9 Expert Tips for Safe Road Trips This Summer

It took them a while to agree on which podcast to listen to.
It took them a while to agree on which podcast to listen to.
Alex Jumper, Unsplash

With summer in full swing and COVID-19 rates still on the rise in the U.S., people are forgoing far-flung vacation spots and opting for road trips instead. As Dr. Emily Ricotta, an epidemiologist in the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ epidemiology unit, tells Mental Floss, any traveling is risky right now, and it’s safest to simply stay home. That said, if you are hitting the road for a camping trip, a backyard barbecue, or another socially-distanced event, here are some tips for getting there germ-free.

1. Plan your route ahead of time.

Even if you’re taking a route you know by heart, things may have changed since your last trip. As USA Today explains, some states have updated their policies on in-person toll collection and food sales at rest areas, and the fast food restaurants you normally use for bathroom breaks might only be open for drive-thru service. To minimize uncertainties—and extra time spent driving around in search of a bathroom—you should plan your route, stops included, before setting out.

2. Avoid heading to states with high COVID-19 rates.

States like Florida and Texas have experienced drastic spikes in COVID-19 cases in the past few weeks, and some are dialing back their reopening plans to prevent things from getting worse. “It’s not a great idea to travel to high-incidence states right now, since that dramatically increases your risk of becoming infected,” Ricotta says.

If your ideal beach or hiking trail is in a high-incidence state, it’s best to save that trip for next year and head somewhere less risky. And if your own state’s COVID-19 rates are high, you should consider postponing your trip until things calm down.

3. Find out what safety protocols are in place before you go somewhere.

It’s also a good idea to verify beforehand that places are taking certain precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Knowing that a state requires mandatory mask-wearing in public and prohibits large gatherings and indoor dining can help you decide if it’s safe enough for a visit. The same goes for hotels, restaurants, and other individual businesses.

“I think that if you can call ahead and ask hotels and other facilities what their safety protocols are, you should,” Ricotta says. “If there isn’t a protocol in place, or no one is able to provide you with details, you might be better off finding an alternative place to stay.”

4. Pack travel kits with snacks, sanitizer, and other necessities.

An effective way to minimize contact with other people is to cut down on the number of stops you make along the way. Bring plenty of snacks and water—and maybe a thermos of coffee—in the car so you don’t have to pop into convenience stores, and stick to restaurants with drive-thrus or takeout if you do need a heartier meal en route. Your travel kits should also contain plenty of hand sanitizer, sanitary wipes, extra masks, and disposable gloves so you can stay germ-free when you do stop.

5. Opt for paper towels over hand dryers in public restrooms.

Since hand dryers can blow virus particles into the air, paper towels are your safest best. “I know some aerosol specialists who avoid air hand dryers (even before COVID-19!), so I always opt for paper towels if they’re available,” Ricotta says. “Generally avoiding anything that can force the virus into the air is good practice.”

If you’re worried about encountering a rest stop that doesn’t stock its bathrooms with paper towels, you can always bring a few of your own. And when you leave the bathroom, use a paper towel to open the door to avoid touching it.

6. Pay with credit or debit cards over cash whenever possible.

Paper bills are a hotbed for germs, and paying with cash also requires hand-to-hand exchanges with cashiers. AARP suggests using a credit or debit card for transactions whenever possible, and be sure to regularly clean your card with a disinfectant wipe.

7. Give surfaces a good wipe-down before you settle into your hotel room.

While many hotels have adopted more stringent cleaning policies in the past few months, you should still use those handy sanitary wipes on tabletops, counters, and basically anywhere else you plan to put your hands or your belongings. “I’d recommend wiping down high-touch surfaces such as door knobs, faucets, and remotes with antimicrobial wipes,” Ricotta advises. And it’s best not to linger in the lobby or other communal areas, since you don’t have control over how often they get cleaned.

8. and 9. Wear your mask, and wash your hands.

And, as always, stick to the two tenets of COVID-19 prevention. One: Wear your mask whenever you enter a public place (which includes outdoor locations that are too crowded to allow for social distancing). And two: Wash your hands regularly, especially after using the restroom or touching a gas pump or ATM.

12 Creative Ways to Spend Your FSA Money Before the Deadline

stockfour/iStock via Getty Images
stockfour/iStock via Getty Images

If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), chances are, time is running out for you to use that cash. Depending on your employer’s rules, if you don’t spend your FSA money by the end of the grace period, you potentially lose some of it. Lost cash is never a good thing.

For those unfamiliar, an FSA is an employer-sponsored spending account. You deposit pre-tax dollars into the account, and you can spend that money on a number of health care expenses. It’s kind of like a Health Savings Account (HSA), but with a few big differences—namely, your HSA funds roll over from year to year, so there’s no deadline to spend it all. With an FSA, though, most of your funds expire at the end of the year. Bummer.

The good news is: The law allows employers to roll $500 over into the new year and also offer a grace period of up to two and a half months to use that cash (March 15). Depending on your employer, you might not even have that long, though. The deadline is fast approaching for many account holders, so if you have to use your FSA money soon, here are a handful of creative ways to spend it.

1. Buy some new shades.

Head to the optometrist, get an eye prescription, then use your FSA funds to buy some new specs or shades. Contact lenses and solution are also covered.

You can also buy reading glasses with your FSA money, and you don’t even need a prescription.

2. Try acupuncture.

Scientists are divided on the efficacy of acupuncture, but some studies show it’s useful for treating chronic pain, arthritis, and even depression. If you’ve been curious about the treatment, now's a good time to try it: Your FSA money will cover acupuncture sessions in some cases. You can even buy an acupressure mat without a prescription.

If you’d rather go to a chiropractor, your FSA funds cover those visits, too.

3. Stock up on staples.

If you’re running low on standard over-the-counter meds, good news: Most of them are FSA-eligible. This includes headache medicine, pain relievers, antacids, heartburn meds, and anything else your heart (or other parts of your body) desires.

There’s one big caveat, though: Most of these require a prescription in order to be eligible, so you may have to make an appointment with your doctor first. The FSA store tells you which over-the-counter items require a prescription.

4. Treat your feet.

Give your feet a break with a pair of massaging gel shoe inserts. They’re FSA-eligible, along with a few other foot care products, including arch braces, toe cushions, and callus trimmers.

In some cases, foot massagers or circulators may be covered, too. For example, here’s one that’s available via the FSA store, no prescription necessary.

5. Get clear skin.

Yep—acne treatments, toner, and other skin care products are all eligible for FSA spending. Again, most of these require a prescription for reimbursement, but don’t let that deter you. Your doctor is familiar with the rules and you shouldn’t have trouble getting a prescription. And, as WageWorks points out, your prescription also lasts for a year. Check the rules of your FSA plan to see if you need a separate prescription for each item, or if you can include multiple products or drug categories on a single prescription.

While we’re on the topic of faces, lip balm is another great way to spend your FSA funds—and you don’t need a prescription for that. There’s also no prescription necessary for this vibrating face massager.

6. Fill your medicine cabinet.

If your medicine cabinet is getting bare, or you don’t have one to begin with, stock it with a handful of FSA-eligible items. Here are some items that don’t require a prescription:

You can also stock up on first aid kits. You don’t need a prescription to buy those, and many of them come with pain relievers and other medicine.

7. Make sure you’re covered in the bedroom.

Condoms are FSA-eligible, and so are pregnancy tests, monitors, and fertility kits. Female contraceptives are also covered when you have a prescription.

8. Prepare for your upcoming vacation.

If you have a vacation planned this year, use your FSA money to stock up on trip essentials. For example:

9. Get a better night’s sleep.

If you have trouble sleeping, sleep aids are eligible, though you’ll need a prescription. If you want to try a sleep mask, many of them are eligible without a prescription. For example, there’s this relaxing sleep mask and this thermal eye mask.

For those nights you’re sleeping off a cold or flu, a vaporizer can make a big difference, and those are eligible, too (no prescription required). Bed warmers like this one are often covered, too.

Your FSA funds likely cover more than you realize, so if you have to use them up by the deadline, get creative. This list should help you get started, and many drugstores will tell you which items are FSA-eligible when you shop online.

10. Go to the dentist.

While basics like toothpaste and cosmetic procedures like whitening treatments aren’t FSA eligible, most of the expenses you incur at your dentist’s office are. That includes co-pays and deductibles as well as fees for cleanings, x-rays, fillings, and even the cost of braces. There are also some products you can buy over-the-counter without ever visiting the dentist. Some mouthguards that prevent you from grinding your teeth at night are eligible, as are cleaning solutions for retainers and dentures.

11. Try some new gadgets.

If you still have some extra cash to burn, it’s a great time to try some expensive high-tech devices that you’ve been curious about but might not otherwise want to splurge on. The list includes light therapy treatments for acne, vibrating nausea relief bands, electrical stimulation devices for chronic pain, cloud-connected stethoscopes, and smart thermometers.

12. Head to Amazon.

There are plenty of FSA-eligible items available on Amazon, including items for foot health, cold and allergy medication, eye care, and first-aid kits. Find out more details on how to spend your FSA money on Amazon here.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

This All-in-One Storage Solution Can Be Used at Home or Carried on the Go

RUX/Indiegogo
RUX/Indiegogo

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Whether you're looking for a durable storage solution for your garage or a roomy pack for a long camping trip, the collapsible RUX carrier can help keep your stuff safe and secure without taking up much room in your closet when you're done. And until December 10, you can support the project on Indiegogo.

The main idea of the RUX is to serve multiple purposes at once. You can carry it around like a backpack or duffle bag during a weekend trip outdoors, or you can use it as a stationary storage bin for your car or home. Despite being strong enough to hold your bulkiest gear, it only weighs around four pounds and is designed to be collapsible, so you can fold it up and slip it away afterwards. (Unfolded, the RUX comes in at 15.7 by 19.5 by 13.8 inches.)

And if you're looking to use it during more serious outdoor adventures, you can rest assured that its weatherproof construction will keep your stuff dry in the rain. There's even a window that allows you to double-check that your items are safe and sound.

RUX/Indiegogo

The RUX was created with sustainability and longevity in mind. Not only does the RUX have a lifetime warranty, but each component can also come off and be replaced easily so you can continue using the product no matter the problem. RUX is a member of 1% For The Planet, which is a group that gives back 1 percent of sales to environmental causes, even if they are not profitable.

There is still time to back the RUX campaign and reap the rewards. If you back $196, you’ll get your first RUX along with it. However, if you back $265, you’ll get one RUX, two divider totes, an EDC pouch, and two utility straps. If you back $449, you’ll get all the same things from the second level along with an extra RUX. If you want to back $515 or $725, you’ll get double or triple everything, respectively, from the second level.

The RUX campaign ends on December 10, so there is still time to back this product through Indiegogo. Shipments of RUX will hopefully start by June 2021.

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!