How to Road Trip Responsibly During the Summer of COVID-19
Is it right to travel at all this summer? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer
We’ve all been cooped up for months now, staying home as much as possible and diligently doing our part to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
But we’re Canadians, and it’s June. Expecting people to hole up through the entire summer, during this brief annual respite when the sun is reliably shining and our lakes aren’t covered with ice, is a monumental ask.
Plus, with Canada’s borders currently closed, the uncertainty around when international travel will meaningfully resume means that we have an unprecedented opportunity: for a little while, at least, we have our home and native land to ourselves. And all of those businesses that rely on mass tourism will be asking Canadians to help them stay open until the crowds return.
This makes the prospect of road trip travel extremely enticing, and that’s only bolstered by the fact that restrictions are beginning to ease across the country. For example, short-term accommodation rentals just resumed in Ontario, meaning that lodges, cabins, cottages, homes, condominiums, and bed-and-breakfasts can begin taking bookings. These signals of recovery have thrown a lot of us into fits of booking vacation time and making travel plans.
But we still have a responsibility to ourselves and each other to ensure that we road trip safely and don’t contribute to making things worse. Making plans responsibly means ensuring you can travel with a minimum of exposure to others – and understanding that doing so may require sacrifices you’re not used to.
Make sure you’re welcome in the place you’re planning to visit.
This is a big one. Usually, we can pick up and go anywhere we want across Canada, but these are not usual times.
For example, unless you own property in a province in Atlantic Canada and receive approval from that province to enter, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to visit the East Coast this summer. Other provinces are permitting entry but are requiring visitors to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival, meaning that you won’t be able to drive around or otherwise see much – and you’d likely be expected to self-isolate for another two weeks upon your return home. This means that the safest bet for all of us is to plan to stay within our home provinces or, when they eventually form, within any multi-provincial bubbles designated by governments.
Even then, don’t assume that you’ll automatically be welcome somewhere just because you’re permitted to go. Some residents of smaller municipalities have been vocally unfriendly to prospective visitors, concerned that urban residents are going to introduce COVID-19 into their communities. This doesn’t mean that travel needs to be entirely off the table, or that some of the businesses in those communities won’t welcome your patronage. But it’s in your best interests to investigate and do your homework before making elaborate plans.
Do everything you can to ensure it’s responsible for you to travel.
Each of us needs to ask ourselves a few questions before we start planning to hit the road.
If you live in a hot spot like Toronto or Montreal, for example, it’s much more likely that you could be an asymptomatic carrier of COVID-19 and might unwittingly bring it with you to remote communities that aren’t equipped for an outbreak. The best-case scenario for people hoping to escape large cities is to rent a cottage that can give you contactless access, to visit only with members of your own household, and to pack in everything you’ll need so that you won’t have to go into smaller communities for things like groceries and cleaning supplies.
Even if you live outside the hardest-hit areas, if you’re in frequent contact with a front-line worker, may need to care for an elderly relative upon your return, or if it’s difficult for you to practice physical distancing for whatever reason and you could therefore be exposed before you leave, you’ll need to give some thought to whether you can responsibly travel right now.
Regardless, in a perfect world, anyone intending to travel would be tested before departing, would self-isolate after that testing to prevent a late exposure, and would be diligent about physical distancing, hand hygiene, and wearing masks while in transit to avoid becoming a vector for spread by being exposed while travelling.
Don’t mob popular locations.
This is not the time to try swimming in the Grotto at Bruce Peninsula National Park or catching a glimpse of Moraine Lake in Banff National Park. While some services are beginning to operate at national and provincial parks across Canada, the most popular spots that are known to attract mob scenes will remain closed for some time yet. Consider doing a bit of research and seeking out lesser-known destinations off the beaten path, bearing in mind that outdoor activities will be overwhelmingly safer than indoor ones (but mosquitoes and ticks haven’t taken a break for the coronavirus, so you’ll need to practice insect bite safety as well). Backcountry camping is opening earlier than front country in many places, so it offers a viable option for earlier travel among the highly adventurous.
Plan your route in advance.
Even if you’re going to the same family cottage you’ve visited for decades, this is one summer where we can’t assume our usual rest stops and gas stations will be open and ready to serve us. If you’re driving enough of a distance that you’re likely to need services along the way, it will save a lot of stress to map out your stops in advance, call ahead or check websites to ensure each location is operating as expected – including whether the usual food is available, what physical distancing measures are in place, and if restrooms will be open to the public – and to be prepared to make changes to your plans if necessary. Consider packing picnic meals if you can’t be sure of safe access to take-out, and download gas station apps in advance if you’ll be visiting locations where touchless payment is an option. And you may encounter surprises along the way, so always have plenty of masks and hand sanitizer available, just in case.