Roadtripping and Camping During Covid – Tips and Things to Plan For

I know I haven’t really published many blog posts on our adventures on this trip, and I promise I will. I do have a lot of things to talk about and pictures to edit, but I have been getting many questions about traveling right now.  I wanted to go ahead and talk about traveling during Covid to help anyone considering it, to know what to expect.  If you are a camper who normally goes to more remote places and boondocks, travel might not be very different for you.  If you are traveling through multiple states or planning on staying in less remote areas, you will probably see some differences.  Everywhere you travel will require masks in stores, rest stops, bathrooms and checking in, so just expect that. But I consider that the norm in life right now anyway so it’s not a huge consideration. These are the top differences and things to consider that I have found on my travel from Texas to the New York and Pennsylvania areas.

The biggest factors when you are camping in a tiny trailer are water and bathrooms. These have been my biggest issues on this trip and the biggest differences I’ve seen.  The biggest issue for me is that all water fountains have been closed.  This is an issue because I have a small storage tank on the T@G and depend on refilling water bottles for me and Bella at water fountains at rest stops, campgrounds and really anywhere I can to avoid buying water.  The good news is that the state parks I have stayed in, that do not have water at sights, but spigots throughout the park, still have them open.  They will have signs saying to wear your mask when filling at them though.  My biggest issue was on the main drive up because I stayed at public and free places since I was just driving and only needed a place to sleep.  Normally I would keep bottles filled from rest stops, but I had to carry more with me initially this time.

As for bathrooms, if possible, I suggest taking a port a potty.  Finding them while on the road was really hit or miss.  I wish I could tell you for sure what states they are open or best places to look, but every place seems to have entirely different rules/guidelines and enforcement.  The biggest tip is, don’t rely on gas stations.  A lot that I went to had big signs out front saying their restrooms were closed or only for truckers paying for overnight stays.  If they were open most of the time the entire bathroom was being used as a single stall bathroom, which created very long waits. If rest stops were open, the bathrooms were usually open with limited stalls and sinks.  And don’t think you can use one that is marked closed either, they have the water cut off to them.  The biggest issue was rest stops being closed down except for use for truckers to park.  I actually saw this more in Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky.  Once I got into Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York I found very few that were completely closed, they just had limited hours and services. If you are normally a night traveler you will have more issues because a lot were closing down at night for deep cleaning.

Once you get into campgrounds it’s less of an issue.  I only ran across a few private campgrounds that said their bathrooms and bathhouses were closed.  All the state parks were open, but like rest stops, limited to the number of stalls and sinks.  I know this sounds crazy but this has been the best time for me for showering at campgrounds.  Most people who have their own showers have been using them to be self-contained and safer.  I don’t have that luxury so I just came prepared with Clorox wipes and Lysol.  Normally there’s a wait for a shower stalls and I have become accustom to showering at odd hours to avoid the rush.  On this trip I have basically had the bathhouses to myself.  I do not take this for granted or be careless.  I still carry Lysol with me and spray the things most likely to have been touched or breathed on.

Also, on rest stops, don’t plan to use them as place to hang out, eat lunch and hang out at picnic tables.  Many have their picnic tables and benches roped off or only have a few available. In the case of some service areas in New York, all the tables and chairs were stacked up in a flower bed, by the building, to prevent them from being used.  Luckily with the teardrop I had a place to sit and rest, but if you don’t have that, you may have to eat and take your break in your car.  You can still walk around and take your dogs out, but be prepared to wear a mask and be told to by people working there. Also, all playgrounds I have seen are closed down.  Not a big issue for me but if you are traveling with kids, it’s something to keep in mind.  This includes rest stops, parks and campgrounds.

One big consideration if you are staying at campgrounds is that most state parks, in every state I have been through, are not accepting walk-ups.  Many private campgrounds are also requiring that you make your reservations and pay in advance to limit the interactions needed at check-in.  The days of wandering till you decide you want to sleep and pulling in somewhere, may be gone for a while.  I have had no issues finding places after Labor Day, I have just had to make sure I made my reservations a couple days in advance, which means planning a couple days in advance.  It hasn’t been a big deal, but it’s something to be aware of if you normally walk up and pay on sight.  Another word on paying, be prepared to pay by credit card.  This applies to campgrounds as well as other places. I took cash since I figured I would just pick places along the way, but many places are not taking cash right now. 

Another point to note on campgrounds is the check in process in states with 2 week quarantine mandates. Not every campground is going to check and enforce that, but be prepared because the ones that do are serious about it. I knew going into New York with a Texas plate I was likely to get get questions. I was prepared at my first stop, which was a state park, to show that I had not been in Texas in weeks and I had spent 2 weeks in neighboring states to full fill their requirement. No one asked or even said anything about where I was from. A few days later, in a state park across the state, I had to prove all this and was almost rejected from staying there because part of my stays were public land I didn’t have proof of where I was. So be prepared, especially at State Parks to provide proof of mandatory quarantines or negative Covid tests from the last 72 hours.

I have had no issue finding grocery stores but restaurants have been a little different.  Since I was recently laid off, I have been cooking most of my meals but I have tried to go out a few times to breweries or dog friendly restaurants with Bella.  When I say restaurants, I do not mean fast food.  If you are OK with that, you will have no problem.  There are plenty of fast food chains open, usually drove through only.  I have not tried to take the Teardrop through a drive through but I have seen many people take utility trailers and even a horse trailer through because their dining room was closed. So I think in a small trailer, if you are comfortable doing it, you can go through the drive through. However, many small, local owned businesses have limited their hours and capacity or in the case of a few I tried, had to close down.  It has been a very sad part of the trip, driving through small towns, close to tourist destinations and seeing “Out of Business,” Permanently Closed” and “For Lease” signs on so many businesses, not just restaurants.

Tourist attractions have been another big hit or miss activity.  This is another one of those things I rarely plan in advance.  Yes, there are usually a few things I know I want to see in an area I’m heading to, but I am a “Oh, that looks cool, let’s go check it out” traveler.  If I see a sign for something, I pull over and go see it.  While that worked out oat the Jack Daniel’s Distillery, it hasn’t worked out for much else.  I have taken detours to see some railway museums, historical birth places, Gettysburg Battlefield Park, The Wright Brothers exhibits and other state run tourists sites that were closed. The rule of thumb I have found is that if it’s run by the state or government, it’s probably closed. There have been other cool, private attractions I have been able to go to that have had great safety protocols and a lot of outdoor parks and arboretums, but in general, like with restaurants, it’s best to call ahead.  

So my last word on traveling right now is kind of a cautionary tale and a sad story. That is that when you are staying in state parks and cheaper places, do not assume everyone there is out camping, enjoying life. I met a lot of people who were traveling because of Covid for a variety of reasons. Some were close to retirement anyway and were offered early retirement packages or laid off and chose to go ahead and make the transition to being full time. Some were 5-7 years from retirement but lived in areas where real estate was booming and decided to sell their homes, buy and an RV and use the money from their home to live on till they are old enough to start drawing from their retirement. I met a woman living in a camper the size of mine who was already retired but was waiting to make the transition to living in it full time and realized with the ways things have been going, life is short and there was no reason to wait. I also met a couple who had always talked about living the Nomad life and when he was laid off they bought a van, set it up as a camper and hit the road.

Sadly, this was not the case the entire trip. I made an assumption in a New York State Park that I want to keep other people from making. While walking through the park I saw a woman around my age, built like me, in a nice, fairly new car, out setting up a nice tent. I thought that was great. Cheers for the single women camping and traveling on their own and I said something to her. Unfortunately she as not camping by choice. She had been laid off and even though she had savings, she lost her lease because having employment was a condition of her lease. This also prevented her from getting a new apartment. Her car was paid for and she was drawing unemployment but she could not afford to stay in hotels. So she chose to sell her furniture, pack up her other stuff, buy a really nice tent, ice chest, camp stove and other top of the line camping equipment and had been traveling around New York staying in state parks the maximum time at each park. I give her a lot of credit. She was not upset when I said something and told me her situation matter of factly. She also had the best glamping set up ever. She had a set up in her tent with curtains and a folding desk for video interviews and Zoom meetings. After my conversation with her, I started noticing more people in tents with a lot of stuff and started conversations with these people and found this was the case for most tent campers in state parks. I’m certainly not saying not to talk to these people, I just want to make sure people realize this is the current situation in camping and be sensitive to the situation of these people.

While travel at this time may not be for everyone, I hope this gives you a better idea of what to expect.  It has been different but enjoyable because I’m not rushed.  Normally when I travel it’s on a short time period due to work and I feel like I need to be doing as much as I can, to make the most of my time.  With all the changes due to Covid I haven’t had that guilt if I don’t do much and it’s has been relaxing and hopefully healing from the last few months of stress and trauma.

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