I’m not sure when exactly that my family reached their personal breaking point in quarantine. It was likely around the time Chicago was getting doused in apocalyptic rain. So, not only were we not allowed to go anywhere, but we also couldn’t step outside without washing away to Lake Michigan. It seemed like the gods threw us a double whammy.
After one particularly rough afternoon, during which I unplugged our Roku and threatened to throw it out the window if we couldn’t all peacefully agree on what to watch, we decided it might be in our best interest to get away for a bit. My extended family has a vacation home on the East Coast that was peacefully waiting for someone to enjoy it. It would be an 18-hour drive, but if I’m being honest, 18 hours on the open road sounded like the greatest kind of adventure after two and a half months of looking at the same four walls and non-stop Spongebob marathons. My husband and I took the time to painstakingly plan everything out for our road trip. If we were going to do it, we were going to do it right and do it efficiently.
One week later, we loaded everyone into the car and stole out of Chicago while the sun was coming up, as giddy and elated as inmates who’ve just escaped Sing Sing and are on the lam.
We made it to our destination safe and sound a day and a half later. While it was the best kind of free, driving down the wide-open highway, to say things are different traveling during COVID-19 is an understatement. But it doesn’t mean you can’t still have a safe and successful road trip.
Here are the 5 big things we learned about traveling, or doing a road trip, during the coronavirus to help others who are ready to start getting back out there.
Choose the right destination
Kind of seems like a no-brainer, right? Like you would ever intentionally pick the wrong destination. But in the age of COVID, what constitutes the right destination has changed a bit. So when deciding where to go, keep the following things in mind.
- Crowds – What is your current comfort level with crowds? Are you okay going to big cities or busy beaches, or would you prefer more wide-open spaces right now?
- Things to do – Are things open and easy to get into where you’re going? Will there be enough things to do to keep your kids occupied and entertained? If you’re worried about having activities, maybe consider a vacation in the great outdoors, where things are always open and admission is free or nearly so. Plus, after all the time inside, our pale, translucent skin could use a little Vitamin D.
- Food and accommodations – Will there be restaurants open or at least grocery stores that are easily accessible and decent places to stay with maybe a kitchenette? Good food might still be a little hard to come by in certain parts of the country, so having the space to cook your own meal might be nice after multiple nights of Olive Garden and Panera take out.
Plan out your route
We’re all for taking the road less traveled, going off the beaten path, and being adventurous, but if ever there was a time to be regimented with travel, this would be it. Planning a route in advance can help ensure you have decent places to stay and eat along the way. And, it can minimize the number of times you need to stop.
It might sound extreme, but by limiting the number of times you stop, you’re also limiting the number of times you’re exposing your family to new people and any cooties they might be carrying. This helps keep you and your kids healthy and also helps keep others safe. Every time you get out of your car, you’re not just taking your slightly stale road trip car smell and messy hair with you, you’re also taking a cloud of invisible germs and bacteria that are all too happy to set up camp and unpack. Not unlike Pigpen in the Peanuts strips.
While most rest stops are open and many restaurants are offering drive-thru and curbside options, having a plan in place can also help quell some of the jitters you or your family might have about traveling right now.
Bring extra food
There were actually more restaurants open along our route than we expected. But we were glad we had packed a bunch of extra food when we made it to our destination on night one, a little later than anticipated, and everything was already closed due to reduced hours. In our family, I’ve learned it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to food. Hangry doesn’t even begin to describe our moods when we miss a meal. Savage is more like it.
Get some help planning (or surviving) a road trip with your kids here.
Needless to say, I come prepared for any road trip with enough food to sustain a moderately sized army, but this trip, in particular, I operated under the assumption that we might have trouble finding decent food options at some point and was strategic in what I packed. We had a cooler full of sandwiches, string cheese, and yogurt, and some healthy but filling snacks, like trail mix and granola. Luckily it was enough to cobble together a lite dinner that kept everyone satisfied until breakfast and we were able to avoid any Donner party reenactments.
Take all the essentials with you
We had it all – hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, Kleenex, and facemasks for kids and adults galore. On a good day, my fear of public bathrooms is second only to my phobia of wolf spiders. These days it borders on mild paranoia. Not only did we wash our hands in the bathroom, but I stood sentinel at the car door when everyone traipsed back outside, dispensing Purell like it was the elixir of life.
Though my methods might have admittedly been a tad extreme, if you opt to travel right now, it’s important to try to do your part in limiting the spread of germs. Disinfect when you get out of your car, and disinfect when you get back in. Pack extra masks, because it never fails that one of your kids will lose theirs. And never, ever use the hand dryers in the bathroom. Yes, people claim they’re more environmentally friendly than paper towels, but they also recirculate dirty bathroom air right up into your face. If you don’t believe me, believe Cleveland Clinic.
I’m not sure when my family reached their breaking point during quarantine. Maybe when Chicago got doused in apocalyptic rain. We were stuck inside and couldn’t go outside without getting washed away. Learn the travel tips we used for our safe family trip during COVID.
Do your hotel homework
Most major hotel chains have sent out emails or posted updates to their websites of the heightened cleaning measures they’re taking to ensure people remain safe while lodging with them. Marriott, Hilton, and Airbnb have all enhanced their sanitation procedures to ease traveler concerns, so it’s relatively easy to find a clean and comfortable place to stay.
The Hilton offshoot we stayed at in Albany was hands down one of the cleanest hotels I think I’ve ever stayed in. Everything was spotless. We still opted to wipe down heavily trafficked/touched spots in the room, like the remote, the door handles, light switches, and sink fixtures, just because we’re now germ freaks and it made us feel a little better. But we were very pleased with how clean the rooms, common areas, and hallways were.
Bear in mind that some hotel amenities that you’ve become accustomed to might not be offered in the age of social distancing. Pools and gyms might potentially be closed and hotel restaurant and continental breakfast options are probably going to look a little different. All of the breakfast options at the hotel we stayed at were grab and go and meant to be consumed in the comfort of your room, away from other guests.
Still not convinced? Read about How to Survive Traveling with Kids here!
Overall, even though the experience was radically different and a little more stressful than in the past, we were so grateful for the opportunity to get away and relish a change of scenery. And the time we had as a family once we made it to our destination was exactly what we needed. If you’re thinking about traveling now or in the near future, our biggest tips are just to plan ahead and be smart!
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