Road Trip in the Time of COVID

We arrived on Cape Cod on Wednesday and are safe in our Orleans condo for the summer and beyond. In the past, we have arrived around mid-May after a road trip of 10-14 days, seeing the sights between Texas and Massachusetts. This year was different.

We had doctor appointments and other engagements in Texas in early June and planned our trip after those. In Austin, we were tested for COVID and came out negative, after which we packed up and hit the road. I thought I’d share what we did for any of you hoping to get out there soon.

As mentioned, we usually take our time, drive some back roads, see the sights, and try new foods on our trip, usually staying in small lodging or B&Bs. This time we took interstate highways and made the trip in 3.5 days, while staying in Hilton properties. I’d read about hygiene and cleaning protocols and the work the major chains are doing, and we wanted that peace of mind.

Hilton’s cleanliness statement was impressive and it was mostly good experiences.  Among their strategy is:

  • a seal on the door, meaning the room was cleaned and has not been touched since.
  • digital key via their smart phone app- a Bluetooth signal unlocks the door once you are checked in and within inches of the doorknob. Via the app you can also choose your room, check in or out, and pay for your stay, all of which minimizes human contact.
  • touch points in the rooms are cleaned thoroughly
  • public spaces cleaned more often
  • food to be safely available

In other words, you should be able to stay at a Hilton property without unnecessarily touching surfaces that others may have touched since a cleaning. Although their website does not mention masks, every employee pictured wears one (this was not the case in practice).

Our first stop was a Hampton Inn in Tuscaloosa, AL. We pre-selected a room on the first floor so that we did not have to use an elevator. We pre-paid and checked in, but I received a message to go to the desk where I handed over my credit card, probably because this was my first time using the app. The clerk was not wearing a mask but there was a plexiglass between us. The room was spotless although it did not have the CleanStay sticker on the door. Digital key worked well – this is great. However, a shortcoming is that if there is more than one person in the room, you might need an additional key card that would have to be secured at the desk. On entry, I immediately used a Clorox wipe on every surface I expected us to touch, doorknobs, light switches, phone, remote control, bedside tables, mini-fridge, dresser surface and pulls, shower door, faucet, and on and on. Of course, it’s impossible to get everything. I opened the closet looking for a luggage rack and grabbed it before I thought about a wipe. There was a notepad and pen along with brochures about the hotel, TV stations, etc. I’d read that most hotels were removing these items, as they are commonly touched objects. Bob walked to a fast food place and brought dinner back to the room. The lobby had a 24 hour self-serve coffee station, as well as a bowl of bananas and wrapped apples. If you know Hampton Inns, you’ll remember that they offer delicious chocolate chip cookies, usually warm and on a plate for that homey feeling. These, however, were individually wrapped in plastic, as is so much more these days.

For breakfast, it was a mixed bag. Near the coffee station was a table with sealed breakfast bags, containing a juice, muffin, and a granola bar, all individually wrapped. Also, they had a buffet, similar to what they usually offer and most of it was self-serve. Each item of plastic ware was individually packaged. However, there were community spoons to dish up things, so what gives? The gym was open with a sign asking that you keep your distance from others. The only staff I saw wearing a mask was the woman filling the breakfast buffet.

Next, we stayed in a Tru by Hilton in Roanoke, VA. This is their hipster hotel, and I Cleanstaythought it was pretty cool. The lobby featured a pool table and a bunch of high tables and stools. The front desk was round and, again, plexiglass had been added. They had a microwave and a bunch of package foods you could buy and nuke, as well as individual beer and wines, as there was no bar or restaurant.

Again, we’d picked our room and checked in online, choosing a room on the first floor near an outside door. This room did have a Clean Stay seal, but I wiped everything anyway on entry. The room is hipster too, with a platform bed, built in bedside tables, décor that kind of looked like paint swatches. We drove through and got fast food for dinner in the room. Breakfast here was a microwave “fakon” omelette on a bun – pretty bad. They also offered a bag with muffin, fruit cup, and granola bar, all individually wrapped. In the lobby we saw a bunch of magazines in racks, again, I’d read these were being removed. More staff in masks here than before, but still not everyone.

The final night was a Hampton Inn in Fishkill, NY. We ended up on the 4th (top) floor. I asked if anything was available on the first, but the clerk told me with current criteria, they are not renting all rooms (meaning smaller inventory). She was behind plexiglass and was not wearing a mask. We took an elevator to the room (as we had our bags), but we used stairs other times. Our room had the CleanStay seal, but I wiped all surfaces CleanStayRemoteanyway. This was the only place that had the remote control wrapped, signifying it was cleaned. I called the desk to see if they knew the channel to get a TV guide, as there was no literature in the room. She did not know, but said I could come to the desk and she would show me a list of stations. I also went in search of the cookies, but they are not permitted to put out food – this is NY – so different rules than Alabama, even with the same brand hotel. Breakfast was again in a bag and coffee was served by the front desk clerk behind plexiglass. She was wearing a mask hanging down from her ears. This property had a nice indoor pool which was closed.

We made fast time on this trip and stopped only 4 times for gas. We keep a bunch of plastic bags in the car for the hand that enters zip code and fuels the tank, then throw it away. We’d brought a cooler with makings for sandwiches. We found parks where we sat at picnic tables we wiped off, then took short walks and peed in the woods. I wasn’t going near any public bathrooms. We saw very few masks during these stops.

We made it! We are really happy to be back on Cape Cod and the weather is lovely, a nice cool evening and we have windows open. We will quarantine for 2 weeks although we look forward to a long walk after 4 days in the car.



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