How safe is it to travel?

My wife and I took a three-day trip earlier this week, with our dog, to visit friends and relatives in Savannah and Jacksonville, so I thought I’d write a bit about the experience and how safe I felt, given the pandemic.

The basic conclusion: you can have a safe vacation, but you need to give it some thought and planning.

Taking the dog turned out to be a good idea, because traveling with a pet is very similar to traveling in the Age of Covid. Nope, you cannot eat indoors, nor can you do indoor activities. We relied a lot on BringFido.com, an excellent web site for dog owners that lists dog-friendly hotels, restaurants and activities for most towns. But we also found several dog-tolerant places on our own.

The basics:

Gas stations and bathrooms. This one turned out to be easier than I’d thought it would be. Pay at the pump, using the same two fingers to put in and remove your credit card and to punch in your password code on the touchpad. Use the same hand to hold the gas pump. Then go in to the gas station, use their bathroom, wash your hands thoroughly, and use a paper towel to open the door (bring your own; they sometimes have air dryers instead of paper towels). We added hand sanitizer in the car and felt safe. But there IS the chance that 5 minutes earlier, someone infected with the virus has been coughing up a storm in a small bathroom. My take was that so long as I was only there for 2-3 minutes, I was OK. Your take may differ.

I could not resist the billboards (!) for a Marathon truck stop restroom north of Macon. They claimed the largest and cleanest bathrooms in the state and I was in need so we checked them out and yes, they passed the test. 28 toilets in the men’s room, all operating automatically, as did the lavatories and paper towel dispensers, and there was no door, but rather a zigzag entrance. I used hand sanitizer anyway, but honestly, there was no need to touch anything.

That is not the case for the ladies, of course, who need a toilet seat. They’re not a major source of covid infection, but they have their own issues.

General advice: Truck stops are more likely to have large, fully automated restrooms.

Restaurants. We ate seven meals during the trip, all outdoors. The only time I felt vaguely concerned was in Savannah at the Crab Shack, a 200-person seafood place on Tybee Island. We were outdoors, on a huge deck, but there were maybe 50 people at tables around us, easily the most folks I have been around in 8 months. Most had their masks off, since they were eating, although the staff was all masked. Given that everyone was seated at round tables 6-8 feet away with their backs to us (and there was a breeze), I don’t think there was much risk, but I still felt anxious just to be around so many folks. *sigh*

PS: We were in Valdosta around lunch time on the way back and a search online recommended Clayton’s Shrimp Shack, maybe two blocks off of I-75 and definitely worth a visit. Somebody online said they loved the shrimp po boy with fried green tomatoes so I took a chance. Wow, best shrimp po boy ever. Lots of other options.

Hotels. We went large and small. In Savannah, we stayed at the Foley House Inn, a bed-and-breakfast downtown that allowed dogs. Lovely place, great location, liked our room, lots of privacy and an excellent breakfast (blueberry French toast, scrambled eggs and fruit) on their patio with our dog. Then in J’ville, Marriott’s Aloft hotel, an attempt at tres moderne coolness that mostly works, tho some folks may say they’re trying too hard. The window shades have rows of numbers printed on them, as in computer code; the colors in the lobby are all ’50s-ish, with pillows w/skulls on them (um, not what you wanna see at 7:30 a.m.); but you can order your included b’fast from the cook and it includes omelettes, an eggs-bacon-potatoes cup, etc.

The Marriott room had a piece of tape on the door to emphasize to us that the room had been cleaned, but it would have been much better if the tape had told us the day the room had last been occupied. The place didn’t seem to be even half full, and I’d have felt a lot better if I knew no one had been in our room for 48 hours. That’s one of those areas where you can fault Trump’s leadership. It’s the sort of no-brainer government-industry partnership where hotels/motels guarantee no one has been in your room for a couple of days, so any virus would have died out.

The B-and-B was more problematic. A staffer said they had been doing great business, generally full, so fair chance someone else had been in our room up until checkout time, 11 a.m. We came in at 6 p.m., stayed for 15 minutes and headed out to dinner, so the question is if someone was infected and breathed heavily in our room until 11 a.m., how dangerous would it be to be there at 6 p.m. I honestly don’t know the answer. I’m betting the risk is relatively low, that after 7 hours, most virus particles would have settled to the ground, but I don’t have conclusive scientific evidence of that.

The dog. Because our 2-year-old Lab mix was with us, we focused on outdoor activities. A 2-hour dog-friendly walking tour of Savannah was perfect, as was 45 minutes cavorting in the surf on Jacksonville Beach. We didn’t have time to tour dog-friendly Fort Pulaski near Savannah, but that was definitely an interesting option. Dog parks in Atlanta (Piedmont Park) and J’ville were also fun. And the pupperoo did great, thru ocean and walking tour and dog parks and sitting calmly at our table in restaurants.

Conclusion: You have to decide yourself how much risk to take, but planning makes things easier. If you’re comfortable eating outdoors at local restaurants, you’ll be fine on the road. Gas stations and restrooms are not as intimidating as we thought they’d be. If you’re worried about hotels, call ahead and ask them if they can tell you how long it has been since someone else has been in your room. As the days grow colder, you’ll need to give more thought to activities, but I’m guessing a lot of museums and galleries will be relatively empty and safe.

That’s our 2¢ Let me know your thoughts/experiences.

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