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For many Americans, the coronavirus pandemic meant putting summer travel plans on hold. But as travelers learn more about what’s safe — and what isn’t — they’re turning to road trips for relaxation. Still, there are increased risks for road travel with COVID-19 hot zones across the U.S.
To figure out the best options for interstate travel, CompareCards analyzed the following data through the first half of July relative to January: consumer spending, the time residents spent away from home and the percentage of open businesses. We also looked at new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people.
Here’s what CompareCards researchers found.
- West Virginia tops our rankings of the best states for interstate travel. Consumer spending in the first half of July was up 2.1% relative to January, giving the state the fifth-highest ranking in that metric.
- North Dakota takes second, as residents are outside their home at a rate similar to January. Time spent away from home is only down just about 3%.
- Kentucky takes third, for its recovery in the percentage of open stores and consumer spending. In both metrics, the Bluegrass State ranks in the top 15.
- Toward the bottom of our rankings are states with large coronavirus outbreaks — and the accompanying social and economic effects. California, Texas and Arizona had a significant amount of new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in the first part of July, with a high percentage of its residents staying at home.
- Consumer spending has recovered better than the other metrics CompareCards tracked. Consumer spending is down 5.8% across all the states compared to January, while time outside the home is down 8.5% and the percentage of open small businesses is down 13.8%.
- A road trip through the Great Plains could make for a safe trip. North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska all rank in the top 20. Idaho and Wyoming also placed well in our rankings.
- A trip through West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri may also be one worth pursuing if you’re in those states. All four states ranked in the top 15.
- Best states for a getaway
- Worst states for a getaway
- Make the most of your getaway amid coronavirus pandemic
Best states for a getaway
No. 1: West Virginia
- Small businesses open ranking: No. 9
- Time outside home ranking: No. 7
- Consumer spending ranking: No. 5
- COVID-19 cases ranking: No. 11
West Virginia is no longer requiring out-of-state travelers to self-quarantine, so residents of bordering states — Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia — could find good destinations for interstate road trips.
Travelers to West Virginia could take advantage of various hiking opportunities, including the Appalachian Trail, the Hatfield-McCoy Mountains or Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. It’s vital, though, to check for restrictions along your planned route in case there are shelter or overnight site limitations in place.
West Virginians considering interstate travel should self-monitor their health for 14 days upon returning to the state, according to the state Department of Health and Human Resources.
No. 2: North Dakota
- Small businesses open ranking: No. 18
- Time outside home ranking: No. 3
- Consumer spending ranking: No. 3
- COVID-19 cases ranking: No. 25
Residents from states that border North Dakota — Minnesota, South Dakota and Montana — aren’t subject to travel restrictions, including quarantine, upon arrival. Restrictions are only in place for travelers from outside the U.S. Road trippers from Montana, in particular, might find better opportunities to shop small businesses — that’s because North Dakota ranks substantially higher than Montana (18th versus 39th) in our index of small businesses open relative to January.
North Dakota, similar to West Virginia, is a haven for outdoor activities. Theodore Roosevelt National Park — in the western part of the state — and state parks are open, though both options have camping restrictions. Those looking for entertainment in close proximity to the national park might consider the daily (and outdoor) Medora Musical, advertised as the “rootin’-tootinest, boot-scootinest show in all the Midwest.”
As of the time of publication, North Dakota officials have the state labeled as low risk, meaning businesses can reopen. Plus, according to its tourism department, most of the state’s attractions are open to the public and allowing visitors.
No. 3: Kentucky
- Small businesses open ranking: No. 12
- Time outside home ranking: No. 19
- Consumer spending ranking: No. 6
- COVID-19 cases ranking: No. 21
Kentucky is bordered by many states — Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana — which makes it a potential interstate travel option for more Americans than the other states at the top of our list. In addition, its ban on interstate travel was rescinded in late May.
Travelers to Kentucky may be interested in touring one of its many bourbon distilleries, which have been able to reopen, according to the state’s Healthy at Work initiative. Wineries, aquariums, indoor entertainment facilities, and public and private museums also fall under this initiative, offering travelers a greater wealth of opportunities than they might find in other states.
However, in late July, Kentucky’s governor had shut bars for two weeks and limited indoor restaurant capacity to 25%, so travelers to the commonwealth should keep an eye on changing restrictions.
Worst states for a getaway
No. 51: California
- Small businesses open ranking: No. 31
- Time outside home ranking: No. 49
- Consumer spending ranking: No. 50
- COVID-19 cases ranking: No. 39
Though California doesn’t have restrictions against interstate travel from its bordering states — Oregon, Nevada and Arizona — the state advises its residents to limit travel to urgent or essential matters.
Many attractions in California are closed, making it more difficult for out-of-state road trippers looking for entertainment options. For example, theme parks — including Disneyland in Anaheim and Knott’s Berry Farm in nearby Buena Park — are closed, as are indoor playgrounds and bounce centers, saunas and bars that don’t offer sit-down meals outdoors.
As for California residents, a modified stay-at-home order is still in effect, which could explain why Californians are still spending less time away from home than they did in January. Plus, in our consumer spending ranking, only Rhode Island finished lower than the Golden State.
No. 50: District of Columbia
- Small businesses open ranking: No. 48
- Time outside home ranking: No. 51
- Consumer spending ranking: No. 47
- COVID-19 cases ranking: No. 15
For Maryland and Virginia travelers looking for some nearby out-of-state travel options, your choices are limited. Though the two states aren’t among the 27 states that D.C. labels as high risk — requiring a 14-day self-quarantine — visitors won’t find too many options here.
Phase Two in D.C. means restaurants can only seat up to 50% capacity indoors, though bars and nightclubs remain closed. The Washington Nationals MLB team drew 27,898 people on average during its 2019 World Series-winning season, but fans have yet to be allowed to attend games in person.
As for CompareCards’ rankings, the District of Columbia came in second to last, with almost a quarter fewer of its stores open relative to January. Plus, it took last place in the time-spent-outside-of-home ranking by almost four percentage points.
No. 48 (tie): Texas
- Small businesses open ranking: No. 27
- Time outside home ranking: No. 50
- Consumer spending ranking: No. 31
- COVID-19 cases ranking: No. 47
Texas doesn’t have a ban on interstate travel — the mandatory quarantine for those coming from Louisiana has been lifted — but given that the Lone Star State averaged nearly 28 cases per 100,000 people in the first half of July, it might not be the best spot for a road trip.
The state began its reopening phase in late April, but has since walked back those eased restrictions to try to combat the spread of COVID-19. That means many of the state’s attractions and experiences aren’t an option for travelers from the surrounding states of New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.
For example, rafting and tubing businesses have been closed, while restaurants are limited to 50% capacity — making it safer, but harder, to get a table.
The same 50% capacity regulations are in effect for:
- Recreational businesses, such as bowling alleys, bingo halls and skating rinks
- Museums and libraries
- Zoos, aquariums and natural caverns
(Note: We chose to highlight Texas here over Arizona because of Texas’ high amount of coronavirus cases in the past seven days, making it the worse option between the two. As of Aug. 17, Texas had reported more than 52,000 cases in the past seven days, compared with more than 6,000 in Arizona.)
Make the most of your getaway amid coronavirus pandemic
Choose a good destination with minimal travel
The less travel you do, the safer you might be — those considering travel now, though, should consider factors like whether they can avoid public restrooms (and if those are open or easily accessible) within the context of their situation.
Travelers with children may prefer shorter excursions with more of an emphasis on safe activities. COVID-19 rates in and around the destination should also factor in the travel decision.
“Interstate road trips have always required a great deal of planning, but perhaps never more so than today,” said Matt Schulz, CompareCards’ chief credit analyst. “If you’re spending the night in a hotel along the way, it’s important to understand what that hotel’s cleaning policy is. And as grim as it may sound, it can also be valuable to know where the nearest medical facilities are in your area. That’s especially true if you’re spending time in particularly remote areas.”
You’ll also want to stock up on supplies such as disinfecting wipes, 60% alcohol (or higher) hand sanitizer and gloves, in addition to opting for takeout food when possible.
Solicit recommendations from locals
Social media has long been a useful tool in travel research, but now it can also act as a gauge of travel safety. Facebook groups or posts on review sites may give travelers ideas about the conditions to expect.
For example, travelers might check whether wearing masks is a socially accepted or rejected thing to do there, and what measures places like restaurants on their route are taking to combat the spread of COVID-19. On a basic level, it can give travelers ideas about which establishments are open. Just because a business can be open under local laws doesn’t mean it’s open and available to travelers.
Take advantage of credit card rewards
Many issuers are changing credit card rewards offerings because of the pandemic, Schulz noted. Certain Marriott Bonvoy cards — including the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card and Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card — are offering 10 points for every dollar spent at gas stations in the U.S. through Oct. 31, 2020, on up to $7,500 on eligible purchases. That offer also applies to U.S. restaurants, including takeout and delivery, as well as participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels. So by taking advantage of those kinds of deals, consumers can save money on their trips.
Find a low-price flight
While a road trip is a great option for travel amid a pandemic, not everyone has access to a car or enjoys long drives, so a cheap flight might make a good alternative.
Domestic travel might be one of the top options, since these flights tend to be cheaper. Plus, some countries aren’t accepting flights from the U.S. In general, the shorter the flight, the less potential for exposure, so a quick flight is typically going to be the safest way to go. But it’s still going to be a more public experience than something like a road trip, where you can more easily control your environment.
To calculate the best states for a getaway, we began by identifying which states were the most open through July 15 compared to January, measuring consumer spending, time spent away from home and the percentage of open small businesses from the Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker. We also looked at new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people, also via the tracker. We then indexed the average score for each variable to get a ranking of each state and the District of Columbia.
The information related to Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card and Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card have been independently collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication. Terms apply to American Express credit card offers. See americanexpress.com for more information.