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How to Road Trip Safely During the Pandemic

July 10, 2020

Only halfway through the year, and we’re already feeling the hangover that is 2020. Schools, camps, vacations, and pools are closed for the summer, along with other seasonal go-to’s like outdoor events and amusement parks. So, what is a family to do when they’re fresh out of quarantine and need a pandemic pick-me-up? A road trip is the answer!


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Where Are You Going?

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has proposed a set of preliminary questions to determine when and where traveling is safe; starting with the obvious, “Is COVID-19 spreading where you’re going?” It’s also important to ask yourself if you could be putting others at risk by traveling. Before you go, evaluate the health of your own community and whether you could have been exposed to Coronavirus.

Being Aware of “Hot Spots”

Keeping a pulse on the status of the coronavirus is important when planning for your trip. For example, following the country’s slow reopening in May, thousands of Americans flocked to beaches, lakes, and city-centers for Spring Break, Labor Day, and nationwide protests. Since these events, popular travel destinations including California, Florida, Texas, and Arizona have experienced spikes in COVID-19 cases.

Traveling to Popular Destinations

Almost every family considers National Parks, the beach, or Disney for vacation. Like a right of passage, Mickey Mouse and camping are two classic childhood experiences, but packing up the car and road-tripping to America’s favorite destinations will be a little different during the pandemic.

National Parks

Most National Parks are open for visitors. However, the biggest change travelers will notice is limited access to facilities and accommodations. Many of the parks such as Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon are opening in phases, but some have canceled popular summer programs and are limiting the number of cars and visitors to avoid crowding.

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone went as far as to test all of its employees for coronavirus. As of early June, the park proudly reported that all of its employees tested negative. While the visitor centers are closed, Yellowstone’s restrooms, gas stations, and backcountry campgrounds are open.

The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon may be one of the most limited parks for visiting right now. Though, with smaller crowds, this could be an advantage to some visitors. In addition to coronavirus-inspired restrictions, State 2 Fire Restrictions are in effect for the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, while the South Rim remains open. The park has canceled its ranger program and will not be issuing any new overnight camping permits. Some visitor services are available, however, shuttles aren’t running and museums are closed. According to the park’s site, “Visitors driving on US Route 89 in northern Arizona will be traveling through the Navajo Nation, which requires face masks to be worn at public facilities and businesses.”

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite is restricting daily access to those with reservations. “We are working to increase access to the park in a phased approach,” the park reports. “Yosemite National Park is open with limited services and facilities to those with day-use reservations, reservations for in-park lodging or camping, and wilderness or Half Dome permits.”

Beaches

Throughout Florida and California, you’ll find law enforcement patrolling beaches to remind patrons of social distancing requirements. Additionally, public beaches have been restricting beach hours and eliminating access to facilities and communal furniture altogether.

The Surfrider Foundation has been working hand-in-hand with beaches across the U.S. to provide guidance for travelers. “The effectiveness of beach restriction measures will depend upon the actions of the people who are visiting the beach,” the Foundation says. “To keep beaches open, beachgoers must act as good stewards of our environment and communities and follow the best practices put forth by public health and coastal management experts.”

The Surfrider Foundation composed a panel of experts to create an educational document for beach regulators and visitors. Within the document, it states that families and households should be able to participate in recreational activities while maintaining appropriate physical distance from other individuals or groups. However, any activity that encourages crowds or gatherings is not advised.

Preparing for the Beach

First, research whether your destination is open or closed and if its hours have been limited. Next, you’ll want to know if your car is permitted on the beach and if facilities are open or closed.

Sharing is NOT Caring

Be sure to pack your own water, food, towels, chairs, sunglasses, hats, toys, and sunscreen. Do not share your items with others. Maintain social distance from other individuals and groups, and avoid crowds.

Attractions

As COVID-19 cases climbed, America’s greatest amusement parks closed their doors to millions of tourists and furloughed thousands of employees. Now, roughly four months after the first uttering of mass closures began, these iconic road trip destinations are beginning to reopen…with stipulations.

Disneyland and Walt Disney World

A phased reopening of Disneyland will begin on July 9, 2020, while Disney World parks will begin re-opening July 11, 2020. All guests ages two and above are required to wear face masks at all times, apart from dining or swimming. The parks also require that all guests undergo temperature screenings prior to entering the parks. According to Disney, “Anyone displaying a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or above will not be allowed entry; those in their party will not be allowed entry either.”

Universal Studios

Universal Orlando seems to be falling in step with Disney. The parks reopened to guests on June 5th, and all guests are required to wear face masks and undergo a temperature screening prior to entry. There is not yet a reopening date for Universal Studios Hollywood, though it is expected the park will follow the same guidelines.

Mountain Getaway

If a 14er is your desired road-trip destination, your favorite resorts might look a little different for a while. After three months of closed doors, Vail Resorts shared its plans to reopen for summer activities beginning on June 26th with Keystone, Crested Butte, Okemo, and Mount Snow. “Additional resorts are scheduled to open shortly thereafter,” the release reads. “The resorts will open with a limited summer footprint focusing on mountain access and scenic lift rides. Lodging, restaurants, retail, biking, and other activities will vary by location.”

Expect 2020 mountain activities to come with a slew of new rules. Guests and employees will be required to wear face coverings, and new plexiglass barriers and signage have been installed to keep social distancing measures in check. Lifts, parking lots, facilities, and common areas will have new capacity limitations, which will be monitored to avoid crowding.

Pre-Planning & Preparing for the Road

If you’ve made it this far, and you’re still interested in hitting the road, it’s time to pre-plan so you can keep you and your passengers safe and healthy. Per CDC guidelines, road trips are no different than daily life when it comes to preventing the spread of COVID-19. Be sure to maintain the recommended social distance from others while wearing a mask; use hand sanitizer and wash your hands liberally.

Public Facilities

To avoid gas stations, eliminate as many unnecessary stops as possible through pre-planning. Pack your own food and water and fill your tank at your neighborhood gas station. While using gas pumps, wear disposable gloves, and discard them before getting back in your vehicle.

Minimizing stops will minimize your risk, so it’s important to plan the fastest route to your destination. Gas stations, convenience stores, and rest stops are shared by a mix of travelers from unknown places and aren’t always sanitized between users either. In public restrooms, use a paper towel to avoid touching fixtures like the faucet or door handle after washing your hands.

Note: Some toll collections areas may be closed and you could receive fees in the mail following your trip.

Accommodations

Road trips and camping make for a good ole fashioned American adventure! With hotels and vacation rentals increasing your odds of exposure, tents have the advantage. Camping during this time will allow you to have more control over your surroundings. Whether your lodging is a van, a tent, or an RV, you can be sure that you’re not sharing a bed with strangers.

If you must stay in a hotel, consider packing your own pillows and sheets. Several chains, as well as Airbnb, have announced updates to their sanitation plans including contactless check-in. Still, it is wise to bring along your own bathroom products and sanitary wipes to disinfect all surfaces. Finally, be sure to keep the, “Do Not Disturb,” sign on your door while away to keep your room undisturbed by others until after your departure.

Happy Trails

Stay-at-home orders have had everyone itching for a vacation more than ever! If you follow CDC guidelines and use common sense to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your fellow travelers, your car can become a medicinal tool for ailing your cabin fever.