Travel in the age of COVID-19

Even in the best of times, I'm a bit squeamish about breathing the shared air in an airplane cabin. If my fellow passengers start coughing and sneezing around me, I try to keep my mind off of germs floating in my direction by focusing on a good book and taking calming breaths (but, given the situation, not deep ones.)

And there's generally some rationalization on my part, too. I've survived colds and flus countless times, so what's the big deal? I wasn't sure that philosophy would pass muster for me when COVID-19 appeared on the scene.

My husband Jim and I, along with our little dog Mickey, were in Phoenix when spread of the virus closed down most of the country. We decided to ride it out where we were, before realizing how long a period of time that would likely be. So we booked a flight back to Chicago, but had to cancel when Mickey was diagnosed with diabetes. Our newly diabetic dog and his fluctuating blood sugar levels presented extreme "potty" needs that couldn't be met in a tiny doggie carrier that would have to remain under an airplane seat in front of us.

Many weeks later, with Mick's blood sugar finally stable, we pulled up the flight schedules again. By then, though, COVID-19 cases in Arizona were rising at an alarming rate, and I had visions of swarms of asymptomatic sick people in line with us at Sky Harbor Airport and on our flight. We started thinking about driving instead.

Several friends of ours who'd been stranded in southern Florida when things shut down had already opted to drive back home to Illinois. One couple drove straight through, stopping only at rest stops for a few hours of sleep at a time. Another spent at least one night in a hotel, bringing their own sheets, towels and cleaning supplies. Since I was fairly certain I wouldn't be able to sleep - even in a locked car - at a rest stop full of strangers, we chose the second approach.

I have to admit, there was something satisfying about packing every germ-busting tool I could find. Disinfecting spray and wipes, hand sanitizer and even an air purifier for the hotel room. There were also multiple face masks and goggles, for Jim and for me. Not to mention pillows, linens and paper products. We hauled all of it into hotels on two different nights, with only one glitch - when someone came running through the lobby after us, loudly stating: "You dropped your toilet paper."

Anyway, the three of us made it back safe and sound after our little adventure. We missed you, Hinsdale!

- Barb Johannesen of Hinsdale is a former contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected].