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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

Woman taking her new car out for a drive in the mountains on a sunny day.

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En español | As communities nationwide shutter businesses and close off landmarks to stop the spread of the coronavirus, government and health officials have urged Americans to halt all nonessential domestic travel.

But some people have essential travel that requires lots of driving, including those returning home after a winter away or with family emergencies. If you find yourself faced with a long road trip during the outbreak, experts say that proper precautions and careful planning can help lower 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.”

Before you depart, map out the roadways you’ll be taking and the states you’ll be passing through — and be aware of any relevant travel advisories. Some states have announced changes to things like toll collection and rest-area food sales: Florida has suspended all in-person toll payment (m≠eaning drivers without the appropriate electronic pass will be billed by mail), and Ohio service-area food courts have shifted to carryout only.


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


The Federal Highway Administration maintains a directory of state Department of Transportation websites, which should have the latest information about state-specific coronavirus-related changes, along with links to other state resources such as traffic and weather advisories.

One bright spot: Highway traffic in the coming weeks is likely to be lighter than usual, Casselano says, given the increasing number of people working from home and calling off travel plans. And drivers don't need to worry about gas shortages; “there's no disruption to the supply chain,” she notes.

Packing and sanitizing

After planning, get your supplies in order. This includes the essentials — bottled water, snacks, medications — but also products for keeping hands and surfaces clean and sanitized. June McKoy, M.D., associate professor of medicine at Northwestern Medicine, recommends packing hand sanitizer, disinfecting wet wipes, disposable gloves, sealable disposable plastic bags, and tissues.

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 such as gas stations and public bathrooms, 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).

In public restrooms, be careful not to touch fixtures like the faucet or door handle after washing your hands, which she says “defeats the purpose” of hand-washing (instead, use a piece of tissue or paper towel to shield your hands after washing).

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.

Dining

Most states have halted dine-in service in restaurants, but drive-through and takeout service are typically available instead. Major chains such as McDonald’s and Starbucks also have closed their seating areas but continue drive-through operations.

Sleeping

If you need to stay somewhere overnight, call ahead to confirm your reservation; some hotels have closed, especially in big tourist centers like Las Vegas. But many of the hotels from major chains that you'll find along highways — like Hilton, Hyatt and Best Western — are still operating. (They've also loosened their cancellation policies in light of the coronavirus outbreak, allowing guests to change or cancel reservations up to 24 hours in advance with no penalty.)

And while some companies have announced ramped-up cleaning procedures in rooms and lobbies, McKoy recommends using your own sanitizing supplies upon arrival. This includes wiping down exterior and interior door knobs and handles; high-touch surfaces like 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.

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