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Spring Break: A Guide to a Smooth Ride

By Claudia G. Martinez

You've probably seen that movie Road Trip where a group of college buddies head off on a last minute journey through the highways and byways of the U.S. to prevent impending disaster. They instead find all kinds of mishap and adventure. Well, a road trip doesn't have to end in your car blowing up. If you follow these tips you'll have a smooth ride and still find adventure.

Renting or the faithful Chevy

To begin with, even if you own a 2001 Pontiac Aztek or built your own spaceship in your backyard, you may be interested in a rental. This will spare your vehicle the stress of a stretched trip and help keep the mileage low. If money is an issue, keep in mind that you can find great offers if you look for them.

  • Rental places often have weekend and getaway specials.
  • Your credit card and frequent flyer program probably offer incentives like discount/upgrade coupons or miles.
  • For actual rates, compare on the Internet. If you call, be clear about ASKing for the lowest rate.
  • Make your reservation ahead of time to ensure availability and avoid a rate increase. Book any coupons or discounts in your reservation.
  • When you get to the counter, ask if there are any available upgrade specials you missed.
  • Finally, be careful not to sacrifice quality for price.

If you decide to take Camilla, your faithful Chevy, get her checked and the paperwork in order as soon as possible.

  • Have her oil changed and check the fluid levels and tire pressure. Tire pressure affects the ride and gas mileage. Depending on your destination, you may also need more antifreeze, snow tires or recharged air-conditioning.
  • Don't wait until the last minute. You want time to have anything fixed. You also want to drive around campus and make sure that the radiator doesn't give out right after you have it replaced.
  • Remove your gym socks and any other items that you won't need for your trip. Your passengers will appreciate a clean car.
  • Finally, get all necessary paperwork in order: plates, registration, insurance information and driver's license. If you're leaving the U.S., always invest the extra 15 dollars for international insurance. This also applies to renting a car.

Mapping it out

Next, figure out how to get where you're going. If you drive straight through, you can make about 900 to 1,000 miles a day. For example, you will arrive in Boston from San Francisco in about three and a half days.

  • Look at maps and plan your route.
  • Check conditions and know if you'll be traveling through areas of major road construction. You don't want to drive 300 miles into a closed road.
  • Estimate mileage and travel time to plan stops and budget gas money and other travel expenses. Knowing when you'll be at certain points will also help you avoid traveling through a major city or area of road construction during rush hour.

To make things interesting, also consider the scenic route. Secondary, when you get into backcountry roads, there's also a higher risk of criminal activity on these smaller roads.

Packing an enjoyable time

Yes, yes. You know which superhero underoos and what brand travel shampoo will make it into your weekend bag. But the point is knowing how to pack a good time. Car trips are long, and even if you enjoy each other in Lit, you don't want to spend 10 silent cramped hours together. According to Rudy Baboudy, a Lebanese Scripps College senior who has driven cross-country several times, your driving companion is a crucial part of your trip because your going to be stuck with them for an extended period. With this in mind, remember you have to make things in the car fun or at least bearable.

  • Hey Mr. DJ, plan what you're going to listen to and when.
  • Bring your cds or buy some books on tape.

Getting the munchies

Assuming you fare well en route, your stomach will demand sustenance. Pack plenty of munchies and water in the car. It's cheaper to buy these at the grocery store than convenience stores along the way. You'll also save money if you buy groceries instead of making pit stops at McDonald's. This might even save you more stops than you think. Note: the combination of greasy burgers and sitting in a car for a long time does strange things to your stomach.

  • Ten bucks worth of bread and cold cuts easily lasts three or four days (with proper refrigeration), while fast food runs $10 to $20 per day each person.
  • Anything healthy like cereal bars, fruit, etc. is a good light snack.
  • For drinks, opt for water rather than cola. Large amounts of caffeine wear on your nerves.

Taking a break from the wheel

Despite the recommendation to eat healthy, remember that fast-food restaurants like McDonald's and Burger King are good places to stretch because they are well lit. Busy gas stations and truck stops are also relatively safe. If the driver has to stop for a fix of caffeine every hour just to stay awake, then it's time to pull over for the night or change drivers. Wake up sleepers a few minutes before you arrive. This gives them time to adjust and be alert as soon as the car stops.

Making it home safely

Okay, so pepper spray and that Tae Bo back kick aren't going to cut it as protection on this journey. Some of those urban myths you get spammed with are based on a sliver of truth. "One time we were driving, and we stopped to go to a concert. When we came out the car was just gone. It was a van packed with 3 persons' whole life belongings. There was a one of a kind record collection, memoirs, schoolwork, my passport," says Baboudy. However, if you take precautions, you won't go from traveler to victim.

  • Always keep your car doors locked.
  • Wear your seatbelt.
  • Be patient. Honking and yelling at other drivers is more likely to make someone ram into you than to get traffic moving.
  • Avoid flashing your lights at other cars that are driving without their lights on at night.
  • Someone might try to get you to pull over by pointing and saying something is wrong with your/their car. This is a well-known scam. If you need to stop, pick a well-lit public place.
  • Park only in well-lit parking lots. Check for safety before opening your doors.
  • Don't make yourself a target by flashing money, belongings or maps. Your stuff is better off in the trunk or out of sight.
  • Don't carry irreplaceable items.
  • Carry a cell phone and extra money for emergencies.
  • Check into getting something akin to an AAA membership. You'll be glad you did.

Drive baby, drive!

Now you know the essentials: preparing a car, a route, a good time, lunch, your rests and making it home safely. You're trained in the art of car travel. More importantly, you're ready for advanture. So strap yourself in. Drive forth and conquer the road.

For further guidance or inspiration, pick up Jack Kerouac's seminal "On the Road", one of America's all time popular novels about friendship and four trips across America. Or visit http://www.freetraveltips.com for more tips.

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