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HITTING THE ROAD FOR THE HOLIDAYS — NINE TIPS

As travelers begin to plan their holiday excursions, websites and blogs fill with advice on how to better travel by air.

Rarely, though, does anyone talk about road travel. Yet according to the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, at least 91% of holiday long-distance travel in the U.S. will be by car. (Only five or six percent of holiday trips are taken by plane.)

So before you pack up and hit the road like the other 91% of us, keep a few things in mind:

** You can easily steer clear of traffic and accidents with up-to-date traffic reports for anywhere in the U.S., free, on http://www.traffic.com. You can also call their toll-free number, 1-866-MY-TRAFC. I tried this yesterday and it was really easy. A computer voice prompted me to answer questions and then computed the traffic for the road I asked for.

** Scope out your potty breaks before you leave the house. http://www.thebathroomdiaries.com is a fun site with reviews for bathrooms in the U.S. and over 120 countries… some of them look a little scary. But you can take a look at reviews for bathrooms on your route and pick ones that meet your potty standards.

** A fun way to stay awake and keep everyone in the car entertained is by listening to audio books. You can download them for free at http://librivox.org . Members record books that are in the public domain, so it’s completely legal in the U.S. — and they have about 1,000 titles to choose from. You can listen to the stories by downloading them to your computer and then burning them to CD or on an MP3 player that you can hook up to your car stereo.

** You’ll get the best gas mileage out of your car if you stick to the speed limit (or at least close to it). Other factors that affect your gas mileage are tire pressure, drag, weight in the car, air conditioning, and heavy accelerating and braking, to name a few. The U.S. Department of Energy has a site devoted to fuel-saving tips at http://www.fueleconomy.gov.

** Even if you do all you can to boost your fuel efficiency, high gas prices can make long road trips very expensive. You can scope out the best deals before you leave the house by checking gas prices online. One good site is http://www.gasbuddy.com , which regularly updates the cheapest gas prices in towns across the U.S. and Canada.

** How’s your battery? In cold weather, your car battery is more likely to fail than it is in the summer. If it has been acting up, if you’ve put a lot of wear on it (say you tend to leave your lights on and walk away), or if it’s getting old, you may want to consider a new one before you head out on a long road trip. Consumer Reports published a great article on buying new car batteries, here: http://tinyurl.com/2lnteg .

** Give your car a quick check-up. Look at your fluids; make sure you have enough oil, antifreeze, water, and windshield-washing fluid. Also check your tires for good pressure and tread. Replace old windshield-wiper blades.

** If you could be driving in the snow, stock your car with window scrapers, chains, gloves, a flashlight, an emergency blanket, and flares.

** Of course, always appoint a designated driver and try not to drive when you’re tired.

I hope these tips will help you have a stress-free trip.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Because you’ll find published relatively few articles geared to the “road traveler,” that might be a good angle to pursue when you’re pitching stories to editors. You could suggest a how-to piece along the lines of Bonnie’s here. Or, how about offering up advice for travelers passing through your town — three great “local” places for lunch (all non-chain options, of course) or maybe three motels that you’d recommend. Or, indeed, three short activities somebody could enjoy in an hour or two — maybe there’s a quick exhibit to see or a park to enjoy or a cute strip of shops selling “local” goods. For more advice about defining your articles and targeting your audience, check out The Ultimate Travel Writer’s Program.]

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