Time for a Road Trip?

Our first post-pandemic road trip was May 2021 to Charlottesville, Virginia. We decided to ease back into travel with a 6-night trip to visit Shenandoah National Park and the presidential homes in the Charlottesville area. From St. Louis to Charlottesville, we traveled through several states and each one still had some COVID-19 restrictions in place, but nothing that wasn’t expected. We continued to wear our masks in hotel lobbies, stores and in other crowded areas.

We booked our hotels and tours in advance before setting out. Many attractions were not operating at full capacity so we wanted to make sure we could tour Monticello, Highland, and Montpelier during our 4-night stay in Charlottesville.

If you’re fully vaccinated and ready to venture out, here are a seven tips to make post-pandemic travel a little easier.

1. Plan Ahead

More than ever before, planning ahead is essential. Many travelers are showing up at National Parks and are frustrated to find that campgrounds are full, lines are long, and timed passes are required in the busiest parks. Many attractions, restaurants, and businesses are not operating at full capacity. If there are things on your “must do” list, book your reservations ahead of time. Check attraction websites for operating hours and important updates before you leave. Some businesses and attractions have their own COVID-19 restrictions in place so I wouldn’t travel without masks whether you are vaccinated or not.

2. Expect Unexpected Closures

Many businesses are having trouble finding enough personnel to fully reopen. We had planned to eat BBQ in Charlottesville and found the restaurant was unexpectedly closed due to lack of personnel. I’ve seen several recent online reviews posted by hotel guests who were upset to find that the hotel swimming pool or breakfast buffet was closed. There are still COVID-19 restrictions in some areas that are impacting visitor services. If there are things that are essential for your happiness, call the hotel, restaurant, or attraction in advance to check on whether or not it is available.

3. Have a Plan B

With summer travel now in full swing, have a backup plan (or maybe two). If an attraction is closed, extremely busy or the weather isn’t cooperating, you need to have an alternate plan so you don’t waste too much time trying to figure out what to do next. For example, if the national park you want to visit is overcrowded, there is likely a state park or national forest just a short drive away with fewer people, no lines, and great hiking trails.

4. Bring Your Own Supplies

This is really about planning ahead. Before setting out on a road trip, make sure you have plenty of snacks and drinks in your vehicle. Bring your own first aid supplies, extra water, and any travel essentials you need. A lot of small businesses have closed so don’t count on just picking up things along the way – especially if you are traveling in remote areas of the country.

5. Travel Mid-Week and During Off Peak Hours

If you can, travel mid-week. Less traffic, fewer people, shorter lines – everything is easier Monday-Thursday. We spent a couple of week days visiting Shenandoah National Park and were usually the only people at the scenic overlooks. During June-August, plan visits to National Parks and other attractions early in the morning or later in the afternoon and you will likely have shorter lines and a better experience. We booked the first tours each day at Monticello, Montpelier and Highland. We were usually among the first people to arrive at each historic site. We did our own self-guided tours of the gardens/grounds, took our scheduled guided tour and then left as the crowds were beginning to build up.

6. Expect Things to Cost More

The price of travel has increased. Hotels, rental cars, campgrounds, and many Airbnb properties are charging more than previous years. I’ve found great deals on Airbnb in the past but increased cleaning charges and other fees can quickly make a bargain room rate much pricer than a nearby hotel. Make sure you check the total cost before you book your accommodations or reserve a rental car. Now is the time to use your free hotel nights, search for travel bargains, book in advance, etc. There are still bargains to be found, but it will likely take more flexibility and effort to find them.

7. Gas Up

While we were in Virginia, gas was suddenly in short supply due to panic buying after a pipeline disruption. Seeing long lines of cars waiting to fill up and many gas stations completely sold out was sobering. Luckily we drive a Prius and had plenty of gas left in the tank. Lesson learned – don’t let your tank get too low before filling up.

Wherever you travel, I hope these tips help make your vacation a little easier.

My new favorite travel quote: “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – Augustine of Hippo

Scenic Overlook – Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive