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A Road-Trippers Guide to Staying Healthy

Don't panic, but stay safe.

By: Sara Sheehy + Save to a List

Disclaimer: I'm not a medical professional, heck, I have no medical training whatsoever. The tips provided below are based on the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. Be sure to do your own research!

When the first case of coronavirus (COVID-19) was reported in the United States, I was buckled into the front seat of my truck, making the long haul from the snowy mountains of Idaho to the welcoming warmth of southern Arizona. With six weeks of road tripping stretching out ahead of me, I didn't think too much about an isolated case of the virus in a Washington hospital.

In the following weeks, everything COVID-19 ramped up, from media reports to the cases that spread across Italy and deeper into the United States. I read the recommendations from the CDC on ways to prevent the transmission of the virus and decided I could follow the tips even from the road.

Here's how I did it.

Get Yourself Clean

Let me set the scene: I travel in a small camper. That camper gives me access to running water in limited amounts and hot water when I need it (also in limited amounts). This worked in my favor because, about a week into the trip, my go-to quick hand-cleaning product (hand sanitizer!) disappeared entirely from the shelves in grocery stores and pharmacies. 

I saved what little hand sanitizer I had for times when I couldn't access water and washed my hands in my sink, or a public sink, the rest of the time. One of my road-tripping rules has always been 'when you see a clean bathroom, use it,' and so I made double sure that, whenever I was somewhere with clean facilities, I gave my hands and forearms an extended scrub in hot water.

The CDC recommends washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after you go to the bathroom, before eating or preparing food, and after nose-blowing, coughing, or sneezing. How long are 20 seconds? It's the length of singing "Happy Birthday," or for more a more wanderlusty vibe, it's the chorus from "Take Me Home, Country Roads," or "American Pie."

When the public facilities were not clean, I opted to use the bathroom inside my camper, even if it meant visiting the dump station to drop wastewater more frequently than usual. There are also plenty of places to take showers on the road, from RV parks to gyms and even some bike shops.

Another tip from the CDC is to avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. From handling money to touching doorknobs, your hands pick up all sorts of interesting things from surfaces, and your eyes, nose, and mouth are conduits inside your body for viruses or germs to travel. It turns out that I like to touch my face — a lot. This is a hard habit to break, but the CDC says to try.

Social Situations

Here's the crux of virus prevention for me: I'm a healthy, young person. My risk level of getting seriously ill from COVID-19 is low. This doesn't mean I'm off the hook — I have a responsibility to make sure that I'm doing whatever I can to prevent other people from contracting the virus, too. 

Part of the fun of a road trip is seeing new places, meeting up with friends, and trying local foods. There is a social aspect to it that is different from being at home, and while you shouldn't lock yourself inside your tent or camper and never come out, there are some smart precautions to take while exploring somewhere new.

For two weeks of my road trip, I was in Sedona, where the tree pollen count was high, and my seasonal allergies kicked into full gear. No matter what I did, my nose ran like a faucet. I knew it was allergies, my friends I was traveling with knew it was allergies, but the random people I saw did not. I took extra care to always keep tissues handy, sneeze into them when I had to, dispose of the tissue, and wash my hands right after. If there was ever a time to bite the bullet and use paper tissues instead of a bandana to blow your nose, that time is now.

I limited the public places that I traveled to, and I didn't mind when people gave me a wide berth in the grocery store (camper fridges are tiny, so grocery store trips were more frequent than they would be at home). In fact, the WHO says to stay at least three feet from anyone coughing or sneezing and to avoid close contact with anyone who is sick. 

And of course, if you are sick (especially with a fever, cough, and difficulty breathing), get yourself to a doctor. Your insurance company can help you find an urgent care facility near wherever you are.

Some other ideas to limit your risk in social situations include giving people a wave instead of shaking hands or hugging and not sharing drinks. I know, it's super tempting to pass around a bottle of wine or whiskey around the campfire, but resist the urge.

Know Your Risk

The CDC recently announced that some people are at higher risk of getting very sick from a case of COVID-19. That group includes older adults and anyone with chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease. If you fall into one of these categories, you might consider whether your upcoming road trip or vacation is worth the risk. The CDC even goes so far to say that you should "avoid all non-essential travel including plane trips, and especially avoid embarking on cruise ships."

Maybe save that epic adventure for next year, and be sure to check in with any travel providers you used — many are offering no-fee rebooking so you can shift your plans without taking a huge loss.

Be sure to check out all the recommendations from the CDC on preventing the transmission of COVID-19. Stay safe, adventure friends!

Cover photo by Jonathon Reed, all other photos by Sara Sheehy

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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