This post was updated September 2020 when I drove from Georgia to Nevada and road tripped around eastern California and Southern Utah. There are way more people traveling now but there’s a huge difference, for the better, in mask use and social distancing.
Whether we like it or not, travel has changed this year. First with the pandemic and now with an unprecedented amount of natural disasters in the US. Tourism has suffered greatly. And while we are all anxious to get back on the road and in the skies, we all have a duty to do it in a safe and responsible way. I learned a lot in May when I drove over 2k miles from Georgia to Nevada, moving my daughter for her job. I feel like my tips on how to road trip responsibly are just as important now as they were in May.
Stick Close(r) to Home
As fall virus cases are on the rise again, consider staying in your own state or at least, staying closer to home. Doing so makes it much easier to get back home if you were to get sick while traveling. It’s simpler to drive back home without involving anyone else when you are close to home. This way, you won’t become a burden on another community. Being sick is never fun but have you ever been sick away from home? It’s so much worse when you can’t climb into your own bed. Knowing how to road trip responsibly means you might need to reconsider a long haul road trip this year.
Know Before You Go
Before heading out on a road trip, investigate the area you are going to and will be driving through. States, like New Mexico and other areas still have mask mandates. Rules can differ from state to state, county to county and even in cities. For example, the city of Atlanta has a required mask mandate that the rest of the state doesn’t.
SouthernerSays: in September 2020, I found mask use and mask requirements much more widespread than in May. Check local government websites and tourism board websites for updates.
You might even check to see if they even want you there at all. In order to keep their communities safe, government officials in places like Moab and Lake Tahoe have asked visitors to come later. There have even been protests over this. No one wants to go somewhere where you don’t feel welcome. So do your research before you go.
You can check status and local information on a state or city’s government website. Many state health department websites and tourism board websites, are also sharing pertinent info.
If you are going to a national park, make sure you check what’s open. NPS.gov has all the up to date info. Consider becoming a Twitter user and follow the park or the area to where you are traveling. Many of the national parks and national forests use Twitter to report road closures and other pertinent info there because they can push info out to the public quicker and easier.
Consider Your Route
To road trip responsibly, think about your route and don’t go into small communities with little or no medical resources. If you do find yourself in one of those communities, go the extra mile to avoid contact with people. Don’t go into Native American reservations that have been so hard hit by Covid-19. Many of them are still closed now at the end of the summer.
For example, Arizona’s and New Mexico’s Navajo Nation, home to popular parks in such as Antelope Canyon and Monument Valley, has a curfew. Most of the attractions, and even some roads, are still closed. Even popular Navajo casinos along busy Interstate 40 are closed.
One of the saddest things I read is about, is tourists yelling at Native American business owners on the reservation because of the safety precautions they have in place. If your route takes you through one of these communities, consider the potential impact car trouble or a flat tire could have and avoid these areas all together.
Know Where You’re Going to Stay
Some cities, hotels and resorts have occupancy caps in place to cut down on crowds and make it easier to socially distance. If you are taking a cross country road trip like we were, it’s good to have an idea of where you will stop stop to sleep. Alternatively, for your safety, services like Airbnb are helpful because most accommodations have contactless check ins. That’s one less person you have to deal with.
Camping is another good way to cut down on contact with people. We camped on our responsible road trip in May and had reservations for all but one night. Now that there are more people traveling, I strongly recommend making campground reservations. If you’re not someone that has camped or likes to camp, it might be the time to give it a try. There is less worry about room cleanliness and camping made it easier to be in control.
When it comes time to spend your money or dine out, try and spend it where it will count the most. Frequent small and local businesses. Even in September 2020, there are a lot of restaurants still closed for dine in. However, take out and curbside is still widely available. I found that it still takes a little longer at local places. Maybe because these restaurants aren’t set up to function as take out or curbside but have adjusted their business practices in order to open safely. So be patient and don’t forget to tip well.
Also, don’t be too disappointed if the restaurant has a limited menu. The food supply chain has taken a beating this year and I found a lot of places have abbreviated menus.
Find Alternative Places to Go
The United States is huge! Road tripping responsibly means looking for alternative, less crowded places. It is possible to avoid crowds but you have to know where to look. Try lesser know and obscure spots. National forests, BLM lands and state parks offer a good alternative to bigger name national parks. If you do include national parks on your road trip, remember some of them require reservations. Many still have visitor center and campground closures. Check NPS.gov for the latest info on closures and for frequent updates.
With more people on public lands this summer there is an uptick in destructive behavior in national parks. Know the rules and what not to do on public lands. Report graffiti and bad behavior to rangers and park personnel. Learn Leave No Trace principles and educate your children early so they also know how to protect our public lands.
Even if they are open, many parks and businesses, restaurants, grocery stores and even chain stores, have adjusted or reduced hours to accommodate employees and restocking routines. Stores and even gas stations that were open 24 hours previously, haven’t returned to those pre-covid hours.
Because info changes quickly, Google frequently doesn’t have the correct info. If there is some place you especially want to go or see, the best thing to do is to check with them directly, either by phone or their website. A word of caution: we found many websites not being updated frequently enough to keep up with changes. Calling is best.
Take What You Need
When it comes to supplies and food, buy as much as you can in your home city and take it with you. This means hand sanitizer, wipes, Lysol, soap, yes real soap, even food and snacks. In most places, it’s much easier to find things now. Knowing how to road trip responsibly mean realizing it might not be so easy in some areas. You could be taking away resources from smaller communities. In normal years, I’ve seen locals in popular destination and touristy areas complain about the travelers that come in on the weekend and wipe all the groceries. Can you imagine how much worse that could be this year?
Take Your Trash With You
Since people are using more supplies like masks and gloves, this means more trash. Don’t forget trash bags to keep the car tidy. Make use of trash receptacles and don’t litter on your responsible road trip. If you are visiting national parks and public lands, some of them have less resources this season. Consider taking your trash out of the park to a gas station or your campground, somewhere where you know the trash is being emptied every day. Don’t leave anything behind. Lack of staff makes this almost impossible on our public lands.
Finding a Bathroom
Finding bathrooms open and clean, was one of my top concerns before we left for Nevada. I even did some research on my favorite chain of truck stops to see what kind of extra precautions they were taking. The website said they were cleaning more but unfortunately, that’s not what I found. Still, it was helpful to stop at big truck stops and travel plazas. Since they are larger and have bigger bathrooms, it’s easier to physically distance. And I always wore a mask.
As long as we traveled on major roadways, finding a bathroom open was no problem. They became more scarce in rural areas and on public lands. My advice: stop when you see something open and before it’s a have to situation.
Southerner Says: most travel plaza and branded truck stops require face coverings. I didn’t really see anyone enforcing in but I will say I saw almost 100% mask use in places that required masks.
Be Patient + Kind
Literally everything takes longer this year. The road trip you took before or the way you did it before – it just isn’t the same this year. Factor this in when you make your plans and don’t over plan. You will only be setting yourself up for disappointment.
As you make your way back out into the world, I can’t stress enough that people are going to try your patience. Part of how to road trip responsibly is anticipating this and if it means you have to have a little pep talk with yourself every morning, then do it, because above all else, as travelers, we need to be kind. Remember, we are all trying to get through this. Some people just do it better than others.