Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- 1. Exploring Close 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. We Want More Space on our American Road Trip
- 10. Families Become Digital Nomads
- 11. Camping is Cool and RVs are Hot
- 12. Planning is Paramount
- 13. A Plan B is Important on your great American road trip.
- 14. Go it Alone
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 road trip trends for a pandemic.
Ah, the Great American Road Trip. It’s 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 there’s a vaccine. But families who plan to travel are more likely to hit the open road.
A Daily Travel Index from Arrivalist that uses GPS data from across the USA to measure consumer road trips of 50 miles or more, shows that road trip travel is increasing. Over the Labor Day and July 4th holidays, road travel in 2020 surpassed year-ago levels.
Here are 13 ways those road trips look different in 2021.
1. Exploring Close to Home on your Great American Road Trip.
Families are hitting the road again, but they’re 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 only the part that’s in their own state. Even then, they are likely to drive only a short distance along those classic roadways.
There could be any number of reasons for that, but one big one: state-by-state quarantine rules. If crossing the state line means you need to quarantine for two weeks at the beginning or the end of the trip, it’s makes sense to travel within your own state.
2. Day Trips are Big
Americans are starting slow, with day trips. That’s how I started this summer — with a really looooong day trip, four hours each way to see my kids in Detroit. I took their grandparents along, so we couldn’t stay. But nothing was going to keep me from seeing the kids, even though it meant I spent eight hours in a car so I could spend three hours with them!
TravelingMom Catherine Parker is a more typical day tripper. She and her teens did a 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.
This is not the time to plan a long road trip to hike the Appalachian Trail in the Shenandoah Valley. Instead, check out the trails, roadside attractions or botanic garden you always meant to visit near you. It’s going to be awhile before most families feel confident enough to plan an epic road trip from Chicago to California on Route 66.
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 mountain air are all getting a fresh look from families that previously might have flown to popular family vacation spots like Miami, New York City, San Diego, Seattle 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. Ask the park ranger for ways to have a socially distant vacation in the park. If you’re lucky, the ranger will 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.
Be sure to check these sites to see what’s open and the rules for visitors before planning your trip:
- Covid Act Now and Covid by State keep 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.
4. Being Careful is #1
When TravelingMom Christy Emmanuel and her brood, ages 6 to 10, arrived in Berlin, Maryland, this 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 — makes it easier to avoid unnecessary contact. 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.
Check out these germiest places in a hotel and find out why you’ll want to bring a Ziploc bag when you check in.
7. Bathroom Concerns
Hotels are spending a lot of money promoting their new cleaning and disinfecting protocols, but families are worried. They’re renting RVs instead. Why? The bathroom, according to John Gann, owner of Texas Camper Rentals. His eight campers were fully booked this summer.
He’s had multiple customers book RVs for long distance American road trips mostly so they would be able to carry their bed and bathroom with them. One family was headed from Texas to California to see relatives. They booked the camper for three weeks although they only used it for the first two days and the last two days of the trip, for the road trip and one overnight stop each way in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
8. We’ll Sleep Differently
TravelingMom Jenn Mitchell and her husband drove from their home in Massachusetts to a small Airbnb in New England. 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 has its own dock, kayaks, and other equipment so they won’t have to share a beach or worry about social distancing in public areas.
Travelocity did a survey this summer that shows 1 in 4 families was planning to take a vacation this year, but:
- Bookings for ranches, cabins and houseboats were more than double year-ago levels in certain parts of the country. Booking data between May – June 2020 showed a 140% increase in private vacation home rentals and 115% increase in cottages.
- The demand for condos was up 45% compared to the same period in 2019.
9. We Want More Space on our American Road Trip
Sometimes all you need is to sleep in a different place, says TravelingMom Jamie Bartosch. She, her husband and two teens drove two hours to Wisconsin Dells, the Waterpark Capital of the World, and DID NOT GO TO A WATERPARK! Instead, they rented a big house with a pool table and fireplace and spent time outdoors hiking, kayaking and golfing.
The key to enjoying a vacation with the same people you’ve spent months quarantined with? Space, Jamie says. Lots and lots of space, preferably outdoors. “Even though we’re all so sick of each other, at least we’re sick of each other in a lovely state park … and in a house that’s twice the size of the one we live in,” she says.
10. Families Become Digital Nomads
Digital nomads — people who can work anywhere because they work online via computers — used to be carefree, childless 20-somethings who needed nothing more than a laptop, a cup of carefully brewed coffee and a decent wifi connection to work from anywhere in the world. But the Covid-created remote work and distance learning is growing a whole new crop of digital nomad families. If we can work and the kids can learn at home via Zoom, we can do it in the back seat of the car, in the RV, in the Airbnb and at the campsite, whether we’re in the Rocky Mountains, Memphis, or Monterey.
That’s how Mikaela Walker, managing editor of Orlando Parents magazine and the mom of two kids, ages 6 and 11, plans to do it next year. She’s switched the kids to virtual school. They’ll be exploring the Grand Canyon and the national parks in Utah next fall when the rest of the kids are back in school or sitting around the dining room table waiting for the next Zoom lesson to start.
11. Camping is Cool and RVs are Hot
RV bookings have nearly tripled since last year and have increased by more than 1,600% since early April as travelers opt for a safe, cost-effective means of travel this summer. RVShare, the Airbnb of RV rentals, says top destinations for its American road trip renters are: Yellowstone National Park; Grand Canyon National Park; Nashville, Tennessee; Ginnie Springs, Florida; New Braunfels, Texas; Garner State Park, Texas; Lake Powell, Arizona; Zion National Park in Utah, Wisconsin Dells, and Valdez, Alaska.
You don’t even have to check into a crowded campground, says Steve Johnson, publisher of Boondocker’s Bible. Stay super socially distant by boondocking. While that can mean parking for free overnight in a Walmart parking lot, the socially distanced version is where you follow dirt roads deeper into forests, mountains, and canyons and camp right in the middle of nature with no one else around. Just don’t expect to find water and sewer hookups, so come prepared with everything you’ll need while you’re there and be a good citizen by packing out your trash.
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, Steve says. Best of all: It’s free — and the stargazing is included at no additional charge.
12. Planning is Paramount
Traveling amid a pandemic is no time for winging it, says TravelingMom Liana Moore. When she and her family were planning to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park and Snow Mountain Ranch near Rocky Mountain Park, she read everything she could about the destinations. They brought masks and washed their hands. A lot.
Melanie Musson, a writer for Car Insurance Comparison, her husband and their five children, ages newborn to 9, already have road tripped differently this year. They usually visit museums, zoos, aquariums, waterparks, and other crowded attractions. This year, their trips are “shorter, closer to home, and centered on the outdoors. Instead of a hotel with a pool, we’ll stay in a tent by a lake. Instead of a zoo, we’ll hike in the woods and study the wild animals,” she says.
Their first trip was to Grand Teton National Park where the older kids filled out a Junior Ranger workbook she printed out at home before they left. They ate all of their meals “in” at the campsite, prepared from supplies they brought with them from home.
If you plan to stay in hotels, stop at rest stops and eat in restaurants, you’ll want to plan those, too, to make sure you they are open and you know the rules around social distancing, mask wearing, and quarantines.
Meagan Tenney, her husband and four kids ages 3 to 11, are full-time travelers. When they drove from Arizona to Florida mid-pandemic, they were stopped at the Florida border and asked if they had come from New York. They hadn’t, so they were allowed to enter. If they had, they would have had to answer more questions about whether they had been sick and would have been required to quarantine for up to 14 days. On the way to Florida, they passed through Gallup, New Mexico. All of the highway exits were closed to quarantine the whole town because it had been hit so hard by the coronavirus.
13. A Plan B is Important on your great American road trip.
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, admissions could close.
- Bring a paper map in case your technology fails. You don’t want to stop strangers to ask for directions.
- Pack spare chargers for your phone and electronics.
- Prep the car to avoid breakdowns and always pack an emergency kit.
14. Go it Alone
Or in small groups. Natalie Lloyd, a family travel blogger at Blissmersion, lives in Mexico with her husband and two children. Her most recent American road trip was to a small 4-room hotel an hour from their home. Because of the Covid-inspired pause in travel, hers was one of only two families at the hotel. There was ample outdoor space, including a 2.5-mile round trip hike, and a pool.
“It was the most peaceful and relaxed we’ve been in months,” she says.