How to Get Back Out There

A family hiking a rocky path in idyllic Glacier National Park.

Camping may look and feel a bit different this summer, but with smart planning, extra safety precautions, and the right attitude, it doesn’t have to be any less fun. Traveling by RV has always been the most comfortable and exciting way to see the country, and now it is becoming increasingly clear that it’s also the safest. RVs are self-contained and include their own private bathrooms, kitchens and sleeping quarters––and most campgrounds are incredibly well-suited for social distancing.

There are so many benefits to camping with an RV. Want to avoid using public bathrooms at crowded rest stops? Pull over and use the bathroom in your own rig. Want to avoid waiting in long lines for fast food at travel plazas? Park in a quiet spot and make a few sandwiches using your RV’s well-equipped kitchen. My family has always loved these aspects of RV travel, but this summer they seem like an absolute godsend. 

Many public health experts, including Dr. Marty Makary at the John Hopkins School of Public Health, are also encouraging Americans to get outdoors this summer for the sake of their mental health––and because being socially distanced outdoors presents less risk of catching a virus than being indoors.

So how should you prepare for getting back out there? Let’s walk through it together. 

Do your research before you go. Research local executive orders that may affect your travel plans before you hit the open road. Restrictions are loosening up in many places, but you shouldn’t make any assumptions. Map out easy gas stops and, if possible, pack enough food for your entire trip. If you are going on an extended trip, plan out how you will restock your food supplies in advance. Also, take time to figure out where nearby hospitals and urgent care facilities are located. These are always smart things to do when traveling––even more so during a pandemic. If you’re concerned about taking a long-distance road trip, consider camping closer to home. 

Choose your campground wisely. Some campgrounds have large private sites that make social distancing easy. No one wants to pull into a site and discover that their neighbor’s sewer hookup is just a few feet away. Interested in staying at a private campground? Call and ask about the size of available sites. Looking at public campground options? Your site will probably be spacious, but there will be fewer amenities. Concerned about the check-in process? Many campgrounds are currently offering contactless check-in, and some are even delivering pizza, ice cream and firewood right to your site. With a little extra research and a few phone calls before you leave, you’ll feel more confident in your travel plans. 

Stay on top of cleaning. Just like you’ve cleaned and disinfected your home during the pandemic, you’ll want to keep on top of sanitizing your RV. Being surrounded with fresh air and nature might unwittingly make you feel safer than you did back home––but germs don’t discriminate. And campgrounds are places where people come together from all over the country, which means someone who’s asymptomatic could be passing germs without realizing it. So make sure you disinfect your RV surfaces, door handles and bathroom at least once a day, as well as staying on top of hand washing. You might go through a bit more water than usual, but staying in good health is priceless. 

Know which amenities are open and which are closed. Campgrounds are doing their best to provide a safe and welcoming environment for RV owners. But state and local regulations may be affecting which amenities, activities and parks are open and which are closed. Know before you go and calibrate your expectations (and your children’s) accordingly. Pools, playgrounds, laundry and common areas may be closed for the time being. Local theme parks and attractions might also be closed. But the great outdoors is still open and most RVers will have no trouble finding fun things to do. Outside of crowded cities, most local, state and national parks are still quiet and secluded, making social distancing easy when you just have to get outside. (Just double check which ones are officially open.)

Avoid crowds. Our family always wakes up early to go hiking or kayaking to avoid crowded parking lots and trailheads, and this summer will be no different. Avoid the most popular attractions (natural, or otherwise) during times of the day when they’re likely to draw crowds of people. If your family is not filled with early birds, then consider hiking, biking or swimming later in the afternoon or during dinner time when everyone else is settled back in at their sites for the night. You’ll be able to enjoy yourselves more when you’re not worrying about people invading your personal space.

Reimagine activities. Many campgrounds are also adjusting to current limitations in creative ways. Instead of holding bingo games in person, they are doing it via Facebook Live and dropping off prizes at your site. Some are also creating arts and crafts packets and dropping them off for kids to enjoy with mom and dad’s help. And you can always bring more fun with you by packing extra board games and sports equipment. My kids can play catch or wiffle ball for hours. Your kids might like tossing a football or playing bocce ball. Give them options and plan on spending quality time with them doing some of their favorite things. You won’t regret it.

Keep a close eye on the kiddos. We’re accustomed to giving our kids some freedom to roam around at campgrounds because they tend to be so safe and welcoming. This summer, we will be watching our boys more closely to ensure that they don’t come in close contact with other campers. I will also be telling them to avoid touching unnecessary surfaces and asking them to wash their hands over and over again. You should probably plan on doing the same. Kids are flexible and resilient and they will adapt––particularly if you deliver a consistent message and set a good example. 

Camp alongside friends (safely). It is possible to be social while still maintaining distance. We are still planning on camping with small groups of friends this summer. Will we shake hands or hug? That’s a definite no for now. But after months of being cooped up, I’m willing to consider alternatives if it means I get to see my friends’ smiling faces again. I might give everybody “air fives” instead, or do a dramatic slow clap for each friend as they walk up to our site. We may also still invite friends over for a picnic dinner––but with each family bringing their own food and drinks to avoid contamination via sharing. This will require extra vigilance, but finding safe ways to spend time together is vital to our mental and emotional health. 

Try boondocking or moochdocking. If you’re seeking even more privacy, seclusion and adventure, consider boondocking on public land or moochdocking on a friend’s property. Both require extra preparation and are made significantly more appealing when your RV is outfitted with solar panels, an inverter or a generator. You can start researching boondocking sites by using the U.S. Forest Service Website or Google Maps Satellite View. 

Create new traditions and make new memories. Embracing change doesn’t mean you have to watch all your favorite traditions flame out. It’s also the perfect time to create new traditions, especially if you have kids. While you may not be able to participate in campsite potlucks or let your kids play tag with new friends, you can still find ways to make new traditions and new memories. Why not learn how to cook over an open fire with a dutch oven, or make your kids a new food for the first time? Fishing is built for social distancing, so why not hit the river and wet a line? Never tried cornhole or rope ladder games? They’re the perfect games for playing with friends while giving each other space to breathe. Or maybe it’s finally time to learn to play guitar or tell ghost stories around the campfire. One day, you’ll look back on this time together and laugh about the new memories you made, rather than feel sad about the things you didn’t get to do. 

We bought our first RV 10 years ago because we wanted to make amazing family memories with our little boys in the great outdoors. We wanted to climb mountains with them and gaze up at starry skies together. Those things are still out there waiting for us this summer. Nothing has been lost, it’s just time to put together a new road map. 

Our family is ready to get back out there. I hope yours is too.

The Puglisi Family RVs in a Jayco Eagle HT Travel Trailer.