How to Stay Safe on a Road Trip in 2021

Tips for taking a road trip and keeping it safe during a pandemic.

Whether you’re thinking of venturing out of town for business or pleasure, there are things you can do to help you stay safe on a road trip.

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Two weeks from today, I’m hitting the road. I’m taking off. I’m going on a what? A ROAD TRIP!

What? I’m doing what? NOW? Am I crazy?

Well, yes, but I’m also cautious. Super cautious. Compromised-immune-system-because-of-cancer cautious.

So why am I doing this?

Because it’s my job.

I’m not talking about traveling as my job, although it is, but that’s been on hold. With the exception of a carefully planned road trip last summer to research Midwest Road Trip Adventures, and a quick trip to Galena that required no pit-stops, I haven’t traveled. Both of those were before I received my breast cancer diagnosis in August, and since then, I’ve been home and have only left for medical appointments like surgeries and chemotherapy and a few short drives to get me out of the house.

But, in March I’m leading a writing workshop with Midwest Travel Network in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Originally scheduled in October, it was pushed back to now due to COVID and Hurricane Sally.

I’ve been nervous. I’ve checked with my oncologist and my nurse navigator and pretty much every member of my med team and they’ve all said “GO.” Their support is qualified – they approve because they know I am going to do everything possible to keep myself, my husband, my students, and complete strangers safe. They even say it will be good for me because I’m extremely passionate about this workshop, and mindset is half (or more) the battle with cancer.

Taking a road trip, even now, can be safe. In fact, it’s pretty much the safest way to travel because you have much more control than through any other means of transportation. It’s all about taking the right precautions.

And just what are those precautions?

With my compromised immune system, we’re going to use the belts and suspenders approach, as my mom would say. Even without a compromised immune system, I recommend following these measures. With the new, more contagious strains and the slow vaccine rollout, it’s vital to do everything you can to stop the spread. 

Before we get started: I AM NOT A DOCTOR. Please check with the CDC and your physician if you plan on doing any traveling. These are the steps that we’re taking, approved by my med team, and I’m sharing them to both answer any questions about how we’re handling this, and to offer suggestions that might help others who plan on traveling, either for work or for pleasure.

The main things to keep in mind when planning a road trip right now are these:

  • Keep your distance.
  • Wear masks – plural. The new recommendation is to double-up.
  • Wash your hands wash your hands wash your hands.
  • Use hand sanitizer every time you touch something anyone else may have touched.
  • Wear gloves.
  • Disinfect. Disinfect again.

The good news for outdoor enthusiasts and campers is that being outside is pretty much the safest you can be. Yay for the great outdoors!

Ready? Here we go!

How to Stay Safe on a Road Trip

The Drive

The National Road

From our home in McHenry County, Illinois, US-45 is nearly a straight shot down to Gulf Shores. It’s about eighteen hours, and while we could do that in two or three days, I need to conserve my energy. My nurse navigator admonished both my husband and me (mainly me) to make sure I don’t wear myself out, so we’re going to take six days to get there.

Not only do I need to physically get up and move every couple of hours, which is a good idea anyway and advice I offer when planning any road trip, I also have to go to the bathroom a LOT because of chemo and the meds I’m taking. 

Plus: historical markers. 

We’re driving I-65 back and will take three days. Since it’s highway driving, we can move faster. There will also be more state-operated rest areas (see below).

Note: many states have quarantine rules. Check this list compiled by AARP before you plan any travel.

Also check each state’s transportation department website for current news, restrictions, and other information.

Bathroom Breaks

Deer Creek Campground Pit Toilet
Really Nice Pit Toilet

Speaking of bathroom breaks…I learned the hard way when I drove around Illinois last summer that this is the toughest part of road tripping right now. Let’s just say I’m glad I drove two-lanes and could pull over when I needed to, ahem, go.

Now I know: plan those potty stops.

Normally I like to road trip by the seat of my pants, but this time it’s not an option, or the seat of my pants will be distinctly uncomfortable (and smelly. Ew.). To make sure I’m not doing the dance, I’ll be mapping out potential potty breaks every couple of hours. I’ll be looking for:

  • Clusters of gas stations. Why clusters? Because if one is crowded, or lacking in mask-wearers, we can use another.
  • Chain hotels. They often have bathrooms right off the lobby, and they’ve got a vested interest in keeping their facilities clean.
  • Rest areas. Those might be harder to find on the way down, but we’re driving I-65 back.
  • Parks with facilities.

We’ll also check the Sit Or Squat app, and AAA’s TripTik lists rest areas.

Gas Stations

One thing I learned last summer – there are a lot of maskless wonders at gas stations. That’s why I’ll be mapping out clusters for bathroom breaks. As far as filling up, we’ll be paying by credit card only and will wear gloves to touch anything. Even though the pumps are outside, we’ll also be wearing masks.

Accommodations

We’re camping both there and back. It’s simply the safest, most physically-distanced option. Plus, camping!

Camping in Yellowstone National Park

In Gulf Shores, we’re staying at Turquoise Place. These are vacation condo rentals. Here are their cleaning protocols for the rooms:

  • Our resort uses CDC-approved cleaning products and protocols which meet EPA guidelines and are approved for use and effective against viruses, bacteria and other airborne and bloodborne pathogens.
  • We will be paying particular attention to high-touch items such as light switches, door handles, furniture, remotes, water faucet handles, nightstands, telephones, in-room control panels, alarm clocks, luggage racks and flooring.
  • The Clean Bed Guarantee ensures all coverlets are freshly laundered prior to every arrival. Other vacation rental management companies only launder comforters and coverlets quarterly or a few times a year. Sealed linen bags are also used.

We are also bringing disinfectant spray and wipes and a UVC wand (see below). As soon as we arrive, we’ll don our gloves and will be wiping EVERYTHING. We’ll also have multiple bottles of hand sanitizer.

These are two-bedroom condos and we’ll have our own bedroom and bathroom. When we’re in the common areas with our roomies (whom we know and trust), we’ll wear masks. Most likely, we’ll spend any of our time together on the balcony, overlooking the beach. We’ll suffer through it, I suppose.

Eating and Drinking

For the drive down, we’re bringing everything we’ll eat and drink. I’ll prep food ahead of time so we can quickly heat up breakfast and dinner at our campsites. Lunch will be wraps or sandwiches and we’ll find a picnic spot. 

We’ve got a fantastic cooler, and I’ll be freezing the meals we’ll eat the last four days. I also freeze gallons of water before any long road trip. Both of those serve to keep everything cool, and as the water thaws, we can drink it.

Since we’re staying in a condo while in Alabama, I can prep food and drink for the return visit as well.

Part of my job while in Gulf Shores is to experience the local dining scene. While indoor dining is available there, Mr. TLT and I will be doing outdoor dining only. Once again, we’ll suffer through. Somehow.

Sightseeing

On the way down and while in Gulf Shores, we will be doing some sightseeing.

However.

Almost all of it will be outside. Stops during our travel will be limited to the aforementioned historical markers and any outside attractions. Hiking is good for us!

Since this is a travel writing workshop, my job will be to see the sights. Once again, we’ll be keeping it outside. Any inside exploration will be limited in time and with strict distancing measures. If we enter someplace and people aren’t wearing masks or it’s too crowded, I’ll have to decline.

That’s another reason I’m OK, and my med team is OK, with this specific trip. It’s to the Gulf, where there are enough outdoor activities to keep me busy for days! If this workshop were to a cold weather destination, I couldn’t do it right now. Fortunately, it’s on the beach (haven’t I mentioned the beach yet? BEACH!).

Supplies

Superman statue in Metropolis, Illinois, wearing a mask, and Theresa Goodrich wearing a mask

Our road trip essentials always include hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. Now we need to add a few more items to our bucket o’ goodies.

Masks, masks, and more masks! Since it will be harder to clean our masks along the way, we’re bringing a boatload of disposable masks and will replace them after every stop. And yes, we’re doubling up.

Gloves. Any time we stop for gas or to use the restroom, or touch anything someone else may have touched, we’ll be gloving up. Then those disposable gloves are tossed. I abhor all of the disposing, but I’d abhor getting sick more.

Hand sanitizer. In the car. In my purse. In the room. In the workshop space. Hand sanitizer will be within reach at all times.

Disinfectant wipes. After any stop we’ll wipe down everything we’ve touched with disinfectant wipes, including the vehicle itself. That means the steering wheel, door handle, car keys, seat belt. I’ll also wipe down my purse, if I’ve brought it inside somewhere, and even the hand sanitizer bottle that I’ve touched before applying hand sanitizer.

Disinfectant spray. We’ll use disinfectant spray primarily when we get to the condos. I know they’re cleaning. Belts and suspenders, baby. Belts and suspenders.

UVC wand. We use a UVC wand at home for groceries, mail, and deliveries. We’ll use it on the road, too.

Thermometer. We’ve got a couple of those handy gun-shaped thermometers. We’ll be using it on each other and the workshop attendees.


Taking a road trip right now, especially with a compromised immune system, requires diligence and an abundance of caution. These are the steps I’ve cleared with my med team, often enough that they’re now replying with “As I said the last time you asked… you’re good.” Is there anything that I’ve missed? Please let me know!

In the meantime, I’ve got some planning to do!

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4 thoughts on “How to Stay Safe on a Road Trip in 2021”

  1. Great article Theresa! Thanks for addressing all the aspects of a road trip and for the many resources you shared. Happy travels to you!

    Reply
    • Thank you! We’ve definitely put a lot of thought into how we can do this safely. I think it’s important to let people know why I’m OK traveling, considering I’m at a higher risk. I also want to make sure that people know that we’re not going to be putting others at risk, which is one of the biggest considerations with travel right now. I’ll be doing a LOT of writing and posting about the trip both during and after!

      Reply
  2. Hello Theresa, just saw your seminar at the Travel and Adventure Show. Great 50 tips, loved it. just an fyi, that website link on your slide, is not a good link. luckily I was able to find it through this website. thanks for the freebie 🙂

    Reply

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