Things I Wish I’d Known Before Taking a Road Trip During a Pandemic

Here's what happened when my family of four hit the road on a nine-hour drive.

We take a lot of road trips, often to see my family in Minnesota, but in this case, we drove to visit my father-in-law who lives in West Virginia near the Ohio border. It takes about nine hours to get there from our home in the St. Louis suburbs and because we have two young kids, we’re always really prepared for a long trip. But this drive was definitely unique and there was a lot to take into consideration before we packed the car and hit the road, especially because my husband Chris’s dad is in a higher risk category for COVID-19 due to his age.

Careful quarantine

For a week prior to traveling, we quarantined ourselves as much as possible, which meant our kids did not play with anybody and we limited our grocery shopping experiences. We relied on our neighbors to pick up food for us. My employer does a really good job of making sure that we’re safe in the workplace but I took my own extra precautions. I made sure I was doing extra hand sanitizing, washing my hands more frequently, and trying to keep my distance with clients. We had to make sure we were not infected or exposed to the virus. I checked our temperatures on a daily basis and for any symptoms the week prior to leaving. Check out these quarantine quotes that are actually pretty funny.

Change in course

Typically we break this trip up and stop in Louisville, Kentucky for a night, which is basically the halfway point between home and my father-in-law’s house. Instead, we did the trip in one day, packing food and lots of snacks to limit the need for stopping at restaurants. We understand that fast food drive-throughs have taken their precautions but we still wanted to eliminate that contact. These photos will define the era of social distancing.

Soap stars

Pile of unused latex surgical glovesDouglas Sacha/Getty ImagesAnother careful consideration was that we brought disposable gloves for my husband and me. Part of our plan was that the children would not touch doors or other surfaces when we had to stop for bathroom breaks. We opened all of the doors and touched any faucets or knobs for them while wearing gloves. I had a lot of hand sanitizer in the car and also brought a bar of soap in case we came to the rest area and they were out. Considering how often we’re directed to wash our hands, I wanted to make sure we had our bases covered.

Necessary stops

At some point, you have to stop for gas or use a bathroom. We ended up stopping at a combination of gas stations and rest areas but definitely felt most comfortable at the rest areas. Most of the time there were maybe two or three other people there and they were wearing masks and kept a comfortable social distance. Whereas when we stopped at a gas station, there were fewer people wearing masks. It felt like they were much more relaxed and kind of let their guard down.

Gas stations v. rest areas

Our theory was that people who are traveling on the road and stopping at rest areas were in the same frame of mind as us and taking extra precautions. Whereas at gas stations, you may be encountering locals who feel more comfortable at their local gas station.

Local lessons

Covid-19 Signage - New YorkMichael Lee/Getty Images

We felt like the drive there was a success. But something that was different for us on this trip was that when we arrived at our destination, a lot of the things that we would typically do were closed. One of the things we should have done is researched our destination’s restrictions and guidelines. This way we could have made sure that we understood what was open for business in the area and would have been helpful for us in planning our trip. In the end, it wasn’t that big of a deal because we were there for my father-in-law and son’s birthdays.

Expect the unexpected

My father-in-law lives on the border of West Virginia and Ohio. It was surprising because in West Virginia we weren’t sure what to expect in regards to people wearing masks or following guidelines and restrictions. Maybe because we were staying in a neighborhood that has an older population, but people were very observant of guidelines. Most people wore masks and stayed socially distanced. Whereas when we crossed the border into Ohio, it was like all bets were off. Nobody was wearing masks. It was really surprising. These are the mistakes you might be making with your face mask.

What we learned

Looking back we feel like maybe we were overly prepared, but at the same time, it was what allowed us to feel confident and comfortable. We’re still planning on going to Minnesota to visit my parents this summer provided we remain healthy and there aren’t any new travel restrictions put on us that would prevent us from making the drive.

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