Memorial Day Weekend signals the beginning of vacation season for Americans, and with that comes barbecues, beach visits and travel. But with the world battling the coronavirus pandemic, and much of the country still closed as a result, our typical vacation rituals have been disrupted.
Thanks to the pandemic’s upset of traditional travel, industry experts are saying this will be the year of the road trip.
“I think Americans will take a wait-and-see-attitude about longer trips this summer, but they may be interested in taking road trips,” says John B. Townsend II, a manager of public and government affairs for AAA. “We’ve seen surveys that show that about a third of Americans say they plan to take a road trip this summer.”
According to Townsend and Roger Dow, president and CEO of U.S. Travel Association, America’s interest in road trips has translated to a spike in RV rentals and purchases.
“Companies, like Cruise America where you can rent an RV, their numbers are getting a tremendous increase,” Dow says. “I’ve watched some of [the RV companies'] stocks go up.”
For those considering a road trip in their car or RV, know that taking one isn’t risk-free. Here’s what else you should consider ahead of pandemic travel.
Health experts are warning against road trips this summer
Before you set off on the road, ask yourself if your trip is essential.
“We’re still in the middle of the pandemic,” says special pathogens expert Syra Madad, who was recently featured in Netflix docuseries “Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak.” “And, unfortunately, this is something that’s going to be with us for the foreseeable future.”
With at least 1.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States and no available vaccine, experts say we’re still in a very critical stage, despite some parts of the country easing restrictions.
“There’s still widespread community transmission all over the United States,” says Madad. “We understand people want to get out, but health and safety is paramount.”
Madad’s advice to Americans mirrors that of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at this time, to stay home as much as possible and practice social distancing.
“I think no one should be traveling,” Madad says. “All nonessential travel shouldn’t take place. If this is not something that you need to go do for your own safety, then maybe it’s something you could do at another time.”
Pack PPE and other sanitation gear if you go
Should you get behind the wheel this summer, pack with the pandemic in mind. That means stocking your car or RV with personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks and hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
“We want to have good hygiene on the road, just like we have good hygiene at home,” Madad says.
Don’t rely on picking up PPE supplies during the trip, as there’s no guarantee they’ll be in stock wherever you’re headed or passing through.
If you’re renting an RV, you’ll need even more disinfectant to thoroughly clean your rental of traces of the novel coronavirus, which can live on some surfaces for days.
Limit stops and opportunities for contact with others as much as possible
Even if you’re spending most of your trip in your own personal vehicle, you’ll have to make contact with the outside world occasionally. Be prepared with hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes or hand soap to use before and after visiting gas stations, rest stops or places to get food and supplies.
“You’re always going to put yourself at risk when you are leaving your home,” Madad says. “But in order for you to minimize your risk, you want to keep that six feet of distance, wear a face mask, wash your hands, and just be very vigilant and mindful of your surroundings.”
To keep interaction with others and touching common surfaces to a minimum, the fewer stops you can make on your road trip, the better. If you have to stop to get food, follow CDC guidelines and get it to go.
“Pick up food at drive-throughs, curbside restaurant service or stores. Do not dine in restaurants if that is prohibited by state or local guidance,” the CDC website says.
If possible, pack an abundance of food and drinks in your car or RV to keep food stops to a minimum.
Opt for wide open spaces to visit
We all know that experts want us to stay at least six feet from others and avoid gathering in crowds. For your road trip purposes, that means you’ll want to steer clear from crowded destinations.
“If you decide ‘I’m going to a crowded beach or a crowded gathering,’ then obviously you are putting yourself in a riskier situation with a higher ability to get infected,” Madad says.
Travel industry insiders predict the most popular road trip options will include the usual suspects for summer travel, such as Florida and California, but also more remote destinations.
“You’re going to see that Montana, the South Dakotas and North Dakotas, more rural places, get a huge spike in travel for people who say, ‘If I’m just starting to venture out this summer, I think I’m going to go to those places that could be a little more wide open,’” Dow says. “I think the places to go are the great outdoors.”
Dow also believes states reopening sooner, such as Texas, Florida and Georgia, will draw more road trip tourists this summer.
Know the rules of where you’re going
Pandemic restrictions vary from region to region. Do your homework to make sure your destination is open, what rules are in place for visitors and residents, and what quarantine measures may be mandatory.
“There may be roadblocks or closures, so you want to plan ahead and make sure that you’re prepared with whatever route you’re going to take,” Madad says.
The CDC recommends checking with state and local authorities in the state you’re in, and the states you’re passing through, as well.