How to Plan a Safe Road Trip During COVID-19

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Is it safe to road trip during COVID-19? Find out how to keep safe while traveling domestically during a pandemic, no matter where you are.

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An RV driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, USA. Photo © Getty Images/Pgiam

Embarking on a road trip is no simple undertaking. It’s important to pack absolutely everything you need if you are driving to remote areas, just in case you don't have access to the internet, groceries or clean drinking water.

From double-checking your vehicle is in working order to studying the route, before you hit the open road, here are 14 tips to stay safe and avoid any preventable road trip mishaps.

How safe is a long road trip during COVID-19?

Avoiding public transport and flights might be at the top of mind in 2020. Depending on where you are, restrictions might be lifted enough for domestic travel. But, just how safe is a road trip during a pandemic?

The CDC has warned that car travel does present unforeseen risks, "Making stops along the way for gas, food, or bathroom breaks can put you and your traveling companions in close contact with other people and surfaces."

For travel by RV, the CDC says, "You may have to stop less often for food or bathroom breaks, but RV travel usually means staying at RV parks overnight and getting gas and supplies at other public places. These stops may put you and those with you in the RV in close contact with others."

COVID-19 road trip safety tips

Here are a few tips to keep yourself and others safe while road-tripping during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Carry a mask on you at all times, in case the place you're going/passing through has a regulation (plus, it's a good idea)
  • Carry sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol) with you at all times when leaving the car
  • Wash your hands thoroughly (with soap and water for at least 20 seconds) once you have finished using the restroom, and sanitize your hands before touching your car keys or door handles after leaving the facilities
  • Public restrooms might be closed (some gas stations or fast-food restaurants may have restrooms available, but some might not). If the opportunity to use the toilet presents itself, take it
  • Camping is a good option – just in case hotels/motels/hostels aren't offering the most COVID-safe facilities
  • Check your accommodation online first: Are there COVID-safe processes in place to keep visitors safe? If not, look elsewhere
  • Bring your own pillows and pillowcases if staying in a hotel, and carry a sleep sheet
  • Wipe down hotel surfaces or seats and facilities before using them
  • When re-filling at a gas station, wipe down handles and buttons (if wipes are available) at the pumps before you touch them, and if not, sanitize your hands immediately after
  • Pre-book all campsites if you can – this gives parks an idea on the volume of visitors, and it might be mandatory under new regulations
  • Read up on the requirements before you cross state or territory borders, as restrictions may change with little notice.

If you are hiring a car, review rental vehicle websites for enhanced cleaning procedures, social distancing measures for check-in, and what new policies they have put in place to reassure customers.

Listen to the World Nomads podcast for tips on road-tripping safely during COVID-19.

Know the route

Plan where you are going before you leave. Are restrictions in place at your destination? Do you need to quarantine if you're arriving from a COVID-19 hotspot?

Planning a road trip gives you the opportunity to map out all the sites and attractions you want to see, and during the pandemic, it's important to find out if these tourist attractions are open for visitors, and what measures they have in place to keep people safe.

Carefully studying the route you intend to drive also means you won't be as distracted looking at a map for directions.

Plot out where small towns with petrol stations and grocery stores are along the way. Are non-essential services or restaurants open there, and during what hours? Even if you have got a fully stocked first aid kit and sufficient groceries, try to plan a visit to civilization every few days – just in case.

Also, small towns in remote locations are a great way to step off the well-traveled road. When you arrive in a new location, respect any restrictions they have in place. If it's mandatory to wear a mask, do so. If a shop owner has put a sign up recommending masks, follow their lead.

Offline maps and paper maps

Download maps for the area you are traveling to before you lose your internet connection. Maps.me is a great option, but you can also download offline versions of Google Maps to use when you have no internet.

But, if your phone battery dies when you need to navigate, you’re in the middle of nowhere with no idea where to go. Carry a paper version of the map and plot out key locations. That way, if you do get lost you might be able to identify where you are and get back to civilization the archaic way.

Take a break

Driving while tired is one of the most dangerous things anyone can do. Plan to take a break every few hours to stretch your legs and give your eyes a rest. If you're driving with a partner or friend, share the driving every two or so hours. And always pull over for a break the moment you feel tired.

A van parked beside Loch Voil in Scotland.
Camping along Loch Voil in Scotland. Photo credit: Getty Images/Roy JAMES Shakespeare

Stock up on water

Don’t rely on buying bottled water, six 750ml bottles per day don’t help the environment. Invest in some good quality water cans and be on your way.

If you are driving to remote locations, carry large jerry cans filled with water, and allow for 10L per day per person in remote areas. This might sound like a lot of water, but if you’re in the Australian Outback and you need to quickly wash your hands or rinse off a piece of cutlery, that 10L of water per person will very quickly diminish to 3L of drinking water per day.

Carry sufficient fuel

When driving remotely always carry extra jerry cans of fuel. Gas stations are few and far between in the wilderness, and you can’t rely on a gas station being open until all hours – so whenever you do pass one, fill up both your car and jerry cans of fuel when you can.

If you are driving in well-populated areas, jerry cans of fuel aren't always necessary. Studying your route will help make sure you plan ahead for these scenarios.

Pack enough food for two extra days

When you plan a week-long remote driving trip, you might encounter a few issues that extend your trip two or three days longer than expected. But, imagine if you only packed enough food for seven days? To be on the safe side, stock up on groceries that will definitely keep you (and your tummy) happy for two extra days. If you’re running low on food, stock up whenever you pass through a town – who knows when you’ll have access to sausage rolls again?

Check the weather forecast

As your departure date nears, keep a close eye on the weather predictions in the locations you plan to travel to. If there’s a cyclone or hurricane developing, severe thunderstorms or threat of a flood, chances are you might need to reconsider your need to travel. If you have the flexibility with time, perhaps wait until these severe weather conditions have passed until a better time to drive safely through the region.

If you absolutely must embark on the trip during severe weather, keep your family and friends updated, and check in as often as you can so that others know you are safe.

Check your vehicle before you go

If you don’t know your way around cars, take it to a local mechanic who will look over it for you and let you know if anything needs attention before leaving for your big trip. The key things to look over are: tires (including the sidewalls for cuts), tire pressures, oil, coolant, brakes, wipers, water, lights and the battery.

Carry spare tools

Don’t leave without a can of WD40, extra spark plugs, a roll of duct tape, extra engine oil, transmission oil, a multi-tool or pocket knife a roll of wire, some zip-ties and ratchet straps.

Kit your car out

When going off-road, it’s important to spend the money on accessories for your car that will help get you out of sticky situations. Common accessories to consider include a bull bar, winch, portable air compressor, tire deflator, snatch recovery gear, max tracks, long-distance radio, snow chains, satellite phone, high lift jack, shovel, spotlights for better vision at night and always carry spare tires, and a spare fuel filter.

First aid kit

Never leave for a long road trip without a first aid kit. Some of the key things to pack include: a snake bite kit, tourniquet (something to wrap above a spider bite), compression bandages, bandaids, antibiotics, tampons, space blanket, antiseptic cream, antiseptic wipes, saline solution, triangle bandage, tweezers, scissors, antihistamines, basic pain killers, CPR mask, hydralite, sunscreen and zinc, water purification tablets, aqua ear, eye drops, moisturizing cream, hand sanitizer, sunglasses/safety glasses and mosquito repellent.

If you get unexpectedly sick or injured overseas, your medical bills could be expensive. Make sure you pack travel insurance, with 24/7 emergency assistance.

Other things to pack

There are a few handy other things you can pack to MacGyver your way out of any situation, some of my favorites are: a pair of welding gloves (to handle anything that might be hot, or if you’re sticking your hand under something you can’t see beneath), extra rolls of toilet paper, a compass, a pen, head torch and spare batteries, fire extinguisher, a box of matches and a lighter, a tarpaulin, a fridge, car awning to provide shade in non-shady places.

Pack an EPIRB or PLB

EPIRB stands for Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, and while these aren’t cheap, they can alert search and rescue services in the case of an emergency. A coded message is transmitted to a free-to-use multinational network. The distress signal is sent via satellite to the nearest rescue center.

A PLB is a Personal Location Beacon and works the exact same way, only it is designed to be carried by a person not a vessel.

These devices aren’t cheap, but if you’re going on these types of adventures often, they’re well worth having. If you do purchase one of these devices, don’t forget to register it in your home country.

As borders begin to open post-COVID-19 lockdown, and government travel advisories lift travel bans on their citizens, what can you do to lower your risk? Check out our tips for safe travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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3 Comments

  • Paul said

    Instead of worrying about having to sanitize pump handles and buttons, I keep a plastic grocery bag in my back pocket. When I need to pump gas, open a door, etc., I take out the bag, and fold it over my hand. I can even operate touchscreens with it on. When I'm done, I remove it with the outside in. I also keep a pen in my pocket so if I have to sign a receipt, I'm using a pen only I have touched.

    Regarding masks, if you're going to be around people, and you're taking all the precautions mentioned in the article, then just put the mask on regardless of whether there are local restrictions. The virus doesn't know where masks are required and where they're not.

    Reply

    • Amelia Brady said

      Great tips, thanks for sharing, Paul!

      Stay safe out there.

      Amelia, World Nomads

      Reply

  • Barbara Cross said

    Thanks for the article. People should know about the aerosols and virus exposures from flushing a toilet. Two articles, especially the Washington Post article but also the AARP article have important information re this.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/09/01/its-time-talk-about-how-toilets-may-be-spreading-covid-19/

    https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2020/public-bathroom-safety-coronavirus.html

    Reply

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