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Millions of Americans take to the roads for summer travel during COVID-19

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Cars and trucks drive on the A9 highway on September 20, 2019 near Nempitz, Germany. Earlier today the German government's "climate protection" cabinet commission announced a policy package of measures to bring down CO2 emissions that includes tax increases on vehicles with high fuel consumption. While Germany has made strong progress in expanding its renewable energy production over the last few decades, the government has come under criticism more recently for failing to do more to bring down greenhouse gas emissions. (WWMT/Sean Gallup, Getty Images)

This summer more people are hitting the road for travel than any other mode of transportation.

AAA predicted Americans would take 700 million trips during the season based on economic indicators and state reopenings. That number was down nearly 15% compared to July 2019.

Adrienne Woodland, a travel agent with AAA, said one of the main reasons road trips were spiking was COVID-19.

Planes, trains, and buses all saw a dramatic drop in usage in 2020, and while driving also took a hit, it was minor. Woodland said that was because people could follow their own social distancing guidelines in their own car - although she still recommended taking precautions even in a private vehicle.

"If you plan on traveling by car or any other form of transportation, make sure you are packing face masks, gloves, cleaning supplies, and a thermometer," Woodland said.

According to the International Air Transport Association, global air travel was recovering more slowly than expected and was expected to take until 2024 to return to pre-pandemic levels.

Woodland said data showed more people were taking spur-of-the-moment getaways compared to recent years.

"People are taking the wait-and-see approach," Woodland said. "97% of people traveling will travel by road trip and make travel plans within seven days to 48 hours before they plan to travel."

AAA's summer 2020 road trip tips:

  • Plan ahead to be sure your desired lodging and attractions will be open, and make reservations and arrangements before you go.
  • Restaurants, if open, may have limited dine-in capacities. Opt for curbside or drive-thru service, or bring food from home to save time and avoid contact with others. Pack picnic supplies and look for scenic stops where you can enjoy the outdoors while social distancing.
  • Pack hand sanitizer, a thermometer, sanitizing wipes, masks, and gloves. Use wipes to disinfect surfaces you contact during restroom stops and avoid touching the door handle after you’ve washed your hands. Wear disposable gloves when pumping gas, or use a plastic sandwich bag to avoid touching the pump handle.
  • Pay with a credit card instead of cash, and use a wipe or sanitizing spray to disinfect your credit card before putting it away.
  • If staying in a hotel, call ahead to find out what sanitizing protocols are in place. When you’re in the room, clean surfaces with wipes or spray, paying particular attention to door handles, light switches, door locks, key chains, and remote controls. If you have plastic bags, place one over the remote control to avoid contact.

Top road trip destinations:

  1. Denver, CO
  2. Las Vegas, NV
  3. Los Angeles, CA
  4. Seattle, WA
  5. Phoenix, AZ
  6. Portland, OR
  7. Myrtle Beach, SC
  8. Orlando, FL
  9. San Diego, CA
  10. Nashville, TN

"Traveling is a personal decision," Woodland said. "If you think it's safe to travel, AAA recommends taking precautions before hitting the road."

AAA created a map you can use to see real-time travel restrictions on your route. Woodland said this was an easy way to do your research before heading out.

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