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How to Stay Safe on a Road Trip During Coronavirus Outbreak

If a long drive is necessary, good planning and sanitizing can help lower your risk

male driving along a busy roadway

Caroline Purser/Getty Images

En español | With vacation season in full swing, many people are hitting the road, albeit with caution during the coronavirus pandemic. About 85 percent of Americans plan to take a road trip this summer, according to the Expedia 2020 Summer Travel Report, which polled more than 1,000 Americans about their plans. Their stated reasons for getting away: a change of scenery (43 percent) and a desire to enjoy the outdoors (36 percent).

If you are planning a long driving trip and your region lifts its coronavirus-related restrictions, consider these tips from experts for staying safe and lowering your risk of getting sick both on and off the road.

Plan your route

Now more than ever, preparation is key. “Even if you’ve done this trip multiple times, you need to take the research a step further,” says AAA spokesperson Jeanette Casselano. “You may run into some temporary closures.”

When considering your destination, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests asking:

• Whether COVID-19 is spreading in your community or the area you’re visiting. If so, you may have a higher chance of becoming infected or infecting others.
• If you or a loved one who is returning home has an underlying condition that might increase the risk for complications from the disease.
• If you’ll be able to maintain a 6-foot distance between yourself and others during travel and at your destination.
• Whether the destination requires that visitors quarantine themselves for 14 days upon arrival.

Before you depart, make sure your car is in good shape; consider having it serviced or inspected if you’re concerned. And map out the roadways you’ll be taking and the states you’ll be passing through — and be aware of any relevant travel advisories.

The Federal Highway Administration maintains a directory of state transportation department websites, which should have the latest information about state-specific coronavirus-related changes (AARP also maintains an updated list), along with links to other state resources such as traffic and weather alerts.


For the latest coronavirus news and advice go to AARP.org/coronavirus.


Packing and sanitizing

After planning, get your supplies in order. This includes products for keeping hands and surfaces clean and sanitized. Geriatrician June McKoy, associate professor of medicine at Northwestern Medicine, recommends packing hand sanitizer, disinfecting wet wipes, disposable gloves, sealable disposable plastic bags and tissues.

And you’ll want to wear a mask in all indoor public places, or outdoor spaces where you can’t maintain a 6-foot distance from others, so bring plenty of extras. Also bring a nice stash of water and snacks, allowing you to limit the number of times you need to stop for refreshments.

Good hygiene on the road is much like that at home (for instance, washing hands thoroughly with soap and water before eating and after using the restroom) but requires extra vigilance when it comes to high-traffic roadside stops, McKoy says. She suggests that drivers wear disposable gloves while pumping gas, rather than worrying about wiping down the nozzle itself (after you’re done, discard the gloves outside your car or seal them in a plastic bag for disposal later if a trash can isn’t available).

Another tip: Pay for gas with cards, not cash. This eliminates the face-to-face interaction necessary for a cash transaction, and cards — but not cash — can always be cleaned with a disinfectant wipe after use.

Note that many public restrooms are closed; places such as Starbucks or other fast-food establishments may prevent customers from using their bathrooms for sanitary reasons. That means you’ll be relying heavily on restrooms at highway rest areas or gas stations, so be especially vigilant with sanitizing. Be careful not to touch fixtures like the faucet or door handle after washing your hands, which McKoy says “defeats the purpose” of handwashing (instead, use a piece of tissue or paper towel to shield your hands after washing). And, of course, wear a mask. 

Dining

Restaurants in some states, including Maryland and Colorado, have resumed dine-in service — but expect changes like limits on the number of guests allowed inside and extra space between tables. In states where a sit-down meal still isn’t allowed, drive-through and takeout service are typically available instead, as are drive-through options at major chains such as McDonald’s and Starbucks.

The benefit of staying in a home rental: You’ll have a kitchen to cook your own meals.

Consider bringing your own groceries from home. Wherever you buy your food, use recommended precautions (including wearing a mask).


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Sleeping

If you need to stay in a hotel overnight, call ahead to confirm your reservation, though most hotels are again open for business — especially those from major chains that you’ll find along highways, such as Hilton, Hyatt and Best Western.

Hotels are also rethinking their approach to sanitization and social distancing in light of the outbreak. Guidelines from the American Hotel & Lodging Association, an industry group, include stringent cleaning procedures for everything from elevator buttons to exercise equipment. And more hotels are implementing contactless check-in and check-out, and keyless entry (where you can use your smartphone to unlock your room), and moving lobby seating to keep guests apart.

Still, echoing advice from the CDC, McKoy recommends using your own sanitizing supplies on “high-touch” surfaces in your room. This includes wiping down exterior and interior doorknobs and handles; the TV remote and bathroom fixtures; and any surfaces on which you’ll rest your belongings, like tabletops or the area around the bathroom sink.

For stays of more than one night, McKoy suggests contacting the front desk and asking to forgo housekeeping services, allowing you to control sanitization and limit the number of people who come in and out of your room during your stay.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on March 20, 2020. It’s been updated to reflect recent coronavirus developments.


Follow these safety tips to cut down on risk when traveling

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