5 Tips for a COVID-Friendly Road Trip

0 comments / Posted on by P.MAI Team

Written by Nivi Achanta

In April 2020, my partner Ben and I realized we would probably have to cancel the South America trip we'd been dreaming of for months. Years, even.

We were going to go to Peru in the summer before Ben started grad school at UC Berkeley. We were thinking of backpacking around Peru's neighboring countries, eating street food, conquering iconic hikes, and staying up late at vibrant bars.

And then... * crowd chimes in * coronavirus happened.

We were sad about it for weeks, but finally, we hatched a new scheme. We would go on a COVID-safe roadtrip!

1 | Plan as much as you can. Yes, especially if you're a spontaneous person.

This was the most planned trip I'd ever been on. I'm so thankful Ben did most of the planning — we'd have been screwed otherwise. I'm a spontaneous traveler. I'm used to setting out for the day with no plan, no reservations, and only a general idea of what I want to do. I've slept in train stations in Munich, stayed overnight in tiny fishing villages, missed buses in remote parts of the world... and it's never been a huge problem.

This trip was not so carefree.

We had to book our campervan over a month in advance, reserve bike racks, get outdoor gear, order our National Parks pass, research campsites, buy bear spray (which was out of stock in almost every outdoor store we went to in California) and more.

We made sure that our campervan company cared about COVID precautions

We saw people coming from muddy hikes trying to figure out how to get their hands clean. We saw folks grossed out by the national parks toilets. Thanks to our preparation, we were fully stocked on bleach wipes, hand sanitizer, and ethanol spray to disinfect our food. We even had a trash can and a sink inside our campervan!

2 | Be as self-sufficient as possible with your lodging.

When we were going through Missoula, MT, we stopped at a KOA campsite to park our van and do some laundry. Inside the main office, there was a sign that said, "Due to COVID-19, only KOA guests will be allowed in the pool."

That's right — the pool was open and kids were splashing around.

I'd never been happier to live in a van. Even though we drove through areas of the United States with varying levels of COVID belief, we always felt safe at night, in our tiny home. We brought our own sheets, blankets, and pillows — something I'd recommend even if you don't end up getting a campervan.

If you're booking lodging that doesn't travel with you, I highly recommend choosing an AirBnB over a hotel whenever possible and bringing your own sheets. You may have more surfaces to disinfect, but you'll be able to cook your own food, have your own space, and potentially do your own laundry.

This is Spectrum, our home for our trip

Cooking quesadillas in the rain

3 | Do your own groceries as much as you can

Most of the states we drove through — especially Idaho and Montana — had barely any semblance of COVID precautions, especially in their restaurants. There didn't seem to be a cap for indoor seating, and staff were not often wearing masks. One guy coughed on our utensils as he was handing them over!

Something else that was a little sad was how much waste we created by eating out. In the van, we had our metal utensils that we washed with dish soap, but every time we went out to eat, we were faced with individually wrapped forks, non-compostable carry-out boxes, and way too many plastic bags — and it was Plastic Free July. Whoops. 😢

Anyway, to offset our restaurant regrets, we did most of our shopping at Trader Joe's in Nevada and then in a few more small stores near the national parks. It wasn't perfect, but it was certainly a lot safer and a lot less wasteful.

Post-Trader Joes disinfecting time

We got our lunch sandwiches and our PPA

4 | Try your best to manage your waste

I write bite-sized action plans about sustainability for a living, so this one matters a lot to me. I wish we had a better way to reduce waste during our trip. We did pretty good with eating all our food, which I'm proud of, since fighting food waste is arguably the #1 way to combat climate change, but I can't say the same about plastic and other trash.

By 2050, by weight, there might be more plastic than fish in the ocean. The plastic problem has worsened due to COVID, because of the pandemic itself and because of global oil markets crashing. Plastic is made from oil, so if oil is cheaper than ever, that also means that plastic is small pennies.

I was trying to commit to Plastic Free July, but I failed supremely. Almost all of our trash was paper plates, plastic cups, clorox wipes, and disposable masks. We sanitized our phone, credit cards, and keys after every human encounter, and it was sadly a tradeoff between perceived COVID safety and reducing waste. I wish I'd heard of the Violet Clean Kit before our trip!

Trying to keep this beautiful planet clean


5 | FIGURE OUT BATHROOMS!

This is arguably the most important tip. FIGURE!! OUT!! BATHROOMS!!

Here's a quick list of what I learned:

  • If you're going to a National Park, check beforehand if their showers are open. We happily booked a campsite at Yellowstone, so excited to be staying in the park... until we discovered there were no open showers in the entire park. RIP.
  • Pack hella toilet paper + flushable wipes. So... flushable wipes aren't actually flushable, but you might need it for some of your... larger errands. Do NOT trust public bathrooms to accommodate you.
  • Also pack a lot of cleaning stuff. We had our bleach wipes and ethanol spray, but if we didn't have that lab-grade stuff, I would've tried to buy all-purpose spray or something beforehand. Some of those bathrooms were absolutely disgusting and thankfully bathrooms were my #1 stressor, so I made sure that was something I planned for.
  • Also... pack disposable gloves. This is another sad thing that we wasted more of. Perhaps a reusable cloth would serve the same purpose, or figuring out some reusable hand-safety equipment. Perhaps we could've used one of the restaurant take-out bags. Anyway, as I said, the bathrooms could be gross, and the disposable gloves helped us navigate grimy shower handles, suspicious-looking soap dispensers, and other bathroom cleaning situations I don't think you want to know about.
  • If you're going somewhere less remote, gas stations are a good bet. We found that grocery stores varied. Some Trader Joe's had their bathrooms open, and some didn't. REI and other outdoor stores seemed like they'd let you pee there in all states, but the failsafe was a gas station.

If you have to worry about more advanced-level bathroom things like periods, Google is your best friend — I got lucky with my cycle, but I was comforted that all the answers were easily accessible online.

I hope you enjoy any COVID-friendly trips you take. Let me know how it goes!

 

----------

Nivi Achanta is the founder of Soapbox Project, a media startup that sends you bite-sized action plans on social and environmental issues. Changeletter, their weekly newsletter on climate change, makes it easy for you to play your part in only 3 minutes every week! 

 

 

 

Written by Nivi Achanta

In April 2020, my partner Ben and I realized we would probably have to cancel the South America trip we'd been dreaming of for months. Years, even.

We were going to go to Peru in the summer before Ben started grad school at UC Berkeley. We were thinking of backpacking around Peru's neighboring countries, eating street food, conquering iconic hikes, and staying up late at vibrant bars.

And then... * crowd chimes in * coronavirus happened.

We were sad about it for weeks, but finally, we hatched a new scheme. We would go on a COVID-safe roadtrip!

1 | Plan as much as you can. Yes, especially if you're a spontaneous person.

This was the most planned trip I'd ever been on. I'm so thankful Ben did most of the planning — we'd have been screwed otherwise. I'm a spontaneous traveler. I'm used to setting out for the day with no plan, no reservations, and only a general idea of what I want to do. I've slept in train stations in Munich, stayed overnight in tiny fishing villages, missed buses in remote parts of the world... and it's never been a huge problem.

This trip was not so carefree.

We had to book our campervan over a month in advance, reserve bike racks, get outdoor gear, order our National Parks pass, research campsites, buy bear spray (which was out of stock in almost every outdoor store we went to in California) and more.

We made sure that our campervan company cared about COVID precautions

We saw people coming from muddy hikes trying to figure out how to get their hands clean. We saw folks grossed out by the national parks toilets. Thanks to our preparation, we were fully stocked on bleach wipes, hand sanitizer, and ethanol spray to disinfect our food. We even had a trash can and a sink inside our campervan!

2 | Be as self-sufficient as possible with your lodging.

When we were going through Missoula, MT, we stopped at a KOA campsite to park our van and do some laundry. Inside the main office, there was a sign that said, "Due to COVID-19, only KOA guests will be allowed in the pool."

That's right — the pool was open and kids were splashing around.

I'd never been happier to live in a van. Even though we drove through areas of the United States with varying levels of COVID belief, we always felt safe at night, in our tiny home. We brought our own sheets, blankets, and pillows — something I'd recommend even if you don't end up getting a campervan.

If you're booking lodging that doesn't travel with you, I highly recommend choosing an AirBnB over a hotel whenever possible and bringing your own sheets. You may have more surfaces to disinfect, but you'll be able to cook your own food, have your own space, and potentially do your own laundry.

This is Spectrum, our home for our trip

Cooking quesadillas in the rain

3 | Do your own groceries as much as you can

Most of the states we drove through — especially Idaho and Montana — had barely any semblance of COVID precautions, especially in their restaurants. There didn't seem to be a cap for indoor seating, and staff were not often wearing masks. One guy coughed on our utensils as he was handing them over!

Something else that was a little sad was how much waste we created by eating out. In the van, we had our metal utensils that we washed with dish soap, but every time we went out to eat, we were faced with individually wrapped forks, non-compostable carry-out boxes, and way too many plastic bags — and it was Plastic Free July. Whoops. 😢

Anyway, to offset our restaurant regrets, we did most of our shopping at Trader Joe's in Nevada and then in a few more small stores near the national parks. It wasn't perfect, but it was certainly a lot safer and a lot less wasteful.

Post-Trader Joes disinfecting time

We got our lunch sandwiches and our PPA

4 | Try your best to manage your waste

I write bite-sized action plans about sustainability for a living, so this one matters a lot to me. I wish we had a better way to reduce waste during our trip. We did pretty good with eating all our food, which I'm proud of, since fighting food waste is arguably the #1 way to combat climate change, but I can't say the same about plastic and other trash.

By 2050, by weight, there might be more plastic than fish in the ocean. The plastic problem has worsened due to COVID, because of the pandemic itself and because of global oil markets crashing. Plastic is made from oil, so if oil is cheaper than ever, that also means that plastic is small pennies.

I was trying to commit to Plastic Free July, but I failed supremely. Almost all of our trash was paper plates, plastic cups, clorox wipes, and disposable masks. We sanitized our phone, credit cards, and keys after every human encounter, and it was sadly a tradeoff between perceived COVID safety and reducing waste. I wish I'd heard of the Violet Clean Kit before our trip!

Trying to keep this beautiful planet clean


5 | FIGURE OUT BATHROOMS!

This is arguably the most important tip. FIGURE!! OUT!! BATHROOMS!!

Here's a quick list of what I learned:

  • If you're going to a National Park, check beforehand if their showers are open. We happily booked a campsite at Yellowstone, so excited to be staying in the park... until we discovered there were no open showers in the entire park. RIP.
  • Pack hella toilet paper + flushable wipes. So... flushable wipes aren't actually flushable, but you might need it for some of your... larger errands. Do NOT trust public bathrooms to accommodate you.
  • Also pack a lot of cleaning stuff. We had our bleach wipes and ethanol spray, but if we didn't have that lab-grade stuff, I would've tried to buy all-purpose spray or something beforehand. Some of those bathrooms were absolutely disgusting and thankfully bathrooms were my #1 stressor, so I made sure that was something I planned for.
  • Also... pack disposable gloves. This is another sad thing that we wasted more of. Perhaps a reusable cloth would serve the same purpose, or figuring out some reusable hand-safety equipment. Perhaps we could've used one of the restaurant take-out bags. Anyway, as I said, the bathrooms could be gross, and the disposable gloves helped us navigate grimy shower handles, suspicious-looking soap dispensers, and other bathroom cleaning situations I don't think you want to know about.
  • If you're going somewhere less remote, gas stations are a good bet. We found that grocery stores varied. Some Trader Joe's had their bathrooms open, and some didn't. REI and other outdoor stores seemed like they'd let you pee there in all states, but the failsafe was a gas station.

If you have to worry about more advanced-level bathroom things like periods, Google is your best friend — I got lucky with my cycle, but I was comforted that all the answers were easily accessible online.

I hope you enjoy any COVID-friendly trips you take. Let me know how it goes!

 

----------

Nivi Achanta is the founder of Soapbox Project, a media startup that sends you bite-sized action plans on social and environmental issues. Changeletter, their weekly newsletter on climate change, makes it easy for you to play your part in only 3 minutes every week! 

 

 

 

comment

Leave a comment

All blog comments are checked prior to publishing