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How To (Safely) Road Trip Through A Pandemic

Illustration for article titled How To (Safely) Road Trip Through A Pandemic
Photo: Jeff J Mitchell (Getty Images)

The very last thing I wanted to do in the middle of a global pandemic was road trip across America, but fate made me do it anyway. I was in Texas, my husband is in Canada, and I have a carload of books to lug around while I write my thesis. Thankfully, I was able to prepare for the journey with the help of medical professionals, and I have decided to share that advice with the rest of you fine people in the event that you find yourself faced with a drive across a hot spot littered country.

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Maybe Just Don’t Go

I know we’ve all been house-ridden for nearly six months. I know it’s tempting to hit the road as a way to get some fresh air and see the sights. But if your travel isn’t pressing, it’s best not to go anywhere. Rampant travel is one of the big reasons why the coronavirus spread across the world so quickly, and it’s still easiest to prevent spread if we all avoid wandering around.

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I’m serious. Don’t travel unless you genuinely have to. Normally this time of year is one of my busiest, with me bouncing between grad school in Philadelphia, my husband’s house in Toronto, and my family’s holiday routines in Texas. I tried to wait things out before I decided to visit my husband, but when it became clear that COVID-19 wasn’t going anywhere, I made my travel plans to Canada and committed to not seeing my family until 2021. It sucks to know that I won’t be able to spend the holidays with my family, but at the end of the day, it’s not necessary, so I’m not going.

Get Tested

You best be getting a COVID-19 test before you go anywhere. Don’t just presume that because you’re asymptomatic, you aren’t sick. It’s better to know for sure—especially when some states are restricting travel from virus hotspots. You can rest easy knowing you aren’t infecting anyone, and you can also have official proof of your health.

Again, if you’re in an area with limited testing: don’t go anywhere. Try not to use up resources that other people could desperately need. I got tested, but that’s because I’m crossing the border and needed the extra assurance that my ER doctor stepdad hadn’t accidentally brought home COVID-19.

Come Prepared

You’re going to want to bring along your own hand sanitizer, antiviral wipes, masks, snacks, gloves, and more. Every gas station I stopped at required a mask, and only one Sheetz in Pennsylvania offered complementary ones for those who came without. Most places offer hand sanitizer dispensers, but not all of them are frequently refilled. And, in many places, stocks of those crucial supplies haven’t been fully replenished, which means you might not be able to find antiviral wipes on the shelves.

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I stockpiled travel packs of Lysol wipes when I started traveling all the time last year, and it’s paid off to be able to wipe down my car’s interior after I touch gas pumps.

And it pays off to bring your own meals. I followed my favorite leftover pizza tip for the first few days, then ordered an extra meal for the road when I got dinner on the last day. That way, I could sanitize the plastic packaging and didn’t have to make a roadside stop somewhere.

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Limit Your Stops

I’m all for limiting stops during a regular road trip to save time, but I shaved them down even more this time around. I tried to coordinate my gas stops to coincide with the time I knew I would be hungry, when I would have to pee, and, on a few different days, when I would have to stop for a phone call or an interview. The whole goal is to touch as few things and to interact with as few people as possible, which reduces the chances of viral spread and also makes it easier to clean up. I would legitimately lose my mind if I stopped four times a day and then wiped things down after each stop. Better to do it all at once!

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Clean Your Hotel Room

The first thing you should be doing after you walk into your hotel room is sanitizing all the high-touch zones. There are thousands of articles online that teach people how to tell if their hotel rooms are actually clean or not, so it’s best not to assume that cleaning staff have rigorously disinfected your space. It takes ten minutes, and you can rest easier knowing you’ve (hopefully) cut down on the germs.

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It’s honestly probably better if you don’t stay in a hotel and instead bring along a tent or a camper (or just snooze in your car), but grad school never sleeps, and I needed to make sure I had internet access for both school and work.

When You Get Where You’re Going

After you’ve wrapped up your trip, make sure you’re still following precautions. Isolate yourself from anyone who didn’t travel with you for two weeks, and make sure you’re following local protocol. In Canada, I legally have to undergo two weeks of quarantine at risk of receiving a hefty fine. Some states are more lenient, but it’s still a good idea to isolate, just in case. If you start feeling shitty, find yourself a place to take a COVID-19 test.

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If you’re on the kind of trip where you turn around and come back home after a short stay somewhere, it’s a good idea to try extra hard to avoid contact with people and stay on top of your sanitizing. And, no, I will not accept you sleeping in your car or in a tent as a good enough reason to forego personal hygiene. Bring some baby wipes and spruce yourself up, you heathens.

Weekends at Jalopnik. Managing editor at A Girl's Guide to Cars. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.

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DISCUSSION

atcgnome
The Stig's Chamorro cousin (Chamorrovirus)

Thank you - Just Don’t is the only answer, unless it’s a proper emergency.

I live in CA, on the coast, near the fires. Our roads have been completely clogged with entitled asshats who “just wanted to get to the beach for the day.” This was infuriating during the pandemic, but now, when fire crews NEED access to literally every corridor of where I live, they can’t get there.

The selfishness of Americans during this pandemic is unreal.