Let’s face it: 2020 has been rough. That’s why we’re looking to find moments of joy and pleasure this summer with our new series, Summer’s Not Cancelled.
Flights are mostly grounded, the Canada/U.S. border is shuttered, and after three months of mandatory staycation, cabin fever is at an all-time high. You need to get out of the house, we get it. But is it safe to travel this summer? Where can you travel to? And what do you need to know before hitting the open highway? Here, a guide to the great Canadian road trip of 2020 including the dos and don’ts of interprovincial travel, what you need to pack, and the best places for a pee break.
With the border still closed, I’m guessing my friend’s bachelorette in Miami is still a no-go?
Sorry, to be the bearer of bad news, but yup. Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the Canada/U.S. border will remain closed to non-essential travel at least until July 21, and with COVID-19 rates spiking south of the border, it seems likely that will be extended. Current people allowed essential travel, for example, are nurses or firefighters who live in one country and work in the other, or parents with shared custody. When cross-border leisure travel does resume, chances are it will be with mandated quarantining, which isn’t terribly practical if we’re talking weekend getaways. The good news is that the rules around domestic jaunts are getting a little less restrictive.
Okay, okay, I’ll stay local. Where exactly in Canada can I go?
The message from the feds is that we need to discover “our own backyards,” and at this point you can take that somewhat literally since staying close to home is still the safest bet. Can you travel to another province? Technically, yes. Many provinces have lifted requirements for two-week quarantines upon entry and more extreme measures like the guarded border between Quebec and Ontario have also been cancelled. Should you? Not yet is the stance of provincial public health departments. Ontario, for example, is still “strongly discouraging non-essential trips.” The goal is to reduce the risk of more cases of COVID-19 being brought in from outside their regions, and then leading to further community spread, says Dr. Robyn Lee, an assistant professor in the epidemiology department at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto. And also to support effective tracking and tracing which become more challenging as people travel farther from home.
Different provinces have different approaches: As of this week, the four Eastern provinces have formed an “Atlantic Bubble” meaning back-and-forth travel is okay between Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and P.E.I, but anyone coming from farther west has to quarantine for two weeks on arrival. At least for now. “Rules may loosen or tighten depending on testing and tracking,” says Lee. Just last week, for example, Manitoba re-instated its mandatory 14-day quarantine. Because the rules are changing constantly, it’s important to stay up to date by checking provincial websites and/or Googling your planned destination.
What if I just want to hit the open road and see where the wind takes me?
With all due respect, summer 2020 is probably not the best time to live out your Jack Kerouac fantasy. Planning in advance is essential, and that includes a pandemic-specific packing list. Dr. Lee lists masks, Lysol wipes, sanitizer, and toilet paper as the new road trip essentials. Make sure to stock up your COVID kit before departure: These items are in high demand and may be out of stock.
Is it safer to travel to the country than the city?
That depends on where you’re coming from. Generally speaking, big cities have been COVID-19 hotspots. If you live in a rural community, coming into more densely populated urban environments means upping your chances of exposure. Definitely avoid tourists traps, and overcrowded parks, beaches, and other destination landmarks. A lot of popular tourist spots still aren’t open, so check in advance. (The CN Tower, for example, is closed until July 15.) For city dwellers craving country comforts, it’s important to be aware that *you* present a significant risk (whether you pay property taxes or not!). Back in curve-flattening days, some provinces even outlawed visits to secondary residences. At this point, “it’s less about rules and more about social obligation,” says Dr. Lee. Translation: You don’t want to be the jerk who infects an uninfected region and/or puts a strain on limited medical resources.
How can I avoid being that jerk?
Well for starters, if you have even the slightest symptoms, stay home. Normally a slight sniffle is no reason to cancel travel plans, but there is nothing normal about Summer 2020. Depending on your timeline, the best way to make sure you’re not a carrier is two weeks of self-isolation before departure. If that’s not doable, BYO everything — groceries, firewood, lake floaties etc. — to avoid exposing local business owners.
Is camping a better option than staying in a hotel or renting a cottage?
Camping is definitely COVID-friendly since it involves zero time indoors and minimal interaction with other people outside of your bubble. Most national and provincial parks and campgrounds have re-opened in recent weeks, so go forth — just beware the communal campground bathroom (more on that below). With hotels, Dr. Lee advises checking the website in advance to see what staff has posted regarding updated safety and hygiene policies. (Things to look for include room disinfection and air purification.)
“Hypothetically, if you checked into a room right after someone who had the virus and the surfaces hadn’t been properly disinfected, that would be risky,” says Dr. Lee. (Initial research suggests the virus can survive on stainless steel and plastic for up to 72 hours. “It’s always a good idea to wipe down high-touch surfaces like door handles, light switches, sink and toilet handles, and any electronic remotes.” All while keeping in mind that infected people present a far bigger danger than contaminated surfaces: “Avoid communal areas as much as possible, wash your hands immediately after check-in, and avoid crowded elevators.”
What about an Airbnb? How can I be sure the hosts are providing a safe environment?
I’ve heard RVs are making a comeback. Is that a good call?
It’s true, travel industry insiders are calling RVs the new cruise ships and a lot of Canadians — including Rachel McAdams — are experimenting with mobile shelter. (Like, a lot. One Ottawa-based company has seen sales spike 800% from last summer). Travelling by RV means avoiding a lot of contact with the germ-baring public while also ticking off a box on your bucket list. Just remember to seek out rental companies with responsible hygiene protocol and then wipe everything down again anyway.
Can I hit the road with someone from another household?
Given that a car is a relatively small and enclosed space, and that you may be on the road for several hours, you definitely want to avoid driving with a sick person; the problem, of course, being that you may not know who’s sick. Wear a mask, keep the windows open, and ideally have your travel squad avoid social contact in the period before departure. Use your Lysol wipes to keep surfaces germ free (they’re in your COVID kit, silly). And make sure whoever you’re with shares your taste in music. Which has nothing to do with COVID, but everything to do with an enjoyable roadie.
What about pee breaks? Gas station bathrooms are horrible at the best of times...
It’s true that gas station bathrooms were pretty puke-tastic even in the Before Time, but also true that “holding it” is not a permanent solution. A lot of service centres have introduced anti-germ upgrades like sanitizer stations and more frequent disinfecting, but just in case, bring along those Lysol wipes and wipe down all surfaces. Remember that a washroom doesn’t have to look heinous to be harmful (clean is not the same as disinfected) and also that the biggest risk in a washroom setting is still other people, so maintain social distance. Same goes for pit stops that don’t relate to nature’s callings. Gas break? Timmy’s break? Pulling over to take pictures of the Niagara Falls light display? Mask up, wipe down, and wash after. (Wait, did we just invent a solid bumper sticker slogan?)
It’s hot and we’ve arrived at our destination. Is it safe to go for a swim?
You don’t need to worry about COVID in the water — whether it’s a pool, lake or ocean. (“The amount of the virus would be so diluted,” says Dr. Lee.) But swimming is not without its issues. “The risk would be if there are too many people...such that distancing can’t be maintained." We’ve definitely seen a lot of that at beaches lately, though be warned that public health officers and law enforcement are generally pretty quick to respond. You don’t want to get a ticket. Or, like, a life-endangering virus for that matter. Which brings us to the final and maybe most important item in your road trip COVID kit: common sense.