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Whether you had to cancel that European river cruise or you’ve just been daydreaming of getting as far away from your apartment as possible, travel is on our minds. And while you may be holding off on flights for now, hitting the open road seems like a viable option to feed your wanderlust. But navigating a road trip during Covid—like, uh, how do you safely use a gas station bathroom?—can feel overwhelming and scary. We explain how to do it safely and even give you some options for next adventure. Buckle up.

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road trip during covid rules
Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

12 Rules For Road-Tripping Safely During Covid

1. Do not travel if you or a person you’re traveling with is sick

There’s a pandemic. Let’s do our best to minimize the spread of Covid and other viruses or diseases. Even if it’s “just a cold,” you could wind up infecting a vulnerable person with something that weakens their immune system and makes them even more vulnerable to Covid. So, if you’re feeling sick, put your plans on hold.

2. Consider who you’re traveling with and plan from there

Traveling with your partner? The world, er, the interstate highway, is your oyster. But if you’re also bringing along two kids and a dog, the story changes because there are more out-of-your-control factors. The less you immediately have a handle on—say, a 10-year-old who touches the Dairy Queen counter and then scratches his eyes—the more risk you’re packing. That doesn’t mean a road trip is out of the question, but it probably means you should consider short drives with fewer pit stops.

3. Try to avoid places where Covid is spreading

The more virus going around, the more chances there are to catch it, spread it and possibly bring it back home with you. Bookmark the CDC Data Tracker. You can also Google “[destination] covid cases” for graphs on daily changes and more specific geographic locations (i.e. Orange County vs. Los Angeles County). If you’re seeing a peak of cases in a destination or stop along your way, it’s probably smart to re-route.

4. Check states’ health and tourism department websites for Covid-19 updates

How Colorado is dealing with the pandemic might differ from Maryland. So, it’s essential to know how the states you’re traveling through and staying in are responding to tourism.

For example, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York published a travel advisory “requiring all travelers coming from states with significant rates of transmission of [COVID-19 to quarantine] for a 14-day period from the time of their last contact within such designated state(s).” On top of that, Connecticut and New York require travelers to complete an online health form. Think you can skip it? It could result in thousands of dollars of fines. Some states, like Maine, might even request a recent negative Covid-19 test.

Since things are ever-changing, double check relevant states, make notes and bookmark those web pages. This means you’ll want to check the rules and regulations again on your return trip.

5. Map out Covid testing centers

Whether you need a test to prove you don’t have Covid or you fear you’ve come down with symptoms, access to testing is really important. If you’re traveling to a state like Maine, or even visiting family or friends who require that you get tested before showing up, it could even mean planning your route around a Covid testing clinic.

6. Remember: Those out-of-state plates stick out like a sore thumb

When you enter Nebraska with those New York state plates, you should assume that all eyes are on you and vice versa. That means sticking to speed limits on state highways to avoid pricey tickets and to be extra respectful of the space you’re visiting—wear your mask, stand six feet apart etc.

7. Do not quarantine in the middle of nowhere while traveling

If you’ve decided you need to quarantine for a certain amount of time, you need to have access to food and/or other necessary delivery services. Before you book that Airbnb, double-, triple-check you can get whatever you need straight to your door, no contact required.

8. Book lodging smartly

Experts have said that staying in rentals like Airbnbs or hotels are safe, but to do so with precaution. Ask rental hosts for their cleaning plans. If they can’t provide a list of active measures they’re taking, don’t book there. Do the same with hotels. Many hotels have upped their games in major ways, and since it’s such a big commitment, they typically publish their new protocols to their website. Take Aria MGM resort in Las Vegas, for example. Not only is the hotel offering some eye-catching deals (like this work-from-Vegas score), but they’re crystal clear on their safety plan.

9. Sanitize where you sleep

Even if you’re staying at a five-star hotel with a state-of-the-art Covid policy, do your best to disinfect high-traffic surfaces—doorknobs, shower handles, remote controls—before you settle in. (More on what to pack to do this below.) And just to be super safe, wipe everything down when you leave to protect the cleaners and next guests.

11. Practice Covid safety no matter what

You might be traveling through a town where there are few cases and people don’t seem to be wearing masks. This is not an invitation for you to get comfortable. You have been traveling, you’ve been in contact with people and surfaces. Err on the side of caution, or, the CDC’s guideline which instruct to:

  • Wear a mask in public
  • Stay at least six feet apart from those who are not in your household
  • If you use a rest stop bathroom, wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol content
  • Try to use disinfectant wipes on gas nozzles and machines before you touch them
  • After fueling, wash your hands and/or hand sanitize

12. Make sure the whole car is on the same page

Go through the rules carefully with everyone you’re traveling with. Talk out protocols that make you comfortable. For example, “When we stop at gas stations, we will always wipe down the pump before touching. And if we have to use the bathroom, one person is waiting outside with extra hand sanitizer.” Is every adult in your car onboard? If there’s discord or you find that someone you’re about to travel with wants to throw more caution to the wind, then it’s time to rethink your road trip. If everyone’s in agreement, then get in. We’re going road tripping.

What to Pack for a Road Trip During Covid

Depending on your itinerary and your crew, every car will need different things. If you’re taking a dog, don’t forget their food bowl. Bringing along young kids? Consider their potty. (Seriously—PureWow’s SVP of Content has her children use it behind the car, rather than taking them into a rest stop.) Here’s our most basic list of must-haves for any type of road trip. If you’re embarking on a car camping adventure, check out our Ultimate Car Camping Checklist for other essentials you might need.

Grove Collaborative

1. Hand Sanitizer

Per the CDC, you should buy hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol and you should pack enough hand sanitizer with you for the entire duration of the trip. Our rule of thumb is that each person traveling in the car should have their own personal allotment, the car should have its own designated bottle, and you should have one to bring in with you wherever you sleep. In other words: Load up on the stuff.

Shop hand sanitizers: Easy Care 1.25 oz. ($2.50); Grove Hydrating Travel Size 2oz. ($4); Easy Care 3.4 oz. ($5); Spa Room 8 oz. ($8); Sunytizer 30.4 oz. ($25)

RTR

2. Masks

Like our keys and wallets, masks are all too easy to misplace. Make sure you bring extras along in case your favorite flies out the window. In fact, everyone in the car should have a car mask and a house mask. That way, even if you forget your protection, you have a built-in safety net.

Shop masks: Mindful Masks ($24 for 2); Made by RTR ($50 for 5); Kids Cartoon Masks ($13)

Walmart

3. Disinfectant Wipes, Spray, Paper Towels & Detergent

Maybe you’re not able to get your hands on Lysol spray disinfectant or Clorox wipes. That’s OK! Chances are you can find isopropyl alcohol, a couple spray bottles and paper towels. Use these to wipe down your hotel room, rental car, gas station pump, purchases and more. It’s also wise to bring along some detergent to wash clothes, bedding and reusable masks. While Lysol Laundry Sanitizer is the gold standard, a wash cycle on “hot” is your next best option.

Pro tip: Though many online retailers are sold out of these products, your local stores may have lots of products available.

Shop cleaning supplies: Equate 70% Isopropyl Alcohol 2-Pack ($4); Smart Values 150-Pack ($7); Viva Paper Towels ($10)

Bed Bath & Beyond

4. Sheets and Pillows

Make things easier on yourself and BYO-bed stuff. Whether you’re definitely going to change the sheets at a hotel/Airbnb or you’re just bringing them along as a contingency plan, you want to be comfortable with your sleeping situation because driving requires you to be awake and alert.

Shop bedding: Truly Soft Queen Sheet Set ($28); 2-Pack Microfiber Pillows ($13)

REI

5. Cooler

You’re gonna need a place to store all those turkey sandwiches. Whether it’s a day trip or a week-long adventure, a cooler means you can transport perishable foods. Plus, a small cooler might be clutch for longer hikes.

Shop coolers: REI Soft Pack ($24); Hydro Flask Insulated Tote ($75); YETI Roadie ($200)

5 Road Trips to Try

Need some road trip suggestions? Here are five of our all-time favorite itineraries. Remember: Things are changing every day. Make sure to check in with states’ updated Covid responses and cases and call ahead to see if attractions are open and operating and if you need reservations or tickets ahead of time.

1. North Shore Scenic Drive, Minnesota

Need a break from civilization? Get a healthy dose of the wilderness as you drive along the coast of the biggest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Superior. Start your adventure from Duluth and head north to Canadian border on Highway 61. Along the way, you can play “spot the lighthouse!” as they dot the coastline. The 154-mile North Shore Scenic Drive is replete with beaches, birch trees and the Sawtooth mountains in the distance.

Places to stay along the way:

Duluth - Rustic Cabin VRBO
Beaver Bay – Split Rock Log Cabin VRBO (pictured)
Grand Marais – Hungry Hippie Glamping Airbnb

Airbnb

2. Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway, Maine

This 35.6-mile mini trip takes you through the western mountains of Maine for a rugged and remote New England adventure. Take off from Small Falls on Route 4 to get to the shore of Rangeley Lake—the “centerpiece for 112 interconnected lakes and ponds scattered throughout the region.” According to the Byway’s website, “Take Route 4 north to Livermore. Follow Route 108 north to Rumford. Cross the Androscoggin River to Mexico. Turn north on Route 2 to Route 17 North. The nationally designated Byway begins just north of the city of Byron.” Along the way you’ll pass natural beauty like streams, canyons, fields and river valleys. (Note: Maine has travel restrictions as of publication date, so make sure to review them before you plan your trip.)

Places to stay along the way:

Rangeley Lake - Quintessential Lakefront Cabin VRBO; 2-Bedroom Cottage VRBO; Lakeside Lodge (pictured)

VRBO

3. Dallas to Possum Kingdom Lake, Texas

For Lone-Star staters in need of an oasis, this under-3-hour drive takes from you from the city to the rugged canyon country of the Brazos River Valley. Fish, swim, boat, snorkel in some of the clearest blue water you’ll find in Texas. And if water’s not your thing, camping, hiking and incredible sunsets are fair game too.

Places to stay along the way:

Possum Kingdom Lake – 2-Bedroom Lake House VRBO; Lazy Possum Cottage VRBO (pictured); Entire Renovated Home Airbnb

VRBO

4. Route 101/Interstate 5 South, California

If the rugged wilderness is speaking to you, consider pristine beaches and five-star resorts by kicking off your road trip from start in Santa Barbara. Follow the 101 south to Los Angeles, and then take the 5 down to San Diego.

Places to stay along the way:

Santa Barbara - Craftsman Bungalow VRBO; Mid-Century Modern Estate VRBO
San Diego – Garden Cottage VRBO; Ocean Front Penthouse VRBO

VRBO

5. Denver to Colorado Springs Ring

Take in as much you can in one of the country’s most beautiful states. This is a lot of miles—1,013 to be exact—but if you plan it right, you can feast your eyes on some real wonders. Stop in Estes Park, the home base for Rocky Mountain National Park, where you can hike miles of trails and maybe even see wildlife like elk and bears. Next, drive through the Trail Ridge Road, aka the highway in the sky, which offers incredible above-tree line vistas and opportunities to spot more wildlife. Pass through the sublime Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park, Great Sand Dunes National Park—America’s tallest dunes—and Pikes Peak on your way through Colorado Springs. (Note: National Parks have known travel restrictions as of publication date. Please check your routes before you commit to the road.)

Places to stay along the way:

Telluride­ – Secluded Retreat VRBO
Estes Park – Rocky Mountain Estate VRBO (pictured)
Durango – A-Frame Cabin VRBO
Alamosa – Rustic Little Cabin Airbnb
Colorado Springs – Tiny House Trolley Car

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