Five Observations from a Long Road Trip with a Large Family in the Summer of Covid-19

Our family of eight just returned from a 4,000+ mile road trip from the northwest corner of Minnesota to southwest Florida. I had a lot of reservations about making such a long trip, given the current state of affairs, and spending a month in the “Covid Capital of the USA,” but I wasn’t about to let fear dictate our plans. So, we decided we were going to temper our anxiety with practical wisdom: touch little, wash/sanitize often, and wear masks around crowds of people.

We traveled through Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Illinois. We spent a total of 7 nights in hotels on the road and stayed in Florida for 30 days at a resort-style gated community I found on Airbnb. Here are some observations from our travels.

Mask-up!

Prior to the trip, we purchased bandannas, gaiters, cloth and disposable masks for everyone in our family. We decided beforehand that we were going to where masks whenever we were around other people in public. Every bathroom stop was met with the reminder to “mask-up” before leaving the vehicle. This took some getting used to for our family from rural northwest Minnesota (on the North Dakota border) where Covid-19 was (at the time) more of a rumor than a reality. But we adapted over time and by the end of the trip, there were few reminders needed.

Call the hotel before you book a room

I’m used to doing all of my hotel booking through an app. It’s simple and convenient to do while on the road. However, by the end of our return trip, I had learned to call the hotel before booking a room because some of the hotels we stayed at had closed their pools and all of them had reduced their breakfast options to some variation of a grab-and-go continental breakfast. At the end of a long day of travel it’s a real bummer to get to the hotel and discover that the pool isn’t open or has reduced their hours (in addition to capacity). It’s equally demoralizing to have a prepackaged muffin as your only breakfast option morning after morning. A couple of the hotels did at least have a microwavable breakfast sandwich as an option (I believe they were both in the Hilton family of hotels). Inexcusably, two of the hotels we stayed at didn’t even have coffee! Now, I’m all for safety, but there are a few things I’ll risk my health over, and coffee is definitely one of them.

There are so many layers of regulations (company, state, county, city, etc.) that there was absolutely zero consistency from hotel to hotel. The pool at a particular hotel chain in one state may be open, while the pool at the same hotel in another state may be closed (we found this difference even between counties right next door to each other). If having a pool and a hot breakfast are important amenities in your travels, you best go old school and pick up the phone to check.

Options are limited, but fun isn’t

There were a lot of things we couldn’t do on the road and during our time in Florida that we wanted to. Many attractions were closed or were only taking reservations, most events have been canceled, and a lot of restaurants have limited service options. At first, the limited options were mild disappointments, but over time, we came to accept them as commonplace. They were mere inconveniences that forced us to be more creative, and in doing so, save money.

Most importantly, our favorite, and coincidentally, cheapest option was still in ample supply: NATURE. We have been to Florida over two-dozen times. We have our favorite places that we go to over and over again. But given the length of our stay and coinciding limiting factors, we explored new beaches, parks, and nature areas that we never had before. There is an 11-year span between our 6 kids, so the olders remember things that the youngers don’t. But this time, we shared so many first-time experiences in places that were new to all of us. For that reason alone, this may have been our best family vacation!

Social practices changed

On our travels down to Florida, our mask-wearing clan seemed like more the exception than the rule. Everywhere we stopped, a few were wearing masks, but most weren’t. This was especially surprising when we got to Florida. We stopped at a crowded rest area where virtually nobody was wearing masks. “Tourists,” I thought, shaking my head. But the ambivalence to masks persisted when we arrived at our destination. Even some grocery store employees weren’t wearing masks (or had them “on” protecting their chin). Even though we were apprehensive about coming to the reigning epicenter of Covid-19, it seemed the locals reaction was a collective shoulder-shrug.

All of that changed, however, over the course of the month. Mask-wearing and social-distancing requirements increased weekly. By the time we left Florida, it was strange if we saw someone who wasn’t wearing a mask. In fact, many local municipalities started requiring them in public indoor spaces in the absence of a statewide mandate.

The road trip home was far different than the trip down. Where we were the mask-wearing exception a month previously, it was presently the norm. Masks are now the new reality everywhere (except for North Dakota). 

Life feels like it’s on hold

We can’t right now because…

We’ll have to wait until…

When it’s over, we’ll…

These have become such common statements that I feel like I should just have them on ready-repeat. There is so much of our regular lives that is absent. So much that we’d like to do that we just can’t right now because of Covid-19. That’s the current reality for everyone everywhere. Life just feels like it’s on hold.

In my normal everyday life I sometimes struggle with getting up in the morning when I’m tired (anyone?). The debate I often have in my head is whether I truly need rest or I’m just being lazy. No matter who wins that argument, the resulting consequences are always the same. The more often I choose to sleep in, the easier the decision becomes to sleep in each day until it’s no longer a conscious decision. I just automatically hit the snooze.

The Covid-era is starting to feel like we’re hitting the snooze button over and over again. We’re training ourselves to look for reasons why we can’t do something instead of looking for ways that we can. The outcome is that we just automatically hit the snooze on any possible idea, outing, or event that arises in our collective conversations.

We can’t right now because…

We’ll have to wait until…

When it’s over, we’ll…

We can’t life our lives on hold.

There is still so much to do and see! We just took a 37-day working vacation, traveling over 4,000 miles across 11 states, enjoying a tropical paradise in the midst of Covid-hell. Sure, we had to take a lot of precautions, adapt many of our practices, and amend much of our plans, but we still had a blast!

Quit hitting the snooze on life! Get out there and live!

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