As is probably the case with avid travelers everywhere, 2020 has been hard on my adventurous spirit.
Throughout March, April, and May, I watched with dismay as my air-travel plans to Sicily, Florida, and Missouri all fell by the wayside because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Certainly, I understood the necessity of the cancellations, and I took the scuttled plans in stride. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t yearning to get out there again, in some mode of travel.
So, as June approached and restrictions were being lifted around the United States, I decided it was time to venture out -- this time in my car rather than on an airplane.
With plenty of unused vacation time on my hands, I got to work planning a five-day road trip that would take in the beautiful state parks and Lake Mead National Recreation Area in the Las Vegas area, as well as Nevada’s Great Basin National Park.
Along the way, safety was paramount for me, and I took all of the recommended Centers for Disease Control and Prevention precautions. I washed my hands often, wore a face mask religiously, practiced social distancing, and wiped down every surface in sight.
It turned out to be a trip that was big on outdoor vistas, but relatively light on local culture and cuisine. Here’s how it went.
Charting My Course
As I pondered the possibilities, I was looking for a destination that would be within a day’s drive from my home in Arizona. I was also looking for off-the-beaten-path hiking trails and spectacular scenery.
Nevada’s Great Basin National Park seemed to fit the bill. I had been itching to visit the remote national park for years, and now seemed like the perfect time.
My recommendation for road trips is to look for places with relatively low visitation. Great Basin is among the least-visited national parks in the country, and the crowds were relatively sparse while I was there.
Also, because of the hot temperatures in June, Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park also turned out to be a good option. I was able to practice social distancing even with my car, parking as far away from others as I could.
A More Solitary Pursuit
My conclusion after five days on the road: Traveling has become a less social experience in the age of COVID -- especially for people who often travel solo, like me.
My recent trip made me realize that my past solo trips have been anything but lonely. Typically, I take food tours, engage in cooking classes, and enjoy scenic lake cruises. I love to check out hop-on, hop-off bus tours and often discuss the passing sights with my fellow passengers.
And along the way, I have always sought out fun restaurants, where I sometimes strike up conversations with friendly servers or other diners.
All of that changed on my trip through Nevada. While I did have a few masked conversations with the desk clerks at the hotels I visited, most people kept to themselves.
One example was especially obvious. As a solo sightseer, I’m often approached by people who want me to snap a photo with their cell phones while they pose in front of beautiful scenes. On my recent trip -- although I passed by numerous couples and families taking selfies in front of Nevada’s spectacular scenery -- I wasn’t approached by a single person to ask for a photo. And I didn’t volunteer. During a pandemic, it seems, no one wants to handle a stranger’s cell phone.
Although I believe camping is currently the safest option for road trips, Nevada’s hot temperatures in June ruled that out for me. I decided that I would check in to a hotel for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
For my Las Vegas-area stay, I booked two nights at a Courtyard by Marriott, because I knew that Marriott was taking a number of COVID-related cleaning precautions. When I arrived at the hotel, I was greeted by a friendly front-desk attendant who was wearing a face mask, as were all of the hotel staff I encountered.
Still, to reassure myself, I brought along a disinfectant cleaner, disinfectant wipes, and assorted face masks. When I arrived in my room, I quickly wiped down the high-touch areas, and I requested no housekeeping services during my stay.
I also packed snacks and sandwich items and ate at restaurants only when necessary and when outdoor dining was available.
A Pleasant Surprise
One exception to my mostly hiking-focused trip was a visit to Las Vegas’s cool Neon Museum. I knew the museum was in an outdoor venue, and I decided it would be a nice evening outing to take in some of Vegas’s old-time casino history.
It turned out to be a great choice. When I arrived, I was directed to an outdoor courtyard to await my tour. And before anyone was allowed in, temperatures were checked. I loved this feature, because not only did it assure me that I was at a healthy body temperature (and not COVID symptomatic), but it also meant that the dozen or so people accompanying me on the tour were also likely healthy. Masks were also recommended at the time (now required), and most of the people on my tour were wearing them.
Aside from the COVID precautions, the Neon Museum was a wonderful Las Vegas destination, with its assortment of glittery casino signs. I loved walking beneath the towering Hard Rock Cafe sign and past the glitzy Stardust sign.
What Didn’t Work
One thing I wouldn’t repeat, at least for a while, was a one-night stay at a casino hotel. Because I was visiting Red Rock Canyon on the west side of Las Vegas, I decided to book a room at a nearby casino hotel. It was a four-star resort, and I assumed it would offer a safe and comfortable setting.
It turned out to be a misstep for me. For one thing, I forgot that casino hotels often require guests to walk through the entire casino to get to the hotel elevators. While there were people wearing face masks at the time, many others were sitting at slot machines without them. (Note that the state of Nevada has since required face masks to be worn inside public places.)
And because of COVID, many of the usual amenities at the hotel were not available. The swimming pool was closed, and most of the restaurants were not available. In the current atmosphere, I would not return to a casino resort.
Assessing Your Risk
It probably goes without saying, but everyone should evaluate their risk factors based on their own circumstances. For me, knowing I would be in my car for much of the trip gave me an added layer of assurance.
My recommendation is that if traveling is mostly about the restaurant/bar scene or museums for you, you might want to wait a while to take a big trip.
But if you are more into outdoor activities and scenic routes, a road trip can be a good option.
Although my Nevada trip was amazing, with plenty of great experiences, I think I’ll wait for at least a few months before venturing out again.
Because COVID cases began spiking in the U.S. in late June and early July, many attractions have closed again, and restaurants have also become more restrictive. Even when I went in early June, some of the campgrounds and attractions at Great Basin were unavailable, and most national park visitor centers were closed as well.
For now, I’m crossing my fingers that fall will bring healthier times and happier traveling.