Camping While Cautious

Camping While Cautious

Outdoor vacation still required precautions

Making Ripples

Recently, my husband and I thought we’d play it safe by taking an “outdoor” vacation — camping. Even though we took every precaution recommended against covid-19, it was a learning experience, and there were some twists and turns in the road, both literally and metaphorically speaking. Bathrooms were something of a gamble, if we could find one open in the first place. And what was with all these people not wearing masks, anyway? As usual, the truth is more complicated.

We’d planned it out carefully. We would stay in the car or outdoors the whole trip, sleep in our tent, wear masks and keep six feet away from other people, wash our hands for 20 seconds and use hand sanitizer, bring our own food or purchase takeout and use a drive-through, and so on. However, we didn’t anticipate that almost nobody would be wearing a mask at gas stations, where we occasionally had to go inside to pay for gas and use the bathroom. Many of the bathrooms we encountered were simply closed for safety’s sake (including McDonald’s).

Travel centers may be safer stops than smaller gas stations. Chains like Love’s and Flying J have released statements claiming that they will follow safety guidelines and require both employees and customers to wear face coverings.

We packed a lot of our own food, but we had to eat at restaurants a few times. Even though we never “dined in” and opted for takeout instead, at least twice we had to go inside the restaurant, where people weren’t wearing masks, to pick up the food (which often involved a wait). After returning home, I avoided contact with people for a couple of weeks just to be sure I would not spread the virus to others if I had it.

There are many ways to make holidays and vacations safer. You may have noticed that these recommendations come with environmental pros and cons. People are discouraged from traveling, especially great distances, and this reduces our emissions. Unfortunately, for the time being, single-use disposables are all the rage these days in order to reduce infection rates. We avoided some of that trash production by bringing our own food. If the weather’s nice, a small outdoor gathering of friends and family (with appropriate precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control) could be a fun substitution for indoor holiday events.

RVs offer some protection from public bathrooms and are a better choice. But as we learned, outdoor-themed trips are not necessarily as safe as they seem!

Flames flicker in the community fire ring in the campground at Coler Mountain Bike Preserve in Bentonville. New campsites at the preserve opened recently, at a time when many people are choosing outdoor activities like camping to reduce possible exposure to covid-19.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette File Photo/Flip Putthoff)

We also learned that sometimes, people want to wear masks but can’t due to a disability like autism, asthma, respiratory disease and many others. Check out the list compiled by the Americans With Disabilities Act if you’d like to learn more. Some people with these disabilities have opted for the face shield that attaches to a hat or a band around the head.

Non-disabled people do sometimes take advantage, but at a glance on a vacation, there’s no way to know for sure if someone has a need or not. Everyone who can wear face masks should do so for the protection of themselves and others. But not everyone can, and cuts to funding have caused the loss of support workers who could have run errands for that person with a disability unable to wear a mask. Thus, some people report that they are forced to venture into stores without a mask.

Staying home is the safest option, regardless of how safe that trip may seem. If you do adventure out there and see a bunch of people not wearing masks, just avoid them and remember that at least some of those folks may be doing the best they can.

Amanda Bancroft is a writer, artist, and naturalist living in an off-grid tiny house on Kessler Mountain. She and her husband Ryan blog about their adventures and offer tips to those wanting to make a difference at

Categories: Making Ripples