Update: This article was initially written about road tripping during the pandemic and was updated May 2021 to reflect conditions for taking a US summer road trip in 2021 amidst lingering pandemic conditions.
The great American road trip is back! Sort of.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has made international travel difficult to plan in 2021, with evolving restrictions and uncertain policies from one country to the next. So many Americans are instead taking a summer road trip within the US in 2021.
With vaccine rollouts and a decline in cases in the US, there is some cautious optimism at the prospect of safely traveling again. The great American road trip has emerged as a popular way to travel within within the US amidst the lingering Covid-19 pandemic conditions in 2021.
Even as conditions lessen, there are so many aspects of travel that have changed for potential road trippers. If planning to travel, there are lots of new road trip tips to know in 2021 that can help make for a much smoother journey.
There are ever-evolving restrictions that remain in some states & localities that road trippers should be aware of before planning a visit. As popular tourism destinations across the US swell with potentially record-setting crowds in 2021, there are some easy ways to avoid them. With gas prices sharply climbing into summer 2021, there are methods to mitigate this significant road trip expense. Travelers should also be aware that 2021 has brought hotel policy changes and a dire need to book early in some places. Have you thought about what new road trip items should be packed in 2021? We’ll cover all these 2021 road trip travel tips and more!
We wrote this detailed post to share all our 2021 road trip travel tips we’ve learned along the way. Taking a bit of advance planning can greatly help to avoid unexpected complications while on the road. We hope these 2021 travel tips will lessen aggregation & disappointments among road trippers, while also helping to keep safe.
Disclaimer: these are travel tips, not medical advice. If seeking medical advice, please consult doctors, not travel websites. This article aims to provide practical travel tips, based upon the latest government advisories and recommendations.
Planning Tips & Where to Take a 2021 Road Trip
1) Is It Safe to Plan a 2021 Road Trip in the US amidst Ongoing Pandemic Conditions?
This is an important question on many prospective travelers minds. And there’s no clear answer, as it’s often more a matter of opinion. So we’ll default to the CDC for official guidance as to whether a 2021 US road trip can be done safely in 2021.
As of April 2, 2021, the CDC clearly states:
“People who are fully vaccinated with an FDA-authorized vaccine can travel safely within the United States.”
So as of this update – the US has now given a green light for vaccinated Americans to safely go on a road trip! Of course, they still advise taking some additional precautions like washing hands, wearing a mask, and staying 6-feet apart from others.
For those who cannot vaccinated, the CDC further offers advice on how to travel domestically as safely as possible, recommending testing and/or quarantining measures. Read the official CDC domestic travel guidance here.
Yet despite vaccinations and safety efforts, any potential road trippers must accept some level of increased risk whenever venturing outside their home. Weighing the potential benefits against the increased risks involved with a 2021 road trip can come down to a personal assessment.
The CDC reminds us that coronavirus spreads “mainly from person-to-person, between people who are in close contact with one another.” So a big part of attempting to stay safe during a pandemic road trip is to avoid close contact with others. Being within the isolation of your own vehicle during a road trip makes that easy. It’s all part of the appeal of a road trip in 2021, all while traveling to America’s beautiful wide open spaces.
During the past year, we’ve now spent several months attempting to safely take road trips across the US during the pandemic. So many things have changed throughout the journey as we’ve been learning how to navigate this evolving travel landscape. For summer 2021, we’ve carefully planned a grand cross-country road trip that we’re currently in the midst of. The goal is to attempt to road trip in 2021 as seamlessly and safely as possible under the evolving conditions.
2) Check US State Travel Restrictions in 2021
During the pandemic, some US states have placed restrictions on people traveling from other states. These states have required visitors to complete a travel health form, quarantine upon arrival, show proof of a recent negative Covid-19 test, or proof of vaccination.
Many of these state-to-state restrictions have since loosened as we make our way into summer 2021. Yet other states have still maintained domestic travel restrictions for those visiting from out-of-state. We’ve found that some states may not be strictly enforcing their official restrictions or suggestions, but others states certainly are. For example, Hawaii has maintained notoriously strict policies requiring negative Covid test results and quarantining.
Any out-of-state visitors should be aware of the official restrictions that are in place, particularly as conditions evolve. It should also be noted some states have travel restrictions down to the county or city level. If roadtripping to states that still have restrictions in place, be sure to consider how you can conform to any requirements they may have. If a state’s restrictions (e.g., quarantining for 10 days) brings upon great inconveniences, it could be best to avoid those states from your road trip.
So which states still have restrictions in 2021? For a glance at travel restrictions for all 50 states, see this regularly-updated CNN article. But it’s always best to check directly with the state for the latest official information.
3) If You Want to Avoid Contact: Opt Outside
When planning potential road trip stops, the great outdoors can offer great appeal. Rural destinations are in vogue as more and more people are opting outside. Since many of us have been confined to their homes for much of the past year, America’s splendid outdoor locations can be particularly appealing. Plus, outdoor spaces make it easier to keep distanced from one another.
Hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, cycling, paddle boarding, swimming, and scenic drives are just a few outdoor activities where keeping distanced from one another can be accomplished with ease. Therefore mountains, beaches, lakes, and forests can make naturally excellent choices during a pandemic road trip in 2021.
Even for the less-active types, scenic drives can provide a great taste of the outdoors from the safety and comfort of a car. Having drove the entire 469-mile length of the Blue Ridge Parkway during the pandemic, we can vouch that it offered plenty of intrigue and splendor experienced from right behind the steering wheel.
4) Consider These Off-Season Summer Locations to Avoid Crowds in Summer 2021
Consider going against the grain to take a road trip in the other direction from the US destinations that swell with tourists in the summer high season. Some summer off-season ideas to beat the crowds include:
- Florida’s beaches & Florida Keys
- Ski resort destinations, and
- Arizona (away from Grand Canyon).
Along the East Coast, beaches in the mid-Atlantic and northeast tend to be very popular in the summer. But summer is actually low season for Florida’s beaches, which tend to peak in the winter and spring instead.
Inviting destinations like the Florida Keys have their lowest occupancies and lowest rates during the summer months. Yes, it gets hot. Yes, there is an increased chance of showers. And yes, it is hurricane season. But these are tradeoffs to consider that may successfully allow road trippers to avoid the crowds during a 2021 trip. Our September road trip to the Keys last year had pleasant weather and was void of tourist crowds.
Out west, consider popular ski resorts that fill-up during the winter. There’s lots of great summer outdoor recreation in winter ski destinations without the crowds that fill the ski lodges in the winter.
Many ski resorts stay open for the summer season, with plenty of occupancy and lower rates, making it a great consideration for a value-oriented summer travel idea. We recently snagged an excellent summer deal at a hotel in the notoriously pricy Breckenridge Colorado area. Look into places like Park City Utah too.
Also consider a summer 2021 road trip to Arizona as the state largely experiences a low season over the summer months, away from Grand Canyon of course. The desert heats up in the summer, driving many away. So it’s a great consideration to go against the grain, beat the crowds and score a deal in places like Phoenix, Tuscon, Yuma, or Sedona. Sure it may be too hot for a long afternoon hike, but you can instead cool off by river tubing or with a cold drink at a luxury spa with off-season rates.
Going against the grain, not only avoids crowded tourism destinations. It also allows road trippers to save by taking advantage of excellent deals!
5) Reconsider Popular Destinations while Discovering Nearby Alternatives
For a summer 2021 road trip in the US, many of us all have the same idea: seeing the great national parks of the US. Popular summer beach destinations and notable national parks are expecting what may be their busiest summer travel season ever. This is great for those local tourism industries, but it means that road trippers can expect to encounter crowded situations and high prices.
We noticed this firsthand when we visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Year after year it’s ranked as the most-visited national park in the US. We saw no signs of a slow down during our summer visit. There were crowded parking lots, congested roadways, packed trails, and loads of people congregating in the tourism towns that serve as a gateway to the national park.
To avoid the summer crowds that are sure to swarm the most popular national parks during summer 2021, be sure to consider discovering lesser-visited alternatives nearby.
America’s National Parks are spectacular. But it can be worth looking into nearby State Parks or National Forests too. For example, our visit to the Great Smokies was met with crowds. But the nearby Pisgah National Forest and Nantahala National Forest remained serene and lightly trodden.
Crowded situations during a vacation can always be a little annoying. Yet during pandemic times, crowds can feel increasingly irritating and potentially dangerous. To appease that anxiety, it can be worthwhile to do a little extra research to uncover lesser-visited gems nearby.
Look around on Google Maps to see if there may be interesting park lands nearby, then read travel blogs and guides to see if such alternatives could be worth visiting. You may just find a new favorite destination tucked away just far enough from the masses.
6) Tip to Gauge How Busy a Destination May Be: Check Occupancy Rates
How can you tell if a tourism destination may be susceptible to heavy crowds during the time of your road trip visit?
If hotels are selling out, that’s a pretty good indication you may arrive to crowded conditions. Booking.com, one of the most popular hotel booking sites, shows whenever a searched destination is reaching capacity. After making a search on a computer, a box can appear above the search results to show the percentage of Booking’s inventory that is unavailable. Note, this only shows when a destination is filling up.
So take a quick search on Booking.com and if you don’t see this box with an unavailability percentage, that should help to appease crowding concerns.
7) Road Trip Close to Home in 2021
You don’t necessarily have to drive across the country to enjoy the fun of a road trip. Rediscover your own back yard! You likely have an inside advantage of local knowledge of some lesser-known spots that are within a tankful of gas.
This may be a perfect time to consider checking out that interesting place a few counties over you’ve been wanting to go to.
Not straying far from home has further advantages. With rising gas prices, you’ll save some cash!
Yet from a safety standpoint, if someone were to get sick during a 2021 road trip, then you’d be within easy reach of returning home, quarantining, and/or seeking medical attention at home.
8) Strategically Plan Popular Destinations during Weekdays
Popular US travel destinations are often popular for good reason. They have great appeal. And they’ll be swelling with popularity in 2021.
So if including a popular destination during a 2021 summer road trip, consider planning the visit during the mid-week. You’ll likely experience less visitors, for a safer and more pleasant experience. Accommodation prices tend to ease too.
During the weekends, plan long driving days or visit lesser-visited locations nearby. Then proceed to popular spots during the weekdays.
We used this strategy during our Florida Keys road trip and it worked great! Rather than going to popular Key West, we stayed in less-popular, Marathon, during the weekend. Then we went to the tourism magnet of Key West during the week. We were delighted to find the often-crowded streets of Key West entirely empty! Bartenders informed us that the weekends were still drawing a strong crowd.
9) Avoid Any Emerging Covid Hotspots & How Locate Them
Even with Americans getting vaccinated and infections rates generally declining across the US as a whole, there are still localities within the US where flare-ups have been occurring as we approach summer.
Don’t unknowingly road trip into a Covid-19 hotspot during a summer 2021 road trip! There’s an obvious danger to travel to a destination where cases are rising fast and/or infection levels are high. Yet in addition to safety concerns, such areas will likely have heavier restrictions and closures in place, making for an uncomfortable visit.
Take some time to familiarize yourself with the current infection rates of your road trip destination(s) and even the locations you may be passing through during your road trip.
A great visualization, showing county-level data of where cases are currently emerging, can be found on the New York Times Hot Spots Map. It shows the share of population with new reported cases during the past week.
This can be a good resource to check while planning. But be sure to check it again before embarking on a road trip, as infection rates change over time. Be sure to browse through any areas you may be passing through too. That can help to avoid any stops in potential hotspots along your summer 2021 road trip route.
10) Cities Have Obvious Drawbacks, but Don’t Ignore Entirely
While making an attempt to avoid other people and crowded spaces, it’s a logical move to cut cities from a 2021 road trip itinerary. Busy cities can more easily bring about situations where visitors will be in close contact with other people. There’s also a greater potential of encountering closures of indoor attractions, tours, nightlife, and more. So it can be a logical move to avoid big cities altogether in favor of satiating the desire to enjoy America’s outdoor locations.
Yet while road trippers are expected to be flocking to beaches and national parks in summer 2021, US cities may offer a rare chance to explore them at a time when many other American tourists are avoiding. We’ve included a few short city stops during pandemic road trips and found some particularly inviting conditions and low rates.
For example, Washington DC was virtually empty during a trip there in early July 2020. There was almost no visitors throughout the Washington Mall to the extent that we were able to get streetside parking right next the Lincoln Memorial. DC’s outdoor spaces and monuments were largely open (and remain open in 2021).
Even though nearly all museums and government buildings were closed to the public, it was still special to walk around the outdoor monuments in such an enjoyable crowd-free setting. Many Washington DC museums are opening for summer of 2021, a trend other museums across the US are likewise following. (For examples, check DC’s Smithsonian Museums openings and reopening dates.)
If considering a city visit during a pandemic road trip, just be careful to research what’s open. Think about what activities you’ll actually be able to do while keeping distanced.
11) Check Local Mask Mandates
Some localities are requiring face masks only for indoor settings. Other places are requiring masks be worn outside too. Meanwhile some states aren’t requiring masks at all. Mask mandates that were once in place across a number of states have since been lifted in 2021. The mask rules can be different all across the US and they continue to change too.
It’s a lot to keep up with. Be sure to know the local laws of all your US road trip destinations. Otherwise you could be viewed as a disrespectful guest in the location you’re visiting. Or you could even get a citation.
At time of publishing this article in May 2021, there are 26 states that still have a mask mandate in place.
This list, maintained by AARP.org, has been updating state mandates as they change. Take a minute to review the current status of any state on your road trip itinerary.
Even if a state doesn’t have a mask mandate, it can be worth further investigating if there are mandates at the county or city level. For example, Florida does not have a statewide face mask mandate. But some counties do. Also it should be noted that even in instances where no mask mandates exist, some businesses still require them. So even if you’re in a mask-free state, look for a sign on the door before entering.
Preparations to Consider Before a 2021 Road Trip
12) Now Is the Time for a Tune-Up
Before you drive off on your road trip, ensure your car will make it the distance. Running into car trouble can lead to the close contact situations that experts recommend avoiding.
If you need a tow, you may find that roadside assistance policies have changed, not allowing passengers in cars to the shop. This is something we experienced firsthand when encountering road trouble during a pandemic road trip last year. It made for a difficult situation, stranded on a dark road in the middle of the night.
Thankfully many roadside incidents can be easily prevented. Before taking off, be sure to check your tires, car battery, and engine oil.
Has your car been making a funny noise? Now is the time to get that checked out.
Do you have a spare tire, a jack, and everything needed to change a tire on your own? This is a good time to to ensure you’ll be able to able to change it yourself and hence avoid any uncomfortable situations on the side of the road.
13) Check Timing to Get Fully Vaccinated before a US Road Trip 2021
CDC recommends “delaying travel until you are fully vaccinated, because travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19.”
The key phrase here is “fully vaccinated,” which can take some time since a waiting period is involved after the jab(s). The CDC considers fully vaccinated to mean waiting 2 weeks after the second dose of a 2-does series or 2-weeks after a single dose vaccine. (Read full details for what’s considered fully vaccinated directly from CDC.)
Keep in mind that this waiting period to become fully vaccinated may have implications on the start of a potential 2021 road trip.
For example, let’s consider someone getting the Moderna vaccine. Since there’s a 28-day wait between the two doses then an additional two-week wait after the second dose, that means it takes a full month and a half after the first dose to be considered fully vaccinated. Road trippers should take this into consideration amidst making their 2021 travel plans.
Also, keep your vaccine card in a safe place during your road trip. Or snap a photo of it with your phone, so you at least have proof of your vaccine while on the road.
14) Checklist: Extra Items to Pack for a US Road Trip in 2021
Before the pandemic, we all needed to remember three basic items before leaving the house: keys, wallet/purse, and phone. Now items like masks and sanitizer are filling our pockets whenever leaving the house.
There are additional items we’ve packed for a road trip that we would have never considered during pre-pandemic times.
Here’s everything we’ve added to our US pandemic road trip checklist:
Travel-Size Hand Sanitizer
Don’t forget the hand sanitizer! For when you can’t immediately wash your hands, it’s great to have some sanitizer on hand (pun intended). The travel size (2 oz) hand sanitizer can be very convenient for travel.
Hand sanitizer has been a hot commodity during the past year. So it’s nice to see this 5-pack of travel-sized hand sanitizer on Amazon for less than $7! It’s 75% alcohol and usually in stock. Check now.
Sanitizing Wipes – So Many Uses!
When traveling in places with unknown cleanliness, it can be nice to have the reassurance of wiping down surfaces. Whether it’s a dirty public restrooms, a questionable restaurant table, or high-touch areas in your hotel room, sanitizing wipes can come to the rescue.
They’re also just convenient to have to clean up messes! This 10-pack of sanitizing wipe pouches is particularly convenient for travel, with 20 wipes in each resealable package.
Masks Can Get Dirty and Lost – So Pack Extras
Whether vaccinated or not, masks continue to be a requirement across much of the US, in some cases statewide or simply enforced by businesses themselves. Throughout a road trip in 2021, you’ll still need masks to enter many establishments.
Yet masks are easy to loose and they also get dirty after repeated use. It can be wise to pack extra masks since you likely won’t be doing laundry regularly on a US road trip. This three-pack of premium 3-fly face masks is a best seller on Amazon.
Thermometer – Just in Case!
It can be a smart precaution to travel with a thermometer these days. If you or a family members does get sick while on a summer road trip in 2021, you’d certainly want to check body temperature for a potential fever. Yet thermometers have been sold-out in many drug stores around the country.
Pick up a simple digital oral thermometer like this for an inexpensive and compact thermometer that does its job.
Gloves for Gas Pumps
Inevitably during a road trip, you’ll be stopping to refuel after burning through each tank of gas. Unless you’re only driving through New Jersey or Oregon, where full-service gas attendants are the law, you’ll likely be pumping yourself.
There’s no telling how many people (hundreds, thousands?) have also touched that same gas pump since the last time it was cleaned. Pack some gloves to add a layer of protection for each time you need to gas up.
We bought a 500-pack of these inexpensive gloves on Amazon.
For those who have been vaccinated, it’s a good idea to add your vaccination card to your 2021 summer road trip packing list. State and local governments in the US are currently sorting out the legalities of vaccine passports, allowing businesses to serve vaccinated people and/or refuse unvaccinated people. So depending how such legislation works out in the locales you’re traveling to in 2021, it may come in handy to have proof that you’ve received the vaccine.
It could also prove wise to have your vaccination card for medical reasons that could unexpectedly spring up.
Accommodation Travel Tips during a Pandemic Road Trip
15) Book Your Hotels far in Advance for Popular Summer Destinations in 2021
Many popular road trip destinations in the US are popular for good reason. US treasures like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon are simply unmatched. And you’ll find lodging within those spectacularly popular destinations has been booked up long ago.
Of course, there is still the option to stay nearby. But US road trippers should expect the possibility of arriving to “No Vacancy” signs lit up all around popular summer destinations throughout 2021. And where availability still exists, we’re already noticing sky high hotel rates all across the US, based largely on increased demand.
For example, in the gateway city of West Yellowstone, the lowest hotel rates we could find have actually tripled since when we were searching in February.
Book your accommodation reservations as soon as possible.
It’s not just America’s hotels and motels. Short-term rentals like Airbnb and VBRO are also getting scooped up very quickly in popular summer destinations across the US. If you’re reading this while considering a summer road trip in 2021 and haven’t made any accommodation bookings, NOW is the time to act!
16) Check Cancelation Policies and Consider a Higher Rate for the Ability to Cancel
Hotel cancelation policies have been changing throughout the pandemic. At the onset, most hotels and booking sites were generous in easing strict cancelation policies for consumers. But they’ve since started to tighten up again.
It’s becoming the norm for hotels to charge lower rate for non-cancelable rooms. While we always love a good deal, our advice for a road trip in 2021 is to pay a slightly higher rate for the ability to cancel, given the lingering uncertainty that could effect travel plans. Conditions can change quickly, and you may need to reconsider your US summer road trip.
When booking, be vigilant to carefully check when the cancelation deadline is and if there are any cancelation fees.
17) Use Motels but Check Their Cleanliness
The roadside motels across the US are having a moment. Motels have always offered some of the best accommodation bargains in the US during a road trip. Yet now roadside motels are also helping to minimize contact with others and avoid shared indoor spaces.
Many roadside motels throughout the US are ideally positioned to limit contact. That’s because motels in the US commonly have rooms that open up directly to the outside. For those who haven’t traveled in past year, do know that it’s now common practice at hotels and motels to have plexiglass installed and enhanced sanitation at front desks.
Yet cheap motels in the US can also have cleanliness issues. That’s something to clearly avoid during the lingering pandemic. It’s important to check recent reviews. It can be well-worth it to check recent reviews and cleanliness protocols. Search around. We tend to find some of the best motel deals on hotels.com and booking.com.
Having now stayed in over a dozens of hotels while roadtripping the US during the past year of pandemic conditions, we felt very comfortable in most of them. Some were better than others, of course. But we found them all to be (mostly) clean, cheap, cheery, and met our needs.
18) Consider Staying in One Place for a Quarantine Getaway
A classic US road trip often involves many different stops throughout a diverse driving route. Yet doing so during the time of a pandemic can increase exposure to additional people, more indoor spaces, and more hotel rooms. Those who are still weary to travel and/or those not vaccinated, may want to consider venturing back out by taking a “quarantine getaway.”
For some, it could be worth designing a road trip to one single destination and staying put there. A quarantine getaway may seem like an oxymoron, but it is possible! Book somewhere with a kitchen or kitchenette to be able to have meals without contact.
Consider a place where there is outdoor recreation at your doorstep. That way you can enjoy a destination in relative seclusion without further exposure and contact with others.
For example, we booked a hotel in the Keys that included free kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, bikes, and fishing gear. That way, we were able to enjoy these activities right on the property with no need to come in contact with others. It was great to fish right from our hotel room, making it a fantastic quarantine getaway during the pandemic that largely avoided contact with others.
19) Using Short Term Rentals and Airbnbs during a US Pandemic Road Trip
Short-term house and apartment rentals, such as through Airbnb and VBRO, can be another consideration for accommodation to avoid contact by booking a whole place entirely to yourself.
A large benefit for Airbnbs during a summer 2021 roadtrip is having your own kitchen. It’s been particularly helpful in places where restuarants still faced restrictions. Yet having a kitchen can likewise be helpful in 2021 as some areas are experiencing a restaurant boom and staffing shortages. This equates to long wait times, so having your own kitchen can be a big time saver.
For those who are trying to limit contact with others, it be assuring to stay somewhere with no shared spaces, no front desk, and no contact with anyone else. Many Airbnb rentals in the US are using self check-in procedures, with a lockbox or keypad, to ensure a contactless experience.
But what about cleanliness of these short-term rentals? The level of hygiene falls upon each individual Airbnb host. So it can vary, of course, as some level of faith and trust must be involved with any accommodation booking. Recent reviews and extra cleanliness information hosts are leaving in their listings can help to build confidence and ease any concerns.
Airbnb has also introduced an enhanced cleaning initiative for hosts who choose to commit to this rigorous cleaning protocol. It goes beyond a simple cleaning by also sanitizing the entire space and a five-step cleaning process to cover every room. When browsing Airbnb, look for “enhanced cleaning” highlighted in the listing, as shown below. You can read more about it here.
During our last year’s summer road trip, we booked one Airbnb, a beautiful cabin while in the mountains of North Carolina. We found it to be immaculately clean and had an excellent contact-free experience.
20) Know about Changes to Housekeeping Services in 2021
It’s always been standard at most hotels and motels in the US to make up your room each day. Tasks such as changing the towels & linens, emptying the trash, restocking toiletries, and light cleaning have been commonplace during pre-pandemic times. Yet in 2021, road trippers should be aware that this has changed at many hotels across the US.
Many hotels are not making up rooms during a guest’s stay, by default, unless it’s requested. Ask yourself whether you really need someone to make your bed each day. If you do, most hotels will still do so upon request only. But some will require you to request this the night before so they can plan accordingly.
Other hotels may be moving back to servicing rooms daily. For those who are uncomfortable with that, just let the front desk know you’d rather not have your room made up. Just let your preference know upon check-in and any decent hotel should be able to accommodate.
21) Hey, Where’s Breakfast?
Even if you book a hotel in 2021 that includes breakfast, don’t necessarily expect to receive it. We’ve encountered many hotels that still list an included breakfast on all the booking sites in 2021, but don’t provide one, blaming pandemic conditions.
If breakfast is important to you, be sure to call the hotel to verify if they’re actually offering breakfast before booking. Have a back plan for your morning meal and coffee.
Travel Tips for Eating & Drinking on a 2021 Road Trip
22) Understand the Service Shortage and Be Patient
Restaurants have largely reopened across the US for 2021 road trippers to enjoy. Many restaurants have even expanded their outdoor seating, which is a nice trend to see allowing diners more chances to eat outside.
Yet some locations across the US are experiencing a severe staffing shortage, causing long waits and delays in service. It may seem illogical, but restaurants across many popular US travel destinations are having trouble finding employees for the 2021 summer season.
This is occurring primarily from three reasons. When the lockdowns forced lay-offs last years, many service industry employees found other jobs that they’re now sticking with. Others are content with unemployment benefits they may be receiving. Some may have health concerns of returning to work at a crowded restaurant.
So be patient if your dinner is taking excessively long to come out. There may only be one cook in the back of the house. Know that empty table at a restaurant doesn’t necessarily equate to availability. There may be limited servers, so managers may wisely choose to offer limited seating.
Expect to encounter waits and plan accordingly. Realize that seemingly bad service may be encountered during a 2021 summer road trip, but don’t let that ruin a good time. Be patient. Plan extra time. Be kind to service industry professionals. It’s been a tough year for many of them.
23) Download Drive-Thru & Take-Out Apps to Save Time & Money in 2021
Fast food is nearly an essential component to any US road trip. Drive-thrus and curbside pick-up can help to limit contact too. To take it an extra step further, you can also eliminate the exchange of money and credit cards by using an app. Since the payment transaction occurs through the app, you don’t have to potentially use a dirty pen to sign a credit card slip or exchange cash.
Yet the added benefits of using an app for a 2021 road trip is saving time and money.
Since a passenger can order ahead while still on the highway, this can decrease wait times. Many apps also offer money-saving deals and promos too, only available to app users.
Nearly all the fast food and quick-serve joints have apps now. Download the associated apps for all your favorite fast food places. Do so before your 2021 summer road trip, while you’re still connected to your home wifi, so you don’t burn through your mobile data while on the road. So what’s your favorite guilty pleasure?
24) Support Local Restaurants and Get Curbside Pick-Up
Fast food can be convenient while on the highway during a road trip. But local restaurants across US road trip destinations would love to have your business! Restaurants all across America have pivoted during the pandemic to offer takeaway options such as curbside pick-up.
Since it’s possible restaurants in some destinations are experiencing staffing shortages in 2021, creating long waits, it may be practical to call long in advance to order take-away. This is also a great option for those not vaccinated or not comfortable dining out in the pandemic, take-out can be a great alternative to consider while still getting a taste of the local food in the area.
25) Try Outdoor Spaces at Local Breweries & Wineries for Drinking in 2021
While many restaurants across the US are able to open, bars have been subjected to harsher restrictions in many locations. Yet it seems many local breweries and wineries across the US have been successful in getting around that.
We’ve found vineyards and brewpubs tend to offer outdoor spaces that can make patrons feel more comfortable than packing into a cozy pub. Sipping outdoors at a local drinkery can be a great way to soak in the local vibes while remaining outside.
Alternatively, we found many breweries doing takeaway business, selling freshly brewed bottles, cans, crowlers, and growlers of beer to-go. Some states and local governments have actually eased laws to allow alcohol sales to-go. So it’s now more possible than ever to snag some local suds to enjoy wherever you’re staying.
26) Make Picnicking a Priority on a 2021 Road Trip
The lingering pandemic can give us all a perfect excuse to picnic during a road trip. Rather than get mixed up in a potentially overcrowded restaurant, enjoy a lunch al fresco!
When roadtripping to outdoor spaces across the US, there should be no problem finding picnic facilities in places like national parks, forests, recreation areas, and state parks. Even many highway rest stops in the US have some surprisingly clean and scenic picnic areas. Most picnic tables tend to be naturally spaced apart from each other too.
If it’s a highly used picnicking area, you may want to consider having some supplies on hand to wipe it down first. Or bring a blanket and your own picnicking supplies to set up a spread in an open park space or field. Enjoy!
27) Make Sure You Have a QR Reader Downloaded to Read Restaurant Menus
Many restaurants across the US are no longer using paper menus. Instead, you view the menu right from your own phone, using a QR code. But you must have a way to scan it.
Those who are planning to visit restaurants should be sure to have a QR Code scanner on your phone before dining out during your a US pandemic road trip. iPhone users should be all set, as the camera already has a built-in QR code reader. Android users will need to search for and download a QR code scanner app from the Play Store.
On the Road: 2021 Travel Tips for the Drive
28) Major Rental Car Shortages in 2021 – Book it NOW
If you’re anticipating the need to rent a car for a summer 2021 road trip, you may encounter availability issues due to the rental car shortage across the country. With the decrease in rental car demand during the pandemic, rental car companies sold-off portions of their fleets. Now demand is way back up and there’s a lack rental cars to fulfill the increased demand of summer 2021 road trip plans.
Secure those rental car reservations now to avoid disappointment. When renting a car, there are two types of reservations:
- paid reservations
- reservation to pay once you arrive at the counter.
In the latter situation, your reservation is not necessarily guaranteed. If you don’t pay for your reservation in advance, rental agencies can simply give up your car. It is something that is likely to happen to many unexpecting travelers in 2021. So it’s worthwhile to secure a paid rental car reservation to ensure the agency will actually hold a car for you.
29) Tips to Mitigate High Gas Prices in 2021
As we approach summer 2021 gas prices are sharply rising, which is expected to continue. A shortage of truck drivers is causing impacts to gas delivery, setting up a classic supply-demand situation that is contributing to the rise in gas prices. These higher rates can complicate those attempting to stick to a budget on a lengthy summer 2021 road trip.
There are three ways for road trippers to lower their costs in 2021:
Compare Gas Prices Using an App
The popular gas price tracking app, GasBuddy, will quickly give a glance at gas prices wherever you’re road tripping to. The app makes it easy to compare prices and secure the lowest rate nearby. You can download GasBuddy on Android or iPhone.
Save an Additional $0.25 per Gallon with GetUpside!
GetUpside is a new cashback app that gives users up to $0.25 cash back at over 17,000 gas stations across the US. We just started using it ourselves and have already earned over $10 just in our first week of our latest US road trip.
Here’s how it works. Use the app to see cashback offers at gas stations nearby. (Usually this beats the lowest rates we’ve found on GasBuddy, which we still check to cross-reference.) So claim the best offer you find on GetUpside, then drive to the gas station. After pumping the gas, get a receipt, snap a photo of it, and upload the pic to the app.
Within a few days, you’ll see the cashback reward. To cash out, you can use PayPal or even get a check mailed to you. So you don’t even have to give them any sensitive financial information to get the cash you earn through the app.
To save an additional $0.25 per Gallon with GetUpside, you can use our referral code: TEFBS.
Download GetUpside here , use code TEFBS and start saving!
Fill Up Using a Credit Card that Gives Cash Back
The nice thing about using GetUpside, as recommended above, is that you can double-dip to get cashback rewards from them and your favorite rewards credit card. There are plenty out there to choose from that will often provide an additional 5%+ for any gas station transactions. Check out this regularly-updated list compiled by NerdWallet of the Best Gas Credit Cards.
Personally we’re using a Chase Freedom card that’s giving a 5% cash back bonus at gas stations from April-June 2021. Perfect timing!
By double-dipping using GetUpside and our rewards card, we’re earning about $5 every time we fill up! That can add up to a lot of savings over the course of a long road trip across the US.
Of course, scoring bonuses like this from credit cards only makes financial sense for those who are planning to pay off the balance each month. Otherwise, the interest accrued is typically not worth the reward.
30) Know that Some Bathrooms May Still be Closed in 2021
Inevitably, you’ll have to “go” at some point during a road trip. Thankfully, bathrooms at rest areas are largely open all across the country.
But if you’re planning to use a restroom at a fast food joint or a gas station, you may not be able to rely on them. We’ve noticed in some locations, fast food joints are still not reopening their interiors – instead relying solely on drive-thru. So while a bathroom break at the Golden Arches may certainly be possible, you could also encounter a closure.
Rest areas are a more reliable place to stop for a rest room during a summer 2021 road trip. And often we find they’re much cleaner too!
Travel Tips for a 2021 Road Trip: Destinations & Attractions
32) Make Advanced Reservations for Attractions across the US
An emerging trend we’ve noticed throughout many popular attractions across the US is the new ticketing and reservation policies that are popping up everywhere.
Many local attractions are now requiring tickets purchased online in advance. Some walk-up attractions are now requiring reservations at designated time slots, with limited ticketing to help regulate potential crowding. For example, while passing by the popular North Carolina tourist attraction of Grandfather Mountain, we noticed ticketing booths closed as they were only taking online reservations.
Even some free attractions are now requiring advanced ticketing reservations, with no walk-ups allowed. For example, San Antonio’s famous Alamo now requires visitors to have a timed ticket reservation, even though it remains free to enter.
Some National Parks have begun this practice of ticketed entrance too.
Which US National Parks are requiring ticketed reservations in 2021?
If you are visiting any of the following US national parks in 2021, be sure to review the entrance policies and possibly reserve a ticket through Recreation.gov.
- Acadia National Park (Maine) – vehicle reservations for Cadillac Summit Road : May 26-Oct 19, 2021
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park (New Mexico) – cave entrance tickets must be purchased in advance
- Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road (Montana) – ticketed entry: May 28-Sept 6, 2021
- Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado) – timed entry permit system: May 28-Oct 11, 2021
- Yosemite National Park (California) – reservations required: starting May 21, 2021
- Zion National Park (Utah) – timed shuttle tickets
Note: These national park ticketed entry policies even apply to national park pass holders. So before simply showing up, as you may have been able to in the past, be sure to check the park’s website for up-to-date info.
33) Show Hiking Etiquette
With the lingering pandemic still limiting indoor activities in 2021, more and more people are discovering the pleasures of the great outdoors. Yet many people we encountered on the trails seem to be unfamiliar with hiking etiquette.
On top of the usual hiking etiquette, the distancing protocol of the pandemic adds an extra layer of complexity. So here’s a quick review of some simple courtesies we can all show to another while on the trail.
- If hiking in a group, leave plenty of space on the trail for other hikers to pass.
- If needing to take a break, find a safe place to step off the trail. Don’t stop in the middle, blocking others.
- Hikers going downhill should yield to those climbing uphill.
- Slower hikers can be mindful of those who may be approaching you from behind.
- Faster hikers can kindly make your presence known when approaching others.
34) Snap a Pic of Informative Signs or Maps
Throughout National Parks and other popular outdoor spaces, visitors will frequently encounter maps of hiking trails or informative signs. These signs often become a cluster, as people gather close to another to read such information.
Instead of adding to the crowd, use your phone to take a picture. Then read it wherever you want to lessen the gathering at the sign.
During our road trip down the Blue Ridge Parkway, we ended up with so many pictures of signs that we’d return to our car to read. Just be sure to go back to delete those pics from your camera reel when you’re done to free up space, unless you want to reference it later.
35) Go to Popular Attractions Early in the Morning
People like to sleep in on vacation. So if you want to beat the crowds at a popular attraction, rising early is a tried-and-true method to accomplish that.
Take a sunrise hike on a well-trodden trail. Arrive at a popular attraction right when it opens. Doing so, you may enter to freshly-cleaned conditions and a lack of crowds.
While on our summer road trip, we were hesitant to visit Virginia’s popular Natural Bridge. Yet going there first thing in the morning, we were delighted to be able to experience this unique natural attraction with very few other people around.
36) Reconsider Crowded Conditions
Crowding will likely be an issue at many popular road trip destinations in 2021, making for uncomfortable situations in places people are seeking solitude.
If you arrive to a road trip attraction with crowded conditions, you may want to reconsider. If a parking lot is full, that may be a good indication to turn away. It’s probably not worth bothering to circle around or park up the road, only to add to the crowded conditions.
When we found hoards of people at a popular trail, we decided it would be in our best interests not to get in that mix. Returning during off-hours helped to alleviate the hoards and made for a more enjoyable experience for us.
37) Have a Plan if You Do Get Sick
Vaccinated or not, getting sick can happen during a 2021 road trip. So be sure to thoroughly think through how you would react if you do become sick while on the road.
There are lots of aspects to consider. Would you, could you isolate yourself from your family or travel mates? How long would it take get back home? Can you get tested? How can you quarantine yourself while still on the road?
These may not be easy questions to answer. But it can be a good idea to develop an action plan in advance if illness strikes while taking a road trip during the ongoing pandemic.
38) Be Kind
This should go without saying. Yet it seems more important now than ever.
The conditions of a pandemic can present a more stressful time to travel. Tensions may be heightened. Everyone has different sensitivities and triggers. So be caring to fellow travelers and locals alike.
Show compassion to the tourism operators who are trying to safely navigate the new and ever-evolving conditions we’re living through. Have some understanding of inconveniences you may face on a US road trip during the pandemic.
Be mindful of respecting the boundaries of other travelers who are trying to maintain proper distance. While you may be fully vaccinated, others may not be and hence still taking other precautions. If in doubt, we suggest erring on the side of caution just as a matter of respect to give others plenty of space. Be respectful of the communities you’re visiting. But above all else, just be kind.
Enjoy a 2021 US Road Trip
There’s a lot that can be done to minimize frustrations during a 2021 road trip in the US.
For some, the added planning may not be worth the trouble. For others, the increased risk of traveling may not be worth the trip. It’s something that everyone must weigh out, pending their own personal situation and risk factors.
For us, taking some of these extra measures has given us greater ease to enjoy our road trip journey across the US. As long-term travelers, the ability to get on the road again has done wonders for our mental health with the outdoor recreation giving a boost to our physical health.
Yet it’s not always smooth. And there there’s been lots of extra planning involved in 2021.
So if you’re considering a summer road trip in 2021, we hope these travel tips may help to navigate these tricky times.
Be safe. Be kind. Be well.