Q&A: An infectious disease expert's travel do's and don'ts on road trips

Part 2 with Natascha Tuznik on navigating travel during COVID-19


Natascha Tuznik, assistant clinical professor of infectious diseases, is part of the UC Davis Health Travelers Clinic. Today she answers questions about road trips and some of the places you might stop. Read her advice about flying, hotels, rentals and more.

Safe road trips now require some planning and research.
Safe road trips now require some planning and research.

Q: What should we consider on any road trip when we’re driving?

A: You still have to start with the big question: Is this travel really necessary? With road trips, as opposed to flying, at least you can control your risk of exposure more, depending on where you go and what you do. Always think about how to keep a physical distance from other people. That’s still the number one preventative action.

Preparation is paramount now. Most of us just punch up the GPS and go, but now, map it out and check the health websites of the state and region you’re visiting for health advisories or restrictions. Don’t get somewhere and find you’ve violated their stay-at-home order.

Try to limit your stops. It’s safest to bring your own food, so look up nice spots for picnics. If you are going to eat at roadside stops, try to eat outside. And research their reviews ahead of time. If you see concerns about cleaning or safety, go somewhere else.

Be aware that many bridges now are electronic tolls only, so check ahead.

If you’re pumping gas, use disposable gloves or a paper towel on the handles.

If you don’t have contactless payment methods, it might be good to set something up before you go.

Be extra prepared. Bring extra food, water and medications, along with masks, gloves and wipes or cleaning supplies. One of the certainties of road trips is that there always seems to be something you didn’t expect.

Q: Are rest stops and public bathrooms a hazard?

A: This is a hard one. Sometimes you won’t be able to avoid them. Try not to touch anything. If you have disposable gloves, use them, then toss them in the garbage can.

Don’t go in if it’s crowded. Official highway rest stops are generally the largest restrooms where you can keep a good physical distance, so plan ahead to know where they are.

Be aware that the University of Leeds in England found that drying your hands with paper towels is more effective at removing microbes than conventional hand air dryers. They also found that the dryers blow contamination onto your clothes.

Q: How safe are beaches and how do they compare with pools?

A: Here we go again: The most important thing is physical distancing. There is no evidence yet that the virus is transmitted by water, but people tend to stop paying attention to distancing around pools and beaches.

Beaches might be a little safer than pools because you can distance more easily, and there are fewer hard surfaces.

Be careful around snack bars or restrooms. If you can bring your own food and beverages, that is safest.

Q: How safe are raft rentals?

A: Some of the rental companies are following rigorous cleaning protocols, so check with them before you go. If they won’t tell you, rent from someone else.

Only share a raft with people from your same household.

Do not tie them together and don’t stop along the way to congregate with people. I understand, that’s why you want to go rafting in the first place, but it’s a bad idea right now.

If allowed, bring your own lifejacket and consider wiping down the paddles.

Q: What about theme parks?

A: I strongly advise anyone to consider not going, especially since I can’t think of an instance when going to a theme park is not optional. There are a number of risks to a visit.

Many theme parks are putting in protocols, like requiring masks on everyone, employees and visitors – though masks, in the dead heat of summer are not the most fun thing.

It will be very hard to physically distance in the park and on the rides. You’re going to ride in close proximity with people you don’t know. And there is a lot of screaming on some rides, which could spread the virus, although often you’ll be moving fast so there will be airflow.

Even if they clean regularly, the restrooms will be problematic and likely to be crowded.

Q: Camping would seem relatively safe. Are there cautions?

A: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is neutral on camping. It’s not prohibited but not specifically given the OK.

The process of getting there is the bigger risk, so if possible, try to go somewhere close or in your own county, even if that doesn’t sound very exciting.

You will have to deal with restrooms – if they are open.

Be aware that many things at campgrounds might be closed, including restrooms and visitor centers, so check before you go. You might have to take your waste away with you.

If you have kids, it could be fun to camp in your own backyard. Then you don’t have to worry about any of those things.

Q: What about visiting museums or outdoor attractions?

A: Be sure to check with any museum you might want to visit. Many of them are giving detailed virtual tours but may not be open.

Wear a mask if you do find a museum to visit. That may be required.

They will probably be restricting visitors and the size of tours. Unless you are with enough of your family members or traveling companions to fill a whole tour, you might consider exploring the museum on your own. Be careful not to touch anything, though most museums always tell you that anyway.

Any outdoor attractions will be less risky, as long as you keep your distance from other visitors.

If you’re hiking on trails, give everyone room to pass, but being outdoors will mean less exposure, so that should not be a big worry. Unless someone is coughing and sneezing, and then, of course, stay away.