In the midst of a global pandemic, it’s understandable people are hesitant to travel. Yet many of us also desire the adventure and refreshment that comes from vacationing away from home. Our family just returned from our first trip since Coronavirus swooped in and shook up the way the entire world functions. I’m going to tell you what I think is the safest way to travel if you’re concerned about staying healthy. I’ll also share a few tips based on what we learned during our trip.
The Safest Way to Travel in a Pandemic
In my opinion, the absolute safest way to travel is a road trip with your own self-contained recreational vehicle such as a motor home or travel trailer. The next best alternative is a road trip in your own vehicle to a single-family rental.
Both of the above options limit close contact with strangers. You’ll have access to a bathroom only you and your traveling companions use. You’ll have a kitchen, so you can cook your own meals. You don’t have to eat out if you’re not comfortable going to restaurants. You also won’t have to worry about boarding a crowded elevator like you might at a hotel or condo building. You’ll have your own vehicle as well. There’s no need for public transportation.
We were a camping family for years. Now with kids in middle and high school, we don’t have time to camp as often, because of summer band and sports practices. We have just one week each summer when all four of us can travel together. So we sold the camper.
This year we decided to spend that week in Cherokee, North Carolina, just outside Great Smokey Mountain National Park. With camping not an option, we drove from Michigan and stayed in a rental cabin the last week of June.
Our rental cabin was inside a traditional campground. The campground was part of a well-known national chain we trust. You could also go with an independent rental through a service like VBRO or AirB&B. On their website, the campground clearly laid out how they clean each cabin in between guests. If it’s not in the rental listing, don’t be afraid to request that information from the renters. Reading reviews from past guests will also give you a good idea about the cleanliness of the rental.
Now, campground cabins aren’t the fanciest accommodations. We weren’t in one of those mountaintop four-bedroom log cabins with a hot tub and granite counter-tops you see in travel ads. Not that there is anything wrong with a little luxury while you’re on vacation. But we like the more rustic feel. We were perfectly comfortable. It was also very affordable.
Tips for Traveling Safely During a Pandemic
I’m not a medical expert. This is just based on good old-fashioned common sense. You have to assume to some risk no matter when, how or where you travel. I think if you make good choices, you can limit your risk. Here are my tips for traveling in the midst of a pandemic.
1. Bring your own linens. Because of the type of cabin we stayed in, we had to bring our own linens for the bathroom and the bedrooms. It meant extra items to pack, but it also meant not worrying about who used the pillow last or if the bedspread was really clean. We purchased an inexpensive, soft-sided car turtle for the luggage rack on our SUV to give us more space.
2. Check to make sure there will be rest areas or gas stations with bathrooms open along your route if you’ll be driving for any significant amount of time. When you gotta go, you gotta go! It’s possible these could be closed because of state and local mandates.
3. Bring food from home. You can limit visits to restaurants and gas stations during your road trip by bringing snacks from home and packing a picnic lunch. If you have room in your vehicle, you can even bring your groceries for the week from home.
4. Use good personal hygiene. You can’t completely avoid using public restrooms. You will probably need to go to the grocery store. You may want to visit museums and other tourist attractions. Wash your hands often and very well. Especially before eating and drinking. Carry hand sanitizer with you and in your car in case you don’t have access to soap and water. Also, wear your mask. I personally hate wearing them, but better safe than sorry. Some places will make you wear one anyway. Finally, as much as possible, maintain 6 feet between you and others not in your group.
5. Check ahead of time with any attractions that you want to visit. Some may still be closed. If they are open, because of the need to social distance, many are limiting capacity and requiring reservations.
We went to the Dollywood theme park while in the Smokies. We had to buy tickets ahead of time and visit on the day we scheduled. I don’t know how many people were in the park that day, but it was a very small crowd. They took our temperature and asked health screening questions before we entered. Most guests were required to wear a mask. To allow for social distancing, seats on rides were closed to space out riders. Indoor restaurants limited capacity. They were constantly cleaning and sanitizing everything. I think places like Dollywood that have pivoted to meet the demands of providing entertainment while keeping guests safe deserve a lot of props.
6. Travel to a place with outdoor entertainment options. Social distancing is easier in the great outdoors. We had so many options in the Smokies. There are hundreds of hiking trails, short walks to waterfalls, rivers where you can wade, kayak and fish. Scenic drives to take, wildlife viewing, zip-lining, outdoor go-carts, mini-golf and outdoor dining. One of the best parts of the trip was sitting in rocking chairs on the screened porch of our cabin at night. We watched fireflies dance and listened to the river that rushed through the campground while stars shined overhead.
It’s an unfortunate truth that the world is different that is was just a few short months ago. Hopefully this new normal won’t last forever. In the meantime, you can travel safe and smart by making a few changes and taking a few extra precautions. Adventure still awaits!