Road Trips During Covid-19
The quarantine has cooped us up at home for months, making us feel like birds ready to take flight the first opportunity even after summer. But the travel industry is unrecognizable, and the economic picture could frighten even the most intrepid. Add in restrictions to limit the spread of the virus, and it just may feel impossible to travel safely or wisely this year.
The good news: A viable option exists! Many travelers have reverted to wheels instead of wings for their annual vacations. With a well-planned and intelligently equipped road trip, you can rejuvenate yourself and travel safely while doing so.
Budgeting for an Affordable Road Trip Amidst a Pandemic
While a pandemic-era road trip calls for different considerations, one thing hasn’t changed: Vacations cost money. And in this financial climate, your money planning needs to take on a much more serious tone than in previous years, especially before spending discretionary income on a trip. So, before you hit the road, nail down the following logistical and financial strategies.
Budget and save first
Before deciding on any kind of trip during this pandemic, you absolutely need to make sure you don’t plan to spend money you will need this fall and beyond. Think ahead and start assessing your fiscal situation immediately.
Check your savings and all other account balances, then tally up your monthly expenses. The lockdown may have changed these drastically, so make sure you revisit them under the new conditions. With this information, you can devise a new household budget that takes into account any changes in income or expenses you and your family have sustained.
After allocating amounts to cover your regular bills and household expenses, try to build a few other funds into your budget. Start by saving a percentage of your monthly income for emergencies — especially important during a long-term crisis like this pandemic.
Once you have already established your emergency fund, then dedicate whatever you can afford to your travel fund, making subsequent decisions about where you go and for how long based on what you can afford.
Assess and build your credit
Given the world’s bleak financial state right now, you will also need to know exactly where your credit history stands (especially before leaving home). You don’t ever want to get stuck without enough credit to cover your expenses in a real emergency, so take some proactive steps to put yourself in a better position. This may take some time, so start well before your estimated departure date.
First, take a look at your free credit scores and address any errors or discrepancies you see on your credit reports. After that, as rapidly and consistently as you can, pay down any outstanding debt. Then look for other ways to improve your credit.
By building and safeguarding your credit rating, you can gain access to a bigger cushion in case you need credit to pay for those ever-present unexpected expenses on the road (or simply want to qualify for more attractive interest rates and other terms in the future).
Plan your route
Once you know what you can spend, then you can choose a destination and plan your route to get there. Put in some diligent research on the topic. The fewer surprises you encounter, the safer and less expensive a trip you can take.
Know where you are going long ahead of time so you can scout out affordable accommodations, grocery stores, things to do, gas stations, etc. You do not want to get stuck someplace where local stores will gouge you with their prices, especially if you can buy things cheaper at home or on the outskirts of town.
Take the time to also map out clinics and medical facilities along your route and near your destination, should you or a family member need care while on the road. Doing some advance research to find local hospitals in your insurance provider network could save you serious out-of-pocket fees.
Frequent stops at stores expose you to potential community spread (perhaps not yet known) while also putting a bigger dent in your pocketbook. To reduce your risk and save money, buy as many essentials as you can before you leave home.
Stock up on essentials like water, nonperishable food staples, snacks, medications, toilet paper, and anything else you might need. That way, you can purchase these items close to home, where you know you will find the best prices, and you won’t spend valuable vacation time looking for stuff you forgot to bring.
Stock up on hygiene supplies
Similarly, you do not want to find yourself in need of hygiene supplies while on the road. They can cost far more because of heavy demand. Worse yet, you might not even find them on the shelves at all, in any given location.
Assemble and take along a kit containing extra soap, disposable masks, hand sanitizer, paper towels, disinfectant wipes, rubbing alcohol, disposable gloves, and hygiene products. Pack these in a separate, clean bin to guard against contamination. This will also provide quick and easy access when you need them.
Save with reusable items
Bringing your own reusable equipment can help you keep costs down and simultaneously maintain control over the items that help limit virus exposure. For example, pack a few reusable water bottles for everyone in your travel party, and you won’t pay a premium for dozens of disposable water bottles. Plus, you won’t have to figure out how to dispose of them later.
You should even consider the cost benefits of bringing a stock of tote bags. Many cities and eight states have outlawed disposable plastic bags — also an important consideration, since Americans use about 100 billion plastic bags every year. Bringing your own bags can eliminate extra charges or buying totes at every cash register. Just make sure to wash your bags thoroughly after every use to kill bacteria and avoid the risk of food poisoning.
Consider rental car options
If you don’t have a reliable car, or if you simply do not want to take your own vehicle outside your bubble right now, consider a rental car or a shared vehicle. Some rental companies offer deep discounts in hard times. Or, if you have a warehouse membership, they often have great prices on rental cars, too.
If you choose to rent a vehicle, keep in mind that stick shifts (manual transmission) often get more miles to the gallon, rent for cheaper rates, and are surprisingly fun to drive. You can make your road trip its own adventure excursion (after a few lessons before you leave).
Almost certainly, more people worry now about their finances than about taking a summer vacation or annual trips. But after months of quarantine and restriction, many of us (especially if we have kids) desperately need a break, so the road trip has become an important travel option for 2020.
You can do it! First, prepare wisely with an eye toward your finances, and make a plan with safety and economy as its foundation. Save up, stock up, pack up, and have fun!
Molly Barnes is a full-time digital nomad, exploring and working remotely in different cities in the US. She and her boyfriend Jacob created the website Digital Nomad Life to share their journey and help others to pursue a nomadic lifestyle.