If you’re anything like me, you’re itching to hit the road.
It’s been months since I’ve stepped foot on a plane, booked a plane ticket or even packed a bag. For someone whose livelihood (and a good portion of my happiness) depends on travel, losing the ability to explore the world has been one of the toughest consequences of the ongoing pandemic.
While no one is quite sure when it’ll be safe to travel via plane this year—let alone travel internationally—one thing everyone can agree on is the fact that road trips are going to be the next best thing.
Now that road trip season is upon us, I’m sharing the tips and best practices to road tripping in the age of coronavirus, including recommendations based on my own experience driving from NYC to upstate New York for a three-day nature getaway.
How to plan a road trip right now
After three months of quarantine in my tiny 300-square-foot studio apartment at the epicenter of the pandemic, my boyfriend and I were in dire need of a physical and mental break. This break came in the form of a three-day trip to the Finger Lakes in New York, a waterfall-laden region about four hours from Manhattan.
Overall it was a smooth trip experience—here is everything you need to know before planning your own.
Is it safe to rent a car?
When it comes to renting a car, the risk of coronavirus transmission is relatively low. The virus is mostly transmitted from person to person, rather than contaminated surfaces, according to new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Unfortunately most New York City dwellers don’t own a car, so renting one is necessary.
And let me tell ya, renting a car in NYC can be a hassle: Rentals are extremely overpriced, and the best way to score a half-decent price is to rent one from the airport—but then you have to pay for the Lyft ride there, unless you’re taking the subway (which isn’t ideal during a pandemic).
I personally ended up renting one from LaGuardia.
Research the rental company
Before choosing a rental company, I made sure to look up the company’s policy on COVID-19 to ensure they were taking the right precautions, i.e. keeping the cars clean and requiring employees to wear masks. This is something I recommend you do before booking your car, too.
I ended choosing Budget, which I instantly regretted as soon as I received my vehicle. Despite the fact that their website says the company is taking extra precautions to disinfect vehicles after each rental, the car I was given was absolutely filthy! If this happens to you, make sure to ask for a new vehicle.
Despite the low risk of contamination, I felt extremely uncomfortable taking a car that was clearly left uncleaned after its previous use. The staff gave me a new one after I complained, but it wasn’t that much cleaner than the first.
For these reasons and more, I cannot recommend using Budget. I won’t be using them again.
Disinfect high-touch areas
To be on the safe side, I recommend bringing disinfectant wipes so that you can wipe down all interior and exterior door handles, mirrors and other high-touch surfaces in the car. Doing this made me feel a lot more comfortable throughout the ride, especially since the car wasn’t very clean to begin with.
Book your hotel ahead of time
I recommend doing as much research ahead of time as possible—this isn’t really the best time for spontaneous travel. Many hotels and Airbnb properties remain close, especially in New York, which has just begun its reopening process.
Hotels may also be limiting their capacity, and as summer rolls in, more and more people will be looking to book an escape. I suggest booking your hotel a couple of weeks ahead of time to ensure you find a property that’s accepting guests and are able to snag a room.
I personally feel more comfortable booking with larger, reputable chains right now, as I feel they have the resources to ensure their properties are kept clean and their staff is following safety guidelines.
I was more than happy with the room I booked at the Hampton Inn in Ithaca. It wasn’t the fanciest of hotels, but the room was comfortable, spacious and clean.
One thing to keep in mind is that if you’re going on a summer road trip, you’re probably looking to spend a lot of time outdoors. I know I was! Since I would only be coming back to the hotel to sleep, I didn’t need to book anything too extravagant.
What changes to expect at a hotel
First, I recommend calling the hotel as soon as you book your home to ensure the reservation went through and to ask the staff about any social distancing guidelines you should be aware of.
Like the Hampton Inn, many hotels have suspended housekeeping services to minimize contact between guests and staff. This didn’t bother me at all, and the room was equipped with plenty of bath towels for our stay.
We did bring our own pillows to avoid using the ones at the hotel. I don’t believe this is necessary, but it made me feel more comfortable!
Traditional breakfast service was also suspended, but the hotel did provide a “to-go” breakfast (a muffin, snack bar, apple and a bottle of water) that we could grab at the front desk each morning. The coffee station was still open, though!
All guests and staff were required to wear a mask inside the property, and social distancing was required.
Research the destination to see what’s open or closed
I did extensive research on the Finger Lakes region before finally settling on the city of Ithaca. I chose Ithaca as a base because I knew there were multiple grocery stores there, which are considered essential businesses and remain open, as well as at least a few fast food spots that would definitely be offering to-go service.
Since that region of New York was only in phase one of reopening, most businesses were still closed due to the pandemic. But we found a number of restaurants (not just fast food) were offering takeout and delivery. We ate most of our meals in the car, or picnic style in a park—which I didn’t mind at all!
A good way to see what’s open or closed in your final destination is to visit the city’s official tourism board website.
As far as state and national parks go, I recommend checking their websites for updates. Even if parks are open, there may be certain trail closures to avoid overcrowding. In Ithaca, the most popular trail at Watkins Glen was unfortunately closed!
Respect the social distancing restrictions
It’s important to remember that every region is at a different stage of the pandemic. Even if your city is completely open, there’s a chance that your final destination isn’t.
Many public spaces may still require you to wear a mask, and I recommend carrying hand sanitizer with you at all times.
Park rangers were limiting capacity at many hiking trails in Ithaca, ad well as asking hikers to wear a mask whenever social distancing wasn’t possible.
Be a responsible traveler and respect these guidelines to help curb the spread of the virus.
Have any questions? Drop them below! Be safe, and happy road tripping.
Heading to the finger lakes? here are SOME GREAT hotel options:
- HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES — GREAT VALUE
- HAMPTON INN – WHERE I STAYED
- THE BOND 1835 – BEST RATED ON BOOKING.COM