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COVID-19 Impact on Georgia Latest Articles

July 29, 2020

Planning a Road Trip? Here’s How to Do it Safely

Planning a Road Trip? Here’s How to Do it Safely

Updated on July 10, 2020 at 2:00pm EST.

Months of being cooped up at home has many Americans with a serious case of wanderlust. If you’re one of them, you want—or need—to get away. But you may be wondering what’s the safest way to travel during the pandemic.

With reports of some airlines booking flights to capacity, you may be skittish about getting on a plane and prefer to hit the road in your own car, or an RV.

If so, new research suggests you’re not alone. Some 67 percent of Americans are likely to travel by car over the next six months—more than double the percentage planning to travel by air during the same time period, according to a June survey conducted by MMGY Travel Intelligence, a group that supplies data to the hospitality, travel, and tourism industries.

One possible reason for the road trip trend: People have more power over their environment. Travel by car gives you the most control, says William Greenough, MD, professor emeritus of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and associate medical director and clinical chief of the ventilator rehabilitation unit at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland.

With a greater sense of control, many people are open to the idea of venturing relatively far from home. In fact, the survey also found that slightly more than one-third of those polled said they’re willing to drive 300 miles or more each way from home to a vacation destination. Meanwhile, one in five said they’re willing to travel 500 or more miles away from home.

Your risk will never be zero. But there are several steps you can take before and during your trip to help protect your health and reduce your risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Before you go
Ideally, your entire party should get a COVID-19 test about two days before you go on trip, Dr. Greenough advises, but he admits that’s still easier said than done in many places. Of course, if you test positive, you’ll have to cancel your trip.

Likewise, if you’ll see friends or loved ones during your road trip or once you arrive at your destination, it’s important to know if they currently have any COVID-19 symptoms, if they’ve been exposed to someone with the disease or if they’ve recently tested positive. If so, skip the reunion for now.

If you’re in the clear and still planning to hit the road, here are some other important safety precautions to follow:

Do some thinking. It’s wise to consider how much risk you are willing to tolerate by venturing out on the road. For example, if you’re already at higher risk for severe COVID-19 and related complications, you may be less willing to travel for non-essential purposes. Greenough suggests asking yourself the following questions before you leave:

  • Are you traveling to a COVID-19 “hotspot”? Will you have to quarantine for two weeks once you get home? If so, can you even do that?
  • Are you currently living in a hotspot and will you have to quarantine once you get to your destination?
  • Are you, or is someone in your traveling party, at high risk for developing a severe case of COVID-19?

Pack a pandemic safety kit. Stock up on masks, alcohol-based hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes and disposable gloves. Keep them handy in the car, but out of sight. There have been reports of thefts of hand sanitizer out of cars.  

Get a tune-up. Getting stranded on the side of the road is the last thing you want, especially now. Make sure your car is healthy enough to make the trip, too. The American Automobile Association advises that you or a trusted car mechanic check the following:

  • Fluids. Transmission, power steering and other fluids like engine oil should be topped off according to your car maker’s instructions. Check the owner’s manual.
  • Tires. Check tires for bulges, cuts or gashes. Put a quarter upside down into grooves to check the tread: You need new tires if you see the top of George Washington’s head.
  • Battery. Cables should be secure. Ask your mechanic to check on the battery’s life.

Belts and windshield wipers should also be in good working order. Make sure you have a well-stocked emergency kit including battery jumper cables, a flashlight and a road-side flare.

While on the road
There are some inescapable things you’ll have to do during your car trip: buy gas, use the restroom, eat and possibly take a break somewhere along the way for an overnight stay. Here are some tips to help you manage these once-routine pit stops:

Fueling up. The gas pump can be a hotbed of germs. Greenough suggests picking up the nozzle with a disinfecting wipe. Alternatively, you could wear disposable gloves. But if you do, be sure to remove them correctly. Peel them off from the top—closest to your elbow—and turn them inside out over your fingers and throw them away one at a time. Use hand sanitizer afterwards.

You should also pay at the pump using a credit card or a cashless app to avoid contact with a cashier.

Taking bathroom breaks. Even before the pandemic, public restrooms had a certain “ick” factor about them. Now, the concerns are even more valid. You can reduce your risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes COVID-19—and some other infectious germs by doing the following:

  • Mask up. Even if the rest area or public facility looks empty, it could get busy quickly and unexpectedly.
  • Keep your distance. If there’s a crowd, wait until the restroom clears out before you enter.
  • Be mindful of surfaces. Use disinfectant wipes or clean tissues or paper towels to open and close doors to the restroom, the stall and the flusher. Wash your hands (front and back) for 20 seconds with soap and warm water. Shut off the faucet with a paper towel.
  • Sanitize your hands. Use your hand sanitizer once you get back in the car—especially if you had to touch something on your way out of the facility.

Don’t wait until you or someone in your party is on the verge of a bathroom emergency. You’ll be at the mercy of the first place you find, which may not be the ideal choice.  

Managing meals. At some point along your planned route, someone will get hungry. Here are some safe ways to quiet growling tummies:  

  • Pack a cooler. Before you leave home, pack sandwiches, bottled water and healthy snacks like apple slices, carrot sticks and pretzels, with ice. Plan a socially distanced picnic at a park or scenic overlook during your drive. If you use a public picnic table, disinfect all the surfaces before everyone sits down.
  • Use the drive-through. Many national fast-food restaurants are clustered at major exits on interstate highways and are using new pandemic protocols. Some dining rooms are open, some aren’t. You can limit your contact by using drive-through lanes. Put on your mask before you get to the window and use a credit card to pay. Ask if you can swipe or insert your chip card into the reader yourself. Find out if some of your favorite restaurants offer free apps that allow you to order and pay in advance through your smartphone.

Finding a place to stay. If you’re on a long road trip, you may have to book a motel or hotel room. If possible, stick to national chains. Many of these larger companies have implemented new cleaning regimens and routines to keep guests as safe as possible. Call ahead or check out websites to see exactly what precautions different hotels are using. It’s wise to book a room ahead of time, if possible. Here’s what else you can do:

  • Use contactless check-in, if it’s offered.
  • If you must use an elevator, wait until there’s an empty car available. Use your elbow to touch the buttons. Wash your hands as soon as you get to the room.
  • Bring your own cleaning supplies into the room. Wipe down high-touch surfaces, such as doorknobs, TV remote controls and light switches.

If the kids—or adults—in your group are clamoring to use the hotel pool after a long drive, it’s okay to take a dip. Swimming is thought to be safe, particularly if it’s an outdoor pool. There’s no evidence the virus is spread through water, especially in chlorine-treated pools, Greenough says. But it’s still important to keep at least six feet away from other swimmers in the pool and on lounge chairs.

When you’re not in the water, you should continue to wear a face mask when you’re out in public and around other people and sanitize your hands regularly. It’s also important to avoid sharing items—such as food, equipment, toys and supplies—with people who don’t live with you.

Medically reviewed in July 2020.

MMGY Travel Intelligence. “Travel Intentions Pulse Survey: Impact of COVID-19.” June 15, 2020
Wayne Ford. “Crime of the Times: Thief Breaks into Car to Steal Athens Man’s Hand Sanitizer.” Athens Banner-Herald. April 24, 2020.
American Automobile Association. “Prepare Your Car for Summer Travel.”
Consumer Reports. “How to Prepare for a Road Trip During the Pandemic.” May 22, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Personal and Social Activities.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Visiting Beaches and Pools.”