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Hitting the Road

By Mark A. Lavery
Provided by WorldNow

When driving home for the holidays, off-peak travel times are your friend. As with air travel, you need to figure out what everyone else will likely do and then do the opposite. These ideas have worked for me:

  • Travel at night
    By night, I don’t mean 6pm. I mean you should come home from work, pack the car, take a nap and leave at 10pm. A trip that is normally four hours can turn into seven if you leave at peak times. Being in the car at midnight isn’t going to be most people’s first choice, but I’d rather travel at odd hours than be stuck in stop and go traffic. The math works in your favor. Leaving at 6pm and fighting through snarled traffic may get you to your destination at 1am. Leaving at 10pm may cost you an extra hour on that trip that’s normally 4 hours, getting you in at 3am. The second option, while getting you in later, saved you two hours in the car
  • Take the back roads
    Interstate 95 is the quickest way from New York City to Washington, DC, right? Depends. With little to no traffic? Absolutely. On Christmas Eve? Not even close.

    No matter where your holiday travel takes you, if you must travel on a peak traffic day or at peak traffic times, be prepared to take alternate routes. A two-lane highway that goes through towns with traffic lights will likely be faster than an interstate highway at the peak of holiday travel. It is also much less frustrating if your car is moving at a steady, yet slow rate of speed instead of going from 60mph to stopped and then back again.
  • Be a A.A.A. Member
    I’m not even going to argue this one. It amazes me that people who are scared of heights or spiders think nothing of taking to the road with absolutely no plan of action if their vehicle should become disabled. I don’t care how good you are with cars; nobody wants to be broken down at the side of an interstate highway with two kids in the back seat. We’ve all seen families with young children walking down the shoulder to the next exit. In this day of cell phones…there’s no need for that. If you purchase roadside assistance with your new car, that will work just fine, but have something.
  • Don’t rely on A.A.A.
    Yeah, I know. What I just said and all. However, we’re talking the busiest travel days of the year. The strain on America’s tow trucks will be at an all time high. Not having roadside assistance is silly. Waiting for it to arrive at rush hour will still ruin your day.
  • Gas Up
    Make sure your vehicle is filled with gas before you start your trip and don’t let the gauge drop below 1/2 full. You could be stopped by an accident, weather or any other unforeseen circumstances. November and December are too cold to turn the car off and wait. A few hours in neutral and you could find yourself running out of gas.
  • Winterize your vehicle
    Take it in for a safety inspection before holiday travel. Make sure all lights are working, fluid levels are topped off and the tires are either all weather radials or snow tires. This shouldn’t be left for the last minute either or you’ll run into countless others doing the same thing.
  • Call ahead before you leave
    This may seem like an unnecessary step, especially if it is a trip you’ve taken many times before. However, more than once I’ve gotten stuck in traffic going home for the holidays only to have my parents tell me, “Oh yeah, they just started construction there. I should have told you about that.” Find out if there are any local traffic issues (road work, parades etc..) that will impact your trip.

Finally, any car trip is going to be a long one. No matter where you’re headed, it will almost certainly take you longer than it normally does. Plan for this. Bring plenty of videos, games and toys for small children. For older children and adults, here are some interesting ways to pass the time:

  1. Name that Tune
    Someone slowly moves the radio dial from one station to the next. If that point on the dial comes in clearly the radio is left on that station until someone can name the title and the artist of the song playing or until 1 minute has passed. Play to 21. Once someone wins, you can start over as not only have the songs changed by then, but also since you are driving, stations will continually be fading while new ones come into range.
  2. Fantasy Gas Station
    A fun variation on Fantasy Football. At the start of the trip, each person gets to “draft” up to three types of gas stations. As you drive, you try to spot one of the stations you’ve drafted. If you pass a Shell station, then anyone having Shell on his or her list gets a point. You can even allow someone to draft “field” for all of those “Mom and Pop” gas stations you pass while you’re taking the back roads.

Vehicle Checklist

  • Full Gas Tank
  • Road Atlas
  • Jumper Cables
  • Cell Phone
  • Road Flares
  • Fire Extinguisher
  • Flashlight
  • Work Gloves
  • Tow chain or rope
  • Water / Gatorade
  • Small trash bag
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