You might have had to cancel your trip to Hawaii, but you can still go on an end-of-summer expedition.
Summer is synonymous with vacations. Whether you prefer all-out island trips or you’re more like me and take weekend trips away at a friend’s house, quarantine has probably (at best) interrupted your plans. Some states have started opening up in phases, but it’s still not a good idea to get on a plane or head to a busy tourist destination anytime soon. Most other countries have travel restrictions anyway.
But that doesn’t mean cabin fever hasn’t been creeping in. Thankfully, there are things you can do to get out of the space you’ve been occupying nearly 24/7 for the past five months. This is not the time to take a cross-country road trip in search of yourself like Britney Spears in Crossroads, but you can still drive to unique places nearby. Here’s how to safely take a road trip and some suggestions on what to bring.
If you can’t get away, we have recommendations on ways to stay entertained at home. Check out our guides to phone games to survive social distancing, gear for making beer, wine, cider, and mead, how to stay sane in quarantine, and how to stay productive through it all.
Find a Spot in Your State (and Be Smart About It)
Right now, we need to be more mindful of where we’re going and who we’re seeing. You probably shouldn’t be traveling out of state, but if you do, many states now require visitors to quarantine for 14 days. (You need to do the same when you return to your home state.) Skip public pools and tourist attractions. And if there’s any chance you could be infected with Covid-19, or you’re just not feeling well, call your doctor and do not leave your house.
If you’ve been quarantining and need to get out, think about the places close by that you have overlooked. Do you live near a weird roadside attraction that probably won’t be overrun with people? A historic landmark? Or maybe you’re near a lake or a national park that’s reopened? You’ll need to do some Googling to find results in your home state (this seems like a handy website to check). Find somewhere nearby, pack a lunch, and make a day trip out of it, or find a socially distanced campground and stay the night (or three).
If you’re near one of the 12 cabin sites offered by Getaway, they’re open at limited capacity to maintain distance. Check-in and check-out are contact-free, the cabins are between 50 and 150 feet apart (depending on the outpost), and there are no communal spaces for strangers to interact.
Take Extra Precautions
How to Stay Safe
If you find yourself around others at any point on your trip, make sure you wear a face mask. You can buy nice masks or make your own. You’ll need to wash them relatively frequently, so bring a few extras. Washing your hands is just as important if not more. It won’t be easy on a road trip, so you can either bring a lot of water in reusable bottles or pack enough hand sanitizer for everyone. (We have a guide on how to make some yourself.)
A gas can will minimize social interactions on your trip too. But if you don’t want to do that, put on disposable gloves before you touch a gas pump; take the gloves off immediately after—don’t touch your door, your phone, and your face—and sanitize your hands. And please, do not throw dirty gloves on the ground.
Not every public bathroom is closed, but many are. If you’re going to a campground, ask beforehand whether the public bathrooms are open, and check the status of any rest stops along the way. You may need to prepare for going in the woods.
If You Need to Rent a Car
If you don’t own a car, you can still get away by renting one. Prices will vary depending on the type of car you need, the length of your trip, and how far you’re taking it. WIRED writer Matt Jancer recommends Enterprise, but he says Hertz and Avis are solid alternatives if the price is right. Discount rental car services, like Thrifty and Dollar, can be hit or miss. All the top services are thoroughly cleaning cars between customers. (You can find statements on their websites for Enterprise, Hertz, and Avis), but we recommend going through the car with disinfectant wipes just to be safe.
If you don’t want to rent a car (or don’t have a driver’s license), we suggest waiting this one out. Public transportation might be running, but there are a lot of unknowns when you’re getting on a bus or train.
Depending on how far you’re going and how long you plan to stay, consider the following basics:
- Comfortable sneakers or hiking boots. And if you’re so inclined, Birkenstock EVAs for relaxing.
- Extra socks and underwear.
- Face masks. You’ll likely have to stop for gas or interact with people at some point.
- Hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. You may need to search the depths of your local grocery store for either.
- Disposable gloves. These are handy for when you need to touch things like bathroom door handles and gas pumps.
- A bag. You probably have one already, but if you need a good weekender, we really like this one from Baboon to the Moon ($149). It comes in fun colors and styles. You can also check out the company’s 22L Backpack ($89), which should be able to fit everything you need.
Here are some extras you might be into, depending on your plans:
- Layers. Depending on where you are, temperatures can dip at night.
- A Kindle. These ebook readers are affordable, and you don’t need to charge them for several weeks. Bring one so everyone can choose a scary story to read around the campfire.
- An instant camera. Phone cameras are superb, but taking pictures on an actual camera is an unbeatable feeling.
- A Nintendo Switch Lite. If you have one, don’t forget to pack it! Nintendo’s little console is a great way to pass the time in the car if you’re not driving or navigating.
The Case for a GPS
Garmin Drive 52 GPS
Yes, Google Maps on your smartphone is likely all you need, but if you’re going to an area where your phone may lose service (or you want to limit your data usage) get a dedicated GPS device. You can download maps to use offline on your phone, but if you get lost or have a last-minute change of plans, you’ll need internet to figure out where you are. Having a GPS as a backup is important. This Garmin I bought in 2014 is still my most coveted piece of tech. You don’t need the latest and greatest—though they’re quite nice. Any Garmin GPS still in production will do.
Bring Your Food and Drinks
Pelican Elite 20QT
It doesn’t matter if your trip is going to last a day or a full weekend, you should pack lunch, dinner, and extra snacks and drinks. At a time where it’s up in the air whether restaurants or food halls are open, and you’re trying to limit contact with other people as much as possible, it makes sense to have it all with you. You’ll need to keep it all fresh and cool, so a cooler will come in handy.
We have a guide filled with coolers we like for all situations and budgets, but the Pelican Elite 20QT is our choice for road trips because it’s tall and narrow. It fits into most trunks or back seats. In our testing, ice stayed frozen for two days, even after being driven around and stored outside in 80-degree weather. It has four cupholders with drains, so it can be used as a small drink table too.
A Comfortable Shelter
Coleman 4-Person Cabin Tent
You probably don’t need a tent that’s super luxurious or ultra-lightweight for a casual road trip, so you have ample affordable options. WIRED senior writer Adrienne So loves all things Coleman, and its $190 4-Person Cabin Tent—with a screened “porch,” nonetheless!—should give most people enough headroom, and it fits a queen-sized air mattress.
We haven’t tried the Ozark Trail 6-Person Instant Cabin Tent, but it’s a popular brand among campers and costs just $125, with enough room for two queen-sized air mattresses. If you aren’t concerned about budget, we like the MSR Habitude 4. It packs down small, is easy to set up, and has a built-in vestibule for your dirty shoes, but it costs $500.
Even the most seasoned camper probably doesn’t love sleeping on the ground. A sleeping mat, like the Alps Mountaineering Lightweight Series Air Pad, will give your back a bit of relief. It’s not as good as an air mattress, but it takes up less room.
If You Need to Power Up
Nimble 10-Day Portable Charger
Road trips are a great opportunity to step away from endless scrolling, but there will be times when you need to plug in. To keep everything running, we like Nimble’s Portable Charger. It has one USB-C port and three USB-As. The name 10-Day refers to the ability to charge a phone fully for 10 days. There’s also a three-port 8-Day version for around $100.
If you’re going to be on the road for a while, Goal Zero’s power station packs a powerful punch—with a 187-WH capacity. It has enough power to charge your laptop, phone, or tablet, but it’s quite pricey at $300.
If You’re on the Road Long-Term (and Need Cell Signal)
weBoost Drive Reach Cell Phone Signal Booster
A cell signal booster isn’t necessary for most people, but if you’re planning to be on the road awhile in relatively untraversed parts of the country, you might want to invest in one. WIRED writer Scott Gilbertson spent three years living on the road in an RV and constantly struggled with reception until he started testing the weBoost. He recommends the Drive Reach. At $500, it’s not cheap, but if you need reliable cell service far from a home base, it’s a must-have.