Trip Report: Stocking Up On Supplies During The Pandemic

I had several reports on recent travels started but I’ve put those aside. I’m not sure it adds a lot of value to anyone right now to write about award travel to Bora Bora, or why I love to go to Paris over the winter (contrary to popular wisdom December and January are my favorite months).

As the world’s lock down continues I may change my mind, for myself more than anyone else, to make my recent past travels seem more real and to re-live better times.

Now though my trips to report on revolve around the grocery store, part of an ongoing series on the world’s most extreme staycation. Instead of a city trip report, I can write a home one. And instead of room service, there’s Doordash, Postmates, and UberEats.

Stockpiling For The End Times

I had already gotten stocked up on dry goods, apper products and cleaning supplies in mid-February expecting that things would be worse than most people were saying at the time. Back then many commenters compared COVID-19 to the flu, suggesting I was overreacting. But I was seeing this as likely deadlier (at least because it was new, without built-up immunity), possibly spreading faster, and in any case happening on top of the fly meaning that it could overwhelm health care systems.

I wasn’t smarter than anyone else. I just realized that there was a chance it could be bad, and I should probably be better prepared for long tail risk events anyway. Living in Texas I have a whole lot more room for long-term storage than I did when I lived in a condo in Arlington, Virginia. So why not have paper towels, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and dry boxed and canned food?

I probably went a little overboard thinking through what would happen if we lost electricity or drinkable city water – the water stayed on in Wuhan – but my plan was to prepare for a variety of different future risks, not just this one.

I’m very fortunate that I still have a job (besides this blog – travel businesses aren’t great these days) and am able to afford to stock up – whether canned and boxed foods, batteries, gloves, or paper towels.

So many people who were living paycheck to paycheck are out of work, and even ‘streamlined’ government assistance is taking time for individuals, even as CARES Act Payroll Protection Loans for businesses with fewer than 500 employees are on a crash course unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Banks have no underwriting liability for the loans, qualifying is based entirely on self-certification and payroll tax returns. There’s $349 billion on the table and it’s all “first come, first served.”

Grocery Shopping And Receiving Packages

Our local preferred grocery store offers shoppers who will pick up and package your order. You pick up the groceries, but do not get out of your car. Pop the trunk, they put the bags inside. I prefer this over instacart delivery,

  • The store does not charge extra for the service
  • Their shoppers do an excellent job. I’ve had bad luck with instacart ‘not finding’ the most obvious items, or substituting for expensive alternatives (I didn’t know $40 maple syrup existed).

The only challenge is getting time slots, available times can be several days in the future so we order groceries several days in advance and will have multiple orders queued at a time.

Regardless I really appreciate the option of not going inside the store. They don’t let you order toilet paper and paper towels this way. I stocked up in advance, but I find that grocery stores have them and have limited the number of items of each you can buy. Our grocery stores now enforce maximum numbers of shoppers inside the store at a time and social distancing in line (as well as for lines to get inside of stores).

Once home we have a protocol for arriving groceries – as well as packages and mail. When we bought our house several years ago we re-did the kitchen. We kept the refrigerator that conveyed, and it’s downstairs. That’s for items freshly received. After several days those items move upstairs. Meanwhile anything that doesn’t need refrigeration or freezing stays in the garage. Cardboard boxes and paper envelopes stay for at least 24 hours.

Wash hands every time we come inside the house, and wipe down door handles (including car door, not just garage door) regularly too.

Venturing Out Into The World

It’s still possible to go to parks here, subject to social distancing requirements, though many parks where people normally congregate have been closed.

My wife and I have shared a car for many years. When I lived in the DC area I walked to work, and my experience living in Austin is largely flying to work. (I think my work from home tips offered a month ago have actually aged pretty well, because I’ve been doing this for five and a half years.)

When I’m home, if I go somewhere, it’s either with my wife or a few short trips in the general neighborhood each month. Spending less than $100 a month on Uber (outside of airport trips I’d make anyway) is cheaper than a car.

I replaced our six year old car just a few months ago and boy that feels silly now. I’ve made very few trips out into the world the past three weeks. Three weeks ago I got a haircut. What will I look like eight weeks from now?

My wife and I took our daughter to her pediatrician for her 18 month checkup – she had a vaccination due, and I want to make sure everyone stays out of the hospital for reasons other than COVID-19, too. Her doctor’s office had a great protocol, you stay in your car and call to be let inside. There’s no waiting room, you go straight to a room that’s been sterilized between uses. The doctor is wearing a face shield in addition to a mask.

Re-stocking Supplies Online

A lot of local stores have had things that have been tough to find with Amazon. In normal times I loved Amazon because you always knew when your item would be delivered, while with most online stores you may know how long shipping will take but not when an item would ship.

Amazon has been especially go-to during the pandemic. (Remember when, six weeks ago, people wanted a government crackdown?) I’m a lot more careful with my Amazon buying these days because while they have always been good to me with returns, who wants to deal with shipping returns now? UPS scheduled pickup has failed to pick up items for days.

I went to a UPS Store the other day, still deemed an essential service, because I needed to notarize a document and it was the closest place. I didn’t go inside – there were workers and customers not even trying to social distance. My Chase bank was still open and they had a notary and plenty of sanitizing supplies.

Amazon shows delivery times now far off into the future, given the volume of orders they’re doing, and for some items how long it may take to get (or bring into the country). One thing Amazon does well is cancellation, so I’ve been comfortable making future purchases – things that I know I’ll need to stock up on later – since I can cancel if needs change or delivery doesn’t happen as-promised.

I was having a look at face masks on Amazon, and there’s a ton of scammy products for sale. I mentioned being especially careful up front with purchases, not wanting to deal with returns. I noticed someone was selling masks with what used to be a listing for a Dr. Seuss book. The children’s book had 5 star reviews from over 6000 customers. That makes the face mask, on first inspection, appear to be the most desirable buy out of all of the scammy sellers on the marketplace.

Here’s what they’re selling:

And here’s what customers have to say about this 5-star product:

(Having tweeted this, with several folks reporting it, hopefully it’s been fixed by the time you read this.)

How Are You Sheltering In Place?

How’s your staycation, and what are your new routines like?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Interesting. What might be funny and informative would be a trip report on a visit to Costco by a travel blogger. Then again, maybe my sense of humor is getting skewed by my being stuck at home for days at a time.

  2. Having visited Austin many times and with family living in that area the main thing I don’t like about the Austin metro area (really most cities in Texas) is the lack of sidewalks. I’m a runner and there are few areas that have good trails, sidewalks or streets to walk or run on in Texas. I love Texas but I’ve really noticed this a lot over the years.

  3. I’ve been waiting patiently for the Bora Bora review. Even though I’ve been, I still want to read about your experience. Please publish it. It would be a nice change of pace from all of the gloom and doom right now.

  4. @ Gary: happy to ship you some surgical masks made in Korea (sealed box).
    And we still want to read about your trip to Paris, some of us readers need some entertainment.

  5. Amazon has lots of scammers now on their site just like Ebay always had. Two 6 packs of grocery bagels for $52 as I recall recently.
    I only buy Amazon prime items as so may new scams are being run on both sites you will most likely be hosed by these pop up sellers. I found a scam UV-C bulb seller on Ebay who took the order supposedly shipping from Toronto and I was then told the item was defective yet it was still listed for a price double what I paid. EBAY refused to help (or care) that the customer gets screwed. Buyer beware the scammers are in paradise. When I’ve traveled to 3rd world countries I always preached “don’t buy it if you can’t take it with you”. It’s the same now in the US.

  6. This is the most practical & useful post I have read for the past couple months. Thank you, Gary.

  7. “What might be funny and informative would be a trip report on a visit to Costco by a travel blogger.”

    COSTCO is literally the worst place anyone can go in the COVID-19 era. And yet the stores remain packed with shoppers in close proximity to each other touching all manner of things and the recirculating air keeps recirculating.

    Maybe travel blogger could wear a classic medieval European plague mask and oxygen tank to see what sort of reactions from the shoppers that evokes.

  8. I for one would like to read your trip reports. We will be traveling again one day. I look forward to it as a distraction to get through the current calamity.

  9. I agree with others who want trip reports to keep coming! This is the perfect time for me to daydream future destinations and build up points to make those trips happen in the next few years.

  10. I can appreciate winter visits to Paris. Have done so quite a few times. Perhaps on the chilly side, but a wonderful time to visit museums, visit wineries when they are not busy, and, of course, to eat hot roasted chestnuts.

  11. I have to give credit to Trader Joe’s. They have customers line up at least 6 feet apart outside and only let in maybe 20 people total in the store at a time. They have someone sanitizing the carts for you. They have every other check stand open with tape markings on the floor to keep the line 6 feet apart and have hand sanitizer at the register. There’s never more than a one person wait at the cashier. It’s actually nicer to shop there now than before the plague.

  12. Times of crises are a supposed to about the community’s solidarity, not a Darwinism test. The way people have been shopping in Texas especially (and this arrogantly prudent post confirms it) shows total lack of caring for each other and a true conservative state mentality despite all the what-would-jesus-do crap. I saw truck beds loaded with every kind of supply out there driving away like you with zero regard to their neighbors or those in need.

    Did you think about how an older person or couple living alone will survive before you loaded your car with a year’s worth of supplies when they cant go out to chase down the most basic supplies like toilet paper and cleaning material?

    Did you think about how a family that lives paycheck to paycheck (majority of this country) cant afford to shop in hundreds or thousands of dollars upfront before you wiped out supplies from the super markets?

    Are these people supposed to just go die or fend off for themselves? And then the government must not help them either of course because that’d be boo boo socialism

  13. Gary you would make a good prepper!

    As for me I go to the store (grocery, Walmart of HD/Lowes) almost daily as well as to a drive through Starbucks to get my daily caffeine fix. I do wipe down cart handles (which I never did) but don’t wear gloves (unsanitary and can be worse than not wearing them) or mask (protect people from you more than it protects you). I do move quickly through the stores, try to stay away from people, use the self service checkout to the extent possible and clean my hands with sanitizer when I get to my car. I don’t worry about keeping things outside or other issues with packing materials but do wash my hands thoroughly once I have unloaded everything.

    Bottom line is people are fixated on this. You should reasonably expect 50-70% of the US will get the virus before a vaccine is ready simply because of the way it is transmitted and the length of time (likely end of 2020 at the earliest for a vaccine). I expect things to get back to some type of normal well before then. Not to sound cold hearted but at some point economics should matter more than a few thousand more deaths. We lose many to other things every year and the world doesn’t shut down. Right now is a peak but if we don’t get the economy moving again by early summer I’m expecting the vast majority of people with jobs to be laid off, have hours reduced, forced to take salary reductions or be subject to furloughs. Businesses just can afford to keep people without the revenue and the Federal government can’t be the bank forever. Then you have all the eviction and foreclosure notices that may be on hold for now but will be enforced in a number of months. Expect homelessness and poverty like you have never seen. Glad I’m retired (not dependent on a job), have a very sizable portfolio (much is very safe assets but using my cash to buy great companies at firesale prices) and frankly am not materially impacted by the economy but others will be suffering like never before. Also, expect suicides (including murder/suicide), substance abuse and property crime to increase dramatically. Wish it wasn’t this way but don’t see any alternative.

  14. buying masks on Amazon is more like gambling….a product page looks fine would turn into something else the next day without anything do with the mask. All of them would be shipped from China and delivery time need 8 weeks. Who want to wait that long?

  15. In Denmark the government told private companies hit by the effects of the pandemic that it would pay 75 percent of their employees’ salaries to avoid mass layoffs, up to $3,288 per month. (This would preserve the income for all employees earning up to $52,400 per year.) They just want to save the economy. The philosophy is, if we don’t do it now, it will be more expensive to save the economy later. Denmark’s aggressive response could be a blueprint for how the world can avoid another Great Depression. From the very left-wing to the really, really right-wing in Denmark, they all agree. There is nearly 100 percent consensus about this.

  16. I’d enjoy reading the trip reports! It’s depressing to only read about how the world is falling apart.

  17. @CrisisTime – I did not load up with a year’s worth of supplies, and I prepared with a few weeks’ worth before everyone else did, when stores were perfectly full. Indeed if anything my purchase sent a signal to buy more of these items before stores were fully preparing, and may have had more stock as a result.

  18. Gary, where is your gun report? Better make it to your nearest gun store and buy up all the ammo so you can shoot the virus or maybe shoot anyone who breaks into your abode to steal your toilet paper.

  19. I, too, would love to hear about Paris! I have been tentatively planning a trip in November, so not quite winter, but certainly not the peak of summer either, so I’d be keen to know your perspective. Not that I think we will get to go this year, at least not with a 4-month-old.

  20. I had to go to Taiwan in February and bought Lysol wipes to take with me. That means we have a reasonable supply right now, but I cannot source any more. We are rationing them very carefully.

  21. So you are one of THOSE PEOPLE responsible for the Great Toilet Paper Wipe Out of 2020? You hoarders have driven Selena’s hit song “Bidet Bidet Bum Bum” back on the pop charts. Word is that Wierd Al Yankovic is working on the music video.

  22. This is a reply to AC. Since you are retired you are probably older which puts you in the high risk group. Since you have decided not to stay home an go shopping “almost daily” You have greatly increased your changes of being one of the few thousand deaths you mention when you said “economics should matter more than a few thousand more deaths. ”

    Some people, the essential workers, don’t have a choice but all of those who are not essential and have decided to ignore stay at home Thank You for your Sacrifice. You will be a carrier or maybe get sick. You will allow the United Sates to achieve herd immunity quickly and people like me who have chosen to stay home to start traveling again, eating out, etc.

  23. I don’t like supermarket shopping, so always buy in bulk and have 12 months worth of non-perishable stuff on hand.
    I was due for haircut just as the shutdown came. If this drags on for months ( highly likely), it will be a return to 1968 style. I’m not sure that the Steven Tyler look is going to suit.

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