COVID-19 Summer Travel Restrictions Got Americans Trippin’ — Road Trippin’, That Is

An illustration of a car birds and palm trees illustration by Paul Dolan

For millions of families each year, the long Labor Day holiday weekend represents the last blast of summer fun before the kids go back to school, temperatures and leaves start falling, and the hustle and bustle of American life resumes. Often — perhaps even typically — families give the summer a proper send-off with a season-closing road trip … though, as you’ve likely noticed in the past six months, the words “often” and “typically” don’t apply in the same ways they did prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Related: If You Must Carpool for School During COVID-19, Here’s How to Do It

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According to travel-services provider AAA, the pandemic will result in 150 million fewer trips being taken by Americans this summer, for a projected total of around 700 million. With airlines and other modes of transportation heavily impacted by coronavirus restrictions (a study found air travel down a whopping 67%), it should come as little surprise that AAA found road trips are far and away the favorite way to travel this summer — accounting for some 97% of all trips, up a full 10% over the average for the past five years.

The Road Trip Not Taken?

“Road trips allow travelers to make their own schedule and customize stops based on comfort level and interests,” AAA said in a statement. “For families, especially those with small children, it is an easy and less expensive way to travel. And an added benefit right now – gas prices remain low.”

So, although COVID-19 may be keeping tens of millions of Americans at home, an estimated 683 million people were expected to be driving to their destinations over the course of the warm-weather months. Should they be?

Well, as the aphorism goes, “It’s a free country” — though under the circumstances, we at can’t in good faith encourage anyone to exercise their freedom to move about the country any more than they really need to. Still, if you’re gonna go anyway, you need to be aware that this won’t be your average freewheelin’ open-road expedition: Amid a worldwide health crisis, you’re gonna need to plan ahead.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises travelers to ask themselves these questions before they set out on their journey and adjust their plans accordingly:

1. Is COVID-19 spreading at your destination?

2. Do you live with someone who might be more likely to get very ill from COVID-19?

3. Are you more likely to get very ill from COVID-19 (i.e., in higher-risk groups like older adults and people with underlying medical conditions)?

4. Does your destination have requirements or restrictions for travelers?

Know Before You Go

While the first three should cause you to seriously rethink your plans altogether, it’s the implications of that last one that could actually cause you some travel-related hassles in real time that may seem more imminent if you’re the type who sees the coronavirus only as some vague, distant threat. Consider that well over half of U.S. states, at last check, were characterized as COVID-19 “hot spots,” and every state has its own levels and types of restrictions as well as approach to enforcement — so those traveling across states are virtually guaranteed to encounter some requirement that differs from those back home.

“Some state, local and territorial governments have requirements, such as requiring people to wear masks and requiring those who recently traveled to stay home for up to 14 days,” the CDC warns, urging travelers to check state, regional and local public health websites for guidance. (Pro tip: If you can keep your trip within the confines of your own state, you’ll be far less likely to get stuck self-quarantining for two weeks.)

AAA also offers guidance for travelers via its online TripTik feature, which now includes state-by-state COVID-19 travel restrictions in its interactive U.S. map. Road trippers might also find useful the COVID-19-specfic features offered by travel-organizing app TripIt, through which users can find the latest travel advisories, restrictions and guidelines, and more related resources — in addition to hyper-local neighborhood safety scores from 1 to 100, “representing low to high risk, including a Health and Medical score that factors in COVID-19 data.”

Keep in mind that COVID-19 restrictions can impact business hours and even result in outright business closures, potentially limiting availability of gas, food, restrooms and lodging that you might take for granted will be there when you need it.

“Beyond mapping your route in advance, it is important to book hotels and plan out gas and food stops,” said Paula Twidale, AAA’s senior vice president of travel.

Pull Out All the Stops for Safety

Speaking of making stops on road trips, that’s where you and your group run the greatest risk of coronavirus exposure.

“Making stops along the way for gas, food or bathroom breaks can put you and your traveling companions in close contact with other people and frequently touched surfaces,” the CDC states.

Health officials recommend these precautions specifically for motorists to reduce the risk of exposure or infection while traveling by car:

  • Before you enter or re-enter the vehicle, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces regularly (for example, the steering wheel, gearshift, door frame and handles, windows, radio and temperature controls, and seat belt buckles).
  • Limit the number of occupants in the vehicle to only those necessary.
  • Improve the ventilation in the vehicle if possible (for example, open the windows or set the air ventilation/air conditioning on non-recirculation mode).
  • Practice social distancing during travel; try to keep at least 6 feet from people who are not from your household.
  • Wear a mask in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when social distancing is difficult.
  • When using parking meters and pay stations, consider using alcohol wipes to disinfect surfaces or hand sanitizer after touching the devices.

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Go the (Social) Distance

And, finally, a common-sense word to the wise on destination selection: Why take all of these road-tripping precautions just to end up in a crowded place where your fellow travelers are unable or unwilling to observe proper social distancing? Like these people, or these people, or these people — or, ugh, these people.

Consider a getaway where you can, well, get away from other people and not have to worry so much about maintaining at least 6 feet of distance at all times. Camping, RVing, visiting state and national parks, fishing, canoeing and other outdoor-adventure-type vacays lend themselves naturally to this purpose. AARP also recommends “remote rentals,” full-size family homes with multiple bedrooms, located off the beaten path — in less populated, lesser-known locales from Presque Isle, Wis., to Sautee Nacoochee in the Appalachian foothills of northern Georgia — for $90 to $125 a night.

“Rental homes epitomize privacy — you have the whole place to yourself — and the more remote they are, the less likely it is that you’ll run into the neighbors,” AARP stated.

(Another pro tip: Just make sure you don’t rent this one.)’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.

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