The first time I drove away from home for a multi-day driving holiday in 2020 was nerve-wracking – initially. It felt like everyone was driving so fast and I was hurtling swiftly away from my home shelter of the last months! I reminded myself to practice some slow deep breathing. Soon, I was back into a comfort zone. The car rocked slightly and the engine hummed. I found a favorite music station and before long was reacquainted with my best friend, the open road.

This summer most of us are feeling stir crazy after months of lockdown and taking furtive steps back out into the world again. For most, each foray is fraught with concerns about Covid 19, but let me assure you, as with any new skills (and lots of caveats, see below) it does get easier. The more we learn about the virus, the more a picture is emerging about how to travel responsibly and how to return home safely. If you’re willing to prepare well and stay vigilant, I believe a US driving holiday can be wonderful for your spirit and your health.

Each week closures and travel restrictions change. So, be sure to check the areas you want to visit before leaving home. Here’s a state-by-state outline of Coronavirus regulations. 

Get up early for sunrise vistas. Taken in Acadia Park, Maine.

Drive to sunrise vistas. Photo taken in Acadia Park, Maine.

Be Intrepid with Care

 My Covid journey began in March as I returned from ten days in Spain. The conference I was going to attend in Italy was cancelled and rather than watch my non-refundable expenses evaporate, I left home and stayed in Spain. This was just before the country became a hot spot. The trip was glorious (See this earlier post.) I was very lucky to return just before the world shut down and sailed through my self imposed quarantine.

For six weeks, I didn’t leave home except for a handful of very brief food runs, always masked and gloved. By mid-April my boyfriend and I decided to take a day trip drive out to the desert. We packed what we needed, stayed away from crowds, took a lot of pictures and a few brief hikes. It was glorious.

The most recent trip was a ten day driving holiday to see family in northern California. Again we packed most of the food we needed and didn’t stay in a hotel, but with family.  All of the us had followed safety protocols for weeks and when we went out we wandered a quiet, sunny, oddly empty San Francisco. Now, having taken many precautions while together, two weeks later all of us are fine.


“When all else fails, you should take a vacation.” ~ Betty Williams, the Nobel Laureate who worked tirelessly for peace, justice and equality. She knew that sometimes you just need to get away.

Pull over to walk the pier and enjoy Paradise Cove north of Malibu on your driving holiday.
Pull over to walk the pier and enjoy Paradise Cove north of Malibu on your driving holiday.

Face the hard facts and how you feel about them

If you’re triggered into fear by reading this or want to debate my decisions, please do us both a favor and just click away. I’m not here to upset, convince, or argue. I want to help those of us longing for a driving holiday to do so with care and responsibility for ourselves and those around us.

Two things seem certain. The virus isn’t magically disappearing. It doesn’t care about issues, it just wants hosts and to multiply. Until there are treatments to reduce the dangers of Covid 19 and until a vaccine is identified and universally available, there will continue to be risks in leaving your home.  Indoor social situations will be the most dangerous when with strangers. Don’t believe me but check the updates from the CDC and also John Hopkins University. If anything they will err on the side of caution.

This may turn out to be the summer of the great American road trip ~ Peter Greenberg, Eye on Travel expert

Check your car out well so you aren't left stranded. Petaluma, California

Have your car’s vitals checked out well before leaving. Photo taken in Petaluma, California

Planes, Trains or Cars?

away  Airplane travel has changed enormously since the beginning of 2020. With most company efforts it seems to be fairly safe, if you’re prepared to do your part and follow the flight safety regulations. Plan a lot of extra time to get through the terminal and onto the airplane. Each airport is handling things according to their floor plans and budgets. Don’t count on the same-old when traveling from your local terminal either and be sure to leave extra time to allow for new procedures at every step towards your flight.

Where I usually choose public transportation, and especially train travel, it’s probably not the safest choice for the time being although Amtrak has implemented many new precautions. However right now, long hours indoors anywhere but home would make me anxious. If you don’t have a car or drive, train travel can be affordable and swift. Again, follow the safety protocols.

On the Road Again

Taking a driving holiday is part of the American dream, there’s so much to see and do! Now that I have a hybrid car, driving has become my favorite travel option until international travel restrictions (for those of us with US passports) are lifted and flights have resumed. At this point, experts strongly recommend wearing a mask while indoors, and that staying six feet away from others is safe. New findings are being released daily but I follow those two basic precautions and my driving holiday was wonderful.

Make way for local traffic like this buggy ride in Julian, California
Make way for local traffic like this buggy ride in Julian, California

Vigilance and Compatability

Travel at this time demands vigilance about safety precautions and while it can seem exhausting it soon becomes second nature. When I travel I only go solo or with someone who shares my standards of self-care. Luckily my travel buddy follows the same precautions as I do. Who needs the stress of arguing about wearing a mask or washing your hands ? Don’t leave home without having honest conversations about how to proceed and find agreement.


How Risk Averse Are You?

If you are taking care of someone or have an immune-suppressed system, this may not the time to travel unless it’s absolutely necessary, until there’s treatment, and vaccines. That said, follow your established protocols and adjust for your needs.

The rest of us, young and old, need to take care of ourselves and get on with our lives while not putting others at risk as we re-enter the world. Consider that it’s not just death but the possibility of a long-term and debilitating sickness you’re flirting with (or endangering your contacts with) if you don’t take care of yourself and follow scientifically based recommendations.

Stay in a motor hotel like the Westcott in classic Palm Springs, California
Stay in a boutique motor hotel like the Westcott in classic Palm Springs, California

Destination Flexibility

The biggest thing I learned on my recent road trip is how different destinations support virus prevention or don’t.

I spent days with close family in San Francisco where the infection rate has been very low throughout the pandemic months. During the first week that restaurants were open, my first post-Covid-Lockdown restaurant experience was at a sidewalk table with masked servers. The tables were carefully spaced and I kept my mask on most of the time.

We spent days exploring the urban outdoors with stops at Dolores Park, hiking the road to the Twin Peaks overlook, admiring the views at Baker’s Beach, and photographing the Golden Gate Bridge at every chance. Most of the people around us wore masks and kept the recommended distances from us. This isn’t true everywhere. 

Brace for Coronavirus Culture Shock

I’m researching a working holiday drive to Monument Canyon on the Arizona / Utah border but just read about the area on the blog, One Mile At A Time.

I understand that it’s not necessary to wear a face mask outside when away from most people. However, if I were shamed into taking mine off as the authors were, I’d leave the area pronto.

“In retrospect, personally I’d feel more comfortable traveling to a city like Los Angeles (EM – Where the virus is rampant!) than a small town where no precautions are taken.”

So plan as best you can for a variety of responses. Be ready to change your itinerary, accommodations, restaurants, and services if you feel uncomfortable, endangered or threatened. That’s travel advice I follow anytime, pandemic or not.

Priceless views are waiting. Oceanside harbor, California
Priceless views are waiting. Photo taken in Oceanside harbor, California

Checklist for a Driving Vacation (San Diego to San Francisco, CA)

  • Prep: Carry masks, disposable gloves (just in case,) plenty of wipes and hand sanitizer in several bottles for easy access. I keep a small pack of these in the car and in my day pack.
  • Get a bit of exercise – Take a walk, do some yoga to help your body adjust to the long time sitting. Stretch a bit at any stop on the way.
  • Pack: Food for snacks from home. Water. Protein – nuts, protein bars, and fruit. Caffeine may help.
  • Fuel: We stopped for gas twice. The first time we checked the air in our tires and fluids. Washed the windows and adjusted seats for the long ride. The second time we filled the tank. Cashless payment is safest and I cover the keypad with a tissue, then be sure to sanitize my hands or wash them after using the pump.
  • Timing: We always try to avoid rush hour traffic which is picking up again now that more people are driving again. Leave well before or after the morning commute to get through Los Angeles. Watch GPS to see whether it’s fastest to take the route along Interstate 5 all the way to Sacramento and then across to the Bay Bridge, or across the Highway 152 Corridor to Gilroy and north along Highway 101. There are benefits to each.
Reflections along the Petaluma, California slough early one morning.
Reflections along the Petaluma, California slough early one morning.

When Nature Calls

Yvette K. planned her first Post-Covid driving vacation carefully but assumed that rest stops and restaurants with bathrooms would be available. She couldn’t find one open along her Highway 101 Route between Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz.  It turned into a very uncomfortable ride. I hadn’t even thought about that possibility when I took off from San Diego for the longer, 8 hour drive to San Francisco.

What would you do? Bring a portable potty? I am no stranger to running for the bushes with my tissue and digging a bit to dispose of the paper. Not everyone is comfortable with that or able.

I was lucky along the trucker corridor of Interstate 5. Rest stop bathrooms were open, clean and mostly empty. Still, I entered carefully, stayed mindful about what I touched, and was fully prepared – mask on and hand sanitizer in my pocket. I washed my hands for a long while and used sanitizer once again when I got back to the car and before I took my mask off.

Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious diseases physician and Bio Security Fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security recommends to, “Use extremely good hand hygiene if you go to the restroom. Remember, we know that you get infected with the virus via infection of the mucous membranes ― eyes, nose, mouth.”

Build bathroom confidence into your planning. One tool that Automobile Club members have is the TripTik App. The online and interactive road trip tool can be built quickly. You even add rest stops to your map.


Public Bathroom Specifics

  • Wear your mask! Get in and out quickly.
  • If you need to wait in line to enter, stay six feet apart.
  • Use a paper seat cover.
  • Wash your hands for the required time. Per the CDC guidelines, wash for 20 seconds, use a clean disposable paper towel to turn off the faucet, and then wipe your hands dry.
  • Notice what surfaces you touch before you’re back in the car and take off your mask. Use hand sanitizer/wipes on your hands once in the car. Wipe your phone if you touched it while out of the car.
  • If you purchase drinks or snacks, be sure to wash your hands before eating and drinking.
  • Dispose of wraps, old masks and garbage in trash containers before getting back on the road.
Find a local Farmers Market like the Thursday night ritual in Oceanside, California
Find a local Farmers Market like the Thursday night ritual in Oceanside, California

Going for the Long Haul

Another driver, Teresa P. told me about her recent road trip from San Diego to Arkansas to deliver family heirlooms after her mother passed. This wasn’t a driving vacation.

She and her husband drove for for nearly two days straight with a short few hours sleeping at a Love’s Travel Stop. They depended on that chain for clean bathrooms and even glanced through gift shops to break up the monotony. The family-owned chain has hundreds of locations across the country. Most are located between the Midwest and the east coast. Thanks to Teresa’s tips, I’ll check out their site for fuel prices and locations as well as bathrooms on long distance trips.

Until next year I plan to keep taking short road trips with a lot of caution. As more is learned about the virus and how it’s spreading, it feels that taking a careful driving holiday the rest of 2020 can be a lot easier to handle, help the economy, and lift our spirits.

But then, as Dorothy said as she clicked her heels in the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.”

Tips and links for your road trip holiday in 2020