- With travelers hesitant to fly for a vacation, the resurgence of the all-American road trip could be at hand.
- It’s important to stay safe and smart, even during a road trip in your own car.
- Be mindful about packing sanitizing wipes and spray, liberally wash hands, and use hand sanitizer.
For many, flying to a destination vacation anytime in the next few months is likely off the table thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Analysts have warned that air travel demand won’t go back to pre-outbreak levels until at least midway through next year. Instead, a recent survey conducted by the US Travel Association and MMGY Travel Intelligence found that 67% of travelers are likely to travel with their personal cars during the next six months — which is “more than double the percentage planning to travel by air during the same time period.”
So, that means a return to the all-American road trip. “Road trips are forms of travel and movement…” Stanford University American history professor Allyson Hobbs told PBS in 2017. “Travel is a social and cultural practice that Americans have used to construct ideas about themselves, their society, the past, and the future.”
But folks looking to protect themselves against the virus know that it won’t be a simple return to the road. There are safety measures to be kept in mind. Precautions to be taken. Plans to be made.
Also, understand that taking a road trip might not be feasible for every household. It’s tempting to get away for a bit, but when you come in contact with others or go to highly trafficked places, your exposure to the virus might increase.
Here’s a checklist on how to safely road-trip this summer during the pandemic.
Plan your route and location.
Despite many places opening back up for business in the US, this does not signal an end to the pandemic. You can still contract the virus, which is why it’s especially important to plan ahead.
Map out which roadways and states you will pass through, recommends AARP. There might be relevant travel advisories you need to be aware of, such as changes to toll collection and rest-area food sales.
According to Jeanette Casselano, a AAA spokesperson, it’s also especially important to call ahead and confirm which attractions (such as any local attractions or theme parks) and hotels are open.
“You will want to understand capacity limits and, where possible, make reservations in advance,” she says.
Pack to protect and sanitize.
Now more than ever, it’s important to pack up your car with hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, sanitizing spray, face masks, gloves, and maybe even a thermometer. And keep practicing good and frequent hand-washing.
If you can, pack your own snacks and drinks so you reduce the need to go into rest stops and expose yourself to others.
AAA also suggests you travel with all necessary travel documentation, including health insurance cards.
Furthermore, the agency recommends storing an emergency kit in your car. The list includes: car charger for your cell phone, first-aid kit, blanket, drinking water and snacks for everyone including pets, flashlight with extra fresh batteries, rags or paper towels, basic tools including duct tape, road flares or reflectors, ice scraper or snow brush, jumper cables, traction aid (sand, salt), tarp, raincoat, and a shovel.
These items, obviously, won’t be applicable to everyone reading this. But as with everything, use your best judgment and common sense. Be realistic about your plans and where you are going.
Take proper precautions at rest stops and gas stations.
If you need to stop in at a rest stop or a gas station to use the bathroom, do your best not to touch anything. If there are others in close proximity, wear a mask. Wear gloves or even plastic sandwich bags over your hands as a barrier between your skin and other surfaces. When you’re done, wash your hands well or use hand sanitizer.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that physical cash, credit, and debit cards could be a source of virus transmission, so it advises people not to touch their faces after handling paper and coin money.
Money should be placed on the counter rather than handed over directly. Counters should be wiped between each customer. People should use hand sanitizer after transactions and take advantage of touchless payment options when they are available.
When pumping gas, do so either with gloves on or some other kind of barrier between your skin and everything else. The gas pumps, number pads, and touch screens at gas stations are all touched by many people throughout the day and it’s best to just avoid contact with them if at all possible.
And instead of using your fingertips to press buttons, try using your knuckle. At the end of the process, use hand sanitizer.
Sanitize your space before you eat.
As mentioned above, it’s recommended that you pack extra refreshments in your car to cut back on trips to convenience stores, but if you must eat-in, AAA suggests you first wipe down the table with a disinfectant wipe and to use hand sanitizer after interacting with servers or cashiers.
Do consider drive-through or curbside pick-up as options, as they reduce your interaction with other people.
And always try and call ahead and see if a restaurant or service stop is open. Some operate on altered hours or have longer-than-usual wait times because of capacity reduction efforts.
Sanitize your overnight accommodations.
Keep in mind that not all hotels might be operating normally, so it’s smart to call ahead and confirm your reservation if you are planning to stay overnight somewhere, AARP reports.
And if you do decide to say overnight, the CDC has a guide on how to clean and disinfect places like hotel rooms, which you can see here.
However, Casselano of AAA doesn’t think many people will be staying overnight much right now. “We expect Americans are going to take mostly local and regional trips to have flexibility and comfort of being able to return home,” she says.
Anticipate some traffic.
Many people — likely still hesitant about public transit — will turn, instead, to their cars to commute. Bloomberg estimates there will be a general spike in traffic, reporting that, “Driving is rebounding all over the world, and it could eventually return stronger than ever, depending on how long commuters remain wary of public transit.”
Watch out for speeding.
During nationwide stay-at-home mandates, Business Insider reported a concerning spike in speeding on the country’s emptier-than-normal highways. Law enforcement officials from across the US detailed a surge in dangerous driving and called it a “free-for-all” on empty roads.
Be careful of dangerous speeding while traveling and know that local law enforcement is aware of the issue and is looking out for it as well.
AAA suggests drivers practice a system called R.E.A.D the Road:
- Right speed for right now
- Eyes up, brain on
- Anticipate their next move
- Donut of space around your car (in case you need to make an emergency maneuver)
Breakdowns: tires and calling a technician.
It’s inevitable: sometimes your car breaks down or you get a flat tire. What then?
A good way to avoid mechanical breakdowns is to maintain your vehicle. Get regularly scheduled maintenance checkups, change your oil, and don’t ignore unusual noises, vibrations, smells, or the check engine light. The more quickly you nip these issues in the bud, chances are the less the potentially resulting damage will be.
Make sure your tires have a healthy amount of tread on them to ward off blowouts and other issues. Standard tread depth in the US is measured in one thirty-second of an inch (1/32 inch) increments, according to Tire America. Typically, new tires start with a tread depth of 10/32 inches with the actual, usable tread depth being 8/32 inches. If your tread is 2/32 inches or less, you need to replace the tire.
Determining this is easy — all you need is a penny, according to Goodyear Auto Service.
Insert a penny into the tire’s tread groove with Lincoln’s head facing you and upside down. If you can see all of his head, it means your tread depth is less than 2/32 inches and you should get your tires replaced.
Of course, it’s also highly recommended you take your car to a professional to have it looked over if you aren’t sure. Tires are the only contact patch your vehicle makes with the road, so it makes sense to ensure they are in good shape.
If your car has a spare tire, consider learning how to change a tire yourself. There’s a great guide on the Bridgestone website. This way, you’ll be able to save yourself from calling a technician, and instead, you can drive yourself to a mechanic, thus cutting down on the number of human interactions in a day.
But if you do get really stuck, definitely call someone. “Be sure to practice social distancing when the technician arrives,” Casselano says. “If your car needs to be towed, consider making arrangements for your own transportation.”
SEE ALSO: Driving a convertible during the COVID-19 pandemic ‘doesn’t present any great risks’
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