Road trips won't be the same this summer. Here's what you should plan for


Summer road trips will feel very different this year, with fewer cars on the road as the country begins to reopen slowly following restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus.

a view of a city street filled with lots of traffic: Cash tolls will return on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway on Tuesday May 19th at 6:30 AM. Cash tolls were suspended on March 24th as a precaution against the spread of Covid-19 and all tolls were collected either by E-ZPass or by the temporary toll-by-mail process. Toll collectors will be wearing gloves, face masks, and plastic face shields and drivers who intend to pay with cash are encouraged to wear face masks as they travel through the toll lanes.

Ahead of Memorial Day, the traditional start of the summer travel season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends staying home as much as possible.

The CDC advises people to not travel if they’re sick, are in a higher-risk group for the coronavirus or live with someone who is. Higher-risk groups include people 65 and older and those with chronic health conditions.

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But many Americans are considering road trips as a minimal-contact vacation option as opposed to the close quarters of traveling by plane. Those who do make summer travel driving plans may encounter checkpoints at state lines, quarantine orders, closed welcome centers and rest areas, and fewer open hotels and restaurants.

Social distancing guidelines remain in place, and travelers may be required to wear a face mask when they stop for gas, groceries or other supplies.

“I don’t think this is going to be like any other kind of summer,” said Joseph Allen, an assistant professor of exposure assessment science at Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health. “Everything is going to be very different.”

The good news? Travelers will benefit from the lowest gas prices in 17 years, according to AAA. The national average is $1.87, about a dollar lower than a year ago. AAA says to expect prices to rise above $2 over the summer as states reopen and demand increases.

Summer road trippers will need to do more planning and preparation than they might otherwise. Hotel reservations should be made in advance, directly with the hotel. Motorists should plan on eating take-out food or bringing their own. They should check ahead to see which welcome centers and rest stops may be closed.

AAA has an interactive map that shows state-by-state restrictions that may affect road trippers. However, information is changing quickly, spokesman Jim Stratton said, so travelers should check multiple sources to see what they should expect at their destination and along the way.

The National Governors Association also has a state-by-state interactive map that shows coronavirus-related state restrictions and conditions travelers should know.

Checkpoints and quarantines

Rhode Island and Florida require drivers entering the state to check in. 

Roadside checkpoints on interstates are set up to check for potential coronavirus cases. Drivers are diverted from the interstate to a rest area or weigh station, where they fill out a form provided by state police. Commercial trucks are allowed to bypass the screening.

Since March, Florida has required drivers from Louisiana, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to quarantine for 14 days, or the duration of their stay in the state, whichever is shorter. The restriction does not apply to airline employees, military personnel, commercial drivers or health care workers.

Travelers to Rhode Island must quarantine on arrival unless traveling for business. All cars with out-of-state plates are required to stop.

Texas ended roadside checkpoints at the Louisiana border in late April.

While most states may not have border checkpoints, some still require a 14-day quarantine for visitors.

Border crossings

The U.S.-Canada and U.S.-Mexico land borders have been closed to nonessential travel since late March and will remain closed until June 22, the Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday.

Welcome centers and rest areas

Some welcome centers and rest areas are closed, and travelers should check each state’s transportation department website for the most up-to-date information.

Masks and social distancing

Several states require people to wear face coverings in public: Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Rhode Island. Many others recommend it.  

Social distancing guidelines remain in effect across the country, discouraging large gatherings and encouraging people to stay six feet apart.

Cashless tolls

State and regional tolling authorities across the country have closed their cash toll collection. If you don’t have a transponder such as E-ZPass, expect to be billed by mail. That includes the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the New York Thruway, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Ohio Turnpike toll collectors still take cash, but have been provided with nitrile gloves, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. The Indiana Toll Road has advised drivers paying with cash to expect delays at toll plazas due to reduced staffing.

The Florida Turnpike has stopped taking cash tolls. Those who do not have a SunPass account will receive an invoice by mail. The Florida Department of Transportation is temporarily waiving the $2.50 invoice administrative fee.

The Maryland Transportation Authority has switched to all-electronic tolling at its bridges and tunnels. Delaware’s toll roads and bridges have also gone cashless.


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Air travel won’t return to pre-coronvirus levels until 2023, airline group predicts



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While Florida beaches and Iceland’s Blue Lagoon may tempt some travelers to get off their couches and fly somewhere this summer, air travelers are not expected to return to the skies in large numbers anytime soon.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), the largest global airline organization, does not believe traffic numbers to return to pre-coronavirus pandemic levels until around 2023, according to its latest forecast. Domestic flyers in markets like China and the U.S. will return first in about two years and international flyers a year or two later by 2024.

We are eager to fly,” IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac said during a briefing on Wednesday. But eagerness is not enough, at least not yet, to get those fearful of COVID-19 or who have lost their jobs back on planes.

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Some destinations are or plan to be open for at least part of the summer. Beaches are open in parts of Florida and Allegiant Air, JetBlue Airways and Spirit Airlines — all of which cater primarily to non-business travelers — are seeing small but noticeable increases in the number of people on flights to the state.

In Europe, the European Union’s economic affairs commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said Wednesday that the bloc “will have a summer tourist season.” Any opening, however, will come with clear health and safety guidelines to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.

What is not yet clear is whether any EU reopening would welcome both Americans and Europeans, or focus on something of a “travel bubble” among member states.

One possibility for summer holidays is the approach proposed by Iceland. The island hopes to reopen for visitors by June 15 with either mandatory COVID-19 tests or 14-day quarantines upon arrival.


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