Renting an RV during a pandemic showed me how road trips are different right now. Here’s what to expect before you go.



a car parked on the side of a road: The pandemic has complicated the once-simple road trip. Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider


© Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider
The pandemic has complicated the once-simple road trip. Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider

  • Pre-pandemic, road trips were as simple as making a great playlist, hopping in the car, and seeing where the wind takes you.
  • But, as I found on a recent road trip in an RV, the coronavirus has complicated things.
  • Public restrooms are few and far between, getting gas and eating out can be a risk, and planning ahead is imperative.
  • The CDC still warns that “travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19.”
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The coronavirus pandemic has turned 2020 into the year of the road trip. However, an epic playlist is no longer enough when it comes to planning one.

AAA predicts that Americans will have taken 683 million road trips between July 1 and September 30 alone, and Business Insider previously reported that RV rental companies have seen a spike in bookings since states started lifting stay-at-home orders.

This all comes as no surprise considering that many people are still wary of getting on a plane. Road trips — and road trips in RVs in particular — give travelers a level of control not found in other modes of transportation. That said, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still warns that “travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19” — no matter how you’re getting from point A to B.

I recently rented an RV for the first time to take a five-day, 1,100-mile trip from New York to Maine and back. And while the pandemic definitely complicated our trip, some issues — like finding a public bathroom — were eliminated in an RV.

Here’s what I learned from my recent RV experience about how going on a road trip is different right now, and the advice I would give anyone before they get behind the wheel.

Road trips were once about freedom and flexibility, but now require a lot of planning



a group of people on a boat in the water: My friend and I stopped for lunch in Kennebunkport, Maine. Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider


© Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider
My friend and I stopped for lunch in Kennebunkport, Maine. Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider

If you’re planning a road trip during the pandemic, whether in a car or an RV, it’s a good idea to figure out your route in advance and check the coronavirus infection rates at your destination; if your intended destination is experiencing a spike, it’s better to avoid it.

You’ll also need to see whether your destination requires you to quarantine, or asks for a Certificate of Compliance.

In Maine, for example, travelers from nonexempt states must sign a form to say they have had a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of their arrival, or that they either have quarantined 14 days prior to their trip, or will quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Since New York is on the list of exempt states, I didn’t have to do this.

Generally, you want to arrive at your destination knowing what the rules and regulations are, as these can not only differ between states but also between counties.

And before you head home, it’s worth checking that your home state’s quarantine rules haven’t changed since you left. This luckily wasn’t the case for me, but Rhode Island, which I had planned a stop at, was added to and removed from New York’s quarantine list within a few days right before our trip.

You need to understand capacity limits and make reservations in advance



a group of people on a beach holding a sign: We stopped at the Desert of Maine, an attraction near Portland. Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider


© Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider
We stopped at the Desert of Maine, an attraction near Portland. Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider

Before arriving in a new place, make sure you know what’s open — you don’t want to arrive somewhere to find that the attraction you were planning to visit is closed, or only takes advance online reservations and a limited number of visitors.

In terms of hotels and campsites, you should book both in advance. Arriving somewhere in the middle of the night to find that it’s booked solid is never pleasant.I had booked all of our overnight stays except for the last one in advance and ended up spending a few stressful hours calling around campsites on our way home trying to find a spot.

In a hotel, you’ll want to know how long ago the last guest stayed in your room, and will probably want to wipe everything down just to be safe, though the risks of catching COVID-19 in a clean hotel room are said to be low.

In my experience, the beauty of an RV is that you can just park it outdoors without having to worry about who was there before you and when.

Stock up to make your vehicle as isolated and self-contained as possible



a truck is parked on the side of a building: We made sure to stock up on fresh water. Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider


© Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider
We made sure to stock up on fresh water. Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider

Bring masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and antibacterial wipes, but also enough water and snacks to get you as far as possible without having to stop. I found having a kitchen and fridge in an RV makes stocking up on food and minimizing breaks to eat easier. I ended up making quite a few PB&Js while on the road.

If you’re traveling in an RV, you could even bring an extra canister of gas so that you don’t need to stop at gas stations as often.

Minimize your stops and interactions



a truck is parked in a parking lot: Having your own bathroom wherever you go is amazing on road trips. Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider


© Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider
Having your own bathroom wherever you go is amazing on road trips. Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider

Currently, many public restrooms are closed, especially as indoor dining and shopping hasn’t returned everywhere, so don’t rely on the hotels, museums, big-box stores, and restaurants you visited pre-pandemic to have a bathroom you can use.

While having your own bathroom in an RV makes that part of the equation simple, generally speaking you’ll probably have to stop for gas more often than you would in a car, since they tend to guzzle more gas, so that’s a trade-off.

If you have to make a stop, consider big-name brands as your go-to



a person holding a cell phone: Hilton Hotels implemented a "CleanStay" program. Hilton


© Hilton
Hilton Hotels implemented a “CleanStay” program. Hilton

While you’ll want to check their websites for details, many restaurant and hotel chains have stepped it up with their coronavirus sanitizing protocols, and enacted the same rules and regulations across the board. 

Best Western Hotels & Resorts, which comprises 18 brands and has more than 5,000 hotels worldwide, for example, launched a “We Care Clean” program that features new cleaning protocols, enhanced social distancing and sanitization, as well as a Mobile Concierge.

Hilton Hotels, which has 6,100 properties around the world across 18 brands, launched the “CleanStay” program, which, among other things, puts a room seal on doors to indicate to guests that their room has not been accessed since being cleaned. 

Ipsos, a market research company, looked into how chain restaurants are responding to the pandemic by sending mystery shoppers to evaluate their health and safety protocols. According to Eat This, Not That, Ipsos determined that Chipotle, McDonald’s, and Starbucks were the safest restaurants to go to right now.

Knowing what to expect at these chains no matter where in the country you are makes things a lot more straightforward for weary travelers.

Eat at drive-thru restaurants when you can



a car parked in front of a building: Drive-thrus are the safest way to eat on the road right now. Andrew Redington/ Getty


© Andrew Redington/ Getty
Drive-thrus are the safest way to eat on the road right now. Andrew Redington/ Getty

If you can’t find a drive-thru (or your RV’s size makes this impossible), consider curbside pickup. And if you’re eating at the restaurant, try remaining outside, and make sure to wipe down your table with a disinfectant wipe and use hand sanitizer after interactions with servers or cashiers. 

I’d also recommend calling ahead to see if restaurants or rest stops are open, as many are currently operating with capacity restrictions and altered hours. I found that a lot of information on Google wasn’t accurate, and rolled up to a handful of closed restaurants.

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