10 tips for anyone taking a road trip right now
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I regularly work from home in Towson, Md., a suburb north of Baltimore. I live in a nice two-bedroom, 1.5 bath apartment with a large living room, a dining room, an office, a full-size stacking washer and dryer and a balcony. Before the coronavirus pandemic, I thought my 1,300 square-foot apartment was pretty spacious — until I had to shelter-in-place with a wonderful, but moody teen who missed school and her friends.
My family lives in San Antonio, Texas. So when my sister called last Saturday and asked me and the kid to come home, I jumped at the chance. Flying was out, so I decided to rent a minivan, pack it up and make the 1,700-mile drive on April 30. Here are some of my observations from that road trip.
Related reading: 7 trips to take right now if you want to escape the crowds
Car rentals are pretty cheap
Since I didn’t need a car in San Antonio, I decided to leave mine at home and rent one to drive. I chose a 2019 hybrid Chrysler Pacifica minivan, which I rented from Alamo for a total of $132.14, including tax and fees, for an April 30 pickup at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) and a drop-off at San Antonio International Airport (SAT). I used The Platinum Card® from American Express primarily for the car rental coverage. When I did my search, almost all the cars were well under $200 total for the time I chose to book.
Gas is also cheap
I spent a total of $77 on gas for the entire trip. Prices ranged from a high of $1.41 to a low of $1.09 for a gallon of regular gas.
Bathrooms are cleaner
I admit it — I’m a germaphobe and I can’t tolerate public restrooms. While I’m not at the level of supermodel Naomi Campbell, I do carry Clorox wipes and hand sanitizer whenever I fly. I knew I’d have to use a bathroom during the trip, so I came prepared with my spray bottle of Clorox cleanser and a roll of paper towels. I was pleasantly surprised at how clean most of the restrooms were on my trip (but I still gave them a Clorox wipe-down).
Fast-food outlets practice social distancing
The ones we visited all had workers wearing masks and gloves. However, Chick-fil-A was by far the most thorough. A worker came to your car, took your order and asked you to swipe your card. Instead of being handed your food through the drive-up window, a gloved and masked worker had your food in a gray bin for you to pick up.
Bargains abound at hotels
Because I wanted to get my 5x points per dollar spent on my Amex Platinum, I pre-booked a deluxe room with two queen beds at the Kimpton Aertson in downtown Nashville. The room came to $209.42. That same room will cost $272.84 a night in November.
Traffic was very light
We departed Towson on Thursday at 7 a.m., knowing that we would need to be on the Baltimore Beltway going toward I70 West at the beginning of our trip. At that time of day, traffic is at full swing, and pretty slow — but not on that day. The roads were practically empty, dominated more by 18-wheeler trucks than cars.
Electronic traffic signs look much different
There was not one warning sign, speeding sign or traffic sign. Instead, they were mostly about practicing social distancing to cut back on COVID-19. In Texas, the sign read “Thank You Frontline Workers. That’s It. That’s The Sign.”
Although speed limits on the trip ranged from 55 in Baltimore up to 75 in Texas, no one paid any mind to them. The interesting thing was there were plenty of highway patrol officers on the road, but I only saw two cars (at once) pulled over during the entire trip. Plus there was no reckless driving or instances of road rage.
Road construction is in full swing
States were taking full advantage of the traffic lull to work on road projects, including painting road lines, repaving existing roads and building new ones.
Cities and towns are quiet
I’m of an age when I remember when everything was closed on Christmas and Thanksgiving. I always enjoyed seeing how quiet things were when one of my parents would take me on that holiday drive every year. Now it’s like those holidays every day. I saw way too many empty parking lots and closed businesses. You know things are interesting when even Waffle House is closed.
I chose to go home because with no end in sight for sheltering-in-place, I’d rather spend that time here at our large family home with my sister and niece than in my cramped apartment. There’s plenty of land and we’re pretty isolated out here in the San Antonio Hill Country. My kid and I practiced social distancing and wore masks whenever we were in public. Some have questioned the trip, but I’m glad we did it and arrived safe and sound.
Featured photo by Daniel A. Leifheit / Getty Images
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