By Barbara Noe Kennedy
So here we are, advised to keep our distance from others for fear of spreading the deadly coronavirus. And yet we’re missing out on our spring travel plans, and even more fearful that we may have to skip our summer vacations. So what about hitting the road? That’s got to be okay, right? After all, we’re in our own bubbled space within the confines of our cars, free from others’ germs…
While you may think that traveling to more rural destinations within our own confines ensures that you can keep our proper, CDC-mandated social distance, there are other things to think about. First off, what if you get sick while on the road, from coronavirus or something else? It’s not fair to tax already-burdened medical facilities in more rural areas.
In addition, even if you know you shouldn’t stop at souvenir shops and local restaurants (if they are even open), you still need to rely on local businesses for food, restrooms, gas, and perhaps accommodations. Remember that one of the most alarming things about coronavirus is that you don’t necessarily experience symptoms that clue us into having it—meaning you can easily spread the disease (or catch it) without knowing it.
“Traveling longer distances by car is not advisable right now, unless it is of a more urgent nature,” said Rachel Patzer, an epidemiologist and director of health services research at Emory University School of Medicine.
So now, alas, is not the time to take the Great American Road Trip.
For those who aren’t in quarantine or lockdown (yet) and are itching to do something now, the only kind of road trip you should consider is a short drive near our home. Taking a couple hours’ spin along the nearby seashore or lakeshore, or through mountains or across the prairie fields, can be just what our spirits need during this difficult time. You’ll be able to roll down the windows and breathe in the fresh air, taking in the glorious natural beauty our nation has to offer.
That said, you should go only “where you would not have to make stops for refueling or food,” said Dr. Patzer. You should only use our neighborhood gas stations to refuel and pack our own snacks. You will not have the freedom to stop and do what you want, but you can glean a taste of on-the-road freedom, even during these crisis times.
You may very well have to embark on an unavoidable road trip, whether it’s a family emergency or some other inescapable event. In these cases, adhering to strict sanitization procedures—inside the car, at gas stations, and at hotels—is compulsory.
First off, you’ll want to pack sufficient supplies to keep the car sanitized. The packing list should include disposable gloves, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wet wipes, sealable disposable plastic bags, and tissues. Be sure to sanitize car door handles and controls, keys or start button, steering wheel, gear shift, seats, all dash buttons and knobs, sun visor, anything touchscreen, the console, and cupholders, according to CNET.
You’ll also need to pack your own food since you shouldn’t be stopping at any restaurants or snack shops along the way. Cheese and crackers, fruit, beef jerky, hardboiled eggs, protein bars, string cheese, carrots, and grapes are all good road trip snacks. Be sure to bring plenty of drinks and/or water.
You have to be extra mindful when stopping for gas. It’s recommended to pump gas wearing gloves—and dispose of them immediately after use (or place into a plastic bag if a garbage bin isn’t available). It’s a good idea to pay with a credit card rather than cash to avoid face-to-face transactions. And you’ll need to be super vigilant when using restrooms, being sure not to touch the faucet or door handle after washing your hands.
And what if you have to stay in a hotel? You need to be prudent since coronavirus can live on surfaces for hours, even days. According to WebMD, some of the most contaminated areas are the toilet and bathroom sink, as well as the TV remotes, telephones, and bedside lamp switches. You’ll need to take precautions, including bringing your own disinfectants to wipe down potentially contaminated surfaces. Toss aside the bedspreads and decorative pillows (which you’ve been doing anyway, right?—everyone knows hotels frequently don’t clean them). Oh, and don’t touch the remote. Use a tissue to throw it in a ziplock bag and operate it without touching it.
Another option is to bring a UV wand to wave over germ-breeding places.
But What About the Great American Road Trip?
As we emerge from the corona crisis in one month, two months, whenever that may be, you may be reluctant to hop on a plane and be too far from home, making car travel ever more attractive. Gas prices should be down, too. And even though right now it feels like that day will never come, rest assured it will come soon enough. In the meantime, why not start planning your dream trip? As they say, much of the fun of a trip comes in the anticipation. Design your perfect road trip on paper, filling in all the little details along the way. Read about the region, look at videos and pictures, study maps, even ask for suggestions from friends on social media.
No doubt, you’ll still need to take precautions. For example, it might be a while before you think about heading through little villages with their fun, crowded summertime festivals and street fairs. Instead, you’ll want to think about wilderness and natural areas, and far-flung panoramic realms, where you can distance yourself from others—while enjoying some of the nation’s most striking scenery. To be clear, this is after the threat of taxing rural hospitals and other facilities has passed.
One More for the Road
The short of it is that, right now, road trips are not a good idea and should be avoided at all possible costs. The threat of contracting the virus–and spreading it–is just too great. The best advice is to start planning for the future, when this is all over. We promise that before you know it, your travel dream will become a reality and you will be hitting the road for real.
Published on 3/27/2020
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