Back in March, when I returned from a trip to Memphis, I had no idea that I would mostly be housebound for the next few months. In a “normal” year, I might be gone two weekends out of the month.
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Should I Travel in the South?
The South is among the highest cases of COVID-19 in the country with Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee in the top ten states by the rate of cases.
States reopened well before other parts of the country, affecting rural areas like South Georgia more than others. Mask bans have been lifted in many places and are up to individual businesses to enforce.
So let me start by saying that for the majority of people, travel is not essential. I know we’ve all been cooped up for months, but consider how your travel will affect the places you go and the people that live there.
If you decide that you don’t want to travel in the region right now, that’s completely understandable. But you can support these businesses by booking travel for later or purchasing gift cards.
Deciding Where to Travel
If you still want to proceed with travel, carefully consider where you’ll go. I recommend staying within your own state, exploring an area you haven’t yet visited. Look up the local mask ordinances in your destination. You should also consider getting tested before and after your trip.
I recommend limiting your reach to no more than five hours from your home, somewhere you could drive in a day. The longer a drive is, the more places you’ll have to stop to eat, get gas, and sleep, increasing your possible risk of infection or spreading.
Avoid plane travel if you can and skip places where the infection rate is high as you could place a burden on local medical facilities. If you do want to fly right now, check out the domestic deals now available on Scott’s Cheap Flights. If you’re renting a car, give it a wipe down before you go.
Finding a Place to Stay
There are some places that are doing safety right during this time and others that aren’t. I’ve stayed at Kiawah in South Carolina, which required masks indoors and had distanced seating at restaurants. Another inn in Tennessee had few masks and buffet-style meals.
As much as I love the amenities of hotels, there’s something to be said about staying in rentals with little interaction with other guests. You won’t have the option of housekeeping and you can wipe down the surfaces when you check-in. Some have kitchens, which allow you to enjoy meals safely.
If you do end up staying at a hotel, call the property to see what COVID measures are in place. Many have them listed immediately on their websites. If they don’t have any, seek other accommodations.
They should have some form of separation at the check-in desk or at least be wearing masks. Elevators should have limited capacity and breakfast should be to-go only, with no buffets.
Eating at Restaurants Safely
In my few trips across the South in the past few months, the thing I’ve had the most trouble with was restaurants. In July, I made reservations in Charleston at restaurants with safety precautions like masks, required hand washing, and plastic between tables. But the restaurant next door had no social distancing in place.
In Mississippi, I wanted to go to a specific restaurant but found out they weren’t wearing masks. In rural East Tennessee, the majority of the restaurants I ate at had no masks whatsoever, including kitchen staff.
The best way to dine while you’re out is to order takeout to eat back at your accommodations. If you do want to dine inside, ensure that the restaurant has spaced tables and employees are wearing masks correctly.
Call ahead or make reservations. Don’t forget about food trucks or places with outdoor dining. And be sure to tip well more than usual since restaurants are operating at less than 50% capacity.
Socially Distanced Activities and Attractions
Not all attractions are open, so do some research before venturing out. Many museums are offering limited entry with timed admission and tickets that must be purchased in advance.
Others are shifting their offerings to virtual tours. Some are open with mask requirements. Look into the destination’s offerings like outdoor movies and “drive-in” concerts. We’re working on a new set of guides about safe activities in multiple destinations, so stay tuned.
Your best bet for exploring parts of the South is to take advantage of the great outdoors. There are plenty of hiking trails where you likely won’t run into others. We’ve written about many in Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina.
Essential Safety Precautions
I know it’s become political but I will state it explicitly: DO NOT LEAVE YOUR HOUSE WITHOUT A MASK. Period. It puts others at risk, even in places where there is no mask requirement. It shows respect for the people that live in these communities where you want to vacation. And it’s the only way we will slow the spread.
On each recent trip, I brought three to five masks to rotate. My friends at Speakeasy Travel have turned from the production of their popular pocket travel scarves to face masks, which they also donate to medical workers. I also got one from Sock Fancy, which is a bit thicker and has a pocket for filters.
Pack wet wipes to wipe down places that other people touch like door handles, plane seats, and remote controls. Hand sanitizer should also be kept on hand. Plastic gloves are another good item to have. You can also bring your own snacks so you don’t have to stop to eat.
Do you have any other advice for travelers?