As some of you may know, I am moving to DC this summer. My husband got orders to move and we will be there in July. I knew I would be driving cross country, but what I didn't expect is that I would have to do it in a time of COVID. I waited until the states I needed to drive through did not have a quarantine in place for visitors and were re-open for at least some type of business (take out food, for example).
I researched hotels to try and find the best options in terms of safety protocols and increased cleanings. For some locations, I didn't have many choices as I also needed them to be pet-friendly (I was traveling with my dog Henry). My Master's Degree is in Public Health, so I take COVID seriously and try to reduce my risk as much as possible.
So, what was my experience like?
What you read on a hotel website is not always (and usually isn't) what you will find on arrival. The first night I stayed in Washington State and I switched hotels just a few days before I left as I thought the first one wasn't doing all they could to help prevent the spread of COVID. The new hotel advertised that staff were wearing masks as one precaution. When I walked in, the front desk agent was not wearing a mask and the only precaution taken was I had to swipe my own credit card. I was not happy, but what can you do after a long day of driving? You just have to be flexible and go with the flow. I wore a mask in the public areas of the hotel.
This experience of expectations not meeting the reality happened at each hotel---but each hotel was doing things a little differently, even within the same state.
One great example of this is what I experienced with breakfast.
I stayed at 2 hotels in Montana. One had an on-site restaurant and you could eat inside, take food to go or have food delivered to your room. The other hotel, I had to be served from a buffet by an employee and everything had to be wrapped in plastic. I was able to be served a bagel, but neither the employee nor I was allowed to toast the bagel in a toaster.
In South Dakota, I stayed 3 places. One did not include breakfast, so I could choose to eat in or take away from their restaurant. The second place cancelled breakfast for my safety. The third had a menu of both hold and cold items that I could order and a staff member brought them to me. I could eat in the dining area or bring the food to my room. Here I could order a bagel and I was allowed to use a toaster---the staff was not allowed to toast it---they had to hand it to me wrapped in plastic.
None of these restrictions were really advertised. Most of the hotel websites said breakfast may be served differently. I was actually pleasantly surprised that out of 9 hotels, only 1 hotel cancelled breakfast. I was able to get some level of breakfast at each hotel--some were only a granola bar, apple and water, but it was something. I brought lots of snacks and breakfast items (think individual cups of oatmeal) with me in case breakfast wasn't served. Now is definitely the time to travel a bit over prepared :)
None of the hotels I stayed in required guests to wear masks. I chose to wear mine in crowded places like the lobby or elevator. In some hotels, I was the only guest wearing a mask and at other hotels I saw a few others in masks, but it was always less than 50% of the guests. I requested ground level rooms when possible so I could avoid the elevator. The tricky part is that the rules are not the same across the board. Some hotels in some states are requiring face masks to enter. Travel during COVID requires advance planning.
Did the rooms and hotel common areas feel any cleaner? Sometimes, but often no. I brought disinfecting wipes with me so I could wipe down my room as soon as I entered. I wiped down the handles, light switches, TV remote, bathroom area, and thermostat (and the outside of the mini-fridge and microwave when I had them). Sometimes the disinfecting wipe was dirty---so I knew the room had not been sanitized before me.
Were the amenities open and available? In many hotels, yes. The pools were open in several hotels. Some were only available to one family at a time and staff would disinfect in between. Other pools were simply open with the guidance to social distance. A few fitness rooms were open. All with guidance to social distance.
I stayed at several chain properties and downloaded each of the apps (Hilton's app for example). You can do things like check out, text the front desk, or request your welcome amenity (for elite members) from the app....so you can limit time at the front desk. The apps have been around for a bit, but I hadn't used them before this trip. I tried to check in with the apps, without much success....but I was able to successfully check out of several of the hotels with the app. I texted one front desk and got a response in about 2 minutes. I think the apps are worthwhile, especially now.
So, do I think it is safe to stay in a hotel now? Maybe. I think it is safe and I wouldn't hesitate to stay in one again if I brought along extra precautions like a mask and disinfecting wipes and if I practiced social distancing. I'm currently taking a break on driving in Chicago with my family, but I will be back on the road in a few weeks heading to DC. I'm interested to see if those hotels are doing anything differently. I have clients going on road trips this summer--I think with the same guidance and smart choices----it is a good time to travel in the US. The best pieces of advice I have are be prepared and be flexible.
I will leave you with some beautiful photos from my trip.....
Tracey is the owner of Unraveled Travel and has traveled to every continent except Antarctica.