Is it Okay to Camp During the COVID-19 Crisis?
To camp or not to camp? That is the question plaguing RVers who have been cooped up at home during the COVID-19 crisis, which hit right as spring began. As more and more campgrounds around the nation open and as the warm weather kicks into high gear, RVers have an itch to hit the road.
So, first up, I want to clarify that I am not an epidemiologist, a health official, or a doctor (okay, I AM a doctor, but only an academic doctor, not a medical one). I am just a cautious–but pragmatic–RVer who is trying to navigate this decision-making process.
Secondly, I want to point out that this post is not about judging others. We are each different. We live in different states, which are totally experiencing this crisis differently. We have different levels of concerns and different levels of precautions. So, unless you are being rude or are flagrantly endangering others, I won’t judge you.
There simply are no easy and concise answers right now, unfortunately.
Why you SHOULD Consider Camping During the COVID-19 Crisis
We’ve all seen the photos of mobs filling grocery stores, which was allowed, even though many other restrictions were put into place to combat the spread of the coronavirus. We’ve thought about the wide open spaces we often enjoy while camping and wondered Why can I go to Walmart and not to the campground?
That is a legitimate question (while acknowledging that one of those activities–getting food–is more essential than the other). The best case to be made for camping right now is that camping is a great way to self-isolate. If you’re at the right campsite and are self-contained, you can feasibly follow all of the best safety precautions while enjoying your RV. Camping can be done safely.
Also, as the economy has collapsed, many of us are aware that many campgrounds are mom-and-pop businesses. Obviously, we don’t want those small business owners to suffer more of an economic impact than they have to. Similarly, we want to support our public parks by providing a flow of revenue to them. Camping supports the economy.
Additionally, chances are, the coronavirus has magically cleared your calendar. Maybe you’ve found it difficult to plan camping trips in the past due to your work schedule, your kids’ school schedule, and the myriad activities that fill up every weekend. Suddenly, you are FREE and clear! Of course, it is tempting to use that time (IF you have it–I know some do not) to go camping. Camping takes advantage of the looser schedules some of us are enjoying right now.
Finally, after two months of isolating at home, RVing is the mental break we all need. Chances are, you’ve faced some stress in your life, whether it be the loss of a job or the cutback of hours. Maybe you’ve suddenly found yourself being a full-time teacher AND parent AND worker…when you barely have the mental bandwidth to manage any of those roles.
Perhaps, you’ve known someone who was sick from the coronavirus or had your own illness or scare. Or, maybe you or someone you love has had to miss out on an important moment (like weddings, graduations, etc.). And, then there’s the future. Who knows when we will get back to normal??
Okay, so before I send you further down the spiral of stress and uncertainty, I’ll return to my point. Camping helps many of us flip our mental breakers. It offers relaxation, a chance to connect with family, time in the outdoors, and more. Camping is good for our mental health.
All of these are valid, wonderful reasons to head to the campgrounds.
Why you SHOULD NOT Camp During the COVID-19 Crisis
After being told for two months to STAY.AT.HOME, obviously, we have concerns as those recommendations and restrictions ease up. Even as campgrounds are allowed to reopen, there are arguments to be made for not camping.
First up, the whole goal of the stay-at-home orders was to limit person-to-person contact, especially in larger groups and in situations that involve traveling. No matter what has reopened, our best guess is that continuing to do those things really is the best way to prevent the spread of the virus. Camping can contribute to the spread of COVID-19.
Another major concern with RVing is our impact on the small towns we may visit. One of my favorite areas to hike is Ponca, Arkansas. Of course, hiking seemed like a good, safe thing to do with all of the spare time on our hands, but a local news report made me think differently about this.
People living in Ponca noticed their roadways, restaurants, and gas stations mobbed by people, most of whom were from out of town. If any of those people exposed the local essential workers to the virus, it would potentially spread through the community. This town doesn’t have easy, adequate access to medical care. Limiting out-of-towners limits opportunities for the virus to spread. Camping impacts the workers and health care facilities in the communities we visit.
Questions to Ask When Deciding Whether or Not to Go RVing During the COVID-19 Crisis
After thinking through the pros and cons listed above, these questions can help you decide whether camping is right for you right now, or they can help you think through the logistics of a trip you are considering:
- What are the recommendations and restrictions for the area I’m camping in and the areas I’m crossing through? Right now, those vary a lot from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Some states (like Maine) are still asking people from out of state to self-quarantine. Some places are requesting people not come in from out of state for vacations (like Colorado). We have to respect those rules and regulations, first and foremost.
- How much social interaction will my trip require? RV trips come in all sizes and shapes, and we each have different needs while traveling. Think through the trip you’d like to take and imagine the kinds of stops you’ll make and how many people you’ll be exposed to and expose to you. Stopping at a self-pump gas station has different implications from hitting up a crowded restaurant. Some trails and outdoor recreational venues are more crowded than others. Ultimately, social distancing is easier to maintain in some places more than others.
- How self-contained is my RV? Right now, as many campgrounds are reopening, some are opting to keep public restrooms and shower houses closed. Before you travel, be sure to find out what the RV park has available to see if you can go.
- Can I enjoy myself with the current limitations? Some of us go camping and have fun without ever leaving our campsite, while others find fun by visiting all of the local attractions or enjoying the local cuisine. Right now, you’ll find many attractions, restaurants, and facilities closed or offering limited services. Similarly, the campground itself may have the pool/playground closed and group activities cancelled. Only you know whether the trip will be worth it without access to these items. If you enjoy sitting around a campfire and cooking your own meals, you are still going to have a great time!
- What about my children? Kids are often social creatures…and they are often germy creatures. They have drool on their hands, they pee in the pool, they crawl all over each other. So, IF you go to a campground with your kids, how comfortable will you be if they get close to other kids? If the pools and playgrounds are open and you are not comfortable with them, can you keep the kids happy while preventing them from engaging?
Prepping for an RV Trip During the COVID-19 Crisis
So, you’ve decided to do it! You are ready to hit the road with your RV. In order to do so while being as safe as possible, consider these recommendations:
- Consider wearing a mask. If you do engage in social interactions, it is considered helpful to wear a mask in order to prevent spreading the virus if you happen to be an asymptomatic carrier. You can spread the virus before you even know you have it.
- Use hand sanitizer and wash your hands religiously. As this experiment shows, viruses spread more easily than you might think. Hand washing and sanitizing keep you and others safer.
- Stock up on disinfecting wipes. Regularly wipe down the surfaces of your tow vehicle and your RV that are touched the most.
- Attempt to be more self-contained. If at all possible, take care of all of your needs at your own campsites. Avoid the campground shower houses, if you can. Limit dining in at restaurants or buying groceries in a community other than your own, as much as possible.
- Plan for limited services while en route. Some jurisdictions still have dine-in restaurants closed, which may make it hard to grab a quick meal while traveling. Similarly, some states have closed rest areas. You can check with the Direction of Transportation to see what closures are in place before hitting the road. You will need to plan ahead carefully for food and restroom stops.
- Consider camping close to home. Many of the things we all love about camping can be enjoyed just as easily at the campground 10 miles from home as they can be at the campgrounds 100 or 1000 miles from home. Sure, you can’t get out and see the sights, but you can still see the stars. Last year, my family did our shakedown trip right in our hometown. I still had fun playing games with my boys around the picnic table, walking around the park with my husband, and trying a new restaurant that we had never visited before.
- If camping makes you feel uncomfortable, don’t go. We each have different comfort levels right now. If you absolutely feel people should not be camping, or if you think you’ll feel overwhelmingly anxious or guilty while camping, right now may not be a good time for you to travel. You might feel differently in June or July, or even later. It is perfectly valid to pass for now.
- Consider camping in your own yard. If you have a setup that allows you to camp with your RV or even a tent in the yard, go for it! Haul out those camp chairs, build a fire, make s’mores. Whatever gives you joy, try doing it in your own yard. We did, and it was fun! We cooked up some hibachi on the Blackstone and enjoyed time outside with our teenage sons (who thought we were crazy).
- Adjust your expectations. Chances are, this RV trip might not be like any others you’ve taken. Go in with a good dose of flexibility. Focus on what you CAN do instead of what you CANNOT do.
To Camp or Not to Camp?
Each of us will be navigating this decision in the days, weeks, and months to come. Only you can decide which option fits best with your family, your RV, and your regional situation.
Hopefully, if we all navigate it with care and camp responsibly, more parks and campgrounds will be able to reopen and begin to offer their full slate of activities and amenities. However, if we don’t show respect for others and for other communities, we can expect further restrictions to be put in place, preventing us from camping until the COVID-19 crisis has passed. Think of it as “Leave No Trace,” but with germs instead of litter.
I hope you are able to hit the road soon. Wishing for better days, simpler decisions, and longer journeys ahead! Until then, be safe, and look for joy in the simple pleasures–whether or not you can go RVing.Find Travels with Birdy:
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