Last summer was billed as a renaissance of the Great American Road Trip. This one really might be.
Car trips were certainly the preferred mode of travel in the midst of the 2020 pandemic, with 97 percent of travelers favoring that mode of transportation, AAA reported last summer. For the most part, they didn’t go far, as the U.S. Travel Association can attest. Travel spending plummeted 45 percent — $1.1 trillion — last year. Instead, there were tent shortages and kayak waiting lists as vacationers headed to parks near home or camped in their own backyards.
Now with vaccines rolling out, counties moving into sunnier-hued tiers and California set to reopen on June 15, vacations suddenly sound possible.
We’re definitely maybe going somewhere. Probably. You, too?
If you’re planning a summer road trip, here are five tips to keep in mind so you don’t end up stranded, stressed or loo-less.
1. Do your homework
There was a time — 2019 — when you could hit the road without a care in the world, letting whimsy dictate the details. Not anymore.
“The entire travel experience has been transformed by COVID-19,” says Paula Twidale, AAA Travel’s senior vice president. “If you’re considering travel sometime this year, it’s more important than ever to do your due diligence ahead of any trip.”
Californians who have been fully vaccinated are free to move around the country, as long as they abide by the health rules of the destinations along the way. But masks and social distancing are not going away, Twidale says, and things can change rapidly.
Whether you’re vacationing in the Golden State or heading for, say, Oregon, you can scope out the broad restrictions via United Airlines’ handy travel restrictions map or AAA’s version (http://bit.ly/AAAtravelmap), and drill down to county level at sites such as California’s https://covid19.ca.gov/get-local-information/.
California’s hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions, for example, are allowed to open with restrictions; masks and social distancing are mandatory; and there are testing and quarantine requirements for unvaccinated travelers. (Or there were as of last week.)
Oregon requires masks and social distancing and recommends self-quarantine, but does not require testing. Lodging is open without limitation, but there are restrictions, similar to California’s, on everything else. Nevada? Bring a mask.
But just because a county can reopen hotels and restaurants doesn’t mean your favorite Santa Cruz seafood spot or Paso Robles hotel is open nor that you can just waltz in and claim a spot. For that, you need to …
2. Plan all the details
We’ve relaxed a bit since the early days of the pandemic, when we were sanitizing everything from ketchup bottles to Cheetos bags. But we’re still a bit antsy about hotels — and any place with other people in them — and we know we’re not the only ones.
The big hotel chains and smaller independent inns are going to great lengths to make sure we all know they’re enforcing mask mandates, minimizing personal contact, touting their cleaning protocols and making “clean stay” pledges. Check hotel websites when you’re booking a room to make sure that their level of care matches yours. (Promises and practices are not the same thing, of course, but it’s at least reassuring.)
Some hotels offer contactless check-in and keyless entry. Hilton hotels, for example, across the U.S. let you schedule housekeeping services, if you don’t want daily — or any — services beyond the initial thorough cleaning. Paso Robles’ new The Piccolo and its sister resorts on the Central Coast offer housekeeping every third day to minimize contact.
Just make sure you book that hotel room ahead of time. Camping is no fun if your intention was to sleep in a hotel.
If your intention is indeed to go camping, you’ll need reservations to pitch that tent or park an RV. Campground capacity was severely limited last summer, and some state parks have not yet fully reopened.
Museums? National Parks? Theme parks? From Yosemite to Disneyland, you’ll need reservations for many of the attractions you once visited spontaneously. On the upside, reservations mean fewer crowds.
You’ll need reservations to visit Yosemite National Park this summer. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
3. Reserve a table, too
Last summer, the general advice was to pack your own road trip snacks and meals to minimize contact. That’s still good advice on the snack front. But much of the joy of travel lies in exploring the flavors of a new place, and restaurant parklets, patios and terraces offer plenty of outdoor dining possibilities, if you’re hesitant about eating indoors.
If you’re looking for something more interesting than a fast food burger or supermarket sandwich, you’ll need to spend some time considering the options and the restrictions. With restaurants still at capped capacity, many restaurants — even casual ones — require reservations now and timing matters, even for takeout. Many restaurants are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Some are only open weekends. And your favorite spot in Sonoma, Sausalito or Santa Barbara may not have reopened yet at all.
Check Yelp, if you wish, but verify restaurant details on the eatery’s website, Facebook page or Instagram. Things are changing so rapidly, it’s entirely possible for hours a restaurant has posted in different places to vary wildly. When in doubt, pick up the phone and ask.
4. Figure out the rest stops
Last summer, social media and newspaper headlines were filled with tales of locked loos and desperate drivers. Gas station restrooms were closed and most of the old reliables — fast food stops and restaurants — were drive-through or curbside only. Even now, some pit stop standbys — including some Starbucks cafes — remain closed. And apps that promise to find you a clean restroom have been derailed by the pandemic.
The restroom situation won’t be as dire this summer, but it’s smart to go whenever an opportunity presents itself. Some state and local parks have reopened their restrooms. Visiting Fort Ross State Park or the UC Santa Cruz Botanical Garden? Their restrooms are open. Point Arena lighthouse? There’s a portable loo there, too. Highway rest stops are open, as are some gas station facilities. And restaurants that have reopened for indoor or alfresco dining make their facilities available to diners.
5. Pack that car kit
It’s always a good idea to have your car checked out by a mechanic before taking off on a big road trip, but it’s especially so now. Many of us who have worked from home during the pandemic have experienced at least some automotive issues, from dead batteries to tire issues. None of those are fun to discover the morning of your first vacation in a year.
Double check the trunk now, too, to make sure you’re fully equipped for emergencies. Make sure you have the basics, from the spare tire and jack to the jumper cables, a beefy first aid kit and your COVID-era stash.
Most compact first aid kits are heavy on the wispy bandages and alcohol wipes, as if your accidents were going to be strictly splinter centric. There’s nothing wrong with wispy bandages, but a real first aid kit is intended to render help in the field when emergency responders may be hours away. (Considering we live in earthquake and wildfire country, we ought not wait for a road trip to stock up.)
In addition to those adhesive bandages and antiseptic wipes, you’ll need large absorbent compress dressings, more large and medium-size sterile gauze pads than you can believe, a roll of 3-inch wide gauze, a roll of adhesive cloth tape, a breathing barrier with a one-way valve, an emergency blanket, hydrocortisone and antiseptic ointment packets, an instant cold compress, non latex gloves, scissors, tweezers, a thermometer and a first aid guide. (The Red Cross has an excellent “Anatomy of a First Aid Kit” posted on their site.)
Pack duplicates of any medication your family normally takes, as well as aspirin and ibuprofen and emergency contact numbers. And this being the COVID era of travel, add extra face masks and a vat of hand sanitizer, paper towels and toilet paper, bottled water and snack bars. And perhaps some chocolate.
Originally Appeared On: https://www.santacruzsentinel.com/2021/04/27/road-trip-tips-and-hacks