Whether we like it or not, travel has changed forever. Tourism, restaurants and many businesses have suffered greatly. While we are all anxious to get back on the road and in the skies, we have a responsibility to do so in a safe way. My 2020 was not a normal travel year and I doubt yours was either. I did however have the chance to drive across the country a couple of times, moving my daughter for work. Here’s what I learned and how to road trip responsibly.
This post contains affiliate links. That means I may earn a small commission, at no extra fee to you, if you book something with one of the links I provide. This keeps Southerner Says mostly ad free and on the road. Thanks for your support.
Stick Close(r) to Home
Most people are anxious to travel and get back out there again. If that’s you, and you’re planning to travel or planning a road trip during the pandemic, then consider staying closer to home or at least, in your own state. Often times, people overlook where they live and what’s nearby. Take this time as an opportunity to get to know your local surroundings better.
Staying close to home makes it easier to get back home if you were to get sick while traveling. This way, you won’t be a burden on another community and take away resources from locals. Plus, 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.
Know Before You Go
Before heading out on a road trip, investigate the area you are going to and will be driving through. Many states and areas still have mask mandates. Rules can differ from state to state, county to county and even in cities. Know the rules and comply with them.
You might even check to see if the area you are planning on traveling to even wants you there at all. In order to keep their communities safe, government officials in places like Moab, Utah and Lake Tahoe have asked visitors to come later. There have even been protests over this. No one wants to go somewhere you don’t feel welcome. Knowing how to road trip responsibly means doing 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 to see if it’s open. NPS.gov has all the up to date info. Masks are also now required on all federal property. So always have a face covering with you.
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 issues there because they can push it out to the public quicker and easier than on a website.
Consider Your Route
To road trip responsibly, think about the route you will take. What communities will you be driving through? It’s no secret that small communities and Native American reservations have been hit hard during the pandemic. Many times these communities have little or no medical resources. Or not enough for a pandemic like this. If you find yourself in one of those communities, go the extra mile to avoid contact with people.
For example, Arizona and New Mexico’s Navajo Nation, home to popular parks such as Antelope Canyon and Monument Valley, is closed until further notice. Even popular Navajo casinos along busy Interstate 40 are closed. If your route takes you through one of these small 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
I’m usually all in for winging it on a road trip but if you decide to travel now, it’s smart to have an idea of where you’ll stop to spend the night. To cut down on crowds and make it easier to socially distance, some states and cities still have hotel occupancy limits in place. That means if you are traveling to a busy area, it could be hard to get a hotel room. Book your rooms in advance.
Even many campgrounds have reduced occupancy. We camped in several different places on our responsible road trip in and had reservations for all but one night. Now that there are more people traveling, I strongly recommend making campground reservations so there’s no surprises or sleeping in the car when you don’t want to.
Knowing how to road trip responsibly means keeping it local. When your on the road and it comes time to spend money and dine out, try and spend it where it counts the most. Frequent small and local businesses that need support.
Many restaurants are still struggling. They only may be open for take out, however, many places have implemented curbside and easy pick-up for faster service. It might take a bit longer than fast food but it’s worth it to put money into the community and a local place. Above all else, don’t forget to tip well.
Local merchants are really appreciate the business. Some of the places we love to stop, like coffee shops, book stores and local outdoor outfitters went out of their way to say thanks for choosing them over big chains.
Southerner Says: they also appreciate face coverings
Find Alternative Places to Go
The United States and the world is huge! Everyone doesn’t have to go to the same places. Knowing how to road trip responsibly means looking for alternative, less crowded spaces.
Even on public lands, you can avoid crowds. You just have to know where to look and do your research. Try lesser know and obscure spots. National forests, BLM property and state parks are good alternatives to bigger name national parks. Those big parks aren’t going anywhere. And honestly, who wants to experience a major national park when it’s not even fully functional?
If you do end up including national parks on your road trip, remember some of them require reservations for timed entrances and shuttle services. Zion, Glacier and Yosemite all have reservations systems in place this year. Check NPS.gov for the latest updates.
With more people on public lands there is an uptick in destructive behavior in national parks. Know the rules and what NOT to do on public lands. Report 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. Most importantly: don’t feed the wildlife.
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-pandemic hours.
Because info changes quickly, even 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 that place directly, either by phone or their website. A word of caution: we found many websites were not being updated frequently enough to keep up with changes. Calling is best.
Take What You Need
When it comes to supplies and food that you need on your responsible road trip, my advice is to 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, food and snacks.
In most places, It is much easier to find supplies in stores now. But that may not be the case where you are going. Rural areas and communities with small or just one grocery store, don’t have an abundance. In normal years, I’ve seen locals in touristy areas complain about travelers that come in on the weekend and buy up all the groceries. Can you imagine how much worse it could be during a pandemic, when supplies are low?
It might take a little more organizational preparation and planning to take supplies with you but this way your doing your part in making sure everyone has access to what they need when they need it.
Take Your Trash With You
Since people are using supplies like masks and gloves more frequently this year, that means we are producing more trash. More trash in general means more trash on the ground, in parking lots and basically everywhere. No one wants to touch their gloves, so they get thrown down on the ground. At every park I’ve been to, I saw masks and gloves everywhere. Don’t be a litter bug.
Keep trash bags with you on your road trip so you have a place to put trash. For one, it keeps the car tidy(which is super important on a road trip) and there’s less chance of trash blowing out of the car and ending up where it shouldn’t be, even by accident.
Then, when it comes time to throw your trash away, use trash cans at stores and gas stations; places you know are emptying them frequently. National parks and many public lands, have less resources and employees due to the pandemic. Don’t leave trash behind or stacked up around the receptacle.
Finding a Bathroom
A concern for many travelers is finding bathrooms that are open and clean. This was one of my major concerns when we traveled in May 2020, as things were just opening back up. By the time I traveled again in October, there had been a lot of changes. It was easier to find bathrooms. On both trips, I preferred to stop at rest areas, large truck stops and travel plazas. The bathrooms are generally bigger so it’s easier to physically distance. There’s also more staff to keep the bathrooms cleaner.
In rural areas and on public lands, bathrooms might still be an issue. So it’s best to stop when you see something open and before it’s a have to situation.
Southerner Says: most big name brand travel plaza and 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 now. 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 of travel, I can’t stress enough that people are going to try your patience. Part of knowing 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.