Are you saddened when your commute home ends? Do you go weeks without shifting into fifth gear? Is there an inch of dust on your RV? Regardless of the ailment, the only medicine you need is the open road. With hundreds of scenic highways throughout the United States, a much-needed road trip is just around the next curve.

To unlock the secrets of road tripping without running out of gas, take the next exit and read through these tips from ASTA (American Society of Travel agents). Some of the most travel-wise people in the world, ASTA members know what it takes for you to experience the soothing gray asphalt, the quirky small towns, the crazy roadside curiosities and, most importantly, the heart of America.

The Basic Philosophy of the Road

Road tripping is a state of mind. To truly enjoy it, you must embrace the philosophy of the road, much like European backpackers must bring a mindset of art and culture and beachcombers must be prepared for umbrellas in their drinks and sand in their shorts.

First, there are no boring places on the open road – just places that require a little bit of searching to uncover the remarkable. Be open to the possibilities and reach out for new experiences, like trying the “Roadkill Burger” at the diner or taking an unmarked hiking trail only to stumble onto a Civil War battle site.

Like a hiking trail, every road trip has a beginning and an end, but only the journey counts. The middle, the asphalt glide, the motorized mantra, getting from Point A to Point B, is the purpose of the road trip, realizing that you’re supposed to be wherever you are. Enjoy being there.

Also enjoy the fact that your vehicle is in your control, so take it wherever your heart desires. While your road trip will most likely involve an itinerary with reservations, do not tie your bumper to a schedule. A good travel agent will help you set up a loose itinerary with guaranteed reservations, so rushing is never an option when faced with the choice of hurrying to your hotel or diverting 50 miles east to see Albert, the World’s Largest Bull, in Audubon, Iowa.

The Master Plan – Plotting Your Course

Your journey begins the first day you start planning your road trip, with anticipation as your gas pedal, floored and revving. So break out the map, grab a box of pushpins to highlight the highlights and let a little planning take you a long way.

Before the first pushpin digs into the wall, talk to a travel agent to identify the purpose of your trip. If your goal is four days of backcountry wandering, then all you need is a full tank of gas and sharp eyes. If you plan include a final destination, like your cousin Irene’s wedding in Albuquerque in one week, then advance planning is crucial.

Once your purpose is set, consider your level of comfort. Are you the type who needs to know a reserved hotel room waits in the next city or will any roadside inn suit your needs? Do you like your roads highlighted in yellow on your map, or do you keep your map in the glove box for emergencies only, allowing the winds of spontaneity to determine your course? Whatever your comfort level, be sure to ask your traveling companions for their opinions.

Once the bases are covered, talk to your travel agent and begin researching all the possible routes. Travel agents know if certain mountain passes are blocked during the winter, or if a festival or event in a city you plan to drive through will cause major delays. Also, spend time on the Internet getting to know the smaller towns on your route. Treasures are often found in the most unlikely of places.

Before the Odometer Reaches 1

With your plan set and the trip already rambling in your mind, now is the time to make sure reality is on the same page.The first and most vital step is to get your vehicle in top form. Whether you’re traveling by car, RV, truck, motorcycle or lawnmower, your road trip will be smoother if your vehicle is ship-shape, or road-shape in this instance. Before you leave, have a qualified mechanic check all the car’s vitals: brakes, battery, fluid levels, tire pressure, light bulbs and any parts that need regular maintenance.

As with all long-distance road trips, it’s wise to bring emergency equipment such as a first-aid kit, flashlight, blankets, drinking water and snacks, along with flares and jumper cables. Check the weather for your route and be prepared for snow and ice with an ice scraper and chains for the tires.With the mechanics secure, be sure to create the right ambience inside your vehicle. Take along a wide selection of your favorite cds and a few audio books. If you and your traveling companions don’t agree on music, then the driver chooses and the passengers get two vetoes per three hours or 90 miles. That’s the rule.

Safety – Don’t Wreck Your Trip

Nearly 50,000 people die each year in collisions on the roadways of the United States, with another 22 million injured. Safety is simply the number one concern for you, your traveling companions and everyone on or near a road, so always have the following safety tips on the tip of your mind while driving.

Pay attention. Practically all collisions involve inattention on the part of one or both drivers. Distraction comes in many guises: daydreaming, fidgeting with the radio, sleepiness, fatigue and cell phones. Paying attention makes it possible for you to see, recognize and avoid the hazards lurking on the road; these are the three basic elements of defensive driving.

You are not psychic. You can never rely on what the other driver will do. While driving, always keep a wary eye on other drivers and leave yourself plenty of room. Anticipate the mistakes they might make and be ready. Stay alert and in control.

Yield anyway. If you are in doubt about who has the right of way, give it away. Right of way rules are often misunderstood, and there are situations where the rules may not be clear to everyone. If there is uncertainty about which vehicle should have the right of way, give the other driver the road. When it comes to driving safely, it’s not the principle, but the outcome, that counts.

Don’t speed. Speed limits are posted for a reason. Driving at a higher rate cuts your reaction time and results in more stored energy that must be dissipated in any collision. A safe driver should choose a speed matching traffic as closely as possible without exceeding speed limits. If traffic is moving at higher speed than you should go, keep to the right and out of the way.

Don’t drive impaired. Drivers can become impaired through not only drugs and alcohol, but also fatigue or as a result of injury or illness. Alcohol is a depressant that will diminish your ability with the first sip, acting on the very skills you need most as a driver – judgment, vision and the ability to perceive several things at once. We all have the obligation to make sure we are able to drive safely every time we drive.

Wear your seat belt. Seat belts are the most significant safety device ever invented. They provide impact protection, absorb crash forces and keep you from being thrown out of the vehicle. Modern vehicles are built with “crumple zones,” and seat belts are an integral part of the system. Belts help keep you in your place, in control and better able to avoid a crash.

Don’t run red lights. Whether you coast through a red light daydreaming or step on the accelerator when the light turns yellow, running red lights kills hundreds every year. If you get a yellow light, stop. You can anticipate when the light is about to change, so it is no excuse to say it was too late. If you have the green light, watch for the red-light runner. Patience at an intersection is one virtue we can live with.

Drive precisely. Most everyone knows the basic traffic laws, yet drivers impatiently ignore them for the sake of expediency every day. Traffic rules are in place to create the consistency and uniformity that allow us to predict with some degree of confidence what other drivers will do, thereby avoiding conflicts and collisions. Ignoring the rules of the road helps create the chaos you see every day.

Hotels, Motels and No Telling What You’ll Find Many road-trippers dismiss the necessity of reservations, letting the road, the weather and their moods guide them to a neon “Vacancy” sign in the night. Travel agents suggest that, while this approach to nightly lodging is right for some, most should reconsider the value of a reservation.

Having a guaranteed reservation is ideal for those who want to save time, instead of pulling in and out of countless hotels looking for the last vacant room in the area due to an unexpected music festival; for those with health issues, preferring a clean and comfortable bed; for those with recreational preferences, wanting to stay at a campground with swimming facilities after a hot, summer drive; for those with limited funds, not desiring to be stuck shelling out a generous sum of cash for the last room; for those with particular taste in lodging, who sometimes find it difficult to sleep on a lumpy mattress; and for those traveling with pets, who want to know that their hotel will accept precious Fido.

Making a lodging or camping reservations at the wrong intervals, in the wrong cities can be catastrophic to a road trip. Seek counsel from a trusted travel agent to perfectly space your reservations. The peace of mind will be a welcomed companion on your journey.

Endless Highways

Exploring small towns, interacting with strangers and eating at roadside stands that sell odd fare like fried pie (Independence, La.) and broken chicken (Pike County, Ky.) all require a sense of adventure and a suspension of disbelief. You never know what lies around the next bend, because the moment you take that curve or crest over a sun-blazed hilltop is moment like no other.

Road trips are truly American adventures that everyone can enjoy. Talk to a trusted travel agent to outline your next grand adventure on the road. Travel agents can advise you on the most scenic byways in the land, set up hotel or camping reservations along the way and even help you rent a convertible sports car to road trip in style. Drive safe. Drive long. And enjoy the open road.

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