You can travel safely during the COVID-19 pandemic
It was April 8, a few days before Easter Sunday, and the entire country was on its 4th week of lockdown due to the coronavirus. To make things worse, NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center was monitoring what would likely be a significant weather event over south Mississippi. The dangerous weather bullseye was right over our home.
Unfortunately, I knew what was brewing. I have a background in broadcast meteorology and it was apparent that the upcoming Easter Sunday would be rough. We would need to hunker down in our “safe room,” a closet under the stairs, to stay safe from an outbreak of multiple tornadoes.
Since we were already sheltering from COVID-19, the thought of also having to worry about a massive wedge tornado simultaneously barreling towards your family was painful to digest. So I asked my wife what she thought about us hooking up our 2003 19ft Scamp Camper and getting out of dodge for the weekend.
It was a tough call, the country was very much on lockdown, and we had not come in close contact with another human in about a month. But with owning an old camper, we had options. We could bring our own food, and we had access to a toilet with a built-in mediocre shower.
I was confident that with the camper; we could drive out of range of the Storm Prediction Center’s moderate threat area while remaining completely self-contained.
So Friday, April 10, we hooked up and Scamp Camper and headed to the Florida Panhandle.
What’s it like camping during a pandemic?
First, we had to identify a campground taking on new campers. Doing so wasn’t hard, we called ahead to a few places, and we found one in Apalachicola, Florida.
We prepared lunches and a snack bag that we could eat along the way, and we took off on the 5-hour drive. As one might imagine, traveling with a five-year-old requires a lot of bathroom stops, but having the toilet on the camper makes for an easy solution.
The next challenge was getting fuel while remaining self-contained and reducing contact with surfaces. At gas stations, I would wear disposable gloves. When possible, I paid using ApplePay or with the Exxon or Shell App. These point of sale systems are slick because they prevent you from even having to stick a credit card in the gas pump.
That evening, we arrived safely at a beautiful and surprisingly busy campsite, which sat on the Gulf of Mexico’s edge. After being locked up for a month, it was a glorious sight.
The other campers were respectful of our space, and while neighboring campers would stop and say hello, they did so at a safe distance.
Like many campgrounds of late, the bathhouses are off-limits to reduce the spread of COVID-19. But if you’re camper has a bathroom, it’s a non-issue.
How can you travel with the threat of COVID-19
One evening in Florida, as I sat outside of our old fiberglass camper, I started thinking about the future. How long will we be living with the threat of COVID-19? Will coronavirus come raging back in the fall of 2020?
The fact is, we don’t know.
We only live once, and our kids are only young once, so how will I be able to show them this beautiful world if it’s not safe to fly commercially for the next few years?
For me, the most logical answer is to own a camper and drive to all those places we want to see.
A camper also prevents you from having to check-in to hotels and intermingle with the previous guests’ germs.
Maybe I’m overthinking it? But perhaps I’m not?
How can you find the time to camp?
Many of us that have active careers are limited to only 2-4 weeks of annual vacation time.
However, if there’s one thing that the COVID -19 crisis taught us, it’s how many of us can work remotely efficiently and effectively. I know, not every job has that luxury, but if yours does, you should continue reading.
After our family made the emergency Easter weekend jump to Florida, we decided to take that next step in our camper life. In mid-April, I listed my 2003 Scamp and sold it in a matter of days.
We then purchased a 2015 Airstream Flyingcloud. That adventure is another story for another day.
Why the upgrade?
While we had a bathroom and a shower on the old Scamp Camper, it was not practical. On some campers, like our Scamp, the shower and the toilet are in the same compartment. This setup is ok when you occasionally or desperately need a shower, but it’s not that practical for everyday use.
Typically when we would travel in our Scamp, we would use the campsite bathhouses to shower. It just kept things cleaner in the camper.
My wife and I knew that if we wanted to travel for multiple days or even weeks, we needed a better shower setup that would keep us out of the bathhouses. The Airstream was that solution.
The Airstream also had a lot of other positives that just made sense for extended trips
- More interior room to move around
- Extra storage for food and clothes
- A second axel and two more tires for some peace of mind
- A second sink (one kitchen, one bathroom)
- Holds its value better than most brands
We closed on the Airstream in early May, and by May 8, we were headed west towards New Mexico on what would be a 17-day excursion.
The jump out West
Again, we’re in South Mississippi, so it takes a while to get out West.
We had our sights set on Questa, New Mexico, and we calculated that it would take three days of travel getting there.
If you’ve never pulled a camper, you need to factor in that you tow considerably slower than you usually would drive. If Google says it takes 4 hours to get somewhere, we typically estimate the trip to take an extra 5-6 hours.
Once we made it to New Mexico, we stayed put through the workweek.
The remote work continued.
Over the 17 day trip, Leslie, my wife, and I took just two days off of work. We moved from point A to point B on the weekends and continued to work Monday through Friday.
During the workweek, Leslie would start Zoom meetings at 7 am and wrap around 4 pm. Simultaneously, I would still record podcast interviews and edit photos and videos. That always gave us four hours of sunlight to explore the beautiful parts of the United States in which we were unaccustomed.
We traveled with two wireless hotspots and three sim cards from different carriers. Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile. I have to recommend the Mobile Internet Resources Center if you’re looking for tips on how to stay connected while on the road.
We left home with over a week’s supply of groceries, but we knew that we would need to restock at some point.
The solution was no different than being back home. You can either suit up with a mask and head into a store or schedule a Walmart curbside pickup.
We ultimately did both.
Making the most of the weekends
Since we were already out West, short jumps to different campgrounds were natural on the weekends. After spending some time in New Mexico, we worked our way into beautiful Colorado.
We were able to see Pikes Peak, the Garden of the Gods, The Great Sand Dunes, and some incredible and isolated hiking trails. We used one of the days off for sightseeing and one for travel.
The right call?
If you’re still wondering whether we made the right call by evacuating Easter weekend, the answer is yes. While we did not end up having any tornado damage at our home, a tornado that was more than two miles wide passed about 15 miles north of we reside. It’s estimated that the tornado produced winds at 190 mph.
The storm forced me outside of my comfort zone, which I believe is a good thing. I learned that we can’t stay locked up forever, and with some careful planning, you can still travel in this new world of COVID-19 in a relatively safe way.