Travel Report from a Timid Risk-Taker
For the first time since Covid-19 turned the world upside down, I took a short road trip last month. Cabin fever was burning high, and a family member needed to investigate the possibility of moving across the state, so I went with. Here's what we experienced, offered for others who also are yearning to travel and are a bit scared of what you'll find if you do.
This was also my first time ever traveling with a dog, who I think panted in my ear all the way across Washington state. Not sure why -- is that normal?
Lesson one -- repairs and preventions
Perhaps I was just so happy to get out of the condo that I didn't do due diligence in checking out maintenance and detours on our route. As a result, we crawled for 2.5 hours on I-90 to get just a few miles down the road. Shattered the illusion that people weren't driving or taking unnecessary trips during Covid.
Rest stops were well populated on our drive. Maybe it was just normal end of summer traffic, but somehow in 2020, I didn't expect so many people to be traveling. Playtex dish washing gloves were a smart and useful thing to have in those well used bathrooms, and so much easier to clean and get on and off than the flimsy latex type that have been a popular purchase for virus prevention. Disinfectant wipes renew the Playtex for the next use, and just for extra caution heating them up under a window intensified sun wouldn't hurt. And just to top it off, hand sanitizer even if you washed your hands in the rest room is a good idea.
Even better than Playtex gloves, I thought, for use at gas stations, and every other public, shared-use machine are light weight cloth gloves made for jewelers and others who handle more delicate items and need good dexterity as well as a minimal level of germ protection. I got a set of a dozen pair from Amazon for less than $20. They are washable for a few times, and work on grocery store check out screens and keypads, and my touch entry car handle.
In our state pretty much every business has a sign at their entry point requiring masks. Be sure to take enough with you to last throughout your time away from home. The mask up requirement is likely to be with us for the next 12-18 months. It won't hurt to invest in a small mask wardrobe for the duration.
Lesson two -- many restaurants still closed
Eating on the road and at your destination can be tricky and not the fantastic experience you might be hoping for. Many restaurants are still closed, or have limited hours or seating -- especially the better restaurants, and the fast food places that have been ubiquitous in those wide patch in the road gas stops. Signs on eatery doors warn that patrons must wear masks except when dining, but definitely while ordering, waiting, and paying. Tabletop items like salt and pepper, sugar, and desert promotion signs were gone, but could be requested. Where menus weren't posted overhead, they were encased in plastic for easy disinfecting.
Seating was different in each place. One restaurant with a lot of booths had actually taken the seat cushions out from every other one so that distancing was guaranteed. Another restaurant simply had signs on the forbidden tables, others had chairs removed. I think I saw one fast food place with a door sign encourage people who just had to come in to order (and use the rest room) to please eat in their cars. And a sign on the restroom door asked for only one person in the room at a time -- although how you are supposed to know if someone is already inside before you enter was a mystery to me.
Some restaurants closed for eating in were new participants in delivery services, bringing food right to our hotel room. We tipped the delivery kid extra for that.
Lesson three -- forget hotel breakfasts
Our hotel offered grab and go bagged items to fulfill their promise of offering breakfast. It probably would have been better to just lower the room rate instead. One morning's bag contained a yogurt, a small apple, a tiny gummy danish, a small unappetizing blueberry muffin, plus a very chewy granola bar. Juice and coffee were available on request but not by self serve.
I was glad I'd brought a big bag of walnuts and my own favorite granola bars. My travel companion brought instant oatmeal and a cooler with juice and milk. We were very glad to have these on hand.
Lesson four -- beware beside lamp plugs
I'm not really certain how it happened, but I fatally fried one of my phones by charging it overnight via the lamp outlet. I'd even brought my own charger plug from home that had two USB ports on it. The phone was killed, but the second electronic was fine. Between the two of us in the room with our multiple electronics, it seemed that ones plugged into the lamp got hot quickly, but those plugged into a normal wall outlet were fine.
When making lodging reservations, the newer hotels and bigger corporate properties will usually be upgraded for the electronics-heavy guest. If you are super dependent on your devices for work or staying in touch with family on the road, it's probably wise to call the hotel ahead of making a reservation to check out how well appointed their rooms will be.
Lesson Five -- ADA disappointments
If you or a travel companion would benefit from an ADA room, be forewarned that these are not all equal. If bathtubs are treacherous for you, it's best to ask specifically for a room with a shower intended for wheelchair use. The tub in our room had one grab bar at the faucet end and both the floor of the tub and walls of the surround were very slippery -- not safe for most people and definitely not for those with balance or movement challenges.
In addition, while fixed, "rain" shower heads are a nice fashion style that signals a recent renovation, a detachable wand is much more useful for most bathers, especially those who find dealing with balance issues while manipulating a washcloth to be a challenge.
And while the concept of the heavy fire door for each room is an understandable requirement, these doors can be nearly impossible to push and hold open when carrying multiple pieces of luggage, while trying not to trip over the dog. When you call the hotel, I suggest asking about alternatives to heavy doors. While it's unlikely to be other options, a preponderance of requests for alternatives will help engineers rethink the problem in the future.
So, in short, car travel in the Covid era is possible, and with a little extra planning, effort, and patience can be safe and enjoyable.