Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- 1. Exploring Closer to Home on Your Great American Road Trip.
- 2. Day Trips are Big
- 3. The Outdoors Are In
- 4. Being Careful is #1
- 5. Packing Heavy
- 6. Clean Freaks Win
- 7. Bathroom Concerns
- 8. We'll Sleep Differently
- 9. Planning is Paramount
- 10. It Will Cost More to Road Trip in 2021
- 11. Camping is Cool and RVs are Hot
- 12. Have a Plan B
The Great American Road Trip is changing. Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, road trips are the go-to family vacation option in 2021. But road trips today look different than any road trip before. From the miles we’ll drive to the destinations we’ll choose, here are 12 American road trip trends for a pandemic.
Ah, the Great American Road Trip. It’s long been a rite of passage for many families across the United States. But as flights got cheaper and the world opened up, more families chose to fly over America in search of more distant shores.
The Covid-19 pandemic has reset so much of modern life, family vacations included. Some families are choosing to stay home until everyone gets vaccinated. But others plan to travel and they are more likely to hit the open road.
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AAA’s predictions for Memorial Day travel suggests that 37 million people plan holiday weekend road trips of 50 miles or more. Not surprisingly, that’s 60 percent more than road tripped last Memorial Day, when the pandemic was just gearing up and much of American remained shut down.
Here are the ways those road trips look different in 2021.
1. Exploring Closer to Home on Your Great American Road Trip.
Families are hitting the road again, but most are not ready for a coast-to-coast adventure. They might take the Pacific Coast Highway, the Blue Ridge Parkway or the Great River Road Scenic Byway, but they are likely to drive only a short distance along those classic roadways. Even then, they’ll stick to driving only the part that’s in their own state.
There could be any number of reasons for that, but a big one is the differences in state-by-state Covid rules. It’s easier to stay close to home and know what the Covid rules are. These sites are keeping track of what’s open and the rules for visitors before planning your trip:
- Covid Act Now keeps track of infection rates by state so you can easily compare possible destinations,
- Masks for All keeps track of which US states and which countries require people to wear masks in public.
2. Day Trips are Big
Many families that have been locked down for most of the last 14 months are starting slow, with day trips.
That’s how I started last summer — with a really looooong day trip, four hours each way to see my kids in Detroit. I took their grandparents along, and they didn’t feel comfortable staying. So we spent eight hours in a car to be able spend three hours with the kids! But such is the draw for grandparents.
TravelingMom Catherine Parker is a more typical day tripper. She and her teens did a 2020 day trip from their home in Austin, Texas, 45 minutes away to spend the day hiking. They brought with them hand sanitizer, masks and their own snacks and water, reducing the need to interact with people.
If you’re not ready to plan a long road trip to hike the Appalachian Trail in the Shenandoah Valley, you can check out the trails, roadside attractions or botanic garden you always meant to visit near you.
3. The Outdoors Are In
TravelingMom Yvonne Jasinski headed to the end of the world — Worlds End State Park near her home in Pennsylvania. Her goal: To stay away from people and common facilities. She brought everything she would need for the camping trip, from her own food to her own portable shower.
Yvonne is right on trend. National parks, state parks, uncrowded beaches, and other socially distant vacation ideas continue to be popular options for families that previously might have flown to more crowded family vacation spots like Miami, New York City, San Diego or Las Vegas.
Smaller parks like Acadia National Park can be easily overwhelmed with visitors. But even larger parks like Great Smoky Mountains can still feel crowded. Some parks require reservations to visit. Ask the park ranger to point you to her favorite hiking trail, one with incredible views and small crowds.
Destinations with lots of wide open spaces and fresh air — Wyoming, Oregon, Montana, Nebraska and Colorado to name a few — are on the radar for people ready for an epic road trip.
4. Being Careful is #1
When TravelingMom Christy Emmanuel and her brood, ages 6 to 10, arrived in Berlin, Maryland, last summer, they were looking forward to spending time at the beach. But when they arrived, the beach was really crowded, despite officials’ efforts to police it. She brought masks, but then had to fight with her kids to keep them on their faces, and to keep them six feet away from others.
Being careful goes well beyond wearing masks and washing your hands. For Kate Moore of Parked in Paradise, it means focusing on low-key, safer activities — no rock climbing or adventurous hikes. She doesn’t want to risk a rolled ankle or broken arm that would require a trip to the nearest hospital emergency department.
5. Packing Heavy
Bringing along everything you might need — from snacks to portable potties — is still a good plan. It makes it easier to avoid unnecessary contact along the way.
One TravelingDad has been packing a potty since his kids were just getting out of diapers. Adult versions of a portable potty run from the basic pee bottle for men and shewee for women to a personal porta potty.
Or, you can do what my dad used to do and bring along an empty coffee can “just for emergencies.”
6. Clean Freaks Win
I’m the germophobe who has been doing this for years – wiping down my seat when I get on an airplane and cleaning the hotel room before anyone unpacks.
I wipe down the high-touch surfaces — tables, hard-backed chairs, doorknobs and door locks, closet and drawer knobs, light switches, touch screens, remote controls, handles, desks, toilet handles, sinks, and coffee pot.
To be sure they’re disinfected in our coronavirus world, use EPA-registered household disinfectants. Adrienne Carrie Hubbard of Hubbard Family Travels makes her own disinfectant solution. The recipe: add 5 tablespoons of bleach to one gallon of room temperature water.
TravelingMom Tip: Read this to learn why you should bring a large Ziploc bag when you check in to a hotel.
7. Bathroom Concerns
Hotels are spending a lot of money promoting their new cleaning and disinfecting protocols, but families are still worried. They’re renting RVs instead. Why? The bathroom, according to John Gann, owner of Texas Camper Rentals.
Renting an RV means you can carry the bathroom along with you. It also makes it easier to stay outdoors and socially distanced from other travelers.
8. We’ll Sleep Differently
TravelingMom Jenn Mitchell and her husband drove from their home in Massachusetts to a small Airbnb in New England last year. It was a side apartment off of a main house on a small lakeside property. Before she booked, she talked with the owner to go over her cleaning methods.
That first trip went so well that she booked a second one at a VRBO property near Cape Cod for the 4th of July Week. That house had its own dock, kayaks, and other equipment so they didn’t have to share a beach or worry about social distancing in public areas.
The New York Times calls the booming demand for vacation rentals this summer “bonkers.”
9. Planning is Paramount
This is not the year to wing it. Remember what I just said about the New York Times calling the boom in vacation rentals “bonkers?” Well, hotels are booking up too.
Thanks to pent-up demand and flexible cancellation policies coupled with reduced supply due to hotels that closed in the pandemic and others that are struggling to hire enough workers, it can be tough to find a place to sleep.
That simply means you’ll need to plan ahead and make your reservations as soon as you can.
TravelingMom Tip: You may need reservations for the attractions you want to visit as well. Check the attraction website to find out whether there are capacity limits and reservation requirements. Few things can ruin a vacation faster than being turned away from the place you drove all that way to visit.
10. It Will Cost More to Road Trip in 2021
AAA predicts gas prices will hit a national average $3 per gallon this summer, so filling the tank will cost more.
TravelingMom Tip: Never let the tank fall below the half-way mark. Gasoline shortages have been reported thanks to lingering effects of the pandemic and the Colonial Pipeline cyber attack.
11. Camping is Cool and RVs are Hot
As we said, there are a lot of advantages to renting an RV for a road trip this summer, including the ability to carry your own bathroom along with you.
But you won’t be the only family who has thought of this. RV rentals are getting harder to find, as are camping spots, particularly at campgrounds close to popular national parks. TravelingMom Silvana Clark, a long-time RVer, reports that even boondocking sites like the local Walmart parking lot and Harvest Host farms and vineyards are filling up early.
The U.S. Forest Service publishes “Motor Vehicle Use Maps” that illustrate every forest road where boondocking, also called “dispersed camping,” is allowed. There are fewer rules, no “quiet hours” and you can collect firewood off the ground, pick wildflowers and gather edible plants. Best of all: It’s free — and the stargazing is included at no additional charge.
12. Have a Plan B
This can take many forms but should include these preparations:
- Have a second nearby destination in mind in case you arrive to find a spot too crowded or already closed to visitors.
TravelingMom Tip: ALWAYS check the website or call ahead before setting off for your destination. Things are changing quickly. The site could close, the rules could change, capacity limits could change.
- Bring a paper map in case your technology fails.
- Pack spare chargers for your phone and electronics.
- Prep the car to avoid breakdowns and always pack an emergency kit.