child in car seat holding teddy bear

How to Hazard-Proof Your Pandemic Road Trip

2020 is the year of the road trip. 

With international borders closed, flights grounded or feeling risky, and many people minding their spending, travel-lovers are hitting the road. In July, much of the U.K. opened up for domestic travel. On the other side of the Atlantic, AAA estimates that Americans will take 700 million road trips this summer. That’s down just 3% from last year, compared to a 74% drop in air travel.

But families need to be extra-cautious this year. In the midst of the health crisis, there’s been a rash of speeding and reckless driving in the U.S., U.K. and other countries. Here’s how to make sure everyone gets to your destination—and beyond—safely. 

Call a family meeting

Before you even get into the car, sit down with your road trippers big and small. Share your expectations and rules (no fiddling with the windows!) and discuss potential pain points. Who gets to ride shotgun or pick the audiobook? Hashing out the details beforehand will limit conflict—and the potentially dangerous distractions that come with it.

Check your car seats 

Give your child restraints a once-over, checking that straps are secure, buckles are working, inclines are correct and… your kid still fits in it! Pro tip: Do it a couple of days before departures, in case you need to repair or replace anything. 

Pack wisely

How you load your car can impact its safety. To minimize dangerous projectiles if you have an accident or stop short, stash the heaviest items at the bottom of your trunk—especially if it opens into the rest of the car. You can also anchor big items in the seat wheel. And don’t fold down any seats in a row with passengers in it. 

Stop a lot

Driving while drowsy causes an estimated 300,000 accidents per year. To keep alert, aim to stop every two hours or 100 miles, says AAA. And when you stop, really stop. Get out, run around, do some deep squats. Cultivate an attitude of “we’ll get there when we get there.” It sounds like a PSA, but being alert and driving carefully saves lives. 

Hold out for a rest area

Speaking of stopping, it can be really tempting to avoid public places and just pull over to the side of the road. But it’s dangerous to pull over onto the shoulder. If you must make an impromptu rest stop, make sure it’s on a quiet road. (And don’t forget that public peeing is technically illegal in all 50 states.) 

Prep for protection

Stash disposable wipes, hand sanitizer, and a face mask or two next to every passenger. Having protective gear handy makes you more likely to use it. When at a rest stop, minimize the risk of being exposed to Covid by wearing your mask, closing the lid before you flush, and being liberal with the soap or hand sanitizer.

Slather on the sunscreen

While most windshields filter out harmful ultraviolet light, side and rear windows often don’t. Depending on where you’re sitting, you or your passengers could be exposed to UVA rays, which can lead to skin cancer. In your infant car seat came with a canopy, bring it along. You can also buy sun shades that stick onto windows. But you should still spray, slather, or slop on the sunscreen before you put the car in gear. 

Sniff some ginger or peppermint

Carsickness can strike at any age or mile marker. Older kids or teenagers with nausea can chew on ginger candies or suck on peppermints. You might also try a diffuser stocked with ginger or peppermint essential oil.

Essential oils are thought to be safe for kids five and up, but check with your pediatrician and avoid applying the oil directly to your child’s skin

Don’t over-rely on technology

True story: my family and I were motoring around Greece when our GPS started going haywire. The distance to our destination went from 70 kilometers to 7,000. Our GPS had spontaneously—and magically—reset itself from Olympia, Greece, to Olympia, Washington. Ghosts in the machine aside, it never hurts to combine Google Maps with Waze, say, or even a good old-fashioned atlas. It might even be a chance to teach the kids to navigate, always a useful skill.

Jessica Allen writes about food, culture, travel, and New York City.