Road trip safety essentials for travel during COVID-19
Since COVID-19 is likely going to be around for a while, even after vaccinations, safe road trips may be the best answer to see new places. With our road trip safety essentials list, you can avoid relying on restaurants and will make less frequent trips to stores so you can focus on having fun and traveling well.
I was itching to travel, but I kept waiting for a window when a road trip would be safe and responsible. When cases of COVID-19 were again declining in fall 2020 and travel was allowed, I jumped at the chance to head out on a two-week photography road trip to Southern and Eastern California. I planned to do what I called “hotel camping.” I was going to supply myself with all the road trip safety essentials during COVID-19 to stay healthy and as distanced as possible while still having fun outdoor adventures.
The driving adventure taught me so much that I compiled a road trip safety essentials checklist that will likely become our new normal for future road trips. Most people have learned not to take health and safety for granted – I sure have — and those pandemic lessons will transfer to road trips and other travels, both during COVID-19 and even as it wanes since it won’t totally go away for a long time.
Unfortunately, one thing the COVID-19 pandemic has created is a lot more paper and plastic waste. While we all need to do our part to reduce plastic and waste, with new health precautions there is little way around generating added waste — especially on a road trip when you are using a lot of disposable wipes and likely many more paper towels and tissues than usual. So, swallow hard and don’t skimp on your road trip safety essentials to stay healthy.
One caveat: We believe in safe and responsible travel and showing respect for others. Meaning if you are not supposed to be traveling or going outside of your region, please do not.
Research and book in advance for your road trip
Since travel guidelines and restrictions change often, you will want to check on your regional guidelines as well as current restrictions and guidelines for your destinations. Always follow safety protocols and health requests in any area or at any business you do visit.
Try also to book your lodgings in advance since some are limiting guest numbers – and most have implemented more lenient cancellation policies, too. On my road trip, I found some areas were full or nearly full. Also, check in advance on the facility’s sanitizing and safety protocols to ensure they meet your needs and standards for a safe road trip.
Road trip safety essentials cleaning supplies
Don’t rely on acquiring protective and disinfecting gear along the way – and don’t trust where you go or stay will have done the correct cleaning. I packed:
- Large tub of disinfecting wipes, such as Clorox or Lysol – keep in your car to use to handle door handles, gas pumps, etc., or to wipe down anything somebody else may have handled, such as your credit card. Also, use to wipe down hotel room surfaces, light switches, faucets, and other surfaces. Use as directed or per CDC guidelines.
- Smaller pocket pack of disinfecting wipes – to carry with you to use when out and about.
- Spray hand-sanitizer (min 60% alcohol) – to spray down hotel high-touch surfaces (let it dry naturally, do not wipe off).
- Small pocket-size bottle of hand sanitizer – to carry with you and have handy to use all the time if you must handle a public door handle, touch a pen that may not have been sanitized, etc.
- Large bottle of gel hand sanitizer such as Purell (min 60% alcohol) – to refill your small pocket bottle. To be sure, there are so many hand-sanitizing stations everywhere you go, this may not be necessary but better safe than sorry.
- Paper towels and/or facial tissues and toilet paper – to use as napkins, to handle items you may not have cleaned, or general purpose. My paper towel roll came in very, very handy on my road trip. And toilet paper may also be needed for a TP-depleted rest stop or a roadside “natural break,” but do leave no trace.
- Liquid disinfecting soap — to use if you need to wash your hands when there isn’t the facility to do so.
- A jug of water (2 gallons minimum) – yes, for cleaning, e.g. if you have to wash your hands at the car with the soap you brought, but also to refill your smaller refillable personal bottle along the way. Anything to minimize the need to go into stores or touch anything anybody else has touched OR create more waste.
Put personal protective gear on your road trip safety checklist
Aside from cleaning supplies, you will need to keep yourself protected, too. Among my road trip safety essentials were:
- A mask as well as a couple of extras. If you have washable ones, you can of course wash them along the way, which I did. Store your mask in a sandwich-size zip bag when not wearing it to keep it clean.
- A few pairs of disposal gloves – I will admit I did not use the ones I had since I used wipes and paper towels to handle gas pumps and the like. But I wanted them along – just in case.
- Safety goggles? – depending on your sensitivity to safety. I did not wear them on my road trip, although I DID wear them when I needed to fly in the summer. They were part of my flying and travel safety kit.
- Small snack- or sandwich-size zip bags – I have stopped carrying purses or wallets, instead sliding an ID, credit card, driver’s license and a bit of money in a small zip bag I can slip in a pocket. It’s just smart to have less to handle, put down, or touch on a safe road trip during COVID-19.
- A pen or other writing utensil plus spares – to sign any credit card slips, hotel registries, or anything else that may still need a signature. You also won’t have pens in hotel rooms anymore.
- Option: your own sheets or pillows – I did not carry my own, but in hindsight my own pillow at least could have been a good idea, and I will consider adding this to my own road trip safety checklist in the future.
Clean, sanitize and disinfect hotels on your safe road trip
Without housekeeping at lodgings and hotels – and without knowing how good cleanings between guests are — you’ll need and want to clean your room yourself to some degree. CDC guidelines for home cleaning also apply on any road trip.
- Open all doors and windows to allow air flow in the room upon arrival. It’s been shown that the virus doesn’t live very long on a surface; however, it can float in the air in the form of aerosols from somebody’s breath or if somebody was in the room who may have coughed or sneezed.
- Wipe down all surfaces, light switches, door handles, faucets and the like.
- Spray primary touch surfaces, such as light switches, with your spray alcohol-based sanitizer.
- Let all surfaces dry naturally per manufacturer directions of your wipes and cleaners.
- Put the “do not disturb” sign on the door to ensure nobody enters your room. Most hotels and lodgings have discontinued housekeeping, but you can ask for towels or anything else you need. I frankly don’t want a stranger in my room since that person may have mask fatigue and take it off, meaning he or she may spread aerosols just from breathing that could be contagious.
Stock your hotel camp kitchen for a self-sufficient road trip: food
It was surprisingly easy and convenient to pre-pack food and beverages to limit stops and any contact. I liked it so much, I may do this even after COVID wanes. It was great not to feel tied to restaurant hours or need to search to find someplace to eat, or an open store.
I packed along a large ice chest with frozen ice packs for perishables and a large “duffel” type bag for non-perishables and gear. (I had been given the new Longhaul Duffel from Think Tank Photo to test; on Kickstarter now, it should be out in early 2021.)
I found myself walking the aisles in stores prior to departure seeking items I hadn’t considered before and found for example flavorful shelf-stable international sauces and polenta. So be open to looking around a bit. Here’s how I stocked up before and during my trip, but what you take will depend on your tastes, preferences or dietary needs.
Non-perishables: I did a series of small shops prior to departure to supply myself with items I knew I liked and could make meals and snacks out of along the way. They included:
- nut butters in single serve packets (such as Justin’s),
- jams or marmalades (but they will need refrigeration once opened),
- protein bars and other snack bars (I like NuGo or RX Bars since they are lower in sugar),
- a variety of dried fruit,
- nuts of choice,
- trail mix (preferably non-chocolate and not meltable),
- single-serve packs of tuna,
- flatbreads, tortillas or bagels (i.e. a non-squishable bread, but careful since these may spoil after a few days so buy sparingly and replenish as needed),
- turkey or beef jerky,
- canned meals such as soup or chili,
- dry cereal,
- fruit such as apples or bananas (as above, buy sparingly and replenish as needed),
- powdered drink mixes to put in your water bottle, such as ice tea, etc.,
- Cookies – ok, ok, a girl’s gotta have a few sweets,
- pre-ground coffee and loose tea bags,
- wine or beer, if per chance you’d like a drink now and then, right?
Other possibilities, depending on how extensively you plan to cook or how much you want to avoid shopping on your safe road trip, include:
- instant oatmeal packs or regular oatmeal,
- dried pasta and bottled sauce,
- just-add-water meals such as ramen or potatoes, or one-pot meals like macaroni and cheese dinners,
- canned fruits or vegetables.
Once at my first destination, I then added a few perishables that could live in either my ice chest or in an in-room refrigerator. I bought sparingly, though, so nothing would spoil. They included: yogurt, cheese, fresh vegies such as carrots or cucumbers, and spinach (which could be easily added to soups or one-pot meals), more fresh fruit, milk, juice, refrigerator pasta, etc.
Prior to leaving, I also baked some dense banana bread and hard-boiled eggs!
Are you with me on how much variety you can easily have while “hotel camping” on a safe road trip during COVID-19?
Self-sufficient road trip: hotel cooking and eating tools
Of course, you need basics to eat and cook, too. Think lightweight and packable, which means turning to items often sold for backpacking. Over two weeks, I ended up in just four different lodgings, and only one didn’t have a microwave or coffeemaker. Thus, here’s what my basic road trip safety checklist included:
- Coffee drip cone and mug – I went with the GSI Outdoors Ultralight Java Drip (no need for paper filters) and the GSI Outdoors Infinity Backpacker Mug, but there are others too.
- Bowl and plate – I opted for the Sea to Summit Delta Bowl and the collapsible X Plate and X Bowl, which can both double as cutting boards when flattened.
- Spork – I’m a big fan of the Light My Fire titanium version of this combo spoon-fork-knife (seen in a picture above with a bowl of soup) for its lightweight versatile durability.
- Small sharp knife – pop an old cork on the end for safety.
- Can opener, bottle opener and corkscrew.
- Any spices that might motivate you, from salt and pepper to garlic or red pepper flakes.
- Cooking pot and pan – Again, backpacking gear to the rescue, with a small pot and pan, with handles that come off for packability. I have since upgraded to the amazing, collapsible Sea to Summit X pots, pans and kettles with metal bases and collapsible silicon sides. Amazing!
- Hot plate – I opted to avoid other electrical appliances such as coffee machines and took a one-burner hot plate, knowing I could boil water or cook/heat anything else I needed with this one item. Mine was an Oster but there are so many that are compact without heating elements for safety.
- Small bottle of dish detergent.
My only real challenge was keeping my ice packs frozen. Due to COVID-19 limitations, hotel offices declined to freeze them in their industrial freezers, as they normally do. The first two lodgings had tiny freezers in the in-room fridges that did keep them frozen, but I then had to buy a bag of ice for the last couple of days.
That about did it, and all of these road trip safety essentials fit into my one Think Tank Photo Longhaul Duffel and my ice chest – two things I could move in and out of hotel rooms easily.
I had such a great trip traveling so independently including not worrying about restaurant hours – other than the need for gas and an occasional re-supply of some groceries — that I can’t wait to do it again even if I don’t need to travel this way. The independence was in fact exhilarating!
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