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road trip during covid

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Because nothing about this year has been of the norm, it’s safe to say that the holiday season will not be what you’re used to either. Thanksgiving dinners with grandma and your aunts in the kitchen as people come in and out, won’t be the safest bet. And Christmas may require more intimate gatherings of immediate family members and gifts sent through the mail this time around.

But there are many people who are still looking forward to the opportunity go see family during the holidays, and they’re not allowing the pandemic, or thousands of miles, to hold them back from doing so. While there are many who are getting comfortable flying again, 1 out of 10 people according to a recent survey are still not so sure about getting on a plane for long-distance trips. Now more than ever, people are excited about road trips.

According to a Travel Trend Report done last month by VRBO, 59 percent of families are more likely to drive instead of fly. Ever since the pandemic really turned things upside down, people have taken to the road more than they have in years. They’ve done so through flexcations (getting away for longer stays while combining work and play outside of a traditional travel calendar), and it’s believed that many will do so during the holiday season by hitting the road.

But how do you do that in a pandemic? Sure, driving within your own vehicle or a rented option is safer if passengers all take off healthy, but you could still be exposing yourself when you make stops with family and/or friends.

The CDC has updated its holiday celebration and travel recommendations based on the crisis we’re currently facing. They say that gas stations and rest stops are still places where you can be exposed to the virus if you handle frequently touched surfaces or come into close contact with those you’re not traveling with. And if you stop at hotels or rent out homes to enjoy a change of scenery, coronavirus has been proven to stay alive on surfaces. A recent study from April in the New England Journal of Medicine found it can survive on surfaces like cardboard for a day, while it can thrive on plastic and stainless steel for three days.

Still, while road tripping comes with a risk, it’s a much lower one if you’re not traveling with people outside your household, or taking public transportation. It’s also a lower risk to book vacation rentals with people in your household. It’s recommended that you keep your mask on when you find yourself stopping in public settings, covering the mouth and nose and keeping a distance of six feet from people you are not traveling with. And before you travel, if anyone has been in your vehicle who was suspected or confirmed to have had COVID-19, the CDC also recommends cleaning and disinfecting the frequently touched surfaces in the car before you hit the road.

Once you know the general proper precautions, you have to take extra precautions for children. Parenting expert and host of the podcast Parenting for the Future Petal Modeste told us if you plan on visiting family on your trip, it’s smart to quarantine with your kids before you hit the road.

“If you are traveling for Thanksgiving, start a family quarantine this weekend. Until you leave, everyone should work and go to school from home and avoid contact with others as much as possible,” she said. “Also, speak with the relatives you are going to visit and ask them to do the same. For extra peace of mind, everyone who will be together may want to get a rapid or PCR COVID test as well. This helps everyone have a high degree of comfort because inevitably, cousins and grandparents will hold hands, hug or share snacks.”

Once everyone has quarantined and is healthy, she recommends ensuring that you’ve packed portable chargers, as well as fully charged devices that can keep children occupied during longer road trips. Download movies and music they will enjoy. Also pack favorite toys, games, books, as well as beloved snacks and ready-to-eat foods like sandwiches.

And once you get to your destination, especially if that destination involves meeting up with relatives, the more outdoor activities you do as a family, the better.

But overall, road tripping for the holidays is a good way to bring some joy into a chaotic year. Pediatric psychologist Dr. Ann-Louise T Lockhart says these trips can have a positive impact on mental health right now.

“Our brain doesn’t like a lot of monotony, a lot of same same. We lose our motivation,” she said during the VRBO Travel Trends Report call. “We become more exhausted, more irritable, more agitated when there’s too much of the same stuff.”

“Just changing up your environment, changing up your living situation can make a big difference.”

Utilize vacation days, and if don’t be afraid to let teachers know ahead of time that you will be hitting the road so that assignments can be requested and family time can truly be had. Every single one of us could certainly use a break after the year that has been, including our kids, and a road trip with family is the perfect kind of respite — if done safely.

“In a year such as this one, where we all have too much to worry about, time with parents and loved ones assures and gives comfort to children, and parents, in more ways than we can ever understand,” said Modeste. “If we are fortunate enough to give our children and ourselves these things, we should do so without hesitation.”

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