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A Design Lover’s Guide to Safe Summer Road Trips

Architectural Digest logo Architectural Digest 6/23/2020 Alyssa Giacobbe
Bixby Creek Bridge over a body of water: Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, California, was built in 1932 and has become one of the most iconic structures on the California coast. © Photo: Chris Axe / Via Getty Images Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, California, was built in 1932 and has become one of the most iconic structures on the California coast.

Whether you associate road trips with being dragged across the country by your parents in an RV too small for both you and your annoying sister or breaking loose with your college pals, American Spirits in hand (remember those days?), there’s something undeniably freeing about taking to the open road. This summer, with the pandemic not yet in our rearview mirror, hitting the highway with your partner, your friends, your dog, or just yourself is also one of the best options for living out something close to a “normal” summer vacation, a much-needed breakaway after spending months in the same place. Here’s how to do it in style—and safely.

Do your due diligence.

a narrow road next to a forest: A road running through the iconic Sequoias in Redwood National Park, California. © Photo: Carmen Martinez Torron / Via Getty Images A road running through the iconic Sequoias in Redwood National Park, California.

You want to plan ahead, but you also want to leave open the room for change and understand that things likely will. Many states are as yet reopened to visitors, and the restrictions are shifting all the time. So are health conditions, and what may feel like a safe destination one week may feel less so the next. The CDC’s COVID data tracker has up-to-date information on cases, while the Council of State Governments’ State Resources and Restrictions site links to each state’s coronavirus information page. Some states require visitors to quarantine for 14 days when entering, some require tourists have quarantined 14 days before coming, some require visitors to have taken a COVID-19 test two days before arriving, and some have no rules at all. If you’ve got any health concerns, it’s a good idea to call your doctor to discuss your plans before going. You might also consider getting road trip travel insurance, which can cover nonrefundables like hotel fees and tickets, as well as emergency medical care.

Get inspired.

a car parked on the side of a road: A decidedly more entertaining way to plan the ultimate road trip is to watch films and read books about characters embarking on epic adventures. © Photo: Sebastian Wengrzik / Via Getty Images A decidedly more entertaining way to plan the ultimate road trip is to watch films and read books about characters embarking on epic adventures.

Road trip films come in a variety of flavors: Easy Rider. Thelma & Louise. Sideways. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. Whatever gets you in the mood so that the long drive ahead feels more like a great adventure than a really long time to be in the car with the same person, watch that. Or find inspiration in a great road trip book. “The Loneliest Road in America by Roy Parvin is an extraordinary collection of short stories, not nearly as well-known as many of the more famed novels of rural America, but no less worthy a read,” suggests Tom Marchant, cofounder of luxury travel company Black Tomato, which this summer collaborated with Auberge Resorts Collection on a series of bespoke road trip itineraries to and from the hotel brand’s properties around the U.S. “And while On the Road by Jack Kerouac may seem an obvious choice, it is in my mind truly one of the most monumental and defining U.S. road trips novels, infused with spirituality and mysticism, and meandering underground jazz clubs and hazy poetry sessions from San Francisco to New York to Mexico City and quite literally everywhere in between. I have read and re-read it many times—most recently a few years ago when I traveled from New York to Los Angeles on a two-week road trip.”

Book wisely.

Lobby-less hotels like tented camps and those with standalone rooms, like the wooden cabins at the retro-inspired Lincolnville Motel, a refurbished 1950s roadside motel in midcoast Maine, are having a moment, and rightly so. In general, the more you can avoid public spaces—and other people—the better. Regardless, when booking, choose lodgings that have implemented clear safety protocols—and which offer flexible cancelation policies. Many hotels have a COVID-19 info page, like the new Brenton Hotel in Newport, Rhode Island, which notes protocols that include offering disposable masks on request, pre-check-in by email, and daily temperature tests for staff; the Auberge Resorts Collection properties, in addition to other safety protocols, limit dining and fitness capacities. In Ithaca, New York, glampsite Firelight Camps has done away with cancelation fees for many stays, implemented deeper cleaning and sanitizing of tents but eliminated mid-stay housekeeping, and installed private fire pits. Most state sites will have up-to-date information on public park and beach closures, but for extra peace of mind, consider booking hikes and other outdoor adventures with a guide, even if you’re used to going it alone. “Hiring a guide is a great way to help keep you safe, both in terms of the adventure itself and with respect to COVID,” says Viktor Marohnic, who founded guidefinder app 57Hours. “Guides will be taking every precaution and also know those less-traveled spots to keep you away from the crowds.”

Consider your packing list.

Black Tomato is advising road-tripper clients to pack personal face coverings that cover the nose and mouth, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes, additional road snacks, and portable chargers. “New procedures in restaurants and sightseeing venues may require downloading of QR codes and apps, as menus may be scant,” says Black Tomato director of public relations and communications Brendan Drewniany. “So it’s a good idea to make sure your devices remain charged.” Toys and games to entertain kids in case of longer delays are smart too.

Plot your route.

a large long train on a train track with trees in the background: Auberge du Soleil in Napa. The hotel brand has teamed up with luxury travel company Black Tomato to design a series of curated road trips among their various properties. © Photo: Courtesy of Auberge Auberge du Soleil in Napa. The hotel brand has teamed up with luxury travel company Black Tomato to design a series of curated road trips among their various properties.

Having a pre-planned itinerary with designated stops allows you to relax during the ride instead of planning things on the go, says Monique Harrison, head of brand experience marketing at Mercedes-Benz USA, which has provided the fleet of cars for the Auberge guest road trips. “It also allows you the opportunity to explore and discover more places, while giving you small stops to look forward to. Most importantly, it gives the driver time to rest and take breaks.” A stockpile of playlists of music, podcasts, and audio books at the ready will help keep the mood up and the time fly; for the Auberge itineraries, cars come equipped with road snacks and a selection of playlists specifically curated for each destination and preprogrammed in the car’s infotainment system.

Then go!

a large green field with trees in the background: The idyllic Lodge at Spruce Peak in Vermont is offering extended summer stays—perfect for exploring the region with a home base. © Photo: Guillaume Gaudet / Courtesy of The Lodge at Spruce Peak The idyllic Lodge at Spruce Peak in Vermont is offering extended summer stays—perfect for exploring the region with a home base.

Traveling safely doesn’t mean sacrificing aesthetics—or fun. For a stylish take on the classic New England road trip, start in Newport, where the new “anti-nautical” Wayfinder Hotel, designed in collaboration with New York–based Reunion Goods & Services, debuted with rooms individually furnished with vintages touches and local art alongside safety measures like curbside check-in, keyless guest room entry, and beach picnics to-go. The hotel will also arrange private activities like oyster farm road trips, sailing excursions, and polo lessons. From there, head north to Maine, where Sandy Pines offers all levels of camping in coastal Kennebunkport, from straight-up tent sites bordered by salt marsh to high-design safari tents and freestanding cottages outfitted with chandeliers and king beds. Most parks in town are open for use, with distancing guidelines in place, as are Gooch’s, Middle, and Mother’s beach.

Or you might instead venture northwest toward Vermont, where The Lodge at Spruce Peak is offering extended stays this summer, with 14-, 30-, and 60-day packages available through August. From there, have the concierge plan a day trip to see Vermont at its most scenic, including Route 100 south, known as Skiers Highway, which runs from Stowe to Killington through the Green Mountain National Forest, or along rural routes 15 and 16 to Lake Willoughby, which offers both beach and hikes. Stop on the way home at Hill Farmstead, consistently rated one of the best breweries in the world.

a train traveling through a rural country road: The Blue Ridge Parkway near Waterrock Knob at sunset. North Carolina has become a road tripper's dream thanks to the state's smart COVID-19 travel initiatives. © Photo: Courtesy of VisitNC.com / Steve Yocom The Blue Ridge Parkway near Waterrock Knob at sunset. North Carolina has become a road tripper's dream thanks to the state's smart COVID-19 travel initiatives.

Down South, North Carolina’s I-40 is a road trip to please all road trippers, with mountains, beaches, cities, and plenty of fun, and the state’s Count on Me NC site is new public health initiative designed to help travelers identify restaurants, hotels, and attractions committed to best safety practices. Start in Wilmington, where parks like Airlie Gardens and Greenfield Lake Park, and beaches like Wrightsville Beach, offer plenty of fresh air. Move through Raleigh, with a stop at the Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park, the country’s largest art park, and then on to Mocksville to Misty Creek Farm & Vineyards, 14 acres of grapes for making Chardonnay, Traminette, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Chambourcin. In the Blue Ridge Mountains, 90 minutes south of Asheville, the remote Old Edwards Inn & Spa is at once breathtaking and extremely safe, having implemented several unique protocols including eye and facial recognition to comply with wearing face masks as well as gourmet socially distanced picnic lunches to accompany excursions to nearby waterfalls. 

Out West, Auberge Resorts and Black Tomato’s two California itineraries were created with gourmands in mind. For the first, start in Napa Valley’s Calistoga Ranch, where the hotel will arrange private tastings and dinners at exclusive access wineries, then travel down the coast to the Hotel Californian in Santa Barbara, where guests can forage for produce in the Santa Ynez Valley, whale watch on a private zodiac, take a private vineyard yoga class—or all of the above. A trip through Northern California starts at Auberge du Soleil, with a private hot air balloon flight over the valley and a chocolate workshop with a renowned chocolatier. The coastal drive to Carmel ends at L’Auberge Carmel, where nature takes center stage through activities that include an eco-rafting ocean safari in search of humpback whales and dolphins and horseback riding along the beach.

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