It’s going to be a weird summer this year. Traditionally it’s the perfect time of year to take advantage of the good weather and take road trips and go camping. But in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the jury remains out on whether or not it’s really OK to go camping right now. The CDC, for one, still strongly recommends we all stay home as much as possible. However, state and national parks are slowly starting to allow day use visitors. Some are even reopening campsites that had closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Increasingly, travelers are looking at self-contained RVs as the perfect way to travel safely during this pandemic. You may have noticed more and more camper vans, RVs, and teardrop trailers in your neighborhood. Peer-to-peer RV rental companies confirm that bookings are through the roof right now.
If you’re one of those hitting the road this weekend, here’s what you need to know about keeping yourself and the communities that you visit safe during your RV trip.
Before you go
Plan your route ahead of time
“Planning where you are going before you book an RV is always a good first step,” Jon Gray, CEO of the peer-to-peer RV booking site RVshare tells AFAR. “In this case, that is even more important. RVers need to do their research before traveling and think ahead about where they are going to not only stop for the night but stop for gas and supplies.” Reducing the number of stops you make reduces the number of virus transmission points you encounter.
For the same reason, you might want to consider one destination, rather than stringing together a few places. Plus, setting up in one spot for the long weekend means you won’t have to break down camp and set up again; you can focus on relaxing instead.
It’s the Summer of Reservations and things are booking out fast. David Basler, vice president of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds, told the Colorado Sun, “In states that are opening, we are hearing from our members on a daily basis that they went from no reservations to booked solid in no time.” And things are changing quickly: Campendium, a popular campsite resource, noted that as of May 20, 2020, 36 percent of U.S. campsites listed on the site are closed due to COVID-19, down from a high of 46 percent in late April.
Jen Young, cofounder and CMO of the peer-to-peer booking site Outdoorsy, tells AFAR that during normal times there’s quite a bit of flexibility around reservations at RV parks and certain campgrounds. “But with a lot of places making necessary changes to their protocols and limiting how many people can come in, it’s best to check things in advance and make reservations.”
You should also check any day-use regulations on local hiking trails and parks you plan on visiting with local or state park websites.
Stay close to home
Because state and local restrictions differ from place to place, most RVers aren’t traveling far right now. Eighty-two percent of RVshare’s user base plans to stay close to home when traveling this summer, and Outdoorsy is encouraging folks to use this opportunity to check out what’s in their own backyard (so to speak).
“When you rent an RV from an owner in your hometown,” says RVshare’s Gray, “it is convenient to be able to bring the RV back to your home to pack-up and stock it with supplies. This will reduce the amount of stops along the way.” (Sensing a theme yet?)
Only travel with people you live with
Unless you’ve been quarantining with friends for two weeks prior to your camping trip, it’s probably not a good idea to share a self-contained camper for a weekend.
Check local and campground guidelines
Travelers should check state or local health departments where they are, along their routes, and at their planned destinations, to learn about any new restrictions or regulations in place, such as mandatory masks or required quarantine upon arrival. Toby O’Rourke, president and CEO of Kampgrounds of America (KOA), also recommends you check with your campground to learn about its requirements, as well as what it’s doing to ensure visitors’ safety: “For example, many of our campgrounds have modified check-in processes, are only allowing self-contained RVs to check in, and have temporarily closed pools.”
You should also check on your campsite’s rules on fires, especially if you’re booking through a peer-to-peer platform like Hipcamp. Not all sites allow them, which could pose a problem for you if you were planning on cooking over an open fire. Talk with the site host and check out Hipcamp’s fire safety guide to brush up on how to build and extinguish campfires safely.
Pick an RV with a bathroom
Not all RVs have bathrooms and showers. “We’ve seen that although many parks and campgrounds are starting to reopen, their facilities like showers and bathrooms might not be open yet,” says Outdoory’s Young. “So you may want to opt for a bigger model vehicle that has a full bathroom with a shower and a toilet so you won’t have to worry about finding campgrounds with open facilities.” And if you do so, make sure the freshwater tank is full.
Disinfect your RV
RV rental companies have instituted new cleaning policies for vehicles, but Gray points out that disinfecting the vehicle yourself when you pick it up can go a long way toward helping your state of mind. It might be nice to do this even if you have your own rig, just to start off with a clean slate.
Disinfect hard surfaces with an approved cleaning solution, following the directions, and vacuum porous surfaces, laundering if possible.
Plan your meals
Meal planning is usually part of the pretrip checklist, but these days, you’ll want to be extra thorough. Young points out that stocking up on groceries ahead of time will minimize your interaction with smaller communities you may be traveling through. Expect to cook all your own food, and be sure to have plenty of nonperishables in case you end up in a place where grocery stores are closed.
When in doubt, pack it
Similarly, you may want to overpack so you don’t get to your destination and realize you need to run out for whatever it is you forgot (we’ve all been there). Pack masks, alcohol-based hand sanitizers (at least 60 percent), and whatever other items you would use on a daily basis in your normal routine at home. A good rule of thumb is to be prepared with the supplies you’d need for 72 hours.
Young says that Outdoorsy has seen more renters bringing their own cleaning items as well as day-to-day supplies like bedsheets, towels, cooking supplies, and cookware. She says that these are usually provided by RV owners, but travelers who want to be on the safe side like to bring their own.
On the road
Follow the CDC’s guidelines
To protect yourself and others, continue to follow the practices recommended by the CDC, such as washing your hands often and wearing a cloth face covering.
Social distance, social distance, social distance
It bears repeating—stay six feet away from strangers. Maintain your distance from park rangers and campground attendants to protect both you and them. Avoid congregating at trailheads and viewpoints, and although social activities like campfires are a hallmark of campgrounds and RV communities, now is the time to avoid those. This might also mean opting for smaller, less-known parks and campgrounds rather than hitting the bucket-list ones, which will certainly be more crowded.
Treat your RV like a safe haven
A weekend escape may give you a feeling of normalcy, but don’t forget that we are still in the middle of a pandemic so you should continue to act with caution. “One of the great things about RVing is that you can control your environment,” says Young. “So when you’re outside the RV, you’ll need to make sure you take the same precautions you would when you’re venturing out of your house—for example, wash your hands after touching things like a gas nozzle and RV hookup.”
Be respectful of the communities you pass through
“Be cognizant when you’re visiting smaller communities,” says Young. “Residents may not have the same supplies in their stores or the same healthcare infrastructure as big cities.” Play it extra safe in your outdoor activities to avoid getting seriously injured, and drive carefully.
There is also something to be said for supporting the economies of the places you visit, even while reducing your contact with residents. Consider searching for a local restaurant that will deliver to your campsite, and make sure you can retrieve your meal in a way that’s safe for you and the driver.
Keep your electronic devices clean and charged
Be sure to keep your phone, tablet, or computer charged so that you can stay up to date on any news or rule changes in the places you’ll be visiting. And you might want to wipe down your phone more often too.
Tips for first timers:
In 2019, over 9 million people in the United States owned an RV and over 40 million reported that they regularly go camping with an RV. But there’s a whole new flock of first-time RVers joining the ranks. Fifty-two percent of campers are now considering purchasing an RV, according to KOA’s special COVID-19 edition of its annual North American Camping Report, and Outdoorsy has reported a significant number of first-time visitors to their site.
If you’re heading out on your maiden voyage in an RV, there are a few other things you should know and remember, outside of these new COVID-19-related precautions.
- You can get your RV rental delivered. Young says that many Outdoorsy owners will deliver the RV to your campsite and get everything set up for your arrival so that you don’t have to deal with driving such a big vehicle if you don’t feel comfortable doing so.
- Make sure to do a walk-through of the vehicle before hitting the road. RVshare’s Gray says that first timers need to know where to find things like operating the generator, electrical hookups, and dumping the water tanks, as well as how to use them correctly. Even things that seem simple like adjusting the awning might be a little tricky. Many rental companies are now doing virtual walk-throughs on FaceTime too, to avoid unnecessary contact.
- Familiarize yourself with your insurance policy, says O’Rourke. If roadside assistance isn’t already included, consider adding it through your insurer or with AAA.
- Download maps or instructions ahead of time, says Young. “A lot of people rely heavily on phone map apps to navigate through their road trips, but Google Maps won’t do you much good without cell service.”
This article originally appeared online on May 22, 2020; it was updated on May 26, 2020, to include current information.