Thanksgiving road trip? Find out how to stay safe amid COVID-19

Thanksgiving travel this year will be a challenge like never before, with public health officials discouraging it and more states requiring quarantines or testing as COVID-19 cases rise nationwide at an alarming rate.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people don’t travel for Thanksgiving.

“We understand that people want to see their family and relatives and do it as they’ve always done it,” Henry Walke, the CDC’s COVID-19 incident manager, told reporters in a briefing a week before the holiday. “But this year we’re asking them to limit their travel.”

Anyone who travels will encounter restrictions. Many states require face masks and social distancing. Some require a 14-day quarantine or a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than 72 hours prior to arrival. Indoor dining will not be available in some states.

AAA projects that 50 million Americans will travel for Thanksgiving, the vast majority of them by car. If you’re going to be one of them, it’s best to know how to prepare.

“If you travel, you must travel safely,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, an industry group, in a briefing with reporters.

Here are seven tips to help you stay safe and reduce your risk of getting sick off and on the road:  

Before you head out on the road, now more than ever, you’ll need to preplan your route. Some states still have restrictions on in-person toll collections and rest area food sales. Travel apps like Roadtrippers and AroundMe can answer one of the most common questions any traveler has: What’s nearby? These apps identify your position through GPS and allow you to choose from a list of places, including gas stations and hotels.

So now that you have your route thought out, it’s time to get supplies. Health officials recommend bringing along items like masks, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wet wipes, disposable gloves and resealable plastic bags so you can dispose of your gloves. You’ll need to be extra vigilant about hygiene when hitting rest stops with public bathrooms and gas stations along the way.

Pack your favorite road trip snacks, too, like apples or pretzels in mini-sized bags and bottled soft drinks (bring a small cooler if you want to keep them cold). This will limit your need to stop for them along your trip, which limits contact with others.

It’s not a bad idea to bring along some small garbage bags to consolidate your discarded food until you can throw it away at the next stop.

As more states restrict or prohibit indoor dining as a way to slow the spread of COVID-19, your best bet is to prepare to get meals to go or make them at home before you start your trip.

To get a better idea of what’s open at your destination, check out

If you need a pit stop, the majority of state rest areas will be open, though some may be closed due to renovations. If they are open, remember to pay attention to hygiene. The restrooms are open to the public, which means you’ll be exposing yourself to more germs. So mask up and grab a paper towel or two before you touch the exit. 

Food services, such as vending machines, might be unavailable at some rest stops, but you may not be completely out of luck if hunger strikes. The Federal Highway Administration gave mobile restaurants temporary permission to use interstate rest areas to feed truckers who are transporting vital goods during the COVID-19 pandemic. The order, issued in April, remains in effect.  

To see the status of rest areas in the states where you’ll be traveling, check out

At some point, you will either need to fill your gas tank or charge your electric vehicle’s battery, and most gas pump handles or EV public chargers are pretty gross.

Health officials recommend using disposable gloves while pumping your gas, rather than trying to wipe it down with a disinfecting wet wipe. You can easily discard the glove outside in the nearest trash can after you’re done pumping. While paying for your gas, use your credit card instead of cash if possible. This will eliminate the face-to-face contact with the cashier. Plus, your credit card can be wiped down after use.

If you use the public restaurant inside the gas station, be sure not to retouch the faucet or door handles after washing your hands. Grab an extra paper towel or tissue to grab the door handle before you exit.

Need to stay somewhere overnight along the way? Major hotel chains, including Motel 6, Best Western and Hyatt have reopened many of their hotels, but it’s a good idea to confirm details and COVID-19 protocols before you get there.

Hotels are now more vigilant in their cleaning practices. Some hotel chains apply seals to the room doors to let you know they have been thoroughly cleaned and sanitized. If your stay includes more than one night, you may want to pass on the housekeeping services. This will help you limit the number of people – and germs – entering your room.

Our experience: What it’s like to stay at a Hilton, Marriott and Hyatt hotel during the COVID-19 pandemic

SOURCES: AAA; AARP; CDC; National Governors Association, as of June 10; USA TODAY research



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