The coronavirus pandemic is an extential disruption that has affected and infected every aspect of our lives. This includes our best laid summer travel plans. How do we get from point A to point B without worrying like Edvard Munch's The Scream, “Will I catch the virus if I take a train, plane or bus or use a public bathroom?” As a result, many of us opt to rent or buy an RV or camper that comes with its own bathroom, kitchen, sofa and bed.
For shorter treks or for those who can’t afford to rent or buy an RV or maybe don’t have anywhere to park the hulking thing when not in use, the family car is probably the safest, most pragmatic mode. According to a survey conducted by Morning Consult commissioned by the American Hotel & Lodging Association, “Summer road trips will take center stage, with 72 percent planning an overnight vacation via car over the next five months.” Of these, 75 percent expect to drive two or more hours.
Pointing you in the right direction
Before you put the pedal to the metal, here are guidelines offered by a plethora of websites and apps, many of which are free, which can help if you’re trying to social distance and stay healthy. Plan ahead and have a backup plan--the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
First and foremost, get your car serviced. Then, decide what supplies you’ll need and make a list. If your driving trip involves an overnight stay, book a campsite if you’re in an RV or camper, or map out a place to park your car and catch a few zzzzsss. Check out options to bypass public restrooms (more to come) and bring plenty of rolls of toilet paper. Prepare or purchase what foods you’ll need, stick to non-perishable ones that don’t require refrigeration unless you bring an ice chest, and don’t forget a water bottle or bottled water if you want to avoid restaurants and convenience stores.
Bring any medications and don’t forget a first aid kit. Pack the right clothing, camping supplies if you plan to pitch a tent, cook, eat and clean. (Paper goods will suffice.) Then add to the mix plenty of alcohol-based hand sanitizer (not alcohol-based drinks if you’re the driver), wipes to disinfect the container of alcohol-based hand sanitizer, even bleach to sterilize anything you touch such as a gas pump or doorknob (or you can wear disposable rubber gloves). Keep these must-haves with you at all times. Also throw in a stash of plastic trash bags. We’ll explain the importance of these later. Here’s a helpful website to get you going: https://uproxx.com/life/how-to-take-a-road-trip-covid-19/
A New York Times article by Stephanie Rosenbloom, (June 23 2020), “Heading Outdoors for a Socially Distant Getaway,” is an excellent source of apps and suggests accessing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s free mobile app with a link to a “Travel in the U.S.” page that addresses the risks of traveling now. Says Rosenbloom, “It provides a list of questions to ask yourself if you’re going on the road, touches on state and local travel restrictions; offers guidance for protecting yourself and others, as well as tips for cleaning and disinfecting; and answers frequently asked questions about the safety of camping.”
Need access to campgrounds, many of which were closed due to the virus but are now reopening? According to Triple A, RV Parks & Campgrounds tracks public and private campgrounds and lists camping locations that were closed and have reopened, or have set a date for reopening. Outdoorsy® RV Rentals app will help you figure out the best rentals and a website to help you find where to park your vehicle and yourself overnight: https://www.road-trip-usa.com/blog/7-places-you-can-park-overnight-and-sleep-on-a-road-trip-in-the-usa#:~:text=7%20Places%20You%20Can%20Park%20Overnight%20%26%20Sleep,Information%20Center%E2%80%99s.%205%205.%20BLM%20Land.%20More%20items
Google Maps, also mentioned in the New York Times article, offers navigation to locate the nearest grocery stores, parks, gas stations, rest stops and best parking lots if you need to sleep in your car. Another app that’s free is Roadtrippers that uses your location to show you camping and R.V. spots, or the Allset app lists restaurants and coffee shops with contactless pickup areas inside and “curbside” pickup.
Here are other apps that might come in handy: The Dyrt (Free) — 500,000+ campsites, reviews & tips at National, State, Private; Recreation.gov (Free) — National Parks only; Reserve America (Free) — State Parks only; Hipcamp (Free) — Glamping, private land; REI Co-op National Parks Guide (Free) — National Parks only, no reservations; AllStays ($9.99) — Rest Stops, RV Parks & Some Campgrounds, and Campendium (Free) — RV, Tent campgrounds.
If you gotta go, you gotta go… ‘I just can’t hold it in!’
A major concern and inconvenience for people of our age especially if you travel by car, is where to go when you gotta go. Any trip longer than two hours might mean a mad dash for a public bathroom. However, we nixed that idea after reading about all the horrors of using public bathrooms in a New York Times piece, “Flushing the Toilet May Fling Coronavirus Aerosols All Over” by Knvul Sheikh (June 16, 2020). A new study shows how turbulence from a toilet bowl can be potentially infectious to the next visitor with what’s called toilet plume, and we don’t mean the lovely arrangement of feathers used by a bird for display or worn by a person for ornamentation.
This begs the question, where do you do your thing? Do you try a public restroom or squat in a hole by the side of the road as you still might have to do on Third World travels? Beware of the snakes, poison ivy, a tick or mosquito that can bite you on your tush. Not to worry. Go online and see a selection of on the road disposable bathroom devices. We suggest Travel Jane for women at https://www.traveljohn.com/products/disposable-urinal/traveljohnjane/. That’s all we’ll say about this topic. Also, this is where the trash bags come in handy. We know someone who used TravelJane for a one-day road trip and said it did the trick. Look it up. Videos show you how to use it. However, if this is anathema or you have to use a public restroom, there are apps to find the best and cleanest ones such as https://apps.apple.com/us/app/flush-toilet-finder-map/id955254528 or The Stanker app, Charmin Sit or Squat or Flush.
Other must haves when you hit the road
Here is a starter list of some of the other must haves on websites and apps that will keep you safe, fed, bug free, bear safe, bathed, in clean clothes, entertained, electronically connected, able to sleep, be entertained…the list seems endless.
Keep yourself entertained while driving. Audio books is one way to do so. It’s how Margaret and her late husband “read” the rather long and dense John Adam’s saga by David McCullough when they drove from St. Louis to Los Angeles one summer years ago. Barbara listened to Ron Chernow’s book on Grant also when driving back and from her home to her mom in New York City. And a favorite of hers was the audio version of the book about Jacqueline Kennedy and her sister Lee, The Fabulous Bouvier Sister.
CDs for music or the Spotify app offers a great playlist that you can create yourself. Depends on what type of music you enjoy. Sing along at the top of your lungs. No one will hear you unless there are other passengers in the car.
Old school. Listen to the radio. Or, you can access on your Smartphone your favorite podcasts. Barbara’s favorite is food magazine Bon Appetit’s and one daughter loves one from the New York Times also about cooking.
Also, there are narrated audio tours you can access as you drive through national parks and other landscapes. The Just Ahead: Audio Travel Guides app, uses your smartphone’s GPS.
Camping not necessarily glamping supplies
You’ve probably picked a place to lay your head down for the night. And, if so, here are items you might want to have on hand including tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, pillows, flashlights (some are solar powered), and other camping items. Websites you might check out are: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/camping-list/id383720993.
At-tire and we don’t mean your four or more wheels--what to wear?
What’s the weather like? That will influence your choices. If you’re on the road for more than two days, you might want to bring two to three sets of all clothing, including underwear and socks. And don’t forget to toss in a hat, sunglasses, sweater or jacket, poncho, umbrella, boots and tennis shoes, whatever toiletries you may use but unscented such as biodegradable soap and sunscreen.
How to get a charge—out of your phone et al
It can freak you out if your devices die and you are nowhere near a power source. To the rescue are third-party backup batteries in every size, capacity, and price range. Some power banks are equipped with fast charging, wireless charging, built-in cables, AC adapters, LED flashlights—even the ability to jump-start your car.
Cleaning up: personal hygiene
Need to wash your clothes, hands, body or hair? There should be a water source nearby if a campground. If not, bring your own and carry a bar of odorless soap. And don’t forget a washcloth, hand towel and bath towel.
Same with detergents—use unscented (won’t attract bugs and other pests)--to wash your clothes, which you can hand wash or do the trash-bag-cum-“washing machine” method we read about. Simply fill a trash bag with your clothing, and then add the laundry detergent (make sure to bring it along but soap will suffice) and water (you can heat it over a fire), only partially filling the bag. You will then act like the washing machine shaking the bag. Rinse and hang out to dry. This is one website with do-it-yourself tips: best DIY camping hacks.
Washing dishes? Who needs this? Better yet, use paper plates and plastic cutlery that can be tossed. However, if you are opposed to cutting down trees for paper products, here’s a website with advice for outdoor dish washing https://www.wikihow.com/Clean-Dishes-on-a-Camping-Trip.
Foods, fabulous foods for the road
Just about every camper lugs a cooler around filled with ice to keep the food cold and fresh. However, there is plenty to eat that doesn’t require refrigeration. Two websites:
The I hate to cook cooking tools for camping
You don’t like to cook at home, why would you do so on the road? But some do and really like it. Suggestions include a little grill or camping stove, plates, cutlery and cookware. Nothing fancy. Check out:
For a wider range of upscale cookout items:
And don’t forget your morning pick up…a cup of Joe. There are so many ways to make coffee on the road from instant to pour-over versions, French press and on and on. https://www.freshoffthegrid.com/camp-coffee/ . You’ll need mugs and the best is the standard enamel one that you can place over a fire and use it to heat just about anything. https://www.mensjournal.com/gear/the-six-best-enamel-mugs-for-your-next-camping-adventure-w477948/best-for-glamping-w477953/Grinders.
Don’t forget some kind of metal sticks to roast s’mores, and yes bring along graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate.
Who invited him or her or any of their little cubs? Because you want to stay safe in case a bear pays you a visit, check out “Scare Bear Trail Companion” app as a .99-cent digital solution to frighten them away. Users can choose between the sound of an airhorn, bear bells, hands clapping, or rocks shaking in a tin can, which they activate by shaking the iPhone. There is also bear pepper spray. Visit MyFWC.com/Bear for tips on using the spray.
Don’t let the bugs bite: repellents
As yet, there is no evidence that biting insects like mosquitoes transmit the coronavirus. But bug bites suck! Protect yourselves. There are the commercial repellents ones made with DEET such as Cutter or you can whip up your own to keeps wasps, ants out of your tent and mosquitos away. For a safe and effective repellent without DEET, try a picaridin formula. Picaridin is a synthetic insect repellant effective against ticks, chiggers and more which can be used directly on skin or clothing. It is almost colorless and odorless. https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/reviews/best-bug-repellent/
Don’t want to slather bug repellent on your body and clothes, supposedly certain sounds can keep the mosquitos from attacking with several anti-repellent sound stimulator apps for whatever type of Smartphone you own. Does this really work? The jury is out on this.
In a pinch: first-aid kits
Scratch your arm on a tree branch, burn your hand, cut your finger and have blood flow? Be prepared. It’s better to be safe than sorry like having to visit to an emergency room or urgent care center right now in the middle of this pandemic, and one you don’t know. Here is a good website that makes some suggestions and there are many other good ones.
Keep it cool: ice chests and coolers
There are several recommendations online and here’s one we like:
Books and magazines
If you tire of talking to your travel mate—assuming you have one, after all those hours in the car, you may want to bring along a stash of books and magazines, perhaps, some have been piling up as they have in our homes. If you’re not driving, you might want to read about other travels including tales of Lewis and Clark’s expedition west.
For any traveler these days who as Willie Nelson sang, wants to get “on the road again,” it’s a risk once you leave the safety of your own home to go out in public. There are ways to protect yourself, however. Always wear a mask, gloves if necessary and wash your hands with soap and water, hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes. In fact, bring a stash of pandemic supplies and leave them in a box or some kind of container so you can easily find them. And always remember to social distance; now is not the time to be sociable. You want to get back home safely and in good health.