Back in July, my husband and I took a trip back east to visit our families and finally collect the last of our belongings we’d left either in my hometown in New Hampshire or at his father’s house in Tennessee. For obvious reasons, we did not make a big production about this trip (although if you’re following me on Instagram, you may have seen some pics and videos on Stories). The whole trip felt like we were doing something we weren’t supposed to be doing. And we were doing something we shouldn’t have been doing but like many others, had two needs: to bring the rest of our shit home from each of our parents’ house, and to visit a family member who is in the early stages of dementia.
We also were operating under the assumption that everyone else would be working towards keeping themselves as safe as possible knowing that we’d been traveling. This was foolish because good luck telling your parents, “DON’T HUG ME!” after not seeing them for months or, like in my husband’s case, two years.
Because this trip included both a ride on a plane and a two-day road trip, I feel pretty confident that I can give you tips about traveling during a pandemic and doing it safely. I think it’s important to note that I hope you don’t have to travel and to please use these tips only if it’s absolutely necessary. I do not think we should be traveling for fun, but I also know that things happen and some travel is unavoidable. Please be responsible no matter your reasons for traveling.
Yes, I’m going to be a total POS and tell you not to travel as the first tip. I know. It’s annoying I’m sure, but I really want to drive this point home. Do not travel unless it’s necessary. You don’t know how sad I am that I cannot take my regular trips back home to visit my family in New Hampshire. I miss them so much. And the short 3 days I was there in July was not enough to satiate me. Especially when I do not know when I will be able to go back. Trust me, not traveling weighs heavy on me as I’m sure it does for anyone who likes to travel or make regular trips to a beloved place. Stay home unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Quarantine on both ends of the trip
I already know that if you’re able to quarantine on both ends, you’re lucky. I am lucky too. We both work from home so it wasn’t much of a stretch to do so. I realize this is not an easy feat if you can’t work from home and don’t have adequate PTO or wage to support that much time off. If you cannot swing it on both ends, you should do your best to keep a distance at your destination and still do what you can to quarantine when you get back. Any decent employer should pay you for that as well since we’re talking about an emergency trip, and not a fun one, right?
Limit exposure indoors at your destination
While we were visiting New Hampshire, there really weren’t many places we could visit anyway. I only went into one store the entire time I was there and it was a small convenience store right on the border of Massachusetts when I was on the hunt for a New Hampshire souvenir lighter for one of the neighbor kids. Tennessee was a little different, in that more was open, and there were a lot fewer masks, but it’s also such a small community in the mountains that there’s really not much to do anyway except for farm, hunt, and hike. We did our best to stay outside when visiting our families except for my mom’s because we stayed with her.
Bring multiple masks
Look I know there are some of you out there reading this wearing the same mask every single day and quite frankly it’s gross. Don’t do this while traveling. The mask I wore on the plane was DISGUSTING by the time I got to my mom’s apartment. If you fly, you are basically stuck in the mask from the time you enter the airport until the time you get to wherever you are staying (or your rental car). Our flight had significant delays and I ended up wearing that mask for over 13 hours.
I think you should bring at least three so you always have a clean one ready, but I think I packed about 10 total for us both (I personally find these masks very comfortable, not an affiliate link). I wanted some extras in case we came across anyone who needed one. We were originally planning on wearing them full time especially around his family in TN but we were able to keep a distance and stay mostly outside for the duration of the trip.
Bring more hand sanitizer than you think you’ll need
This one is probably pretty obvious but I’m going to say it anyway. I was the type of person to carry it around pre-pandemic especially when traveling but this trip I carried multiples. I ordered some hand sanitizer solution from a local distillery at the beginning of the pandemic and was able to fill up a couple of travel spray bottles for easy and quick sanitizing.
Get a travel bottle of hand cream too
I was very diligent about washing and sanitizing my hands while on the road. Which also meant drier hands than usual. I love Dionis hand cream and made sure to always keep a small bottle in my pack. Usually, I look forward to a break from dry hands when I go back east to visit. Especially in the summer. Not this time. So take my advice and do not forget the hand cream.
Airplane and airport safety
We flew United and they gave each passenger a sanitizing wipe for their seat and tray. They did what they could to give people more space since it wasn’t a completely full flight. I did appreciate that although it didn’t matter for my husband and me so much since we treated ourselves to first class where there are only two seats per side, rather than three. They could have moved more people since there were quite a few seats up in first that were empty.
They had prepackaged snack boxes to replace the meal we would have normally been served. I don’t know what they offered to the passengers in coach if anything at all. Our original plane had a mechanical issue so we had to get transferred to one that had been in the hanger (and was OLD AF) and was essentially empty, so there may not have been anything TO offer (even after a 3-hour delay).
We flew out of Colorado Springs but had a stop in Denver before carrying on to Boston. The COS airport was nearly empty but that’s pretty typical for that airport. Denver was far more of a shock. It was very empty for DIA and hardly any of the restaurants or shops were open.
With the exception of using the restroom, it was pretty easy to keep away from others and keep your distance. At least until we got on the plane. Then the usual pushing and line creeping took place.
Somehow despite the delays and the extended time in our masks, pretty much everyone on the plane understood that we all have to wear them and to suck it up. The air travel ended up being the least stressful or concerning part of the trip.
Driving from NH to TN and then TN back home to Colorado was actually a lot more nerve-racking than I thought. More so than flying. There was a clear difference in COVID safety once we were south of New York.
When I was plotting out our route, I was initially concerned that we would have a hard time finding places to stop for food, gas, and restroom breaks. Once we were actually on the road, I realized that concern was unfounded. The bigger concern was that we were driving through and stopping in places that DGAF that there’s a pandemic.
On the way to Tennessee from New Hampshire, we stopped at a large chain restaurant in the DMV area and it was packed full of people. On our drive from Tenessee to Colorado, on the first day, we stopped at a small local BBQ chain in Missouri and we were one of the only people in the place. All that is to say, if you’re road-tripping and need a good meal, go out of your way to find a local place. It’s more likely to be less crowded. Additionally, do your best to stop for food at off-peak times. Like, go for dinner around 4 instead of 6.
Another way we limited contact with other people on the road was to hit drive-throughs. It did lead to my husband eating McDonald’s like 2 or 3 times a day for 2 days but that’s on his bowels, not mine.
Depending on the state, you cannot count on rest areas to be open, but several states had them fully operational. I tried to use the restrooms at the gas stations as those tended to be cleaner (especially if stopping at a larger chain gas station). I also kept the hand sanitizer very handy and used that when I got back into the car, no matter how hard I washed my hands in the bathrooms.
Staying in a Hotel during the Pandemic
As for overnight stops on the road, we only had to stay at a hotel for one night and that was in Salina, KS which is more or less a town built as a giant truck stop (ok, I don’t know if that’s exactly true, but that’s what it feels like when you’re there; apologies to the people of Salina for the generalization). I don’t know if the hotel was doing its usual breakfast buffet situation, but because it’s more or less a truck stop, there was a very large, well-attended gas station/convenience store with a Starbucks on the other side of the parking lot where I got an egg sandwich.
When we arrived at the hotel, we did not have a reservation, so my husband went in alone and made the arrangements while I waited in the car. Again to limit the amount of in-person contact for both us, and the attendant. Then we went in through one of the side doors closest to our room. It was late at night so we didn’t run into anyone. The next morning, the only other people we saw were the hotel staff.
Since the purpose of staying at this hotel was just to crash so we could continue driving the next morning, I did not pay attention to which amenities were available.
Staying at an Airbnb during the pandemic
We also stayed at an Airbnb while we were in Tennessee. The town my father-in-law lives in is very small and we weren’t too keen on staying in the one little motel the town has. We wanted a little more privacy so we could smell the flowers, so to speak. Also, for the same nightly price for one little room at a motel, we were able to rent an entire cabin with a full kitchen and two bathrooms. This was probably the safest we were on the entire trip.
The cabin was very clean, although I did give everything a wipe down in the kitchen just to be sure. And again before we left (which I would have done regardless of the pandemic).
Again, since there really was not much else to do but enjoy the scenery, I felt very confident that we were unlikely to catch or spread coronavirus. Until we left and everyone wanted a hug.
Using a taxi/limousine service during the pandemic
To get to and from the airports on either end of the flight, we used a local “limousine” service both in Colorado Springs and in Boston. Because of the pandemic, both services were private vans with just my husband and myself and the drivers. Everyone wore their masks the entire time. We were able to sit further back in the van to maintain the 6-foot distance requirement. Both drivers were very appreciative that we booked their services for the rides. So make sure you support those local limo/van services if you do need to go to the airport. Especially if there are more than one traveler and suitcase. The Uber driver isn’t going to put your suitcase in the trunk for you, you know. In Boston, I always use FlightLine, and in Colorado Springs I used Rocky Mountain Ride. This is definitely an expensive option and if there were better public transportation in my city I would have opted for that instead. However, I felt safe and comfortable in both vans and I will definitely do it again (hopefully not during the pandemic).
Overall thoughts and recommendations
Like I said at the beginning, I wouldn’t travel if you can avoid it. I’m sure most rational people are nodding their heads reading this (and also wondering why I’m even saying it because you all should know already but anyway…).
However, if you HAVE to travel, if it’s a shorter drive that can be done in a day, opt for that first. If it’s longer, I’d fly. As I brought up in the airplane safety section, United seemed to at least try to keep it clean and safe for everyone. They mostly did what they could to space passengers out. I can’t speak to other airlines but I’m sure there are 1000 articles out there comparing just that. I’d also opt for a private Airbnb over a hotel or other shared space if cost allows for it. Or self-quarantine before your trip so that you can safely stay with family or friends.
Ultimately, it was expensive to travel during the pandemic. It was made more so by the fact that we needed to rent a cargo van to get home with our stuff, but that’s a story for another day (and hey, we have a table saw now). It was uncomfortable to travel during a time like this. It also made me feel like an absolute piece of garbage for doing something so carefree and selfish (but not so garbage-y that I can’t live with my choices either because I do feel that we were as safe as possible).
And we *were* safe. As far as I know, no one we spent time with had COVID or caught it after we left. We are now almost two months out from our trip and I’m certain we didn’t catch it.
I wouldn’t trade the time I had with my family, especially all the nephews and our niece, but I’m not sure if I’m ready for any kind of traveling again any time soon. Traveling is already stressful and there’s no reason to make it even more so by traveling during the pandemic.