The Pandemic Road Tip
(Note: Below is an account of our experience and how we handled traveling during the pandemic. I wholeheartedly believe that everyone has to determine their own risk and take precautions to protect themselves and their loved ones, especially those that are high risk. I fully endorse the wearing of a mask, physical distancing and handwashing.)
Our original plan was to go to New Zealand in November of 2020. We would celebrate my husband’s 60th birthday and spend 2 weeks touring the country. In December of 2019 we began pouring over itineraries suggested by our travel agent and looking at the “must-see” sites in New Zealand on the internet. By early February, as we were about to make decisions about flights and tours and put a deposit down; the talk about coronavirus became concerning. In late February I talked with my husband and said, ‘ …maybe we should wait until the end of March or early April to put a deposit down and see if this has all blown over’…..
Well we all know what happened then.
Fast forward to September of 2020. After months of staying in North Carolina, mostly at home, we decided to try a road trip in October…eventually we ended up driving about 1600 miles in 6 days, traveling through 7 states and staying in 4 different states.
Normally if we were traveling we would have picked some different hotels and destination restaurants and maybe stayed with friends, but with the shadow of the pandemic hanging over us, how would we plan for this? Where would we stay? Eat? Would we see friends along the way? Visit museums or attractions? These were all questions that we had about our pandemic road trip or #McRiddleRoadTrip.
Communicate Expectations — We wanted to see friends along the way but we also wanted to make sure they’d be comfortable seeing us…and that they’d been careful about taking precautions about the virus. I sent out some e-mails that basically all said the same thing: ‘… We’re going to be staying at a hotel in your area…We’d love to see you. Can we meet somewhere outdoors for a meal/coffee or a drink? We’ve been very careful and wear masks regularly…if you’re not comfortable I totally understand.’ Fortunately all of our friends enthusiastically agreed to meet up and promised to figure out an option that would be safe for all.
Percent Positives — I looked at the percent positive rate(the percent of positive cases of those tested for coronavirus) for COVID19 for every town we were planning on visiting and staying. The last thing I wanted to do was to be exposed to a greater risk. This would also tell us a bit about the spread of COVID19 in the area, as well as the state and county’s adherence to precautions. Our county’s percent positive at that time was 5.8% and fortunately every area we planned on visiting had a lower percent positive rate.
Hotels — As I searched for hotels I checked websites for notice of Covid19 precautions like additional cleaning and sanitizing and mask requirements, if there was no mention, I chose others
Attractions — We suspected that in some areas museums and attractions would be operating at a limited capacity — or still closed; so we made a point of checking. The only place we knew we especially wanted to visit was Fallingwater, the home Frank Lloyd Wright designed, near Pittsburgh, PA, and we got those tickets ahead of time.
#MaskUp — We both packed several masks for the trip so we could change them daily.
Sanitizer — We kept hand sanitizer in the car so we could sanitize our hands regularly.
Meals — We planned to pick up food in supermarkets for lunches and decided to try and eat primarily at restaurants where we could be outside.
Walking Out — My husband and I were in agreement that if we entered a small shop or restaurant and other guests/shoppers weren’t wearing masks we would leave.
How it turned out
Hotels — We stayed at 4 different hotels in 4 states. Two of the hotels, one in KY and one in PA, had excellent compliance. All clerks and hotel staff wore masks, signs advising guests were visible throughout the lobby and there were obvious efforts at sanitizing and notices on spacing in the lobby, guest rooms and elevators. I was less impressed with the hotels in Ohio and Virginia where, despite signs stating mask requirements, front desk clerks were not wearing masks.
Meals — Instead of eating out at restaurants for lunch we mostly picked up food from supermarkets and ate in the car or outside at a rest stop picnic table. Over 6 days we had 3 meals inside. Two at restaurants with high ceilings, where we were seated in large rooms with just one other table occupied and servers wearing masks. We had one meal at a friend’s house inside at a large table with 2 other people about 4–6 feet apart. (We discussed with our hosts about eating outside vs inside, it was a chilly evening and we knew they had been careful and felt the dining area was large enough.)
The rest of our meals, even with friends, were outside at large tables with minimal people dining near us. I was able to search on Yelp and find restaurants that listed outside dining areas and this made it easy to select places to eat.
Sanitizing — We made a point of washing our hands frequently and used hand sanitizer regularly when we could not.
Walking Out — We left 1 winery in Kentucky and one shop in PA after walking in only to see customers not wearing masks, despite signage stating mask requirements. We also left another winery that seemed to be too crowded. We saw people couldn’t maintain physical distance, and since it was inside we didn’t feel comfortable.
Overall it was a great trip. This doesn’t mean we weren’t a little apprehensive or that we didn’t take all of the precautions we wanted to. Here are some observations:
- We definitely saw differences in mask policies and adherence depending on the state. Even at what age children were expected to wear a mask varied from state to state.
- Many restaurants and businesses had reduced capacity, were open only for take-out, had reduced hours/days or menus and some businesses were still closed — -so if you do travel make sure you check this out ahead of time.
3. One of the interesting things was seeing the use of the QR code to link to on-line menus at many restaurants as an alternative to paper menus.
4. It was good to see our friends and work with them to find dining options that would be comfortable for all.
5. We were fortunate to have had the type of weather and temperatures that made it easy to eat outside.
6. Make sure your masks are comfortable! There’s nothing worse than having to wear a mask for a few hours that hurts your ears or nose.