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Road trip safety guide during COVID-19

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

As this season of quarantine and social distancing mandates continues, the U.S. is discovering ways to adapt to the new normal. Schools, restaurants and businesses have significantly altered ways of operating, but positive opportunities have arisen as an outcome of work and school adjustments. 

For some, it’s the perfect time for a trip. Working (and schooling) from home has added a new level of schedule flexibility that makes travel a greater possibility. In addition, many hotels and resorts are offering special travel incentives, and travel credit cards are offering extra rewards. 

After months of being locked away in our homes, these travel incentives may be tempting, as long as it doesn’t mean traveling on a plane. Many Americans are not yet ready to fly, feeling concerned about being in a confined space with other travelers. A road trip may be the perfect alternative, allowing you to explore the country within the safety and isolation of your own vehicle, as long as you take the right precautions. 

To help you plan for your trip during COVID-19, we have created the ultimate 2020 road trip safety guide.

Plan ahead

A seasoned traveler knows that any good trip requires at least a little bit of planning. You may already have a destination in mind, but it’s important to consider the factors involved as affected by COVID-19 restrictions.  

Where are you going?

The most important part of any trip is the destination, but choosing where to go takes a little more planning these days. With COVID-19 restrictions, you must exercise much more caution when traveling during the coronavirus pandemic.  

Pick your destination(s)

Selecting your destination involves several key considerations. Due to COVID-19, there are many travel advisories and restrictions in place that could affect your ability to travel to a specific location. In some cases, venues may be closed entirely. Before you put down any deposits, it’s important to check the rate of infection for your destination, what the restrictions are for that area, verify accommodations and plan appropriately for any adjustments.  

Plan your route and your stops

The longer the trip, the more important it is that you plan your route. Check your route and consider which stops will be the most populated. Strategizing your departure times can give you a better chance of avoiding crowds. Consider what to pack in the car with you to minimize stops and trips to convenience stores or gas stations. Keep masks and sanitizer stocked in your vehicle within easy reach for scenic photo breaks or necessary pit stops. 

Inform family/friends of your trip

It is always a good idea to keep your friends and family in the loop, so they know that you will be away. Provide them with your route and destination information, so they know where you are headed in case there is an emergency. It may be helpful to give them a copy of your medical information as well.

Where are you staying?

Special consideration should be given to your sleeping accommodations. There are the traditional things to be mindful of, such as vacancies and room rates, but it’s also important to ask about what precautions the hotels are taking. Ask about policies on check-in and check-out, traveling with pets and what amenities are available under current COVID-19 guidelines. 

In addition to specifics surrounding your route and destination, here are a few other key considerations.

Expect the unexpected

As much as you try to plan for every contingency, surprises can still happen. Prepare as much as possible, but try to stay open-minded. Things don’t always work out as planned, especially during a global pandemic. Remember to always practice your COVID-19 prevention measures, but otherwise, go with the flow and be open to adapting as necessary.

Roadside assistance

We can’t stress the importance of this enough. You never know what can happen on the open road; rural roadways are prone to deer and other animals, while highways can be full of distracted or aggressive drivers. Roadside assistance is an absolute necessity for road travel and can save you in a pinch from being stranded. While it’s always a good idea to have this kind of auto coverage, you should verify it’s included in your auto insurance before you embark on your trip. 

Auto insurance

Not only do you need car insurance to protect you in case of a collision, but it can come in handy if you damage your vehicle while parking, or if it’s stolen. Before you leave for your trip, give your auto insurance provider a call to verify you have adequate coverage to protect you during your travels. 

What to bring?

Road trip checklist

Everybody needs a reliable road trip checklist to help them pack. These are some of the most important things you need to bring with you on your next road trip, including items that help with COVID-19 precautions.

Insurance/registration Info

If you are pulled over by the police or are involved in an accident, two of the first things that the police will ask for are your insurance card and proof of registration. Keep printed copies handy in your glove box.

Number for roadside assistance

Whether it is through your insurance carrier, AAA or other roadside service, keep the contact information for roadside assistance handy. If an emergency happens, it helps to have the number immediately available.

Portable phone charger

A portable phone charge can help keep your communication intact should you lose access to a power source. Portable phone chargers can give you one or more full phone charges if you find yourself stranded with a dead device. 

Spare tire/car jack

U.S. roadways are far from perfect, with jagged potholes, discarded trash and deep rivets. When traveling at high speeds, these imperfections in the road can become a serious hazard to your tires. Flat tires are a common risk for road travelers, so be sure to bring a spare tire and car jack in case you need to replace a flat.

Jumper cables 

The second most common risk to road travelers is a dead car battery. In the hustle and bustle of trying to unload the car and check-in, it’s easy to leave an interior or exterior light on or a door slightly ajar that can quickly drain the car battery. To be safe, store jumper cables in your trunk in case your battery needs a jump.

Snacks/water bottles

Gas stations and convenience stores are commonly frequented on the roads, particularly between major travel destinations. To reduce your chances of being exposed to the COVID-19 virus, pack some favorite snacks and a few water bottles to keep your thirst quenched on the road.  Although nearly every facility has stepped up cleaning and sanitation practices, gas stations and convenience stores have a poorer reputation for standards of cleanliness. Limiting trips inside by packing refreshments can reduce your exposure to germs.   

Pandemic checklist

Thanks to COVID-19, there is a new travel checklist that we must use to ensure that we are adequately protecting ourselves from the pandemic while on the road. These are some of the things you must take with you in order to help protect you and your family during road travels. 

Masks

Most indoor establishments — and even those outdoors — require proper face coverings to protect staff and visitors from COVID-19. Keep a stock of face masks within easy reach for tourist stops, even if just getting out along the road to take pictures. 

Disposable gloves

Disposable gloves are another layer of protection to help mitigate virus transmission. The key to remember with gloves is that they only help prevent cross-contamination. For road travel, put them on before entering a facility, and dispose of them upon exiting to ensure you don’t bring germs back to your vehicle.

Hand sanitizer

Hand sanitizer is a great substitute when you do not have access to soap and water to wash your hands. Use an EPA-approved sanitizer so you can be certain of its germ-killing properties. Sanitizers should be made of at least 60% alcohol for effectiveness.

Disinfecting wipes/spray

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),  the COVID-19 virus can last hours to several days on certain surfaces like metal, stainless steel and plastic. If you keep disinfectant wipes or spray handy, you can sterilize surfaces in your hotel and along your travels, especially during meal times and bathroom breaks. As with hand sanitizer, the spray should consist of at least 60% alcohol.

Paper towels

Paper towels are a great cleaning supply to keep on hand at all times, particularly on road trips. Useful for cleaning spills and wiping down surfaces, a roll of paper towels is a great addition to your COVID-19 packing list.

Hand soap/water bottles

By bringing along soap and water bottles, you can not only wash your hands without the need of a rest stop, but you will also be equipped with your own supplies in case those rest stop bathrooms are locked or running low on supplies. 

Stay safe

If you do decide to take a road trip this fall, it’s important to maintain safety precautions to protect yourself and others traveling with you. With travel restrictions, mandatory closures and selective entry, the U.S. remains open for business conditionally, and you must be able to meet these requirements to ensure your trip is not affected.  

The CDC, World Health Organization (WHO) and National Foundation for Infectious Diseases are among the leading resources for COVID-19 news and updates, so you are aware of the latest information before you set out on your road trip. 

The following factors are important to check for updated information:

Mask mandates

The CDC advises that you wear a mask when you are in public spaces or within six feet of another person outside of your household. Many venues require the use of a face covering to shield your nose and mouth to be permitted entry. Make sure that you are prepared with extra filters for your mask or additional disposable masks if you plan on staying more than a few days. 

Travel restrictions

Every town, city and state has different ways of handling the COVID-19 crisis, and these measures rarely align with each other. That’s why the National Academy for State Health Policy offers this chart that walks you through each state’s requirements for stay at home orders and reopening plans.

Gas stations

Gas stations already have a fairly negative reputation when it comes to health and cleanliness, but now it is even more important that you exercise caution. Gas station pumps, bathrooms and credit card keypads are high-traffic areas for germs, posing an extra risk of COVID-19 contamination. Disposable gloves and hand sanitizer are great protections to use each time you stop for gas.

Restrooms

Even in more upscale properties, restrooms can easily accommodate bacteria. When you turn on the faucet, flush the toilet or open the door, you are coming into contact with handles and knobs that can hold the virus for up to 72 hours. With all of the traffic that comes through public restrooms each day, you should always wipe things down before you touch them, use your disposable gloves wherever possible and always wash your hands or use sanitizer.  

Getting food

While restaurants remain open in many places around the country, there are still plenty of cities and towns that remain closed for business. Reconsider your plans to dine in and instead opt for curbside pickup or contactless delivery through a meal delivery service where necessary. Many hotels have shut down room service in order to comply with social distancing, but you can usually put on your mask to retrieve a meal or some pre-packaged snacks if available on-site.  

Hotels/Airbnb

Many hotels and Airbnbs remain in operation, but before you make a reservation for a fall road trip, find out what the host’s COVID-19 protocols and requests are regarding the property. Most hotels have adopted new health and safety programs with enhanced cleaning protocols, but you should still be proactive and take the time to sterilize your room yourself when you arrive. Bring your sterilizer, paper towels and disinfectant to wipe down surfaces, and open the windows to bring in fresh air.

With these precautions and preparations in mind, you can rest assured that your road trip is COVID-ready and you and your fellow travelers can travel with the best protections possible.