As COVID-19 spreads across the globe, our plan to fly back to Europe in late January slowly faded away. Our initial plan was to travel through Portugal with a side trip to the Azores. Then, we were heading to Estonia to collaborate with the Estonia tourism board. Afterward, we were planning on heading to Croatia and Macedonia to enjoy summer in the Balkans.
Never Let a Crisis Go to Waste
As we watched country after country fall victim to the pandemic, it quickly became apparent that we needed a Plan B. During January we were unsure how deadly the virus was. As a result, we didn’t want to risk getting hospitalized abroad or being locked down in a foreign country with no option to leave.
At the same time, travel bans and border closings were becoming common and we didn’t want to get stuck somewhere—as nomads, we must keep on moving. Thank God we trusted our gut. Sure enough, international flights have ceased and Europe is now the new epicenter of the virus.
As our layover in Chicago slowly transitioned to becoming permanent, we became concerned about confronting the virus in such a heavily populated area. Obviously, a denser population will create more opportunities for the virus to spread and in turn, there will be increased competition for supplies. Haven’t we all seen enough Hollywood movies to know that if the shit hits the fan, it’s always going to be a major hub like Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York City?
Also, because the virus seems to have some seasonality to it—we thought that moving south to seek out warmer weather would be a good idea. We spent many long hours out on hiking trails in the Chicagoland area brainstorming how we can incorporate travel and COVID-19. We concluded that it is possible to take a safe and responsible road trip during the COVID-19 pandemic. Below is how we did it.
Traveling Responsibly Amid COVID-19 Pandemic
One of the reasons we felt safe traveling right now is because we aren’t doing anything different than we would be doing anywhere else—this is because we’re both germaphobes to a certain degree.
For example, washing hands constantly, opening doors with elbows and knees, sanitizing everything, not sharing drinks with other people, using paper towels to pump gas, avoiding crowds—these are actions we did before COVID-19. If it was just us two traveling around a planet with no other people, we’d be okay with that.
*Side note: While we’re on the subject never attempt to shake someone’s hand while they’re eating, it’s just plain rude and disgusting.
What Were We Expecting From Traveling Down Route 66?
During our pilgrimage down Route 66, we were mainly looking to escape the cold weather of the upper Midwest, visit outdoor tourist attractions, and partake in some hiking. Also, we were looking forward to visiting some of the state and national parks along the way. None of these activities are considered moderate or high risk.
At this point, we’ve been on the road for a little over two weeks. When we departed Chicago, there were no city or state lockdowns in place, let alone 15 guidelines to slow the spread.
However, as our journey along Route 66 has progressed we’ve been inundated with changes in local, state, and federal rules, guidelines, and laws. It’s enough to make your head spin, especially, when much of it seems illogical and changes from day to day.
Much of the Rules and Guidelines Seem Illogical
Within the last week, we’ve been bullied online numerous times for traveling during the pandemic. Similarly, we’ve noticed that some people are getting upset at their neighbors for not staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rather than sitting around the house all day watching TV, some of us are choosing to spend their time enjoying the great outdoors. We find it completely illogical that many of the same people who are agitated by others being outside, don’t take issue with shopping in grocery stores like Walmart, Costco, and Meijer where thousands of people per day are touching everything, breathing on food, and violating social distancing rules.
Shouldn’t your local Church’s Chicken drive-thru be closed before closing a state or national park? The answer is yes!
For the most part, outdoor enthusiasts should be allowed to enjoy nature during this time and all local, state, and federal parks should remain open. We took the picture below at the White Sands National Park during our recent hike just a few days ago. The park has now been closed. Does it look more dangerous than visiting Walmart? We don’t think so.
While at White Sands there was not another soul around for miles. Yet someone out there would find our time at this park completely offensive. It seems like visiting the drive-thru or your local grocery store is far riskier when compared to a day out on the trails.
Your Health is Your Responsibility Not Ours
If we can all still shop at Walmart than we should also be able to visit local, state, and federal parks. While most of us enjoy a day to chill, being healthy is not sitting on the couch watching Netflix all day and eating takeout. After all, when it comes to health care, whatever happened to personal responsibility? Our health is not your responsibility and your health is not our responsibility.
For the most part, we’re all trying to adjust to the current situation and are taking the proper precautions to protect ourselves and others, and that’s good. There’s no surefire way to completely avoid all risk of illness unless you live under a rock (and that would mean you’d have to leave your house to go find one). If you’re acting like a coronavirus extremist, it is not helping the situation. So please stop.
Our Original Plan
Many of our followers may not know that our original round-the-world tour was only meant to be a two-year trip. Of course, this all occurred after we sold our house, cars, and 99% of our worldly possessions.
We were planning on spending the last three months of our round-the-world journey exploring the U.S. to see if there was another area of the country that we’d enjoying settling in—Chicago is just not our cup of tea baby.
However, almost six years later, we’re still out in the world living nomadically. To us, it feels as if fate had decided this trip and our next steps. We finalized our plan on a Saturday. The next morning we kicked off our road trip at the starting point of Route 66 in downtown Chicago.
Get Your Kicks on Route 66
Driving Route 66 has always been one of our bucket list adventures. We were excited to be checking it off our list.
We were looking forward to visiting new areas of the country and visiting many of the quirky stops along the Mother Road. Below are a few questions that you may have.
Where Are You Staying? Is it Clean?
When we arrive at our lodging we sanitize everything ourselves with disinfectant no matter how clean it appears. We take pride in knowing that many Airbnb hosts have told us that we’ve left their homes cleaner than when we’ve received them. During this trip, we’ve mainly stayed in positively reviewed motels and hotels.
Harry and I have always enthusiastically traveled around Eastern Europe and the Balkans because the prices of accommodations were always so budget-friendly and affordable. However, as we slow travel west, we are pleasantly surprised as to how affordable hotel rooms have also been across the U.S. Prices are comparable to hotels in both Croatia and Macedonia, maybe just a bit more.
Are You Having Problems Making Hotel Reservations?
Just like pretty much everyone else, we’re taking this journey one day at a time. For the most part, as we’re traveling west, we are securing our reservations, either the day of or the day before. Generally, we’re staying in the outskirts and suburbs, as opposed to choosing to stay in the busy, more populated city center.
Also, we’re avoiding areas that have been heavily inundated with the virus. Being mobile is very important. It allows us to avoid highly contaminated and populated areas, along with high crime areas.
Hotel stays are costing around $40 to $60 per night. Harry even found a buy one get one free special at one of New Mexico’s most luxurious hotel chains. We paid $42 per night for a fantastic stay.
One hotel we stayed at called our room at 11 a.m. and told us they were closing down the hotel until April 30th. They kindly arranged for us to stay somewhere else. It’s important to stay flexible during this transitional period.
Since Restaurants Are Closed, What Are You Eating?
We’ve mainly been buying food from big-box grocery stores and purchasing prepared/frozen meals. Thankfully, it’s fairly standard for rooms in the U.S. to have a fridge and microwave. We’ve ordered pizza a few times because it’s one of the takeaway options that are least likely to be contaminated.
Are You Taking Any Vitamins?
After reading research articles about how hospital workers and patients in both the United States and Korea were taking high doses of Vitamin C, we have implemented the same regimen now while traveling. We’ve heard many benefits of taking vitamin C and D supplements—and luckily, we’re getting plenty of vitamin D from the sun now.
What Are Some of the Benefits to Traveling Right Now?
There are several advantages to taking a road trip during the COVIS-19 pandemic. Below are the four benefits that we observed in the last two weeks during our journey down Route 66.
1. Gas Prices Are Super Low
The price of gas has plummeted. In states like Oklahoma and New Mexico, we were finding gas prices as low as $1.59 per gallon. With prices like this, it’s one of the best times to take a road trip across the Midwest. Also, traveling in your vehicle saves you from being exposed to germs on other forms of transportation such as airline flights.
2. Park Fees Have Been Mostly Waived
Although we are now starting to see closures, to avoid interactions, both National and State Parks were waiving admission fees. Although the visitor centers are closed, trails are open and ready for folks to explore.
After seeing photos of the other-worldly White Sands National Park, we made a point to go check it out. Committed to paying the $25 admission fee per car, we drove up to the entry booth to pleasantly see that all admission fees had been waived.
We also observed many state parks waiving their admission fees to discourage rangers from interacting with guests. However, as states are shutting down many are now closing their state parks. As of now, Arizona’s Grand Canyon remains open. We are headed that way soon. Let’s hope it stays open for at least a few more days!
3. Most People Are Not Traveling
Although it is peak spring break season, most people are not traveling right now due to 1) stay at home orders 2) not feeling comfortable leaving their home and 3) economic concerns. Since we don’t technically have a home these “rules” don’t apply to us. We’re essentially homeless by definition: Definition of homeless. : having no home or permanent place of residence.
For example, some people are genuinely homeless and then there are people like us who don’t own a house or rent. A good example may be someone who sold their house and purchased an RV to travel through North America. How would stay-at-home orders apply to them right now? We are in a similar situation.
The limited amount of traffic has made the roads quiet. Also, hotels are operating with far fewer guests as they are being asked to operate at 50 percent maximum occupancy. Generally, things are pleasantly quiet and it has made road-tripping very enjoyable.
4. Route 66 is Generally a Quiet and Relaxing Drive
Route 66 does go through several large cities, such as Chicago, St. Louis, and Albuquerque. However, most roadside attractions require only a quick stop and a photo snap. Additionally, the majority of sights are outdoors and free from large crowds.
Spring is a great time to make the Route 66 drive. Also, it’s the best time to explore New Mexico and Arizona when the weather is warm, sunny, and not uncomfortably hot. Overall, Route 66 travel has been safe and it’s been easy to avoid crowds.
Have you thought about traveling down Route 66? Is cruising down Route 66 part of your bucket list? If you have journeyed down the Mother Road, what were your favorite stops? Is COVID-19 changing your travel plans in 2020? Share your comments or questions below!
Follow along with our journey on our Instagram page!