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As the COVID-19 pandemic keeps us hunkered down through the chilly holiday season, we’re looking on the bright side and exploring our own backyards. Road trips and staycations are going to look a bit different this year as we mask up, sanitize and hit the open road. “Travel restrictions are in place everywhere—and they may get worse before they get better,” says Rebecca Mackenzie, president and CEO of the Culinary Tourism Alliance. “But this winter is a good time to reconnect with Ontario. We just need to make sure we do our part and stay six feet apart, whether you’re in the city or the countryside.”

Whether you’re really into local cheese and beer or township hopping in search of the best butter tart, there’s a Great Taste of Ontario passport to help you. Before you hit the road, passports in tow, make sure you follow these five tips to stay healthy—and keep others safe.

Stay informed

Before venturing out, find out what the alert level is in your region and the public measures put in place. Take all necessary precautions to protect your health and the health of others by following physical distancing and other restrictions—and be flexible. You may need to take this trip at a later date.

Build a COVID-19 care kit

Never leave home again without your mask, hand sanitizer, alcohol wipes and gloves. Repurpose an old cosmetic case or use a sealable plastic bag to store your COVID-19 essentials and stash it in your car, backpack or purse so you never forget what you need. Remember to keep your mask in a sealed bag separate from the rest of your items to make sure everything stays clean. And it’s not a bad idea to keep extra masks in your car or luggage, just in case you misplace or break one.

Plan in advance

This isn’t the time for spontaneity—you definitely need to book your accomodations in advance, not to mention wine tastings, tours and even dinners (sometimes even if you’re just doing take-out). And pack smart. Many restaurants and other tourism businesses won’t be able to handle reusable materials, like water bottles, so pack a big jug of water to refill your own and bring eco-friendly utensils so as not to contribute to landfill waste.

Research your route

Before you pack up the kids and hit the road, be sure to do more research than normal on the route you’re hoping to take. Whether you’re heading into wine country or Ottawa for maple taffy and ice sculptures, you’ll want to check that rest stops and bathrooms you’re set to pass are open.

Pack your patience

Tourism and hospitality operators across Canada are doing all they can to remain open while complying with safety standards required to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Despite doing their best, things are a little different these days, and simple things that were quick and seamless before—like ordering a cup of coffee or ringing up a purchase—might take a bit longer now. Be patient and gracious. “We are all learning how to be better citizens,” Mackenzie says. “And that takes time.”

Explore The Great Taste of Ontario at ontarioculinary.com/great-taste


Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.