Although my most recent trip through America’s heartland was a road trip, we actually traveled in all kinds of different ways—subway, airplane, Uber, driving, walking. And in several different states—Maryland, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana. Being the Type A traveler that I am and, being in the middle of Coronavirus in the US, I researched endlessly so I might be as prepared as humanly possible. No amount of research, however, would prepare me for the reality of travel right now. So, here I am. Spilling all the details about traveling during Coronavirus, both the good and bad.
To Travel Or Not To Travel
Sigh. There are just so many different angles on this topic, it exhausts me. It’s probably the case that, for most people, not traveling for several months at a time is no big deal. Not traveling for a year, or even years (plural), might be completely normal for some folks.
But it’s not for me. And, while I’m fully aware and very much appreciate that travel is a privilege and not a right, travel is very much a part of my identity. Now, I understand it’s not all about me. But, if I could travel responsibly, I was going to try.
I did the right thing, of course. (“Am still doing”—present tense.) I did what I was supposed to do and quarantined with everyone else in my state—Maryland. I’d learn my state’s quarantine was much stricter than other states’ “quarantines,” but… I’ve been doing what I believe to be right for the collective good. For four months.
And, when the time came that we gradually started re-opening, I started eyeing “safe” travel options. Travel options with less human interaction, in areas that seemed to be on the same “Corona-level” and at the same stages of re-opening as us. Trying to be as responsible as possible.
I have to emphasize here that this trip was not without risk. But a very calculated risk. I don’t believe that everyone should be freely traveling anywhere they want right now with abandon. At all. Some of us are in higher-risk areas with higher-risk medical conditions and I don’t think that should be taken lightly.
As someone who lives in an area that is just now finding a little “breathing room” from the virus, I certainly don’t want someone from a currently heavy-hit area exposing us to the virus all over again. And I completely understand where the rest of the world is coming from when they don’t want Americans entering their countries.
My point? Make the decision to travel very carefully. Because it’s really not about just you. Now, some people might think I’m being hypocritical here since I just came back from a trip myself. But let’s be honest—your medical conditions, where you live, your age, your current life situation, the whole virus… are not my fault. And in the same vein, other people can travel more than I get to right now. It is what it is. But, for an entire rundown of Coronavirus travel perspectives, check out my recent article for Formidable Woman Magazine.
What It’s Like To Actually Travel Right Now
Now that the disclaimers are all out of the way, I open this section with… yet another disclaimer. This was my personal experience… in certain states… at certain times… with certain businesses… many of whom have likely changed their protocols several times over already. And will continue to do so in the coming weeks, months, etc. as Coronavirus in the US continues to make its rounds.
But, I do believe there will still be lots of helpful tidbits for you to think about if you make the decision to travel during Coronavirus. Either way, be sure to Google the latest and greatest regulations in every state before you go. Like, right before you go, too. They’re being updated every day.
PROS: At both airports, people generally respected socially distancing. No one sat right next to us, but I did have to ask a couple people to… get away from me in line. Everyone wore masks. Some restaurants were closed entirely and some had modified hours.
Our return flight hardly had any passengers at all, so we were all reassigned seats to be socially distanced. We had to wear masks the entire flight, which for two hours, isn’t awesome, but it’s not the worst. If you have difficulty breathing in a mask for the length of your flight (plus the airports on either side), don’t fly. Also, if you have a long flight or absolutely, positively want social distancing, check with the specific airline you’re flying.
CONS: The same week our flight was scheduled, American Airlines announced they were doing away with social distancing on flights. (Also the same week Coronavirus in the US spiked in the south.) Funny enough, they tried to keep everyone in “Group 9” (you know the group—the last one to which 75% of the passengers are assigned) socially distanced while packing us all onto a full flight. That was on the way there. Back was fine.
A note, too, that some people are just jerks, so you have to be okay standing up for yourself if you’re uncomfortable. For example, the second woman I had to ask to back away from me at the airport clearly didn’t like me asking, but… I didn’t like her in my personal space. So, get away.
And then I actually felt her gesture at me behind my back. She was that close. This was not the only time on this trip we’d feel a little threatened for simply asking someone to respect the well-known “Coronavirus rules.”
The Metro and The “L”
PROS: The subway systems in both DC and Chicago had similar Coronavirus policies and advisories—social distancing, masks required, try not to touch anything. Neither was particularly crowded when we traveled either. DC’s Metro was definitely more crowded on the way back, but still nowhere near the usual capacity you might see on it on a normal weekday.
CONS: Some people just don’t want to follow the rules. And this you can’t predict. On our way into Chicago, a woman jumped on the train. She sat directly next to someone—in the reserved seating, at that—despite there being plenty of open seats available. Wasn’t wearing a mask, nor did she have one under her chin or hanging off one ear. She was talking on her phone on speaker and chewing on her nails. Which is generally kind of gross on a city subway, but really gross when there’s a global pandemic going on. She was simply entitled and obnoxious and an a*shole to be around.
Renting A Car
PROS: Easy as could be. Only one person allowed in the office at one time with the sales associate. Plexiglass dividers. Hand sanitizer available. Check with your car rental agency for the latest and greatest health protocols. Only the #AdventurePartnerForLife and I in the car the entire time.
CONS: We got the sh*ttiest car rental known to man for some reason. Nothing to do with Coronavirus, just a super crappy car. But it ran just fine.
I should mention that bathroom breaks on a road trip are just a little tricky regardless of state. Not all public restrooms are open right now, and a lot of stores and restaurants are only offering restroom access to customers.
There may have been one or two times where I had to hold off for a little longer than I would have liked. And, even then, the open restroom you do find may not be exactly what you were hoping for, if you know what I mean. If you have kids, bring wipes and be prepared to stop on the side of the road.
PROS: Most people in the modern world (who Uber) have figured out by now that both you and the driver have to wear masks while in the car together. Some drivers are super cool and have hand sanitizer in the back. This was no different in Chicago than it is in DC, thankfully.
CONS: The cost of Ubers in Chicago on Fourth of July weekend. But drunks need it and the drivers are putting themselves at risk providing the service. It’s worth it in the end and it helps someone pay their rent, right?
PROS: Everyone in downtown Chicago was wearing face masks outdoors. Well, almost everyone. But people were very conscious of pulling their masks up when getting “in range” of one another on the sidewalks. And most folks were pretty good about social distancing when possible. Of all the stops on our trip, I actually felt the cleanest and safest in downtown Chicago, believe it or not.
CONS: Regardless of state mandates, not everyone follows the rules. In fact, people completely flout the mandate in certain areas… like in the middle of Iowa and in the middle of the Upper Peninsula in Michigan. And it doesn’t matter at all how many people are around. You might even receive dirty looks or endure threatening comments for wearing a mask and following state mandate. If that makes any sense. (Yes, people actually gave us sh*t.)
PROS: Some hotels, like The Bayfield Inn in Wisconsin, were absolutely pristine. Our Chicago hotels were as well. They had plexiglass and clean pens and were clearly sanitizing constantly. Neither cleaned our room during our stay, which I prefer anyway. Hand sanitizer was conveniently located. They took additional measures that included “Clean Remotes” and removing the bagillion pieces of marketing all over the rooms. Some had individual Lysol wipes in the rooms.
CONS: You’d think room service would be safe to… “administer,” but not all hotels were offering it (when they otherwise normally would).
Some hotels just weren’t as diligent as others. It’s not that they were not clean, but it might’ve seemed like it was just any other day staying there. And I’m not sure how much comfort that gave me. Those particular hotels did have staff wearing masks at the very least.
PROS: Restaurants in Chicago and Wisconsin were mostly outdoors and social distanced at the time. Some had indoor dining with social distancing as well. We tried to stay outdoors whenever possible. Those are the same restaurants that required reservations and had time limits on their seating. Also the same ones that just… felt cleaner and like the staff gave a crap about their customers.
CONS: A lot of restaurants are still closed, so you might have to get a little creative with your take-out (eating in parks or bringing it back to your hotel rooms). You might be a little hot sitting outside and eating.
Despite Coronavirus in the US, some restaurants in the traditionally more conservative states, didn’t have any sort of protocols enforced in their restaurants. Despite having state mandates to do so. Yes, it was uncomfortable. Employees weren’t wearing masks, patrons weren’t wearing masks, there was no social distancing, there was both indoor and outdoor dining. Like any other day, you know.
Sightseeing & Activities
PROS: The weather is currently ideal for outdoor activities. Get out and try some new things, like sailing excursions or lake cruises. Take a city walking tour, do yoga with goats, fly a kite, have a picnic. I’ve been forced to do more outdoor things than I normally would right now and it’s great!
CONS: Things like museums and markets have limited hours or are closed altogether. Check in advance. There’s enough still open to keep you busy.
If You’re Thinking of Traveling…
Our road trip opened my eyes to a lot of things that, in retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have been so naive about. But it also allows me to give some helpful advice to others considering travel right now.
- Check the latest regulations for wherever you’re going. They’re different everywhere and they’re constantly changing.
- Carry a “Coronavirus kit” with you. It should contain extra masks, hand sanitizer, Lysol wipes, etc. They supposedly disinfect between flights, but you never can be too careful. A recent article came out saying Southwest Airlines won’t be sanitizing armrests and seatbelts anymore.
- Make sure you’re comfortable with whatever protocols businesses are practicing. It’s your health. And your families’ health. You wouldn’t want to be wishing you’d made a different decision later.
- Be okay with speaking up, if needed. Not everyone is on the same page with this virus, and some people are downright rude, even threatening. But again, it’s your health.
- Don’t make your schedule dependent on any indoor activities, dining included. We had things we would have liked to have done that were indoors, but we had plenty of outdoors activities available to us. No day went wasted because of unexpected hours or closures.
- If you’re camping or road-tripping, book campsites and RV lots or car parks way in advance right now. They’re booking up super fast.
- At the same time, you may want to wait to book flights. Things are constantly changing and you might find that you’re no longer comfortable with the latest hygiene updates. (Most hotels are offering free cancellation until the night before your stay right now.)
- Plan meals and restroom stops well in advance. Then have Plans B and C. If you’ve got kiddos or aren’t super flexible, make sure you’re covered.
Travel Isn’t Impossible
Travel isn’t impossible with Coronavirus in the US. It just looks a lot different than what we’re used to. And, again, I’m not saying that I think everyone should get a green light and just go do whatever they want either. That’s all part of the decision-making process. What I am saying is, if you do see an opening for responsible, thoughtful travel right now, plan ahead. Be aware and be considerate when you hit the road. And don’t take anyone else’s sh*t either.