As vaccine distribution is ramped up and more Americans are vaccinated, the desire to get out of the house and back on the road increases. The smart choice would be to stay home until the Coronavirus is behind us, but if you must travel while the pandemic is going on, here are some tips to help reduce the risk of COVID exposure when traveling by car.
As noted in my previous post, travelling by car is preferable to traveling by air for the simple reason that traveling by car gives you more control over touch points. Touch points are those points at which you come within six feet or more of strangers. Traveling by car allows you to reduce your touch points to almost zero, but you must plan ahead. Preparation is the key to touch free travel.
Contactless Meals on the Road
Avoid eating your meals at restaurants while on the road. Instead, take your meals along with you in a cooler. For breakfast consider hard boiled eggs, energy bars and fruit. For lunch consider figs, almonds and hummus with pita. These choices have the virtue of being nutritionally rich yet small and easily packed. You will have to stop to replenish your ice, but this should be safe enough at grocery stores that allow for electronic checkout.
For dinner after you’ve stopped for the night, you can use a drive up window at a fast food restaurant, but a safer option is to order food delivered to your hotel room with contactless delivery. Just have the delivery driver drop your food outside your door or in the lounge area of your hotel where you can pick it up. There’s no reason you should have to come within six feet of another person to eat your meals while on the road.
Contactless Check In at Hotels
Most major hotel chains now offer digital keys for contactless check in. This means you needn’t interact with anyone at the front desk but can go directly to your room and let yourself in using your phone. To take advantage of contactless check in you must be a member of the hotel’s loyalty program, but signing up isn’t hard and costs nothing.
Let’s take the Hilton group as an example and walk through the process. Under the Hilton umbrella you’ll find such popular brands as Hampton Inn, Homewood Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, Double Tree and Hilton itself.
Start by doing a Google search for “hotels in…” followed by the name of your intended destination. When the results appear, scroll down until you see the map with a selection of hotels beside it. Click on the Hilton property you like. The page that loads will be Google’s offer for that hotel. This is not what you want. Google is a third-party travel agent. You want to book directly with the hotel to get access to the contactless check in feature.
Using a Digital Key
On the page Google returns, look for the button that says “Website”. Click it to go directly to the hotel’s website. This is where you want to do your booking.
Select your dates and click “Check Rooms & Rates” to see the options. Choose the room you want and click the button that says “More Prices Available”. Now you may see an option that gives you a discounted rate if you are a member of Hilton Honors, which is the hotel’s loyalty program. The answer is yes. You want a discount, and you want contactless check in.
To sign up for Hilton Honors, click the link at the top right of the page that says “Join”. Fill out the form and join. It will only take a minute. Now make your reservation on line.
To use contactless check in you will need the Hilton Honors app on your phone. Again, this is simple, quick and free. Go to the app store on your phone, search for Hilton Honors, select the app and install it. Make sure you select the option to allow the app to use Bluetooth as this is how you will use your digital room key to gain entry to your room.
Within 48 hours of your arrival, you will receive a notification in your email that your room is ready for check in. Open the app on your phone and select your preferred room using the floor plan provided.
Then on the day of your arrival a digital key will be delivered to your phone. To use it just open the app and when you’re within a few feet of your door, simply push the button to unlock the door.
Other loyalty programs, such as those offered by the Marriott and Holiday Inn chains also offer contactless check in, and are just as easy to set up and use.
This is the easiest of all. Unless you’re paying with cash, there’s no reason you should have to interact with another person while fueling your car. Use your credit card and pay at the pump. Then be on your way.
Contactless Comfort Stops
When nature calls, you’ll need a place to stop. Where you stop is important. Stay away from gas stations, truck stops and interstate rest areas where people congregate, some without masks. Instead, opt for hotels that are members of nationwide chains where cleaning protocols are well researched and carried out. You do not have to be a guest at the hotel to use its public facilities. No one will stop you. And hotel public areas are mostly empty during the day, so their restrooms have the virtue of being uncrowded.
How to Reduce the Risk of COVID Exposure When Traveling by Car
By following these simple steps it’s possible to reduce your contact with strangers while traveling. You can feel free to travel throughout the country with minimum risk of exposure to COVID. Of course, it’s still best to wait it out, but if you simply must travel, follow these steps and travel safely.
Car driving uphill, by Susanne Nilsson
All other images, Malcolm Logan