I grew up taking road trips. My family would frequently take two days to drive from the Chicago area to southern Florida to visit family. My mother told me how she drove us kids out west on a whim, stopped by the side of a lonely road for the night — and woke up with the car surrounded by cows. Now with my own kids, I’ve planned and taken them on road trips to 36 states and counting. But none of these previous experiences has been like taking a road trip during the coronavirus.

In our family, we like to get outdoors. Living in an urbanized area, we have to travel to do that — either on day trips, weekend getaways, or bona-fide vacations. In May, after spending more than two months in lockdown due to the coronavirus, some state parks reopened. So, my family of four tested the waters with a trip and an overnight stay at a chain hotel.

Hotels during the coronavirus

At the hotel, everything seemed pretty normal, with a few exceptions. First, everyone acted like everyone else was carrying the plague. Tape on the floors showed people how far apart to stand in the lobby. During check-in, I had to use a communal pen, however. It worried me, but luckily, I was packing heat … er, hand sanitizer. I used my last can of Lysol spray on all the high-touch surfaces in the hotel room before I allowed my family to breathe. Also, instead of the free breakfast buffet, the hotel gave guests paper bags with a to-go breakfast. The bags were pre-made and handwritten with what was inside. (Our family puzzled over what a “CC muffin” was until we opened the bag and discovered it was a chocolate chip muffin. Of course.)

But we weren’t at the hotel to enjoy the (non-existent) breakfast buffet or swim in the (closed) pool. No, it was just a place to crash so we could visit a nearby state park.

Social distancing in the outdoors

We love our state parks.

So do lots of other people.

Outdoors, there is no tape on the ground to mark what six feet looks like so you can keep the recommended distance apart from others. Many people didn’t seem to mind getting close to strangers. At least once, an outfitter had to tell people to keep their distance.

Another problem: The state park had one restroom open with four stalls. Imagine about 200 people trying to use that. Yeah.

There were issues, but we figured we knew what to expect. Plus, our family was so glad to be out in the wild and not just riding our bikes down the sidewalk of our neighborhood.

So we planned another, longer family trip.

Why we planned a family road trip during the coronavirus

This year, my husband and I celebrated a special anniversary. We were planning to go to the UK for the first time. But 2020 happened.

So our next plan was to visit more states the kids hadn’t been to yet. Our road trip up the eastern coast would have given us 45 states on our ongoing list. These new states included New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts … you know where this is going. Or rather, where we didn’t go.

On a road trip during the coronavirus, our family hiked to waterfalls
Juney Whank Falls in Great Smoky
Mountains National Park

Next, my husband and I thought, “Where can we go to get away from crowds and where places are open?” Well, most parks are open. And the Appalachians seemed like a good idea. So the third version of our anniversary trip was to camp in three places in Georgia and North Carolina. We would hike to waterfalls, go whitewater rafting, and take a hang-gliding class. We would camp right next to the ocean. I researched farms where we could pick fruit because farms are not busy, right? We brought our telescope, excited by the possibility of being away from city lights to see more stars than we’re used to.

Armed with masks and disinfectant wipes, we set out with our new road trip plan.

Road trip ups and downs

The stops we made were wonderful, and I’m glad we did them.

But I didn’t count on everyone else thinking the same as me.

Social distancing, agritourism style
Social distancing

The farms we visited were fun, but busy with u-pickers.

Hiking trails to the waterfalls were crowded.

It rained for most of our trip, including the day of our scheduled whitewater rafting trip. This led to one of my children having anxiety, so I stayed with him while the other half of our family went down the river in a downpour.

Camping during coronavirus
Shady campsite

And did you know that mountain campgrounds have a lot of trees that block the sky? Seems obvious now that I’ve experienced it. There was no chance of making out constellations (when the sky was clear), so we never used our telescope.

The worst was that family called us to tell our one of our cats had passed away unexpectedly. After that, we didn’t feel like traveling anymore, so we came home. There would be no hang-gliding or seeing the national seashore.

On the way home, we took back roads past fields and through small towns. We stayed in a hotel (yes, I disinfected the room again) where the check-in was more “touchless” than our test run, and where we actually got to request what would be in our breakfast bag. It was a small comfort to our grieving family.

The summer of the road trip during the coronavirus

Getting away from the crowds in a yurt
Getting away from the crowds in a yurt

Even though our road trip unraveled, I’m glad we went. I wish it had been longer. (Our family’s longest road trip was three weeks, when we were somewhere different almost every day.) I wish the weather had been better. And mostly I wish our cat hadn’t died. But we got to go places we hadn’t been before. We tried tubing for the first time. We stayed in a yurt for the first time.

Also, it’s been about two weeks, and none of us has signs of corona.

All through our road trip, we spotted out-of-state license plates, so it was clear to us we weren’t alone in our road tripping.

I think a road trip is definitely the way to go during the Summer of Corona. But of course, after driving more than 10,000 miles around this country, I think a road trip is a great way to travel anytime.

Tips for staying healthy on a road trip during coronavirus

  • Make sure the places you want to go are open. Calling is best.
  • Also check quarantine rules where you’re going. Some states want you to stay in your residence for 14 days before venturing out.
  • Camp if you’re a camper. If not, research the hotels you want to stay at. Most chain hotels tell you about their cleaning procedures on their websites. If not or if you’re staying at a small lodging, call and ask.
  • It also doesn’t hurt to disinfect your hotel room yourself. Clean light switches, remotes, door handles and locks, faucets, drawer pulls, curtain pulls, phone, clock, chair arms, etc.
  • Bring your own drinking cups/coffee mugs.
  • Some hotels allow you to check in via app, so consider that.
  • Wear gloves while pumping gas — reusable ones (even garden gloves) that you wash when you get home won’t create waste.
  • Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in your vehicle.
  • Wear a mask when you’re around others, and stay at least six feet away from people. My husband prefers multifunctional headwear, which is easy to put on and take off. I use either a handmade cotton mask or a similar multifunctional scarf.
  • Eat healthy.