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12 Unexpected Things to Pack for Your Vacation During a Pandemic

If you're traveling this summer, you'll need more than just sunscreen and bug spray in your suitcase to avoid bringing home any unwanted souvenirs.

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Pack smart

After so many months in lockdown, you might be itching to get away this summer. But before you head out, take a close look at your packing list. After all, we are still in the middle of a pandemic, and coronavirus infections are spiking again in some states. Whether you’re planning a quick trip to the beach or an RV adventure across the country, it’s imperative to amp up health precautions by bringing along a smart selection of precautionary items. Start by stocking up on hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, and face masks, then add these items that will help you stay safe while still having fun in the sun.

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Travel thermometervia

Travel thermometer

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Darren Hudema, director of training and technical services at PuroClean, has more than 40 years of experience with health and safety precautions. He says it’s always a good idea to pack a travel thermometer. Why? It will help decipher between real illness versus someone not wanting to participate in an activity on vacation, as well as help you decide whether you need to seek further care. Plus, you’ll have it when you need it, so you won’t have to search for a store in an unfamiliar location—or head there when someone’s not feeling well. To increase your chances of staying healthy, avoid these 14 coronavirus mistakes you’ll be tempted to make this summer.

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If they’re not on your list, they should be—and not just to shield your eyes from the sun’s harmful UV rays. Janette Nesheiwat, MD, a family and emergency doctor, says they’re also necessary to protect against viral particles entering the body through your eyes. This can be especially helpful when you can’t maintain at least six feet of social distancing for whatever reason. Looking for the perfect pair? Here are some great sunglasses with UV protection.

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Travel snacksvia

Travel snacks

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Not all rest stops will be open this summer, and even if they are, health experts advise making as few stops as possible to limit potential exposure. So, be sure to pack water and healthy snacks like SkinnyDipped Almonds or Hilo Life cheese and nut pouches, which are high in protein. You may also want to bring along nonperishable food and drinks; that way, you won’t have to go to the store for basic supplies once you arrive at your destination. If you choose to stop for a heartier meal, here are 13 things you shouldn’t do at reopened restaurants.

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Disposable glovesvia

Disposable gloves

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Sometimes, you just can’t avoid touching a high-contact area—for example, much-touched and rarely cleaned “germ magnet” gas pumps. That’s why Hudema suggests bringing a box of disposable gloves. Of course, this isn’t just a good packing tip for road trips. Stash the box in your car and you’ll have them whenever you need them, even when you’re running errands.

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Car trash bagsvia

Car trash bags

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Planning to wear the proper PPE when you’re out and about? Great. Now what do you do with it? Improperly disposing of plastic gloves and paper masks can harm the environment if you litter—or spread germs in your car if you simply toss them on a nearby seat. Instead, safely dispose of these items in garbage bags made specifically for your car, which are also handy for snack trash, too. Some bags, like this waterproof and leakproof option from AICase, even have an adhesive strip that lets you stick one on the side of a door or on the back of a seat.

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First aid kitvia

First aid kit

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As we all know, accidents happen, so it’s smart to be prepared—pandemic or not. Navdeep Kaur, a certified nurse practitioner at EHE Health, recommends packing a first aid kit that includes alcohol/antiseptic wipes, adhesive bandages, a topical antibiotic cream, and antidiarrheal tablets such as Imodium or Pepto Bismol. You might want to start with a basic kit, then add items, as needed. This is a smart idea in case the local pharmacy at your destination is closed and also so that you can avoid additional exposure at a store. If you’re not sure what to include, check out these 10 essentials for travel first aid kits.

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Backup power for mobile phonesvia

Backup power for mobile phones

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A pandemic is a great time to embrace technology, Hudema says. Using our phones, we can do everything from no-touch grocery payments to contact-free check-ins at vacation destinations. Hudema also recommends downloading apps for fast-food chains and gas stations; this way, you can pay for your order on the app or tap and go with a credit card instead of using cash. Many restaurants are also now using QR codes, so it’s not necessary to touch a menu.

Of course, all of this technology is a drain on devices, so be sure to pack some extra power. This portable unit from Onn, for example, provides two extra charges for smartphones, tablets, and other USB-charged devices. By the way, don’t forget to clean your cell phone—you might be grossed out when you discover how dirty it really is.

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Medications and prescriptionsvia

Medications and prescriptions

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There are some things you should never leave home without—namely, prescription meds and even over-the-counter items that you take regularly to maintain your health. “Bring enough medicine for your entire trip, and don’t rely too heavily on drugstores and pharmacies to be open during your visit,” Kaur suggests. “If you do need to visit a pharmacy, call ahead to see if they will be open or if they provide curbside pickup.” When packing your items, keep everything together and tidy in a travel bag specifically made for this purpose.

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Disinfectants and paper towelsvia

Disinfectants and paper towels

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Yup, we know you didn’t leave home just to clean somewhere else. But once you arrive at your destination, you’ll need to break out the cleaning supplies to tackle high-touch spots, says Hudema. Clean and disinfect potentially germy surfaces such as doorknobs, light switches, countertops, tables, desks, phones, remote controls, toilets, sinks, and faucets. Hudema also suggests washing plates, glasses, cups, and silverware (other than prewrapped plastic items) before using. Consider these 11 hospital-grade cleaning supplies for your home and travel needs.

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Plastic baggies for remote controlsvia

Plastic baggies for remote controls

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Another germ-fighting tip: Place television remotes in plastic baggies once you arrive at your vacation accommodations. “TV remotes may not be cleaned well, if at all,” says Hudema. “Clean them with a disinfectant wipe, and then place them in a resealable bag.” This prevents you from touching the remote directly while still allowing you to use it and operate all the functions.

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Dr. Nesheiwat advises travelers to bring coverings for pillows to add an additional layer of protection from germs. Consider investing in antimicrobial pillowcases, like these zippered pillow protectors from Allerease, so you can feel safe wherever you lay your head. To take the best part of your hotel stay home with you, discover the secret to getting fluffy pillows just like a hotel when you’re in your own bed.

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Travel laundry detergentvia

Travel laundry detergent

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Nope, we don’t like doing laundry on vacation either. But if you’re using cloth masks instead of disposable ones, you’ll need to wash them after wear, according to the CDC, especially in the sweaty summer months. Kaur suggests bringing a travel-size container of detergent, as well as an extra mask or two to switch off. “Keeping yourself and your family safe is a top priority when traveling during the pandemic,” Kaur says, so you’ll want to keep everything clean.

For more on this developing situation, including how to stay safe post-lockdown, see our comprehensive Coronavirus Guide.

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Melissa Klurman
Melissa is an intrepid explorer and award-winning travel journalist with more than 25 years of experience. She covers topics ranging from family travel and Disney to honeymoons and romantic beaches, and everything in between.