This year, a summer vacation may seem like a pipe dream thanks to the novel coronavirus.
But with restrictions easing in many parts of the country, travel agents say they’re getting an increasing number of calls from people considering trips, especially to see family members who live out-of-state.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends people stay home and avoid all non-essential travel.
Being apart from distant relatives because of COVID-19, however, is something a lot of Americans are struggling with, including me. My mom is 85 and lives alone outside Milwaukee, and it feels like ages since I’ve seen her.
A hundred years ago, before the coronavirus pandemic, I’d book a flight out of Rutland and make a connection in Boston. But now the idea of going through potentially three different airports, and spending time on three different planes, does not sound good. Neither does driving to a larger airport, because I’ll just have to drive to an area where COVID-19 is worse.
And Amtrak? The Ethan Allen Express, which ran between Rutland and New York City, now goes only as far north as Albany. And The Vermonter, which ran between St. Albans and Washington DC, now goes only as far as New Haven, Connecticut, and doesn’t run at all on Sundays.
But sitting on a train for two days didn’t sound optimal either.
Wisconsin is a 15-hour drive, and who knows how clean rest stops or gas stations will be, or how easy it’ll be to find open restaurants along the way? And when I get tired, do I camp or stay in a hotel? Or just pull over and sleep in my car?
Pre-plan, pre-plan, pre-plan
“I think number one, you really need to pre-plan that route,” said Daniel Goodman, of AAA Northern New England. He says anyone planning to drive across state lines this summer needs to do their homework.
“Educate yourself on what’s going on along the road in your specific destination, what’s open, what’s closed,” he said. “You know, check the places you’re visiting, state and local authorities, CDC, State Department.”
Because restrictions from state to state vary. So do quarantine requirements. For instance, to drive to my mom’s, I’ll go through Ohio, where Lydia Mihalik, Director of Ohio’s Development Services Agency, says 95% of businesses have reopened.
And Mihalik said more are expected to open this month, including zoos, aquariums, amusement parks and water parks. While that may be good news for a road trip with kids, I’m hoping to avoid crowds as much as possible.
Mihalik says out-of-state drivers entering Ohio will not get the evil eye, and the state lifted its self-quarantine order. But she says travelers are expected to wear face coverings and follow the state’s public health protocols, like social distancing.
“If you’re just passing through, Ohio’s rest areas are open, and our department of transportation is working extremely hard to ensure that they’re clean and disinfected regularly,” Mihalik said. “And we’re welcoming you with open arms.”
In Pennsylvania, officials said 23 of that state’s 30 rest areas are open, as are a growing number of the state’s campgrounds. Pennsylvania also has a handy color-coded map that shows how open for business various counties are.
If you’re unsure how COVID-19 is spreading where you want to travel, there’s information on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.
Get a tune-up, pack lots of supplies
If you do decide to forge ahead with a road trip, AAA’s Daniel Goodman recommends getting a tune up before you leave, as a lot of cars have been sitting around more than usual.
And don’t forget to pack plenty of cleaning supplies, like hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, along with masks and gloves. Extra snacks are also a good idea, says Goodman, because not all roadside restaurants will be open or serving at full capacity, so finding food when you want it may be more challenging.
“Another thing that we talk about travelers packing is an emergency kit,” adds Goodman. “That includes a cell phone charger, water, first aid kit, blankets, flashlight, a jumper cable. Make sure you’ve got your health insurance cards, your travel documents.”
Got a wedding? Maybe fly
If you’re traveling for a specific event like a wedding, funeral or birthday that you can’t miss, or if you can’t take the extra time to drive, flying may be a better option.
Sarah Sucharzewski owns Wheelock Travel in Claremont, New Hampshire, and she says her phone is finally starting to ring again with people wanting to book flights.
“At this point, all the airlines are taking huge precautions and safety measures,” she said.
Sucharzewski says people do need to wear masks on any flight and to walk through an airport.
“The TSA in most airport locations are now doing the touchless temperature checks,” she said.
Airlines have reduced the number of seats they sell per flight, and are using more remote technology to reduce waiting times in baggage areas, check-in and during boarding.
Planes are being more intensively cleaned between flights, too. But don’t expect much when it comes to food and beverages. Those services have been reduced.
But so have ticket prices.
“Yes,” says Sucharzewski, “there are some wonderful deals out there, because people need the confidence to get back out there and travel. Yes, you can buy last-minute and get those last-minute deals. However, it’s like a teeter totter.”
Because airlines have reduced the number of seats they’ll fill and are running fewer flights per day, Sucharzewski says travelers who can not be flexible with their travel dates, may not want to wait as long to book.