No mater how many incredibly scenic drives I experience around the world, there's always one…
I’m calling it: 2020 is the year of the road trip.
So much has changed in the past few months. From performing daily tasks like grocery shopping and schooling from home, sometimes I find myself wondering if this is real life or a movie.
For travelers, canceling a vacation seems like a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things. That said, it’s completely okay to grieve letting go of that dream trip you’d planned. And until you can rebook, I say focus on planning something new. It’ll be smaller, but more attainable, as well as a safer way to experience new place in this uncertain time.
This summer, Americans will be traveling the old fashioned way. No, not by covered wagon (though actually… no, never mind, I think the Oregon Trail was a much more fun computer game than a real-life experience). I’m talking by car! Van! RV! Motorcycle! Yes, friends, we will be hitting the open road, and I for one cannot wait.
Are you thinking about a road trip this summer? Here’s a few things to keep in mind.
AAA Travel is a sponsor of Samantha Brown’s Places to Love, but the opinions listed here are all mine.
The One-Tank Road Trip
The travel industry is making a big push for the one-tank road trip. That means you’re basically filling up near home, then driving a total of 300-ish miles (man, you Prius owners have it good right now!).
Not only does this limit your exposure to other people, but a single tank of gas is pretty darn cheap—in fact, the US has the lowest gas prices in 17 years, according to AAA. Though prices are expected to rise over the summer, it’s still an economic way to travel.
Does keeping your trip to one-tank seem… boring? Au contraire! Think about all the places in your own state or area that you’ve always wanted to visit, but never prioritized. I’ll bet you’ve thought, “I’ll get to that [canoe area/national park/charming small town] one day.” Guess what? Today is that day. We often take what’s close and convenient for granted. This is the summer to be a tourist in our own backyard.
Your Best Travel Resource
When it comes to planning a regional trip, nothing beats your state’s tourism board. These websites do deep dives on local attractions and under-the-radar-places the big travel sites and media companies don’t have the bandwidth to unearth. Go to your state’s tourism site and you’ll find all sorts of incredible resources on planning road trips, along with scenic stops and mom-and-pop shop along the way.
My Favorite Travel Apps
Yes, there is an app for everything. But they are not all created equal! When it comes to road trip apps, I love iExit. Open the iExit app on or near any interstate nationwide. It finds your location automatically, shows you exits ahead, and what services are available at each exit. It even shows gas prices!
The Around Me app suggests nearby restaurants, bars, ATMS, grocery stores, banks, hotels and more. Especially great if you’re walking or driving around a new city.
When it comes to navigation, Google Maps is the gold standard. They just launched new features that inform travelers of COVID restrictions along their routes. They also include specials feature to find local businesses.
Plan Ahead, and Book Direct
We’ve become accustomed to booking online, often through third party sites. If you’re thinking about staying at a hotel, campground, or renting a house or cabin, might I suggest booking the old fashioned way, like on a telephone? Talking to a real person onsite will give you the most accurate information on what the area and property is like right now. Also, it makes any changes to your reservation easier to deal with.
Alternatively, you can always book through a travel agent (here’s why that’s an excellent idea).
Yep, that’s right… bring your own food. You don’t need to plan on eating every single meal in your car, but nothing ruins a trip like a car full of hangry people—especially when you don’t know what will be open along the way. Bring a solid cooler and pack snacks, fruit, jerky, whatever. Get those mouths fed before they start complaining about your decision to listen to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors for the eleventy-millionth time.
Ah, yes. Bathroom breaks are an essential part of road trips, and you never know when you might need to make one. Check ahead to see which welcome centers and rest stops are open along the way.
And throw a roll of TP into the glovebox.
And hand sanitizer.
Just in case.
Do Your Research
COVID19-related rules differ from state-to-state, county-to-county, even between towns. Thank goodness for this interactive map from AAA showcasing state-by-state restrictions that may affect road trippers. It should be noted that things are changing so quickly that the map may not always be up to date. Double-check rules with local government and tourism boards.
Masks and social distancing
Currently, several states require people to wear face coverings in public. Many others recommend it. And, as mentioned previously, some counties, cities and even specific shops have their own rules.
Regardless of your personal feelings of social distancing and masks, if you’re going to hit the road this summer, bring masks for the whole family. Remember, you are the visitor, and respecting local rules is a must.
Everyone’s favorite road trip activity: paying tolls. Many states have closed cash toll collection (and the few that have not are saying drivers paying cash should expect long delays due to reduced staff). That doesn’t mean they’re free—just that you’ll be expected to pay via a transponder (like E-ZPass) or by mail/online (they can scan your plate and send you an invoice via mail—technology is crazy!). Look up the local tollway details prior to leaving so you’ll know what to do.
Shop & Eat Local
When possible, go out of your way to support local businesses. Get takeout from local restaurants. Skip the big box stores when shopping for supplies and hit up an independent hardware store (which, by the way, are so much fun to explore—from trinkets and board games to soap and camping supplies, they have it all!), gift shop or bookstore. So many breweries sell growlers and crowlers (aka 32oz cans of beer) to-go—often stuff you cannot buy in liquor stores. Everyone is hurting financially right now, and your money makes such a big impact when it’s spent with small businesses.
Are you planning a road trip this summer? Where are you going? How are you planning ahead?