How to Travel During the Pandemic: Road Trip Tips

posted in: Road Trip, Travel, Travel Tips | 2

I don’t think you could find one person in the entire world that would disagree with the statement, “2020 sucks.” This year has been challenging in so many ways. You name it, we’ve gone through it. And are still going through it. Forced lockdowns, canceled vacations, torturous homeschooling, a relentless virus, closed businesses, and the list keeps going and going.

We, along with countless others, have been cooped up at home taking the current situation seriously and wondering when it will be safe to travel again. It was a difficult decision as to if and when we wanted to travel during the pandemic. 

When I started researching local areas a few weeks ago, I didn’t know for sure that we would be booking anything. Planning getaways and looking up future destinations has been one way I’ve been keeping busy and giving myself something to look forward to. I figured a detailed itinerary will never go to waste, just something we can use at a later date!

So the day we booked our first road trip during the pandemic, I was just looking around to see if there was anything out there that I’d be comfortable doing. 

How We Chose Our First Travel Destination during the Pandemic

The criteria we started with: 

  • A location not too far from home in Chicago, under a 5-hour drive.
  • Not a busy destination.
  • Outdoor things to do and/or a lake nearby.
  • Lodging options other than hotels.

We ended up booking a week in French Lick, Indiana, a 4 1/2 hour drive from our home in Illinois. Our lodging was a short drive to Patoka Lake where we rented a boat two of the days and hiked and explored the surrounding area the rest of the time.   

It was just the break we needed for our health and well-being after a few months of seclusion.  

And we learned a few things along the way so I wanted to share them with you. Here are a few helpful road trip tips if you plan to travel during the pandemic.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, if you book through our link we will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thanks for supporting the blog! 

1. Find a Location that is Off the Beaten Path

Finding an unknown and uncrowded destination is difficult nowadays. Go on social media like Instagram and search the location’s hashtag.

For example, before we booked our trip, I searched #FrenchLick, #PatokaLake, and #SouthernIndiana to see if there were many recent posts. Look through the pictures to see if the places are crowded and if so, if it was on particular days of the week. 

Also, a good rule of thumb is to ask around. It’s a good sign if many people you know haven’t been or have never heard of it. 

Unfortunately, some outdoor places are being overrun with people right now even though the facilities aren’t completely opened and with restrictions still in place.

For instance, Starved Rock State Park in Illinois has seen a record number of visitors. They are discarding trash everywhere and leaving the park a hot mess. Plus, there aren’t THAT many trails in the park so my guess is there’s no way people are social distancing. If you decide to travel right now, please be respectful and responsible!

2. Avoid Weekends and Visit During the Week

This one is tricky, but if it is at all possible I highly recommend trying to travel during the week versus weekends. If you are planning a one or two-week vacation, use the weekends as travel days and to visit the places that will be less busy.

For Indiana, we booked a Saturday to Saturday with our boating days Tuesday and Thursday. We had the lake pretty much to ourselves and received a heavy discount on prices!

Patoka Lake in Southern Indiana, a great Midwest getaway if you're looking to travel during the pandemic.
A quiet Patoka Lake in southern Indiana.

3. Don’t Stray Too Far From Home

Everyone has their own thoughts on this one, but my personal opinion is you don’t want to be too far from home right now especially for your first adventure. Research destinations in your state or neighboring states. 

A few other under-the-radar trips we took in the past within a day’s drive from Chicago include Amish Country, Route 66, Shawnee National Forest, and the Red River Gorge.

Road trip tips during the pandemic including where to go, when to book and what to bring.
Welcome to Indiana, the Crossroads of America

4. Be Extra Vigilant on the Road

We left late on Saturday morning so I was anticipating little traffic and no issues on the road. Instead within the first hour, we were stuck in a traffic jam and I was cut-off at least three times. 

People are sick of being at home so apparently, everyone is in a hurry. Either that or because they haven’t been driving much lately, they forgot all the rules of the road!   

5. Book a Place with Your Own Front Door & Kitchen

Since we turned our minivan to a campervan, we did have the choice to go camping BUT it is in the 90s right now in the Midwest and we did not feel like sweating it out.

Instead, I went in search of hotel alternatives like a cabin or home rental. We found and booked a 2-bedroom villa with a private entrance at French Lick Springs Resort. 

The place is a little behind the times and could use some updating, but the size was great for our family of seven and had a full kitchen. We ordered out once, but we cooked every other night. 

Also with a private villa, we eliminated the prospect of elevators and multi-use doors. We sprayed all the handles down once when we first arrived and felt safe coming in and out of the units. 

If you are looking to travel during the pandemic make sure to choose a destination that is off the beaten path.
Villas at French Lick Springs Resort in Indiana

6. Check the State’s Restrictions and Then Check Again & Again

Before you book anything, check the coronavirus travel restrictions in the state you are planning to visit. Every state is different and some even have mandatory quarantine requirements now.  

Because things are changing day-to-day, I also highly recommend checking the restrictions up until the day you leave.

On our visit to Indiana, restaurants were open at 50% capacity and the state parks, nature preserve, golf courses, and boat and kayak rentals were all open with no restrictions. 

Having bathroom access was a big concern since many parks in Illinois didn’t have them open. With no restrictions, all facilities where we visited were open. We weren’t planning on going inside anywhere, but it was good to know for planning our activities. 

7. Don’t Book Too Far in Advance 

If you plan to travel during the pandemic, now is the time to be flexible. If possible, don’t book too far in advance and if you do, look over the refund and cancellation policy. 

Skip third-party booking sites and go directly to the source. The travel industry is hurting and many companies are offering flexible policies due to the uncertain times. And if you are booking a rental, make sure to get the cancellation policy in writing because those can get a little messy. 

8. Call to Ask About Additional Safety Measures

Before I clicked “book,” I emailed the resort and asked if there were any additional safety measures in place.

I heard back within a few hours: 

“Due to the COVID pandemic, we are checking guests in at their vehicles. Also, rather than give the binder and parking passes, we are giving your keys, and a pamphlet with all the pertinent information. Our housekeepers are deep cleaning, sanitizing and taking extra precautions with everything in the units. Our pool is also being sanitized every hour.”

9. Bring Your Own Cleaning Supplies and Sanitizer

For additional safety measures, we packed an all-purpose cleaner, disinfectant spray, Lysol wipes, and hand sanitizer.

The first thing I did before bringing in our bags was a quick cleaning rundown of the whole place. It didn’t take that long and gave us an extra sense of confidence in “moving” in for the week.  

Planning a trip during the pandemic? Here are some road trip tips to help you navigate during these uncertain times.
Coronavirus travel advice

10. Pack Additional Items

There were a few additional items we packed that we wouldn’t normally include: blankets, pillows, and a hairdryer.

These are not necessary, but if you are traveling for the first time or with someone that is high risk it may give you peace of mind to have your own bedding. The villa did have a hairdryer, but I read that hotels were currently taking them out of rooms so I brought one just in case. 

With the additional safety precautions, we both felt comfortable getting back on the road and exploring again. 

Are you planning to travel during the pandemic? Tell us in the comments below!

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Wondering what it is like on the road right now? We took our first trip since COVID and here's what we learned! #covid #travel #tips

Wondering if it is safe to travel yet? We were too! Here are some road trip tips if you plan on traveling during the pandemic. #travel #pandemic

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Angela E. is a travel writer from the Chicagoland area who has visited all 50 states in the US and has traveled extensively around the world. She is passionate about exploring the great outdoors and hiking in particular. Her love for nature has taken her to some of the most beautiful locations on the planet. She has written extensively about her travels on her own website, Dang Travelers, and has been published in collaboration with other travel websites and multiple visitor bureaus around the country.

2 Responses

  1. Maria

    Awesome!! We live not far from Shawnee Nat’l Forest. We were just down there last weekend for a rainy hike! The waterfalls were beautiful…and it was packed 🙁 we just bought our adventure van yesterday! A caravan. With plans to camp out of it. I’m soooo excited to have found your blog! We are heading to Cheyenne at the end of the month, our daughter is stationed there with the Air Force and we are trying to avoid hotels. So wish us luck!!

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