TravelThe Radar

It’s the summer of road trips. Here’s how to do it right.

Maine camps, Black-owned B&Bs, history at a social distance, and other reasons to roll across America.

Photograph by Gately Williams
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A road trip in the family station wagon—or another vehicle—is this summer’s go-to vacation.

Photograph by Gately Williams

With pandemic-related travel restrictions still in place around the world, many would-be travelers may be wondering how to salvage their summer vacations. The good news? You can still embark on that great escape. But for many Americans looking for low-risk ways to venture out, that means going on road trips, sticking closer to home, and avoiding states where virus cases are spiking.

This week’s Travel Radar offers tips for making that epic (or not-so-epic) cross-country journey, travel-themed playlists to fuel the ride, and places where you can support minority-owned businesses. Start with these 25 essential drives in the U.S., then read on for more ways to roll into an unforgettable summer.

Four wheels not necessary

Cars aren’t the only way to take a road trip. Just ask Gately Williams. The photographer crossed the U.S. 18 times via station wagon, dirt bike, convertible, and hot-pink two-wheeler, resulting in some of his most memorable journeys. Along the way, Williams amassed tons of advice for planning your own exploration of America.

Want to try your hand at an RV? With gas prices expected to remain low throughout the summer, now may be the best time to take a camper out for a spin. Navigating the nation with a trailer in tow takes some planning, but the learning curve shouldn’t scare travelers from wheeling away. Here’s what you need to know to get comfortable with any recreational vehicle.

Support inclusivity

Like in other industries these days, tourism leaders are vowing to address diversity shortcomings in their organizations. Travelers can do their part by supporting businesses owned by people of color (POC). Where to go? In Washington, D.C., husband-and-wife team Glenn Pogue and Monique Greenwood’s Akwaaba Bed & Breakfast fills a historic 1890s mansion with rooms named for Black authors (Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, and Walter Mosley) plus shelves of their books. The couple runs sister properties throughout the Northeast, including in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Brooklyn, N.Y. All feature renovated historic properties with unique decorative touches.

On historic Route 66, stop into Tulsa, Oklahoma, the site of the devastating 1921 Black Wall Street Massacre, in which white residents torched thousands of Black-owned businesses and homes in the Greenwood District. In recent years, Black-owned enterprises in the city have seen a revival, especially on the culinary scene. One notable spot: Evelyn’s Soul Food, where chef-owner Wanda J. Armstrong has been drawing crowds with chicken-fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and okra with tomatoes since 2005.

Out west in Albuquerque, New Mexico, POC-owned Hotel Chaco reflects the region’s Native American, Mexican, and Spanish heritage through Chacoan-inspired architecture and handcrafted pottery, sculptures, and tapestries by local artists. For a taste of New Mexican cuisine, stop into Pueblo Harvest at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. There, sample chef Ray Naranjo’s modern and ancestral Pueblan cooking techniques in dishes like traditional frybread and Southwestern Frito pie—a corn chip, chili, and cheese casserole.

At Alta Adams, in Los Angeles, California, Watts native Keith Corbin dishes up “California soul,” a take on his grandmother’s southern recipes using local ingredients. (Try the cornbread with honey butter.) Hong Kong street food inspires Silver Lake’s Needle, chef Ryan Wong’s ode to his childhood. In the wake of L.A.’s COVID lockdown, Needle’s revamped menu now includes car-friendly grab-and-go items like “pork chop bun,” a burger made with pork loin, spicy relish, and pickled cucumbers on a milk bread bun.

Are we there yet?

The classic backseat whine has taken on new significance this year as families cram into the car for vacations. Luckily, tons of kid-friendly destinations are either already open or prepping to welcome visitors again. Still, expect a different kind of experience.

Large amusement parks, including California’s Universal Studios Hollywood and Orlando’s Disney World (which starts its phased reopening July 11), are requiring reservations to manage crowd sizes and face coverings on nearly everyone, including kids and cast members. (National Geographic is owned by The Walt Disney Company.)

And just because an attraction is open doesn’t mean that parts of it aren’t still off-limits. Chicago’s Millennium Park is welcoming visitors, but not to its Great Lawn (and the outdoor concerts it usually hosts have been moved online). In Washington, D.C., the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden—home to works such as Louise Bourgeois’ spindly bronze “Spider”—is open daily, but with limited hours from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Gawking at Niagara Falls, either from land or a Maid of the Mist boat, is a safer bet than most indoor activities. But many state and national park visitor centers and dining options remain shuttered, and Americans can’t cross to the Canadian side (with its arguably better views) until July 21 at the earliest.

When you’re on the road, take advantage of the quirks of coronavirus time to make up some new family games—maybe a version of “I Spy” just for face masks? When it’s time for a break, instead of traditional highway rest stops, consider stopping at farm stands, picnic areas, and other places where kids can really run around. And to make sure there are smiles under the masks in your family photos, plan ahead and pack plenty of snacks.

A summer soundtrack

No contactless road trip would be complete without some boredom-busting tunes. On your way to an isolated beach house? Listen to “Toes” by Zac Brown Band on the Frangipani Beach Resort’s pandemic playlist and imagine sinking your feet into Anguilla’s soft, white-sand beaches. Going camping? Set the mood with the sound of babbling brooks and crackling fires from Estes Park, Colorado.

Cruise down the Pacific Coast Highway and into Mexico’s newly reopened Baja California Sur while the Buena Vista Social Club and the Eagles blast from your car’s speakers. Just over the border in Los Cabos, Exclusive Resorts Planes, Trains, and Automobiles playlist brings visions of margaritas by the pool.

Although you might not be comfortable jetting to the lush rainforests of Costa Rica yet, Costa Rica Soundscapes lets you soak up its relaxation benefits when you’re stuck in traffic. If you’re feeling road fatigue, switch to Arlo Hotels upbeat WFH (Work From Home)-inspired playlists, featuring artists like Childish Gambino and Tyler, The Creator.

Want to take a music-inspired road trip? Follow this writer’s journey to the birthplace of the Delta blues and the towns that gave the world the likes of Muddy Waters, Sam Cooke, and Nate Dogg.

Time travel at a social distance

“It’s slightly challenging talking to tourists from behind a mask, so I’m using my eyes to emote quite a bit,” says Elizabeth Keaney, the historic interpreter who portrays Martha Washington at Alexandria, Virginia’s Mount Vernon, President George Washington’s family estate-turned-tourist attraction nine miles from Washington, D.C. When the colonial-era property reopened June 21 after a three-plus-month closure due to the pandemic, staff had to reimagine how to educate and engage visitors about the past in our strange “new normal” present.

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Historical reenactor Da-Veia Brown wears a mask due to COVID-19 while speaking with visitors in Colonial Williamsburg. Road-trippers will find pandemic-related changes at popular attractions.

Not happening right now: tours of the interiors of the first U.S. president’s 1758 house or hands-on activities for kids. But much of the 500-acre, riverfront property is operating per usual, including its fine history museum, colonial farm, and blacksmith shop. And interpreters like Keaney and Brenda Parker—who portrays enslaved Black housemaid Caroline Branham—do lose the masks when they’re stationed at outdoor, roped-off spots a few yards from visitors, the better to chat about early American farming, the Washington’s meet-cute marriage, and more.

There’s a similar tricorn hat and face coverings dress code a few hours’ drive south at Virginia’s Colonial Willamsburg, except that the actors playing Thomas Jefferson and enslaved African preacher Gowan Pamphlet remove their masks to give talks from a socially distanced alfresco stage. And the 301-acre historic park—a recreation and restoration of the American colonial capital—is pushing its woodworkers, wigmakers, wheelwrights, and other traditional tradespeople outdoors, too.

“We’re lucky that we’re representing an 18th-century community,” says Beth Kelly, Colonial Williamsburg’s vice president of education, research, and historical interpretation. “We’d normally have programming inside, but now our green areas and large market square are really coming to life. We can spread out so easily.”

Maine’s camp culture

This year, Maine turns 200. But bicentennial celebrations have come to a halt due to coronavirus. For those still wanting to visit the Pine Tree State this summer, foregoing traditional accommodations for a spot in the woods may be the answer.

In Maine, camping is more than pitching a tent in a secluded site, though there’s plenty of that happening, too. For generations, “camp” has been a place—and a culture—of its own and now, a popular lodging option given the uncertainty of travel these days.

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Sandy Pines C​ampground, in Maine, has various glamping tents (Glamp Tent Village pictured) and RV sit​es.

“Cabin sounds too fancy for Maine,” says Dean Lunt, an eighth-generation Mainer and publisher at Islandport Press. “People were trying to downplay their cabins by calling them camps.”

Campgrounds such as Sandy Pines (a Kennebunkport favorite), Wolfe’s Neck Oceanfront Camping (great for hiking and shoreline adventures), and Wheeler’s Camps (a rustic retreat), embody what John Holyoke, author of Evergreens, A Collection of Maine Outdoor Stories, says is the difference between camp and camping. With camping you “go” but when you’re at camp, relaxation is the key word.

If you do go, take note of coronavirus restrictions. Starting July 1, visitors must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within the past 72 hours to avoid self-isolating. Residents of New Hampshire and Vermont are currently exempt from the rule, but guidelines are frequently updated. Check here for the most current tourism mandates.

Oh, Canada!

You may not be able to travel to Canada from the U.S. just yet, but you can still support America’s northern neighbors through a philanthropic campaign highlighting an unlikely partnership.

The Wu-Tang Clan, the hard-core rap group from Staten Island, New York, has partnered with Mayor Jim Watson and the city of Ottawa to launch the A Better Tomorrow campaign, a collection of three products sold via 36 Chambers, Wu-Tang member RZA’s clothing line with business partner Mustafa Shaikh. “OttaWu” T-shirts support the Ottawa Food Bank, “Protect Ya Hands” hand sanitizer helps The Ottawa Mission Foundation, and “The Saga Continues” rice bowls help feed frontline workers at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO).

It all came about after the rappers chimed in on a tweet asking for donations to the Ottawa Food Bank. “In no world did I imagine that the Wu-Tang Clan would answer our call for action,” says Shopify COO Harvey Finkelstein, who had offered to match donations up to $10,000. After the group got involved, donations ballooned to nearly $300,000.

Ottawa Tourism president and CEO Michael Crockatt admits it’s not their typical partnership. “It’s true that when you have members of a group with a name like Ghostface Killah it doesn’t necessarily speak to tourism,” he says, adding that the philanthropy has helped showcase the city’s diversity.

“A collaboration like this is representative of the Ottawa of today,” says Crockatt. “[It’s] helping to build the brand of Ottawa, not just from a visitor perspective but through resident pride as well.”

Additional reporting by Heather Greenwood Davis, Vicky Hallett, Katie Lockhart, Erinne Magee, and Glynn Pogue.