect your car between stops.
- You run into holiday traffic (hey, everyone else is probably driving this year, too!) and it delays your arrival time.
- You run into unexpected road closures or construction. With less traffic on normally congested roads, some state and local governments have been using the lockdown as an opportunity to speed up their construction schedules.
Planning to take a little longer can help ensure that you arrive at your destination with plenty of time to spare. This way, you’ll know how much vacation time to request and can set aside enough days within your budget.
Have Your Car Checked Before Your Road Trip
If your vehicle breaks down, it can be disastrous, especially in rural areas where it might be difficult to find help. To reduce the chances of getting stranded, think in terms of prevention and be sure your car’s in the best shape possible before you leave.
Check your battery, brakes, lights, and heat, along with your car’s fluid levels (oil, antifreeze, steering, etc.). Pack a spare tire and bring along a can of fix-a-flat. If you’re feeling less confident about your car-inspection skills, find a trustworthy mechanic to help you beforehand.
Pack Essential Supplies
The less often you need to stop in stores, the better you can socially distance while on the road. Stock your car with water, snacks, nonperishable food staples, a cooler with prepared cold meals (e.g., if you plan to eat sandwiches in your car), medications, and anything else you need.
In 2020-2021, you need to go beyond your norm. Pack yourself a compact sanitation kit and place the items in a sealable bin. Remember to include extra face coverings and masks, bottles of hand sanitizer, alcohol-based disinfectant wipes, paper towels, plastic disposable bags (for clean and dirty masks), disposable gloves, rubbing alcohol, trash bags, and any other hygiene items.
Important: As you stock your kit, keep in mind that more than 100 types of hand sanitizers have been recalled due to toxicity. Be sure you don’t pack any sanitizers on the FDA’s “do not use” list and stay up to date on the latest recalls, as many more are still being reported.
Check Your Finances
Driving is typically the least expensive of travel modes, but you still want to make sure you’ve got enough cash or credit to cover an emergency. Set up your road-trip-travel budget like you would any other budget — with a buffer.
And remember: Many places prefer not to take cash because they’re minimizing contact or dealing with a coin shortage, so be sure you have enough room on your credit limit so you can whip out your cards when necessary.
Also, prepare yourself for automotive problems. Make sure your auto insurance is up to date, premiums are paid, and you have all the coverage you need. Be sure to go over your policy thoroughly before you depart and make any adjustments to secure yourself enough insurance.
While you’re at it, consider your home’s security while you’re gone. Check your home or renter’s insurance policy. Also think about whether a good home warranty could help meet your needs in the event something breaks down that insurance doesn’t cover.
Know the Forecast
Roads are more likely to be affected by the weather in autumn and winter than during summer. Depending on where you’re from and where you’re going, you might run into challenging road conditions along the way caused by rain, wind, ice, snow, and low temperatures. Here are some steps you can take to prepare before embarking on your road trip:
- Check the forecast for each region you’re traveling through. Conditions can vary drastically, especially if you’ll be driving through mountains along your route.
- Download a good weather-tracking app
- Devise a plan for driving (or stopping) in rain, sleet, snow, or ice that may be lying in wait along your route.
- Be sure to prep your vehicle and pack a winter preparedness kit in case you do get stuck or break down.
- Pack a portable phone charger and power bank in case your phone is drained, and you can’t charge it in your car.
This year began unlike any other, but 2020 has morphed into a year that’s required unprecedented levels of preparedness and flexibility. Everything these days needs a plan, from emergency kits to planning your route and everything in between.
Editor’s Note: you may also enjoy A Road Trip During the Pandemic: Florida’s Gulf Coast, A Great Road Trip During the Pandemic: the Hudson Valley, New York, and A Great Family Vacation: a South Dakota Road Trip
So do your planning and strategizing first. After you’ve thought of everything possible for your travels — after you’ve made a list and checked it twice — then you can feel safe packing up, hitting the road, and having a great trip!
– Molly Barnes is a full-time digital nomad, exploring and working remotely in different cities in the US. She and her boyfriend Jacob created the website Digital Nomad Life to share their journey and help others to pursue a nomadic lifestyle.