Recently, Matt and I traveled by car to Southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley for a quick wine adventure… during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was both scary and exhilarating! If you’re anything like us, all our trips since March have been canceled and our travel itch needed a really strong scratching!
We don’t feel comfortable flying so a driving road trip sounded much less frightening to us. Not only were we concerned about possible coronavirus exposure but also the idea of being asymptomatic and infecting others. You see, Matt works in a grocery store and interacts with many, many people each day. While masking up for each shift lessens possible exposure, he is still vulnerable if an infected shopper, fellow employee, or vendor is in the store.
In an ideal world, we would have been able to get tested before departing on our wine journey. Sadly, getting a COVID-19 test in Oregon is much harder than one would expect and Matt’s doctor has refused his request on several occasions. SIGH! But this article is not about my opinions on how poorly the United States has handled coronavirus testing… so keep reading.
We routinely take our temperatures and go through the ever-growing list of COVID-19 symptoms in the hopes that we would be symptomatic should we be infected. With no other tools at our disposal, we packed up our car on the morning of our departure. Thankfully, we found ways to travel safely and want to share our tips with you.
Firstly, don’t travel when you’re sick!
Exercise good judgment before leaving on a trip and stay home if you don’t feel well.
Quarantine before and after traveling
If your job allows you to telework, do so for the two weeks leading up to your trip and then again for the same timeframe after you return. By quarantining this way, you allow any possible COVD-19 infection (both symptomatic and asymptomatic) to run its course before you interact with people.
Travel with those in your household
Limit your travel companions to those in your household and save the trips with friends and extended family for a later date, after we have a vaccine for COVID-19. By doing so, you’ll protect yourself and your loved ones from possible infection. However, if all travelers aren’t exhibiting symptoms and can get a coronavirus test (and the results) immediately before departure, that would be a safe way to travel together.
Limit your stops
Be as self-contained as possible and limit the number of places you stop along the way to your destination. Pack snacks, water, and anything else you might need while driving in the car. Obviously, restroom breaks are necessary so look for safe places to stop. We have always found the rest stops in Oregon to be easily accessible and clean. Hopefully, you have something similar where you live or along your travel route.
Limit your interaction with others
The numbers show that the fewer people you interact with, the less likely you are to be exposed to the coronavirus.
Properly wear a mask
Learn how to properly wear your mask! It’s not hard but if you do it wrong, you risk exposing yourself and others to an infection that can quite possibly kill. Be sure to wear a mask when entering any public building or space where you can’t keep your distance from others. Examples are while using the bathrooms at the rest stop, entering the tasting room of a winery, grabbing the restaurant takeout you ordered by phone, and when checking in or out at your hotel.
Need a mask wearing primer? Follow this link:
Use hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes liberally
Regularly slather sanitizer on your hands when you’re away from home. Pack cleaning wipes and routinely clean your phone, keys, eyeglasses/sunglasses, car door handles, steering wheel, car radio and other buttons, seat belt buckle, visor, rearview mirror, really anything you regularly touch after being out in the world.
And please don’t touch your face!
Believe me, I know just how hard it is to refrain from touching your face! But unless you use hand sanitizer or wash your hands really well right before scratching that itch on your nose, you could be transferring the virus from your fingertip directly to your face. So wash your grubby hands before getting them anywhere near your face!
Pandemic packing list:
Deciding where to travel is complicated. In our case, we weighed reported cases against our risk tolerance. Since we know how challenging it is to get a COVID-19 test, we assume that many cases go unreported. However, we traveled to an area of the state that has fewer reported and presumptive cases than where we live so that decision was an easy one to make.
If your state has any travel restrictions, abide by them. They are in place to protect everyone from an increased rate of infection. Don’t be the fool who disobeys the rules, only to spread this terrible virus.
One factor we considered was to travel to a wine region with a milder climate, allowing us to be outdoors, thereby lessening our possible virus exposure. Being outside with constant air movement means the virus molecules don’t linger as long in the air we breathe. To us, this was a comforting thought.
Deciding where to stay should align with your risk tolerance as well. We rented a house in wine country for a couple nights, then drove a few hours north and stayed at a motel right on the beach. The house was equipped with a full kitchen, allowing us to prepare some of our meals and keep our distance from others. Once at the motel, we appreciated the open-air stairs and corridors, and only used the elevator to move our suitcases and cooler in and out of our room at the beginning and end of our stay.
Here are a few suggestions:
Rent a house
Rent an RV or camper
Go clamping or camping (click here to read my glamping 101 post and also my article on glamping in Oregon’s Willamette Valley)
If you must stay in a hotel, wear a mask in all public areas, whether indoor or outside. Don’t expect daily room cleaning and bed changing either.
As I mentioned, Matt and I feel the safest outside so making the decision to visit a wine region during nice weather was an easy one. All the wineries we went to had outdoor spaces where social distancing was possible and many were taking steps, such as installing outdoor heaters, in order to make them more comfortable during cooler weather. One winery plans to implement a BYOB policy– not bring your own beverage but instead, bring your own blanket!
Most wineries are making appointments during the pandemic. This allows the staff to control the number of people they host at any given time and ensures that you have a social distancing bubble in which to safely taste your wine. Two wineries we visited did not require appointments because they had acres of outdoor space in which to enjoy a safe, socially distant wine tasting experience.
Wear a mask
Be courteous and wear a mask when entering the winery, during trips to the restroom, and don’t forget to don it again when you leave.
Learn any new rules
Follow staff instructions on social distancing, directional wayfinding, and when wearing a mask is required. Each winery has different pandemic protocols so pay attention as the staff explains them to you. Abiding by these new rules will keep you and others safe.
Allow extra time
Newly implemented cleaning protocols can create delays and make service more complicated so allow plenty of time for your winery visit. After months of being stuck at home, I relished my time at each winery and suggest you do the same.
Bring your own
Packing snacks, food, and beverages will allow you to limit the number of necessary stops. Matt and I packed water, crackers, and fruit to snack on between our meals and avoided both extra exposure and getting hangry with one another!
Plan your meals
If you have a kitchen, take time to plan your meals in advance and buy everything you will need in one shopping trip. Less time in a grocery store reduces your possible virus exposure and really just makes for a better vacation. No need to spend extra time buying food when you can instead use it doing fun vacation activities.
Call in your takeout order
Look up the restaurant’s menu online and phone in your takeout order. And ask if you can pay over the phone if they allow it. Again, don’t waste time waiting for your food to be made if you don’t have to. Since our motel room didn’t have a kitchen, I spent some time before our trip looking at yelp reviews so we had a few restaurant options while we were at the beach. (We always seem to eat Thai and Mexican on vacation and have a running joke about it.)
Sanitize your hands, then mask up
Before entering the restaurant to pick up your meal, sanitize your hands before putting on your mask. Doing so will kill any germs before they were to get transferred to your face. I actually use another dollop of sanitizer after I’ve finished adjusting my mask, just to be sure my hands are clean as I enter the restaurant. While inside, I don’t touch my face or much of anything else if I can help it. When you’re back in the car, sanitize your hands once again before removing your mask. Who knows what cooties you might have picked up after touching the restaurant door handle, a pen to sign your payment, cash, or anything else!
Our itch was scratched!
Let me tell you, traveling during the pandemic is still more worrisome than it was back in 2019. But, after returning home, Matt and I feel like we followed all the necessary protocols to keep ourselves and others safe. We really did have fun and our travel itch got a thorough scratching!
I will cherish the memories we made, the people we met, the wine and food we enjoyed and the places we got to visit. And the souvenirs we brought home, in the form of wine, will serve as trip reminders as we open each bottle. Stay tuned, plenty of wine tasting notes are coming soon!
Hopefully, these tips will help you avoid getting or giving the coronavirus to others. Have you traveled since the pandemic began? If so, please leave your tips in a comment!