The Six Best Tips for Car Travel in the Time of Coronavirus, Covid-19

starter packWith the corona virus pandemic, we do not want to leave the house, much less travel any distance. Yes, staying home is getting old. But, travel is now anxiety ridden and just plain scary. Life in the time of Covid-19 means weighing risk tolerance and just how much risk one is willing to take, especially when we Boomers, just by age, are high risk. So many of us have medical conditions that increase that risk to a level we do not want to contemplate.

Experts tell us to travel only when necessary. Experts tell us that until a vaccine is developed and proven effective, it is impossible to fully mitigate all the corona virus risks, including those associated with traveling. But knowing that the time would come when we would have to leave the cocoon of safety, this Grandma started collecting articles about travel by air and travel by car. Examining the risk, we determined that air travel is for another day, and for another blog post. This post is all about travel by car across state lines. WOW! Just writing that sentence raises my anxiety level, but this post is hopefully going to help lower it.

Here are the six best tips for car travel in the time of Covid-19 and resources to keep at your fingertips.

TIP NUMBER ONE: RISK ASSESSMENT AND FACTORS TO CONSIDER ON THE ROAD AND WHEN YOU ARRIVE AT YOUR DESTINATION

“As governments continue to ease restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, the burden of managing risk is shifting to people,” according to author Taylor DesOrmeau, in an online article, “From hair salons to gyms, experts rank 36 activities by coronavirus risk level.”

First, here are the five factors to consider and remember when making your personal risk assessment according to the four experts he quotes:

Whether it is inside or outside. Outdoor activities are generally safer, they said, because the virus becomes less concentrated outside and does not get recirculated around like it could indoors. Eating and staying outside when around others is better whether during travel and when you arrive at the destination.

Proximity to others. Experts recommend staying 6 feet from others and up to 12 feet from runners or those doing active work or play. You want to avoid activities that prevent social distancing, for example, playing basketball or contact sports with the grandchildren or going to a music concert, or for us Boomers, even a protest, parade or celebration.

Exposure time. The experts say exposure time is a factor, such as, “walking by a person on a trail is less likely to spread the virus, compared to sitting in an enclosed space with somebody for hours.” If you are spending the night anywhere, even with family, try to sleep far away from others in the house.

Likelihood of compliance. Experts have advised for months to wear masks, wash hands and stay 6 feet apart. Pay attention to the states’ information as to whether masks are mandatory or voluntary and whether people are ordered or advised to stay 6 feet apart. Some locales are tougher than others when it comes to enforcement and precautions. Where compliance is most likely is a lower risk than places where people do not have to comply.

Personal risk level. Whether or not the locale or population strictly complies, consider your own personal risk level, for example, health conditions, in addition to being in the high risk age group, that makes exposure to COVID-19 more dangerous. Assuming your risk is high and your risk tolerance is low, watch and be aware of the environment and those around you. Steer clear of non-masked people whether outside or inside. Stay away from others, 6 feet minimum and more if able.

Risk Assessment comes next. Knowing the risk for anything and everything you might do on your travel and when you arrive at your destination is key to personal protection and prevention from contracting COVID-19. Fox News published an article on line, by Frank Miles, “These places pose the greatest risks for contracting coronavirus.”

Frank Miles reported on the survey of the four public health experts above. The experts ranked the locations on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the riskiest. Flying is on the list, driving is not. This list will help lower your anxiety about car travel. If you want more detail about each or any, go to the Michigan Live article above.

Watch how crowded the parking lot is. Anywhere there is a crowd of people and/or non compliance with distancing and wearing masks at all times = 10 (highest risk)

Bars and large music concerts = 9

Sports stadiums, gyms, amusement parks, church and buffets = 8

Contact sports, such as basketball, and public pools = 7

Schools = 7

Playgrounds, boat rides, casinos, movie theaters, hair salons and barber shops = 6

Airplanes = 5 (I would rate this higher after reading so many articles that say avoid plane travel right now. Even the four experts were divided: two experts said medium risk, one said low risk and one said high risk.).

Malls, indoor social gatherings, beaches, bowling, and backyard barbeques = 5

Walking in a busy downtown or busy city sidewalks = 4

Dentist offices and waiting rooms = 4 (The four experts were divided: two experts said low risk, one said medium risk and one said high risk.)

Offices = 4 (Better to work from home).

Doctors’ offices and waiting rooms = 4

Eating outside in at a restaurant = 4

Hotels = 3 (This depends on contactless entry and contactless check-in and check-out. Inquire in advance. You do not want crowded check in and check out. Sanitize your own room, whether the hotel says they have done so or not)

Libraries/museums, grocery stores, camping, and golf courses = 3

Going for a walk, run or bike ride with others = 2

Pumping gas, walking/running and biking = 2

Restaurant takeout and tennis = 1

TIP NUMBER TWO: MEGA LIST OF EACH U.S. STATE’S OFFICIAL WEBSITE FOR CORONAVIRUS INFORMATION

I subscribe to Wendy Perrin’s weekly travel newsletter and love it.  Now, instead of salivating about the distant lands she suggests I explore, I look for her travel safety tips. Wendy Perrin has a “mega list” that “collects each U.S. state’s official website for coronavirus information, along with the best additional resources to help you understand different states’ quarantine rules, current health situations, reopening plans, and official guidance for travelers. Like the CDC, she recommends against unnecessary travel at this point! The CDC’s website on travel starts with stay home:

“COVID-19 cases and deaths have been reported in all 50 states, and the situation is constantly changing. Because travel increases your chances of getting infected and spreading COVID-19, staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick.”

If you make it past that last sentence, you may want to start your personal risk assessment by viewing the questions on the CDC website and its basic information.

If you still decide you are going to risk car travel, here is the link to Wendy Perrin’s MEGA LIST.

In addition to this amazing resource list, my first tip is to check every state through which you are going to travel to your destination, and then do it again right before you are ready to leave. Remember, it gives you CURRENT information and “the situation is constantly changing.”

TIP NUMBER THREE – KNOW WHERE AND HOW TO FIND BATHROOMS

Travel with supplies of masks, alcohol wipes, hand sanitizer, disposable gloves, disinfecting wipes or disinfecting spray cleaners (doorknobs, faucets, counters), small trash bags. Do not touch doorknobs and clean any spaces yourself. For toilet use in the car, bring portable urinal or potty, if you can.

In addition to Wendy Perrin’s newsletter, I subscribe to The Points Guy blog and newsletters. His best recent post by Benet Wilson, May 28, 2020, is a lifesaver for the car traveler, “When you gotta go: Your guide to public bathrooms during your summer road trip.” Do we really need the tips to not touch bathroom door handles or use toilet paper on toilet handles to flush or use paper to wipe wet hands rather than the blowers? If you are not aware, the blowers “actually blow bacteria and viruses throughout the restroom environment, thereby increasing everyone’s risk . . . “ Stay away from these.

Unavailable bathrooms: Remember Starbucks are closed and only for takeout as is McDonalds, so those bathrooms are unavailable.

Available bathrooms: Remember to call ahead to check if you can. “TPG’s senior travel editor, Melanie Lieberman, suggests seeking out a Wawa as far north as New Jersey since many locations are open 24 hours a day and you can always pick up a soft pretzel on your way out.” “. . .multiple TPG editors recommend turning to big-box home improvement stores or supermarkets for their facilities since they’re considered essential and are consistently open. Wegmans, Lowe’s and The Home Depot, in particular, get high marks for open bathrooms that are often in tip-top shape.”

Here are recommended apps to help you find a clean bathroom on the road, but remember to call ahead if you can in case of temporary closures.

Flush: Free app covering 200,000 toilets worldwide. “Map and list view and get directions to ones nearby. You can also filter to see results for bathrooms that require a key or charge a fee. Best of all, this app works even if you don’t have an internet connection.”
App Store:
Google Play:

Sit or Squat: Created by Charmin, shows 100,000 bathrooms in the list or map view. “Sit indicates a clean bathroom while Squat indicates a bathroom with, ah, less-desirable conditions.”
App Store:
Google Play:

Bathroom Scout: 1.8 million bathrooms worldwide listing public toilets, restaurant toilets, and other facilities available. Includes “turn-by-turn directions to nearby bathrooms, the ability to see a Google Street View of the location.”
App Store:
Google Play:

TIP NUMBER FOUR: WHERE AND HOW TO EAT ON A CAR TRIP

Travel with supplies of masks, alcohol wipes, hand sanitizer, disposable gloves, disinfecting wipes or disinfecting spray cleaners (doorknobs, faucets, counters), small trash bags. Do not touch doorknobs and clean any spaces yourself.

NPR on line has a great article about choosing whether to drive or fly and what to consider for each. “Coronavirus FAQs: Is It Safer To Fly Or Drive? Is Air Conditioning A Threat?” by Isabella Gomez Sarmiento and Laurel Wamsley, May 30, 2020.

The article also includes some simple tips on how to eat on the road, in addition to the tips above.

*”Pack as much food and water as you can to minimize stops.”

*”Whenever you do stop for food and gas, practice good hand hygiene by sanitizing often and choosing takeout/drive-through options.”

*”When possible, take meal breaks outside in areas without crowds or in your car.”

Eater.com is a website recommended in the article, “Where Restaurants Have Reopened Across the U.S. More than half the country is reopening for business amid the coronavirus pandemic,”  by Elazar Sontag, June 10, 2020, lists guidelines by state for restaurant openings and rules.

TIP NUMBER FIVE: WHERE AND HOW TO SLEEP ON A CAR TRIP

The NPR article includes some simple tips as to how to sleep on the road, in addition to the tips above.

*”The safest option would be camping — sleeping in your car or on camping grounds with your own tent and supplies. That eliminates the risks of staying in an indoor space where you could come into contact with others.” Walmart parking lots are a safe place to park and sleep. If you cannot take turns with other drivers in the car and sleep while the other drives, I would recommend sleeping in the car during hours Walmart is open, and drive at night.

*”Choose a hotel or motel option without elevators or other confined spaces — like a crowded breakfast buffet — that could force you to come in close contact with employees and other guests.”

*Choose a smaller occupancy hotel or motel. “The more people, the smaller the space, the less [air] circulation and the longer you’re there, your risk goes up.”

*”Ask ahead of time that the hotel or Airbnb is using EPA-approved disinfectants to clean all surfaces in the room between guests, and, if possible, try to request rooms that have been unoccupied for several days — although there’s no way to know for sure that you’re getting an honest answer.”

*As stated above, “bring your own alcohol wipes for the road and, once inside the room, wipe down areas that could have been touched by prior occupants: door knobs, tabletops and the TV remote. Or just avoid touching these whenever you can.”

*”Stay in your room as much as possible. If you have a room with windows that can open, wipe them down before opening them to let in fresh air.”

CNN adds a few more tips in the article, “Before going to the beach or attending a cookout, the CDC wants you to consider these guidelines,” by Steve Almasy, June 12, 2020.

*“Ask the hotel what their cleaning/disinfecting policy is for frequently touched surfaces.”

*”If doing your own disinfecting, wear disposable gloves, follow product directions and make sure there’s good ventilation.”

*”When walking through a hotel, try to take the stairs.”

*“Try not to use the places where you might end up within 6 feet of other people — dining areas, fitness centers, game rooms, hot tubs, lounges, pools, salons, saunas.”
TIP NUMBER SIX: THE REST OF THE BEST TIPS, INCLUDING WHICH STATES REQUIRE WEARING MASKS

Another great article that ties everything together is “How to road trip safely during a pandemic: Tips for navigating rest stops, gas stations and hotels: Plan ahead and bring gloves for handling gas pumps and a mask in case they’re required where you’re going,” by Janet Loehrke and Veronica Bravo, USA TODAY, June 10, 2020.

Here are some of their best tips:

*”Travel apps like Roadtrippers and AroundMe can answer one of the most common questions any traveler has: What’s nearby? These apps identify your position through GPS and allow you to choose from a list of places, including gas stations and hotels.”

*“Pack your favorite road trip snacks, too, like apples or pretzels in mini-sized bags and bottled soft drinks (bring a small cooler if you want to keep them cold). This will limit your need to stop for them along your trip, which limits contact with others.”

*“If you want to keep your car’s interior neat, pass on items that leave a lot of crumbs. It’s also not a bad idea to bring along some small garbage bags to consolidate your discarded food until you can throw it away at the next stop.”

*”To see the status of rest areas in the states where you’ll be traveling, check out interstaterestareas.com.”

*”Health officials recommend using disposable gloves while pumping your gas, rather than trying to wipe it down with a disinfecting wet wipe. You can easily discard the glove outside in the nearest trash can after you’re done pumping. While paying for your gas, use your credit card instead of cash if possible. This will eliminate the face-to-face contact with the cashier. Plus, your credit card can be wiped down after use.”

*Wear a mask outside and inside even if 6 feet from anyone else. The article includes “Which states require masks? Many states may require you to wear masks while stopping for gas, in grocery stores, or in other places.” It includes a map of the United States with a look at the restrictions, state-by-state.”

REMEMBER TRAVEL IS ALL ABOUT RISK ASSESSMENT AND ONCE DETERMINED FOLLOWING THE BEST TIPS.

GOOD LUCK ON YOUR ROAD TRIP.

Joy,

Mema

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