Easy and practical tips for a safer road trip during the pandemic
I was not doing well physically and mentally being at home. Things got worse when I had to stay home full time because of weeks of fires and smoke spreading out in several locations across the golden state. It made the air quality so unhealthy that I couldn't even go for a walk or ride my bike in the city. I was home when the "apocalyptic day" happened in San Francisco.
Meanwhile, I made a travel plan with my boyfriend to drive out of California and visit four National Parks in two weeks. We crossed California and Nevada to get to the Zion National Park, then the Bryce National Park, and the Arches National Park in Utah. On the way back to California, we drove to the Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California when the air quality was better.
The idea was to travel by car (no airplanes) and go camping, hiking, and riding our bike as safe as possible. Before the trip, I felt anxious about the idea of taking a road trip during COVID-19 times so I’d like to share tips that helped us to have an easy road trip and to feel more safe traveling to different places.
1. We got an annual pass and planned hikes
- We got the National Parks & Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass before the trip. If you go to two or three national parks a year, you’re already saving money with the annual pass. At the entrance, the fees vary between $30-$35, and all park passes would cost more than $100. It’s $80 for the annual pass and you can quickly enter any National Park as many times as you want.
- We hiked some not so popular trails. We used the app All Trails to find hikes close by the Zion National Park but not exactly in the park. We hiked the Wire Mesa trail, which has incredible views, and we didn’t see many people (it is more popular for mountain bikers but we didn't see many people riding there).
2. We rented a van that we could set up a bed and sleep in
I don’t have a car and I usually ride my bike in the city. Due to COVID-19, we thought it would be safer if we didn't stay in hotels/motels/B&B or anywhere we would have to share the building with other people. And Airbnbs are not always the cheapest options either.
By word of mouth, we heard of the customized vans for rent from a company called The Lost Campers. The vans have a DIY wood structure that you can easily set up your bed. We rented the Sierra van with a sink in the trunk, so we didn't have to worry about washing dishes and contaminating the soil of the campsites. Just remember to dump the wastewater in a place where the water will be treated when the tank gets full.
3. We found free campsites
Sometimes it is hard to find campsites but there are nice and free options out there. We used the website freecampsites.net to find free spots to camp close to the entrance of the national parks. The website doesn't look fantastic but it has GPS locations that will help you find the camping sites even if you don't have a phone signal.
We used Google Maps to download the offline map with the GPS locations so we never had a problem navigating to those sites. Some people left reviews and photos of the camping sites and it's really nice to have an idea of how it looks like before going. It's first-come-first-served, so it's best to arrive before sunset. I find these campsites safer regarding COVID-19 because there are usually fewer people staying in these remote areas.
4. We had affordable meals
- We love coffee and we drink it every day. A super-easy way to make coffee while traveling is to grind your favorite coffee beforehand and brew it with an Aeropress. I never get tired of recommending it because it is so easy to use, easy to clean, easy to store. And you don't need to change the filters every time if you get a reusable filter.
- Precooking a meal helps to reduce the work and dishes you have to wash after. We brought frozen curry and frozen soup and left them in the cooler with ice for a few days. It was so easy just to warm them up and we had delicious homemade meals after a long day of driving and hiking.
- Filtered water is the basic thing you always need to have with you while camping/traveling. We used a reusable water container that really worked well and we didn't have to buy and carry lots of plastic water jugs in the car. It saves space and we use less plastic.
5. We brought our own stuff
We had camping stoves and cookware included with the car we rented. Other things we brought that made a difference in our trip were:
- Bicycles. If you already have a bike at home, bring it with you. Bikes can make your trip easier and more affordable if you don’t have to rent them. We rode our bikes to The Narrows hike at Zion National Park and avoided a very long line of people waiting for their shuttles (at reduced capacity due to COVID-19). And we avoided crowds by riding your bike.
- Sleeping bag/pad for stargazing. In Utah and Nevada, the temperature can drop below freezing temperatures at night during the Fall season. We used our sleeping bags and sleeping pads for cold nights and we also used them to hang out outside and watch the stars with no light. You can really see the Milky Way and shooting stars when it's all dark.
- Headlights. We had at home and they're good to have if you live in areas of risk of an earthquake. The headlights are small, light, and they free your hands from holding lamps or lanterns.
6. Last, I started a journal
I find writing a fun activity and it helps me to keep memories of events that happened but I would probably not remember later. Although I love looking at the trip photos and videos, the journal works better for me to remember the event details. I didn’t have paper and pencil but it didn't stop me from journaling: I opened my email app and wrote everything like a draft of an email. Everything offline.
Journaling also pushed me to write this article for you. By sharing my trip experience, I hope these tips can help you to plan an easier road trip in the future. My final tip is to have hand sanitizer with you at all times and remember to bring at least two masks with you. If you lose one, you still can be safe wearing the backup mask. Travel safe!