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How To Road Trip Responsibly in the COVID-19 Era

We are all struggling with how, when and if to take vacation this year. It is so important to take time for yourself – even if it’s just a staycation – to recharge and come back to work energized and excited. We are all at risk of burning out. It is hard to remind ourselves, while working from home, to take that much needed time to unplug and reset. A road trip is just what the doctor ordered.

As someone who typically takes a big international trip in the summer, I was originally at a loss for what to do for a little escape. I had always wanted to further explore the mountain states and Northwest. But there was always somewhere else more exotic to go, something else that felt more urgent. But life is short, and there is no time like the present.

After realizing that taking a trip of any kind was going to be a bit of culture shock after staying home for so long, my best friend and I started planning a road trip. It was a balance of relaxation and adventure. And it was ambitious.

We traveled from Denver to Vail and then on to Moab. Then, we camped in Canyonlands and hiked Arches before heading to Page, AZ, exploring Lake Powell, Horseshoe Bend, and the parts of Navajo Nation. We camped in Zion National Park, one of the more exquisite parks I’ve been to, followed by a night camping in the Grand Canyon – which we managed to catch right before sunset. Our epic trip ended in New Mexico with stops in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. On every part of the drive, we’d see another vista, canyon, or landscape that felt too picturesque to be real. It was one of those trips you always talk about, and I’m so thrilled we actually did it.

As someone who hadn’t been further than 30 minutes from home since March, it was a great way to get a bit more comfortable and feel safe with traveling. Our itinerary was great, but more important was our combination of plans and flexibility – equal parts destination-focused and go-with-the-flow – in a time with a lot of uncertainty and unexpected rules. Below are some of my top tips for anyone else looking to embark on their own adventure during this time.

Plan Ahead – But Stay Flexible

More than ever, planning is essential. But at the same time, be ready to switch things up at a moment’s notice!

  • Make a plan but stay flexible. Weather and temperature can change. Attractions, restaurants and hotels can be closed unexpectedly. So, you should make a plan — and a couple of backup plans, too. Many hotels and campsites allow last-minute bookings, so map out a few you’d be comfortable with and check them out.
  • National parks all over the country are limiting capacities and requiring park passes, shuttle tickets. All of these necessary items have very specific windows during which you can book. Make sure you investigate fully before you get somewhere and are stuck!
  • Make sure to download maps and any shuttle/entry tickets in advance, since a lot of camp areas and parks don’t have cell service.
  • These beautiful natural attractions arevery busy, since many people can’t travel outside of the US. That means you’ll have to book any activities sooner rather than later. But don’t worry. Once we arrived, most of these destinations offered plenty of space and un-crowded trails.
  • The outdoors are the safest places to be and, in my experience, the national parks are taking all the right precautions. Enjoy being there and take advantage of the time with nature.
  • While you’re exploring, make sure you know your limits. First responders are still concentrating on responding to the pandemic, and you don’t want to add to their workload. Do your research and understand the various physical challenges you may be up against. 

Pack The Right Gear

While road tripping, you want to limit the number of places you visit. That means packing the right gear. 

  • A good backpack is key. It’ll allow you to be out and about for the day, keeping sanitizer, sunscreen, masks, etc. with you at all times.
  • Bring a Leatherman multi-tool. These are truly miraculous. They’re lightweight, compact, and will solve problems you probably didn’t even anticipate when you started planning your trip.
  • Pack extra layers (I’m a fan of the very versatileArc’teryx Atom), and shoes you can easily slip on and off to walk around a campsite, limiting contact with high-touch points.
  • That’s right – masks are a must in 2020. Carry an extra supply of masks in case yours get dirty. Remember, if you toss your disposable ones, make sure to clip the loops so that animals don’t get caught up in them.
  • Carry clear nail polish in your car – seriously. If you get a crack in your windshield while driving the nail polish will keep it in place. Ask any dedicated road tripper: cracks are crazily more common than you’d think!
  • If you’re camping, bring everything with you: your grill, your food, your soap — EVERYTHING.
  • Bring wipes to disinfect high touch surfaces where you’re staying and Ziploc bags for high touch items (if you’re in a hotel, things like remote controls).
  • No fridge? No problem. A reusable water bottle like those thatTakeya offers will keep liquids colder longer.  

Random Road Trip Tips

The fun of a road trip is that it can be a little unpredictable. Here are a few random road trip tips, tricks and advice that I found useful in keeping everything flowing in the right direction. 

  • Make your trip a mix of camping and Airbnb/Hotels. Some campsites are gorgeous and off the beaten path, some are well set up for guests, others can be crowded unexpectedly and not ideal. It was nice to have a balance of both, especially the access to a shower.
  • To avoid unnecessary stops, get creative with non-perishable snacks. Most gas stations aren’t well stocked yet or have limits of people inside. Good options include granola bars, peanut butter and bread with banana, hummus and veggies or pita chips, hot dogs to grill somewhere at a campsite, etc.
  • Many restaurants are still only offering takeout. So if you plan to stop on the way, make sure you pick up a meal that’s easy to eat in the car. And don’t forget napkins!
  • Fill up on gas whenever you see a rest stop. In certain areas of the country, gas stations are few and far between. You don’t want to risk getting stuck on the side of the road.
  • Your road trip deserves a killer soundtrack. Download music and playlists beforehand. That way, when you’re without service and/or radio, you’re not limited to only a select few jams.

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