Road Tripping During the Pandemic (With Kids!): 10 Lessons Learned
Road Tripping during the pandemic looks very different from what myself and probably most of you are used to (and love!). There are many limitations and precautions that must be taken for the health of ourselves and others, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
Throughout the course of the pandemic I have taken two major road trips and several shorter weekend or day trips in the USA. Here are some of the things that I have encountered and experienced while road tripping during the pandemic that may be helpful to you if you plan on venturing out:
1.) Business Hours Have Changed
For the majority of my travels I have found that the world seems to go to sleep much earlier. Normally while traveling my schedule knows no limits and store hours and attractions (not all, but many) line up with them. Pre-COVID I always found attractions and things to do until the late hours of the night.
Since the pandemic started, I have found this to be a problem. It seems by 5/6pm many things have closed up, including shops, restaurants, and attractions. Most have shortened business hours and capacity restrictions, making it harder to find things to do (although I never seem to go wrong with outdoor adventures. I will talk about this more later on.)
2.) Bathrooms Are Harder to Find
Traveling with young children and difficulty finding a bathroom do not mix well! Unfortunately this has been a common occurrence for us during the pandemic. Many restaurants are closed and our usual McDonald’s bathroom and quick lunch breaks are almost non-existent. I have also found that many rest areas have closed the buildings, including the bathrooms, making it more difficult to find one while on the road.
Gas stations were a second option for us and we have come across many that have also closed their bathrooms due to the pandemic. We have discovered a few select gas stations that always seem to have bathrooms open, including Sheetz, Stewarts, TA, and Flying Jay.
***Tip: Before departing from a destination, be sure to make sure all children have used the restroom to avoid an emergency later on!
3.) Dining is Harder to Find
For picky eaters like my daughter, finding dining options has been more difficult. The reason for this is twofold: (1) many indoor dining options are closed or restricted and (2) many dining options now require reservations. The first reason has been problematic because, as one could assume, there are fewer options available. While traveling, we have missed out on a lot of our favorite restaurants. We have also found lines or unimaginable lengths or wait times as capacity is restricted.
Because of this, we tend to get fast food much more frequently and find a grassy spot to sit and eat (If you are anything like me-eating a meal in the car with kids is the last thing I want to do!). The second reason also limits availability because while we are road tripping we often times do not plan ahead for dining, as we never know when we will be ready to stop. This has led to problems with finding dining options that do not require reservations, causing us to think ahead a little more or to go with alternative, fast food options. Whatever the reason, the pandemic has certainly changed dining while road tripping!
4.) Reservations Are Required For Most Everything
If you are planning to do anything that doesn’t involve nature and being outdoors, you are likely to run into needing a reservation. Depending on the location in the country, many have begun to open up entertainment venues such as tours, museums, and other attractions. However, you will most likely need reservations and have to purchase tickets in advance.
This makes it an essential part of any road trip to plan ahead and have an idea of an itinerary, which goes against the sporadic road trip taker’s main principal! But it will save you a lot of heartache and will allow you to see the must see attractions on your list.
5.) Outdoor Traveling is Becoming the Norm
Outdoor travel has much less restrictions as being outdoors allows you to be socially distant. In addition, there are often times less people and you are not crowded inside a small area. Outdoor travel is becoming more of the norm in today’s world though, meaning more and more people are doing it, leading to increased crowds.
When planning an outdoor excursion it is important to be aware of this and to consider the possibility that your chosen destination may be more highly trafficked than normal. My recommendation would be to have a back up plan. If you are going for a hike, have a couple options in mind in case one trail is packed full.
6.) Many People Do Not Follow COVID Precautions
One of the biggest things I have noticed while road tripping is that many people do not follow COVID precautions. Yes, there are many, many who do, but I couldn’t help but notice how many times precautions were ignored!
For the most part, masks were worn while indoors and out. Once in a while I would encounter someone on a hike who was not wearing one (at least when passing others), but this was far and few between. The biggest thing I noticed was a lack of social distancing. There were many situations in which people would ignore directional signs and social distance markings while waiting in lines.
I am not one to criticize others, but I think it is important to consider this when deciding whether or not you will travel. There is always the possibility that you will come into contact with individuals who do not follow precaution recommendations and that you as an individual or family should decide before traveling if you are willing to travel and what to do in those situations (e.g. choosing destinations where you will not be contact with many other people-such as a hike).
7.) Bring Extra Masks!
This is one thing that we learned the hard way! When road tripping during the pandemic for the first time, I made sure that I brought masks (obviously), and even a couple extra. We quickly learned, however, that a couple was not enough. Whether they be disposable masks or cloth masks, they tend to get dirty, especially while walking around on a hot summer’s day.
Be sure to bring extra disposable masks or have a way to wash cloth masks (bring some travel size detergent or soap). We ended up just purchasing a box of 25 or 50 disposable masks and bringing them with and didn’t have to worry about running out!
The good news-if you do run out, you can purchase a mask just about anywhere now!
8.) Planning Ahead is Required!
So, this topic was touched on a bit with reservations and dining, but one of the most important lessons learned while road tripping during the pandemic is it is essential to plan ahead for any trip now days. There are many additional factors to consider, such as the availability of dining options, travel restrictions and availability of accommodation options, and attraction reservations and availability.
Some states (or countries when thinking on an international basis) may have travel restrictions for visitors. It is important to be aware of this and avoid areas where quarantine may be required or where out of staters’ are not allowed to book accommodations. It is also important to plan your itinerary, so that you know what to expect and don’t miss out on anything!
9.) Local Travel Can Be Just As Fun As International Travel
You don’t have to travel across the country or abroad to have an enjoyable experience! Sometimes just driving a couple hours in your own state can be the perfect family vacation! You can add a few different destinations in the state to make for a week long or more trip, all while staying close to home. Do some research and find some outdoor activities that you and the family can enjoy, and I’m sure you will be amazed with how plentiful they are!
The majority of the summer was spent exploring destinations that were within a couple hours of my home town and I found nothing short of amazing destinations! You can check out my exploring locally series, which explores the amazing locations across New York State!
10.) Slow Down and Enjoy The Earth
If nothing else good came out of the pandemic, one thing that has become evident is the importance of slowing down and enjoying everything that is around us! With the wide spread lock downs, life slowed down for many people (which could be considered both good and bad). However, it did provide more opportunity for enjoying the simple things in life, such as getting outdoors and relaxing in your own backyard or heading out for a day hike with the family.
One thing that this has reiterated for me is that when traveling, the itinerary does not need to be jam packed. I tend to be a go-go-go person when traveling, trying to fit everything in that I can. However, with the pandemic, a lot of things that I would normally add to my itinerary were closed, allowing more time to enjoy the attractions I was able to see and spending more time outdoors.
Before traveling always be sure to check safety recommendations and restrictions that may apply to you!
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