Not long ago, but long enough to predate the virus-crisis, my wife was bemoaning the weather and what she then thought the term “cooped up” meant. I told her to quit whining, pack a bag and we’d head out in search of the armadillo.

“What are you talking about?” she asked.

“We’ll head south and keep going until we see an armadillo,” I told her.

The point isn’t where we went or if we did, indeed, spot an armadillo. The point is, in about an hour, we’d put a note in the mailbox and were headed south. It was an impromptu “road trip,” a nice adventure and easy to do with a smart phone in hand and credit card in our pocket. It wouldn’t be so easy, now. It would take a bit more advanced planning.

For most, summer travel plans have been altered by the Corona virus pandemic. But do we all need to hunker-in-place through the summer months? I don’t and like many others, I plan to hit the road, visit family, friends and explore a new destination or two. Armadillos? Probably not, but maybe porcupine or pronghorn. According to a survey of consumers by travel center operator Pilot Flying J, 53% of Americans are planning a road trip this summer.

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Because of our age, my wife and I are considered to be a part of the “at-risk population” so for us, as with many — at-risk or not — a road trip instead of a more convenient airplane trip — is just what the doctor ordered. At least it seems driving is the safer option, compared to flying when considering the risk to exposure to covid-19. Thirty-five percent of the people surveyed said they would prefer driving over flying because of fears that they could be exposed to the coronavirus on an airplane.

This is not the summer to simply open a map to a random page and start driving.

Planning ahead is vital and includes more than just picking a destination or route. Plan for supplies to pack along, expected places to stop and add in a couple of backup plans, for good measure. Here are some tips to make your summer road trip safe and successful.

  • Travel at Off Times – If possible, plan on traveling at off-peak times. I’m an early-bird so hitting the road at sunrise — even if that is 5AM, puts me at a breakfast location outside of whatever the normal “rush hour” is for the location. We stop for lunch around 11, if we plan to “dine in.”
  • DIY Meals – Instead of stopping at restaurants along the way, plan to pack meals which can be easily prepped. Pack a cooler with meat and cheese for sandwiches, a loaf of bread and peanut butter or seasoned tuna in cans or pouches. Snack bars, chips and fruits like bananas, citrus and apples will also travel well and be easy to eat while enjoying the view from a scenic overlook instead of at a McDonalds overlooking a truck stop. It’s much less expensive, as well.
  • Overpack PPE, Cleaning Supplies – Sadly, we all know what PPE stands for and it’s not Purple People Eaters. Regardless, though most businesses and travel stops are emphasizing sanitation and cleanliness, here’s an area where DIY overkill makes sense. Be prepared for any situation by packing enough PPE including hand sanitizer, gloves, masks, paper towels and other cleaning supplies. Rule of thumb — calculate how many stops are planned then double the number of supplies you need.
  • Keep In Touch – Everyone has a cell phone, but you never know if you might get caught in a situation where you have no signal or the battery dies. It is best to provide friends and family with your travel itinerary before you leave home. And then if you have to make any changes update them along the way. A check in every few hours with an updated location is a good idea when driving so if anything does go wrong, people know a general area of where to look for you.
  • Be Tech-Savvy – I never thought I’d say this since I’ve spent most of my life trying to avoid unnecessary technology, but now is the time to power up the smart phones, tablets and include personal locator beacons or other SOS electronic devices in the duffle . Keep them charged and include auxiliary power packs and charging options. Download helpful weather, route guidance, gas station finders and other relevant travel apps to your phone or devices.

This year planning a summer road trip may take extra steps and require extra gear, but after months of staying at home the investment in a well-planned trip will be well worth it. How else are you going to find the armadillo?