COVID Roadtrip: I Drove from NH to California

Written by Sylvie Johnson Smith, AAA Travel Agent with over 30 years of experience.

There are plenty of stories, posts and blogs that tell you what you should expect, or what could be an issue as you plan your travels this summer. I took a trip from New Hampshire to California, and want to share my first-hand experience with all of you.

We left New Hampshire to meet up with our road trip companions on Rte. 70 in Pennsylvania. On the way out, we were greeted by plenty of areas to stop for gas, food and picked up our road trip necessities. In fact, Rte. 70 would be our main road as we made our way to St. Louis.  It was on this stretch of the journey that we started to see noticeable changes as a result of COVID. Rest areas were gated, closed to travelers, and while we had no issues finding restaurants, many had restricted their operations to offering only takeout.  I am advising the AAA Members I assist to bring food and drinks, and if you do need to stop along the way, use Truck Stop Facilities as those were the only available restrooms from Missouri until reaching Kansas.

Through Kansas, we were surprised to see rolling fields and lots of rest areas. Needing to recharge, we spent a night in a Best Western Plus in Wakeeney, Kansas.  While the hotel was comfortable, we found that the town had pretty much closed up and businesses were gone from some storefronts. We did happen upon a great little saloon that had amazing food and very kind people.  Once we left into Colorado there are plenty of facilities for food, gas, and necessities.

We stayed in a timeshare in Breckinridge and we were excited to see a free gondola ride to the top of the summit remained open, along with a nice hike to experience the amazing views.  The downtown area was quite busy, but there were noticeable and enforced COVID-19 safety precautions being observed. Throughout our trip, we found this location felt as though they were most on top of the outbreak. We found a great outdoor concert area with local folks in cowboy gear playing tunes on the park grassy knolls right along the Blue River. We learned this was a common affair, hosted many nights throughout the summer. The shows are free and open to visitors. Towards the center of town, we came across an Eifel Tower inspired art installation made from old bike parts. It was quite a sight to see.

After our stop in Breckinridge, we made our way to Arches National Park in Utah. This was a nature lovers dream. The park is amazingly beautiful and totally opened for hiking, camping, and visiting.  The park is home to lots of trails and open areas.  We continued our travels to Zion National Park, which was mostly open to hiking however the trams were closed until the day after our visit making it quieter and easier to tour. The Silver River runs through the park allowing visitors the chance to swim or wade in the nice cool mountain water.  There are lots of areas for camping and picnic areas along the paths making this a favorite for many visitors.   We visited a ghost town in Grafton, just outside of Zion. This was the filming location for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in Springdale, Utah. It is also home to a very cool saloon from the western days.

We stayed in St. George Utah at a Hyatt Place Hotel that offered the best service and made the best attempts to keep visitors happy and safe. The Hyatt offered us top service, and I must say kudos to them for working as hard as they did to please their customers.  We made a point of seeking out the Manager to thank him personally.  The day we left Utah there were Hot Air Balloons setting down from their flights in the parking lot of the hotel adding to our fun!

As we made our way through Nevada, we found more of the same. The state offered mostly open restaurants and stops as we drove our way to Las Vegas. During our stop on the strip, most places open. We stayed at the Flamingo Hotel across from Caesars, finding it has great access to restaurants, hotels, and area casinos.  Most hotels have pools opened,  or offer a sister property for pools. Our hotel allowed us to use the Caesars pools which turned out to be a great bonus.  Most Restaurants are sit down now, some you can choose to pick up order ahead. Again, we found that these areas were following the safety standards by the CDC and there were many businesses posting and mentioning safety standards.

California decided to re-close the beaches in LA county the weekend we were visiting. Restaurants were open and many if not all the stores as well.  We stayed at a Best Western, having experienced a stay earlier in our journey. California hoteliers were facing stronger regulations than their midwestern counterparts. Common areas were totally closed, and our property manager had no choice but to store everything away, place ropes on all areas, and limit breakfast to pre=bagged offerings.  Manhattan Beach is home to my oldest son and his wife. We were excited to include them, and their new twin baby boys, in our journey. The Strand in Manhattan Beach was open for people to walk in front of the beautiful mansions, catch glimpses of the beach and a nearby park allowed us to sit and catch up with friends and family at a distance.

Our road trip was a one-way adventure, and we opted to fly home from California instead of taking the highways home. The day we flew out they reopened the beach! Since we had a few minutes prior to leaving I made sure to put toes in the water.

America is beautiful. It’s common to lust for international travel, and understandably the restrictions on global adventures can feel limiting. However, as I crossed the nation, I was reminded of how wonderful our country is. Friendly faces, open spaces, and endless memories were all experienced on this journey. As you and your family explore travel options, I encourage you to speak to a AAA Travel Agent. Many of us are still traveling, and can offer you first-hand details on the restrictions and regulations that could impact your journey, and offer you the tips you need to make the most of your time away from home. To speak to your AAA Travel Agent, please call 1-800-222-7448. Tell them Sylvie sent you!