Distilling a lifetime of driving into a handful of hopefully handy hints to enhance your travels.
I often joke that I am a professional driver, and when I quit for the day I pull out my guitar and play for people. There's really more than a kernel of truth to that. My friends often ask for an opinion or advice about traveling, which I happily share to the best of my ability.
I've also witnessed a lot of bad behavior and less than stellar driving. I'm one of those who believes that a little education can go a long way, so I've distilled down some observations and helpful tips from over 20 years of traveling both the blue highways and the heavy truck thoroughfares. Whether traveling a couple hours to visit family, or making a family vacation to visit national parks, I imagine some of this might help prevent bad experiences as well as save some money and aggravation.
1. A few ounces of prevention. It may seem like common sense, but a few relaxed minutes checking and maintaining vital machinery can prevent lots of avoidable problems. Make sure tires are properly inflated, windshield wiper fluid topped off and that the blades are good, and check your engine's oil level!
If your smart phone is an essential piece of equipment, pack two chargers. And a combo AC plug/USB charger for your cigarette lighter socket is mighty handy too.
2. Pick a pleasant route when possible. While interstate highways offer a theoretically fastest means of getting around, construction and accidents can quickly ruin that math. In much of rural America, US highways offer a much more pleasant alternative at a slightly lower speed, with the added benefit of short slowdowns in small towns that will convince you that America is really much more a crazy patchwork quilt than a homogenous blob of suburban sprawl and corporate big boxes.
It's worth seeing what alternatives Google or Apple maps offer before setting out, and allowing a little extra time for a lot nicer journey. There's so much to see out there!
3. Safety matters! Crowded roads and distracted drivers are a bad mix. The old axiom of "drive defensively" has saved my bacon a dozen times or more. If someone is in the passing lane speeding up and slowing down, they're probably texting while driving. (PS Don't do that. Ever.). Headlights on when your wipers are on, and move over or slow down when passing a vehicle stopped on the side of the road.
Don't tailgate. Not only will your insurance company be ruthless with your bank account, cops hate it and if you do it and screw up, you get punched in the face with an airbag. And won't get much sympathy from any of those folks that you did, because that bit of bad karma was entirely self-inflicted.
And no matter how egregious the discourtesy, remember that Americans are often armed to the teeth, including in their vehicles. Keep your middle finger holstered, take a deep breath, and let the idiot go flush out the speed traps for you.
Oh, one more thing - use your blinker. Always. It's there for a reason, and maybe it's that our species is a failure at telepathy. Or that knowing your intentions allows other drivers to adjust accordingly.
4. You can't beat trucks - don't try. A special word about trucks. They're bigger than you, and thanks to their radios they can work as a team. They can make your life miserable if they decide you're being an ass. And the only thing that matters in that judgment is their perception, not yours.
So a little courtesy to the big rigs is a must. Don't tailgate them - if you can't see their mirrors, they can't see you.
Fully loaded trucks lose a lot of speed going up hills. If you have the time and space when a truck hits his signal to the passing lane, flash your headlights quickly to signal that he's clear to move into that lane. As soon as he/she has finished passing, they'll move over and gladly let you by.
5. Personal comfort is not a luxury. Stay hydrated. Pack a good supply of healthy snacks - nuts and fruits are easy to eat while driving, and protein will help stay awake and alert. When you do stop, park a little walk away from your destination if possible - walking and stretching a bit every hour or two is a big help.
If you're tired, pull over someplace safe and rest for a few minutes. During the day most any rest area is safe enough for a half hour nap with no worries. at night I tend to favor the upper end motel chains for a quick nap - Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn almost always have security cameras and are well lit.
6. Be a "smart-gas". When traveling the interstates, you may find a difference in gas prices as much as 20 to 40 cents from one town to the next! As apps go, Gas Buddy is indispensible in helping survey nearby gas prices and save a bunch of money over the course of a trip.
7. More keys to "appiness". Another really handy app is AroundMe. whether looking for nearby food choices, a pharmacy or ATM, this one is pretty darn good at quickly surveying your choices.
8. Touch-free driving. While all the apps are handy, here's a really important rule - if you have to touch it, you probably shouldn't do it while driving. A bluetooth earpiece and voice activated smartphone can still be a distraction, but it's far better than reaching for the phone that might be doing duty as GPS and music player too.
On the iPhone, I can simply say "show me the traffic around ," but do this while stopped so you can safely study the map. Two of my favorite voice commands for the iPhone and Siri - "Read new message" and "Take me home".
9. Save where you stay too. Need a hotel but not sure how far you'll travel? In my experience, those coupon books at the rest areas on the highway have the best available deals on motels - better than discount apps, better than AAA. I'm a "middle road" motel user - I usually skip the super economy discount chains like Motel 6 in favor of Econo Lodge/Comfort Inn caliber, or the $50-65 room instead of $35-45.
When you get to the hotel you picked out, a little courtesy goes a long way too. I've had kindly night clerks on a late arrival lop 25% off the room rate, give me a ground floor (less hauling of guitars and gear), and give me a nicer room too - all for sharing a little grace and gratitude.
10. Enjoy the ride! I've had so many magical experiences in twenty-plus years of traveling. Unique restaurants, chasing the setting sun, beautiful mountain and prairie vistas, and of course, amusing road signs too. Take your time and make your own magic. Here's a rundown of my very favorite American drives.
And of course, don't forget this: