Nevertheless, the freedom of the road calls, louder than ever: According to an AAA forecast from late June, Americans will take 683 million road trips between July 1 and Sept. 30. The number is down 3 percent from the previous year, a fraction of the nearly 75 percent decline the association projected for air travel. To ensure a safe and healthy sojourn, we spoke to state government officials, AAA staff and travelers, and assembled the steps road-trippers should take from start to finish. You don’t want to run into a surprise quarantine. Or, alternately, if you plan to self-isolate, you will want to pack the correct number of socks.
Step 1: Before you even start hunting for your bathing suit or hiking poles, research the regulations of your final destination as well as the states between here and there. Check state government websites, such as the ones run by their health departments and tourism offices. The states have created covid-19-specific pages that include rules about quarantining and masks, plus details about their reopening plans. North Carolina’s tourism office, for instance, has links to destinations with restrictions, such as the Blue Ridge Parkway and the state ferry system. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has compiled an online directory of the health departments for all 50 states, eight territories and the District.
“You just have to navigate the lists,” said Jeanne, who traveled in July.
Three northeastern states have joined forces, making it easier for travelers to explore the tri-state region. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut share a designated state list, which requires visitors from “states with significant spread” to quarantine for 14 days. Nearly three dozen states are on the travel advisory because they have a positivity rate above 10 percent over a seven-day rolling average or their positive test rate exceeds 10 per 100,000 residents. Earlier this month, the states, which update the list every Tuesday, removed D.C. and Delaware; Maryland and Virginia remain on it. However, travelers who pass through a high-risk state, staying less than 24 hours, will not need to quarantine. So en route to New York, feel free to eat crabs and stretch your legs at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor — just don’t linger too long.
Visitors to New York or Connecticut must fill out a Travel Health Form online. (New Jersey requests that travelers fill out a survey). Bypassing the document or quarantine can result in exorbitant fines — $1,000 in Connecticut and up to $10,000 in New York. To enforce the quarantine in New York, officials will contact the traveler by phone or text message or conduct an in-person check. If the individual does not respond, the state will turn the case over to the local health department.
Other examples in the Northeast: Vermont will waive the quarantine requirement for visitors who are traveling in their personal vehicle and isolated at home for two weeks before the trip or seven days with proof of a negative test. To visit Maine, residents of nonexempt states (New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York earned a reprieve) must sign a Certificate of Compliance asserting that they have received a negative test result within 72 hours of arriving or will quarantine for 14 days in Maine. Guests must present the document upon check-in at their lodging or fill it out at the front desk.
In anticipation of Maine’s rules, Jeanne and Mark popped into a coronavirus testing clinic in the Hamptons, one of the stops on their itinerary. Mark received his negative result, but Jeanne never heard back. While in Rhode Island, she tried again. In case they didn’t receive her result in time, the couple rearranged the Maine section of their trip, swapping out the coastal town of Scarborough for Acadia National Park, where they could more easily avoid people. The testing facility notified Jeanne of her negative result shortly after they had crossed into Maine. However, they decided to stick with the rejiggered route and savor the natural isolation.
Elsewhere in the country, Ohio is advising travelers to quarantine if they originated from a state with a 15 percent or higher positive test rate (currently six states). The Buckeye State updates its list on Wednesdays. South Carolina’s policy is similar but less specific: “Travelers returning home from an area with widespread or ongoing community spread are recommended to stay home for a period of 14 days.” New Mexico’s mandate is even broader; it applies to everyone entering the state and requires a quarantine of two weeks or the length of your stay, whichever is shorter. And for the most epic road trip, Alaska is offering tourists a few options: Submit your negative test result to the Alaska Travel Portal, share proof of a pending test and quarantine while you wait, or buy a $250 test in Alaska and quarantine until the results are back.
Step 2: Once you have your itinerary, check the visitor rules for attractions you wish to explore on the journey. Most sites are limiting capacity and require online reservations, even if admission is free. For example, the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago and the Philadelphia Zoo will only accept guests holding tickets booked in advance online. To stroll the garden and walking paths at Winterthur in Delaware, visitors can purchase three-hour blocks of time starting at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. Richmond’s Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has introduced timed ticketing for its exhibits. In Rhode Island, Jeanne and Mark attempted to visit the beaches but struck out because of such restrictions as reduced parking. In East Hampton, the town had suspended daily parking passes for the village beaches, but the couple’s hotel provided them with a guest pass.
Step 3: For the drive, your car should be as self-sufficient as the USS Enterprise. You want to minimize exposure to aliens, i.e. other people. Fill up your tank before you leave, check the tire pressure and fluid levels, and pack a cooler with food, snacks and cold beverages. Also throw into the glove box antibacterial wipes, extra masks and hand sanitizer. And to parrot your mother: Go to the bathroom before you leave the house.
Step 4: If you must stop for a bathroom break during the drive, look for a facility with no lines. Jeanne and Mark used highway rest areas without any issues. However, for coffee, they skipped the long queue at the counter and got their caffeine fix at the attached gas station and convenience store. Also consider state parks and recreation areas, which typically have restroom facilities. Plus you can work the kinks out your legs on a short stroll.
Step 5: No states or cities are banning visitors, but David Laster, manager of AAA Car Care Insurance Travel Center in Fairfax, has heard anecdotally of officials pulling over cars with out-of-state plates. “It is something that will get you some attention,” he said, “and something to consider.” Last week, New York City set up checkpoints at sites including the George Washington and Goethals bridges and Holland and Lincoln tunnels. The police may inquire about your originating point and ask you to fill out a health form, if you have not already done so. To ease the process, make sure you have your driver’s license, registration and travel itinerary handy. If you have a recent negative test result, keep that close by as well.
Step 6: If you don’t need to quarantine, proceed to Step 7. If you do, then make sure you are staying at a hotel or rental property with a kitchen or delivery food options. Jeanne suggests booking accommodations with outdoor space, such as a balcony or patio, for alfresco dining. Do not leave your room except for emergencies. Decline housekeeping services: Leave your garbage outside for pickup, and ask the front desk to leave towels and linens outside your door. Bring cleaning supplies, including disinfectant and paper towels, and a thermometer. Depending on the number of people in your party, consider renting a place with several bedrooms and bathrooms, in event that one of your family members comes down with covid-19. If your home state is added to the quarantine list while you are on vacation, you will most likely not have to self-isolate, but officials encourage visitors to monitor their health.
Step 7: Before heading home, check your home state’s website to make sure quarantine rules have not changed since you’ve been away with your head blissfully in the beach sand or high up in mountain clouds. Or you might need a refresher. Maryland, for instance, is encouraging residents who have visited states with a test positivity rate of 10 percent or higher to get tested and seal themselves off at home until the results are ready. Washingtonians must quarantine for 14 days if they have visited any of nearly 30 states deemed high-risk. At press time, only one of those states — North Carolina — is within easy driving distance from the District. Virginia has no restrictions on returning residents or new arrivals.