We’re calling it now: Summer 2020 is going to be all about the road trip. Most experts say it’s fine to travel by car, as long as you’re commuting in your own vehicle with people you’ve been isolating with. So, it makes sense that folks would choose to shake off the quarantine blues with a summertime adventure on the open road.
However, though a road trip may seem like the ideal vacay in these weird and troubling times, there are still precautions you need to take in order to make your trip as safe and socially responsible as possible. In this guide, we’ve outlined some things to consider as well as resources, links, and suggestions for planning the perfect socially distant road trip.
Make a Plan
Though spontaneity is usually what makes road trips so gosh darn fun, this summer, precise planning is the name of the game. A bit of a bummer, but one that’ll help you and your fellow travelers out immensely in the long run.
Choose Your Destination
So, first things first: Where in the world are you going to go? Before you even think of picking up those car keys, you need to decide where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. Why? Well, by the time summer rolls around, states across America are likely to be responding to the pandemic in a number of different ways. Some will still have mandatory shelter-in-place orders in effect and others will be operating at varying degrees of openness.
That means you’ll need to do some research beforehand to determine where it would be safest for you to go. The CDC is constantly updating nationwide hot spots here, so you can check that as you plan. Keeping the trip local to your own state could also save you some leg work.
Plot Your Stops and Call Ahead
Once you’ve landed on a location or route, decide what sites you want to visit and where you want to sleep. Though we’re recommending that folks snooze outdoors this summer (more on that below), if you need to stay in a hotel, call ahead to make sure the establishment is actually open and what the hours are. There are a lot of inconsistencies on the Internet, so it’ll be best to forego making reservations online and reach out through the phone to set everything up.
This goes for restaurants, museums, and rest stops as well. It may seem kind of weird to call a state rest area, but you’d be surprised how many of them are shutting down because of COVD-19. Plus, I truly can’t think of anything more frustrating than pulling into a rest stop after a long stretch of driving only to find that it’s closed.
Read the Fine Print
Before finalizing any reservations, make sure to read the fine print. Will you be able to pull out if and when a mandatory stay-at-home order is put in place? Will you get your money back if you suddenly have to cancel because of sickness? Though you would think most establishments would willingly refund their patrons, it’s always best to get it in writing.
Consider the Outdoors
In lieu of staying in roadside motels or making museums or other tourist destinations the main attractions of your road trip, you may want to consider the great outdoors instead. While many outdoor areas have been shuttered thanks to the quarantine, there are still some options that are open and ready for business.
Rent an RV
If you decide to go the outdoor route, consider renting an RV or travel trailer. These roomy automobiles make it easy to get from point A to point B and can double as your lodging for the trip. If you’re feeling nervous about staying in hotels, this could be a great option for you. Plus, it’s got an old-school vibe that could be really fun.
To find an RV, use a site like RVshare, which is kind of like Airbnb, but for RVs. It matches you with RV owners in your local area looking to rent out their silver bullet beauties. And when it comes to parking your new RV for the night, you can go the “official” route and book a space in an RV park or campsite. You can usually get away with planting your flag in a Walmart, truck stop, or casino parking lot. Regardless, you’ll need to call ahead to make sure things are open.
Speaking of campsites, camping could be a great social distanced road trip activity for you and your traveling buddies. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a rugged outdoors person, there are ways to make camping easy and accessible. But, not all campsites are going to be fully operational by the time summer rolls around, so, again, do your research beforehand. A great resource to check is the Bureau for Land Management site, which has fresh COVID-19 updates every day and can help you plot a dispersed camping trip (
When you first think of an outdoor adventure, your mind might immediately go to a National Park. However, be warned: several national parks are closed due to the quarantine. While some have announced plans to partially reopen in time for summer (Yellowstone just this week decided to lift restrictions on the southern half of the park, for example), others are keeping the gates down. Nonprofit organizations like National Parks Traveler are doing a fantastic job of alerting potential visitors to openings and closures.
Before You Go
Once you’ve got all the details planned, it’s time to prep your vehicle. Though it’s always a good idea to tune things up and clean things out before a big road trip, it’s especially important in this time of social distancing.
Prep Your Car
First, you’ll want to clean your car. And we’re talking like a full-scale, nooks and crannies, wipe-down situation here. You’ll want to thoroughly clean your steering wheel, safety belts, door handles, and even the fob you use to operate the vehicle. I’d also recommend vacuuming the carpet and going over everything that may come into contact with human skin. Of course, you’ll want to travel with cleaning wipes for touch-ups on the road.
To keep things ultra-safe, you may want to stow away some nonperishable foods and drinks. Think high-protein, nutritious options like nuts, beef jerky, and dried fruit. Stocking up on good eats will reduce the number of times you have to stop on the road, which will greatly cut down your chances of coming in contact with other people.
Another way to stave off unwanted contact is to prep bathroom kits for every passenger. Stuff a quarter-sized Ziploc bag with bars of soap, hand wipes, toilet seat covers, and hand sanitizer. It might seem like overkill, but if you’re forced to stop at a rest stop that’s not set up for quarantine-level hygiene, you’ll definitely be thanking me.
Well, that does it for this guide to planning the perfect socially distant road trip!