cross-country roadtrip tips: COVID edition
June 29, 2020 11:16 PM   Subscribe

If you had to (I mean, HAD to--assume the decision has been made) drive from Portland, Oregon to New Jersey in the next week, in a fairly well-outfitted camper van, what supplies and precautions would you take to ensure as safe & comfortable a journey as possible? Bonus: any suggestions for camping spots or sights seeable in a COVID-safe way? That's the gist, but particulars below the cut.

For family emergency Reasons, my partner has to drive from Portland, Oregon to New Jersey in the next week. I may or may not go with him. If I do go, assume we would be able to cover more ground in a day (two drivers). One or two dogs will be along for the journey.

The plan is to be completely self-contained and have no contact with other humans along the way (will be merging households with family members who have been isolating on the other end).
We have a van with bed, portable toilet, cooler, camp stove, and space to store jugs of water and dry goods. For fresher food, we'd plan a couple curbside grocery pickups in bigger cities along the way. We take the pandemic very seriously and don't plan to go inside any businesses or public restrooms, barring actual emergencies. Well-stocked with masks, soap, sanitizer, gloves, etc.

What essentials am I forgetting? What bonus items might we want/need for a 4-5 day roadtrip across the country? If you had to make this trip, what would be at the top of your must have/must do list?

Other potentially-relevent details:
-Planning to park and sleep in rest area parking lots barring camping options (with so little time to plan, rest areas feel easiest, but campsites would probably be better). Possibly in friends' yards/driveways along the way. Is that...ok?
-Will need to exercise dogs for an hour a day (leashed walks/hikes, poss. dog park romps if not too populated)
-On the way back, which will be 3-4 weeks later, we'll likely have a bit of time for a more scenic route.
posted by adastra to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Can your camper van hold urine and feces for that amount of time without that being a problem?

You’ll need to pump gas for yourself. So wear your gloves and wash your hands afterwards if you can. Will it be easy to wash your hands? I’d maybe try to figure out a simple hand washing set up so it’s very easy to do so.

Also sleeping in friends’ driveways seems more than fine.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:30 PM on June 29, 2020

I would prioritize sleeping in friends' driveways, you're going to be desperate for a friendly (masked) face & it'll be easier to relax & exercise the dogs. Plus they could feed you in a safe way.
posted by bleep at 11:43 PM on June 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

Sleeping in friend's drives great idea. I have slept in many a Walmart lot too. I would bring some parts for the engine such as extra fan belts. I would make sure my battery was good to go or get a new one for the trip. I would bring a bluetooth speaker and lots of music. First aid kit is always good to have.

On the way back, I would try to visit outdoor attractions like Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone,

I also think the plan to power there and take your time on the way back is a good one. If there is an emergency, then obviously get there ASAP. If you both can drive for 6-7 hours a day each, the drive is doable and would go in 4 or 5 days as you noted.

I would try to get a cooler of dry ice. Lasts longer and keeps things like meat COLD. Obvious, but don't forget a few favorite dog toys, dog blanket and treats.
posted by AugustWest at 12:01 AM on June 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Kitty litter for toilet emergencies?

What if the van breaks down? Is it a van that is purpose built for camping or something thrown together?

Two drivers seems to be safest, also because infection control procedures get slacker when you are tired or fatigued.

The virus seems to have two big risk factors for transmission which you seem to be covering: being in an enclosed space with others breathing their air droplets, and touching surfaces. Fuel is the point where you have to touch a shared surface.

Also, hand washing will help with another camping issue: food poisoning, especially if you are dealing with a portable toilet.

What about keeping food cool- have you got a car fridge or cooler/Esky? Does your food storage solution rely on ice?

I'm guessing some thought should be put into vehicle loading to ensure smooth running.
posted by freethefeet at 12:03 AM on June 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm planning a 1,100 mile drive soon, so shorter than yours. Because I'm driving alone and don't want to kill myself trying to do it one day I'm planning on spending the night somewhere, possibly in my van.

I've been thinking about the drive a lot. I look at the covid maps evaluating ways to avoid hot spots. Gas stations right off the interstates serve people from all over so may be mini hot spots. Gas stations a few miles off the interstate in counties with low covid rates might be a better bet.

Someone ought to make an app for road trips in the time of covid. I'm sure it wouldn't be hard to do.
posted by mareli at 4:49 AM on June 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Question for road-trippers: What is the big concern about gas stations? They're outdoors and you typically don't interact with any people while filling up if you use the credit card reader on the pump. How could they become "mini hot spots"? On my short trips to go hiking and so forth I have just been filling up like usual wearing my mask when I'm outside of the car and then washing my hands or hand sanitizing before I drive on.
posted by fancypants at 4:57 AM on June 30, 2020 [9 favorites]

Question for road-trippers: What is the big concern about gas stations? They're outdoors and you typically don't interact with any people while filling up if you use the credit card reader on the pump. How could they become "mini hot spots"? On my short trips to go hiking and so forth I have just been filling up like usual wearing my mask when I'm outside of the car and then washing my hands or hand sanitizing before I drive on.

I just took an almost 2000 mile road trip in the last week. Getting gas at gas stations never felt in the slightest risky. Like you say, you are outdoors, everyone is far apart, and the only question is whether you want to wear a glove for handling the pump and card reader, or if you want to just wash/sanitize your hand after instead.

However, I found that inside the gas stations/truck stops was kind of a shitshow, with very few people wearing masks, zero attention to social distancing, etc. I went into one once and after that never again.

Highway rest stops (the DOT ones on the freeways) have good bathrooms and were set up well. Many had the doors propped open so no handling of surfaces at all; more people were wearing masks than in the gas stations; and it was easy to stay separated because the design is intended to cycle people through efficiently. So if you want to reduce the pressure on your van toilet, I would go with the highway rest stop bathrooms as the preferred option.

I mostly ate fast food from drive through windows (where employees were all wearing masks, but very few customers were), but I am sure your grocery pickup option would work well.

It's easy to stay self-contained in your vehicle, but if you get a flat tire or a breakdown, that is all out the window. I thought about that while driving, how best to deal with things if there was an issue. Since you will have pets with you also, it's worth giving a bit of consideration to contingencies.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:04 AM on June 30, 2020 [7 favorites]

Also, if you get gas in Jersey, they'll have to pump it for you. They wear masks, but it does require human interaction to get gas in Jersey proper, and I believe in Oregon as well. But gas stations should be ok in general, just wear your mask and wash or sanitize after pumping on the road. I wear a glove when handling the credit card after giving it to the attendant because it's easier for me.
posted by k8lin at 6:07 AM on June 30, 2020

If you haven't already driven through the Columbia River Gorge, it's a must-see. Other stops we liked on a drive from Portland to Denver included:

Rowena Crest Viewpoint/Tom McCall Preserve, US 30, Rowena OR. There's a short trail through the preserve to a stunning overlook of the gorge. It was nearly deserted when we were there in August 2017.

Shoshone Falls in Twin Falls, ID is awesome, and also near where Evel Knievel tried to jump the Snake River.

If you've never seen Yellowstone it's also a must-do if possible. Even if Old Faithful is too crowded there are a ton of other geysers and features that are less busy.

There are many outdoor sites related to the Oregon Trail. We were amazed by the Guernsey Ruts in Wyoming.

I'd say McCall Preserve and Guernsey Ruts are most likely to have the fewest people around, and they were two of the best.
posted by underthehat at 6:43 AM on June 30, 2020

We just did this and got home last night. I am quite familiar with peeing in the woods, and did so at least twice a day, even at rest stops with bathrooms. I was not about to go into a small unventilated room that any other humans had been in.

The major thing that helped us was to bring dehydrated camping meals that only need boiled water added to them (we also brought a very small camp stove + canisters + water, but you'll have a stove). They really were great, we could eat them with a spoon in the car while driving, and no extra people contact needed. I would take a dozen of these if I were you. Fresh food can skip a week.
posted by ashy_sock at 7:26 AM on June 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

Check your spare tire(s) and make sure you can locate/use the jack. Also get an AAA membership!
posted by stinkfoot at 7:29 AM on June 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

Given that you are already aware of the most important COVID-related measures, the only thing I can see you need to prepare for/avoid is the highest risk on this journey, namely getting into a driving accident.

So a) a set of detailed paper maps in case your GPS device fries b) get your vehicle fully checked c) decide how many hours you can safely drive without fatigue (super important) d) figure out which route is the safest (4 lane highways vs 2 lanes) e) scheduling the drives to avoid rush hours and night time.

btw, have you slept in your vehcile before? Are you sure you will be able to? Having a good night's sleep is super important to be sure you're at your best at the wheel.
posted by storybored at 7:33 AM on June 30, 2020

Make sure to include some fun road trip candy/chips/soda along with the groceries that you’re taking or picking up along the way. Whenever we pack snacks I always bring fruit, nuts, water etc. and then cave 100 miles in and stop at a gas station for gummy bears and hot Cheetos. YMMV but maybe best to preclude wanting/needing to stop for treats!
posted by stellaluna at 8:25 AM on June 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

I hate being the voice of doom, but after having been stranded in Cheyenne for two weeks after having a car shit the bed on me (this was the Before Times), I would have a full contingency plan if your camper breaks down. Double check your AAA or whatever roadside assistance you have to make sure they’ll tow a camper. Stuff like that.
posted by furnace.heart at 8:51 AM on June 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

I just traveled cross country (though well south of you). I have a wife who can't take weather and kids so we stayed in hotels. Hotels are very different now -many had no lobby furniture to prevent loitering and limited or no breakfast or drinks, and interactions very limited, so I felt completely comfortable and safe.

The major fast food chains policies (often all you find near the interstate) are the same in every state and masks are prevalent. The in-between states and small towns were actually more shutdown than either my starting point or destination, both major cities, which was kind of weird. I didn't stop at one single gas station where masks weren't worn by all employees, and about 50% or so of other patrons had them.

Overall, I felt pretty safe, and it's a week in and no-one in my family is showing any symptoms.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:29 PM on June 30, 2020 [4 favorites]

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