Traveling by car in a COVID-19 climate

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Travel enthusiasts can hit the open road this fall with their peace of mind intact, especially if they follow a few safety precautions while heading off for parts unknown.

With fall in the air, many travelers are still looking for ways to enjoy autumn on the open road. Now, in a COVID-19 environment preparation is key, so if you are planning a long driving trip consider some of these safety tips for staying safe and lowering your risk of getting sick both on and off the road.

Plan your route

“Even if you’ve done this trip multiple times, you need to take the research a step further,” says AAA spokesperson Jeanette Casselano. “You may run into some temporary closures.”

When considering your destination, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests asking:

  • Whether COVID-19 is spreading in your community or the area you’re visiting. If so, you may have a higher chance of becoming infected or infecting others.
  • If you or a loved one who is returning home has an underlying condition that might increase the risk for complications from the disease.
  • If you’ll be able to maintain a 6-foot distance between yourself and others during travel and at your destination.
  • Whether the destination requires that visitors quarantine themselves for 14 days upon arrival.

Before you depart, make sure your car is in good shape, and map out the roadways you’ll be taking and the states you’ll be passing through — and be aware of any relevant travel advisories.

The Federal Highway Administration maintains a directory of state transportation department websites, which should have the latest information about state-specific coronavirus-related changes (AARP also maintains an updated list), along with links to other state resources such as traffic and weather alerts.

Packing and sanitizing

After planning, get your supplies in order. This includes products for keeping hands and surfaces clean and sanitized. Geriatrician June McKoy, associate professor of medicine at Northwestern Medicine, recommends packing hand sanitizer, disinfecting wet wipes, disposable gloves, sealable disposable plastic bags and tissues.

And you’ll want to wear a mask in all indoor public places, or outdoor spaces where you can’t maintain a 6-foot distance from others, so bring plenty of extras. Also bring a nice stash of water and snacks, allowing you to limit the number of times you need to stop for refreshments.

Good hygiene on the road is much like that at home (for instance, washing hands thoroughly with soap and water before eating and after using the restroom) but requires extra vigilance when it comes to high-traffic roadside stops, McKoy says. She suggests that drivers wear disposable gloves while pumping gas, rather than worrying about wiping down the nozzle itself (after you’re done, discard the gloves outside your car or seal them in a plastic bag for disposal later if a trash can isn’t available).

Pay for gas with cards, not cash. This eliminates the face-to-face interaction necessary for a cash transaction, and cards — but not cash — can always be cleaned with a disinfectant wipe after use.

Note that many public restrooms are closed; places such as Starbucks or other fast-food establishments may prevent customers from using their bathrooms for sanitary reasons. That means you’ll be relying heavily on restrooms at highway rest areas or gas stations, so be especially vigilant with sanitizing. Be careful not to touch fixtures like the faucet or door handle after washing your hands, and, of course, wear a mask. 


Restaurants in some states have resumed dine-in service — but expect changes like limits on the number of guests allowed inside and extra space between tables. In states where a sit-down meal still isn’t allowed, drive-through and takeout service are typically available instead, as are drive-through options at major chains such as McDonald’s and Starbucks.

The benefit of staying in a home rental: You’ll have a kitchen to cook your own meals.

Consider bringing your own groceries from home. Wherever you buy your food, use recommended precautions (including wearing a mask).


If you need to stay in a hotel overnight, call ahead to confirm your reservation, though most hotels are again open for business — especially those from major chains that you’ll find along highways, such as Hilton, Hyatt and Best Western.

Hotels are also rethinking their approach to sanitization and social distancing in light of the outbreak. Guidelines from the American Hotel & Lodging Association, an industry group, include stringent cleaning procedures for everything from elevator buttons to exercise equipment. And more hotels are implementing contactless check-in and check-out, and keyless entry (where you can use your smartphone to unlock your room), and moving lobby seating to keep guests apart.

– Courtesy of AARP