Big (un)Easy Living: The summer of the road trip

It’s the summer of the Road Trip.

It’s also the summer of COVID-19, social unrest, working remotely (with kids), quarantine fatigue and toilet paper hoarding. Which all help to explain, I suppose, this Road Trip Fever. As The Animals famously sang, “We gotta get out of this place.” (And continued, more prophetically, “If it’s the last thing we ever do.”)

Count me in. Come July, Stewart and I are getting in the car and heading west. Which is daring, considering that Louisiana, where virus rates are steady, is surrounded by states where they are definitely not – Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi.

We chose west because anyone who has driven the flat breadth of Texas knows that you sail through as quickly as possible on an endless ribbon of I-10. Once you get past San Antonio, Texas offers little to do, few places to stop and nothing to see but antelope, tumbleweed and oil wells. So we will go that way, fast. Once we hit New Mexico, we will turn right, literally heading for the hills. Surely that Colorado Rocky Mountain air will be clean and virus free, right?

It’s not an original thought. I fear we will be leaving urban crowds for rural ones. It’s summer, it’s sunny, and Americans too-long confined to their homes are packing up and leaving. Forbes reports that 53 percent of Americans plan to take a summer vacation, with two-thirds electing to travel by car – a 72 percent increase over last summer.

In an ironic twist wrought by the times, many Americans are taking their homes with them. RV rentals saw a 1000 percent increase in May, according to Business Insider. And RV sales are spiking, too. The sister of a friend of mine went to Paw Paws Camper City in Mississippi last week and had three RVs sell right out from under her. She went down the street to Dad’s Camper Outlet, sat in another camper and quickly told the dealer, “I’ll take it” — just as another salesman walked up and slapped a Sold sign on her window. See? Like hotcakes.

The media has caught on to this trend: I’m reading reams of content on fly versus drive, least-crowded national parks, best destinations for fresh air, and how to safely navigate bathrooms, hotels, gas stations and crowds on the road. “Tap into your inner camper,” advises one Wall Street Journal, in an article that describes campground mitigation measures. “RV Vacations: The Safest Way to Travel This Summer,” reports another, detailing rental campers that go from a modest $50 a day to a celebrity-driven $15,000 a week.

“Restless” New Orleanian Mark Childress recently flew to California, rented a car and drove it back to the Big Easy in search of open skies and great scenery. His charming and offbeat trip journal, published in the Wall Street Journal, chronicles the yin-yang of COVID travel: “It’s an odd fact of pandemic life that you find yourself longing for human contact while wishing for a place where you can be miles from anybody.”

I think summer travel will be that way: self-isolation within our cars and campers, amid crowds flocking to see Old Faithful or Pike’s Peak. We’re making a dip south in Texas to see Big Bend National Park, because the The New York Times touted it as one of “11 Great Alternatives to the Top National Parks.”

Ultimately, we – and thousands of others – will be embarking on a unique experiment into quarantine-themed travel. We are changing the scenery outside our windows while trying to maintain the social distancing of home. We’re collecting masks, wipes, gloves, hand sanitizer, snacks, drinks and lots of well-meaning advice. Stop at hotel lobbies to use the bathroom. Check for local travel restrictions. Disinfect after you valet park. And don’t forget to wipe down the TV remote in your hotel room.

There’s just no such thing as packing lightly these days. Stewart is taking golf clubs, three weeks’ worth of clothes (with “options”), an ice chest, a printer and a scanner, so he can work remotely from the car. Even without the RV, we seem to be carting our household right along with us.

But. That yen for wide open spaces beckons. Because I just gotta get out of this place. If it’s the last thing I ever do.











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