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Time to Hit the Road?
Here are Some Tips from a Seasoned Traveler


Many folks are planning road trips over the next few months.  After over 20 years of traveling, many hundreds of Hamfests, and over 1,000 nights in hotels away from home, I've gathered some tips that you may find useful as you plan your journey.


Many, if not most of us, have some type of "go-kit" for portable Ham Radio Operation.  If you've been subscribed to my newsletter for even a short time, you know that I travel quite a bit to attend Hamfests all over the East Coast and Midwest.  I can be on the road for a week or more, even up to a month or more -- when you live in New England, spending all of February in Florida is a pretty good deal!  So I get to stay quite a few nights in hotels every year.  I need to stay connected while traveling, and my laptop bag has developed into a second go-kit of sorts.  While you may not travel as much as I do, you may find yourself on the road for vacations, business trips, family visits, or a trip to a major Hamfest like The Dayton Hamvention or Huntsville Hamfest.  Here are some items I keep in my laptop bag....


If you depend on your cell phone, you need to keep it charged.  AC wall adapters for USB are inexpensive, and you don't have to leave the phone in the car to charge.  A spare cable just makes sense, too.  Most hotels offer WiFi, but it's not always reliable.  If you use a laptop or tablet, remember that most cell phones can be used as WiFi Hotspots. If an Internet connection is really "mission critical" you might want to look at a pay-as-you go Hotspot as well.  But make sure to get one from a different carrier than your regular phone.  One might well work where the other will not.   And it seems like there are never enough AC outlets in a hotel room, and they're never where you need them.  A triple tap adapter and a small and light extension cord can put the power where you need it.  Don't forget a 2 to 3 prong adapter, just in case.


With GPS units, smart phones, and computer mapping programs, you'd think paper maps would be just about useless.  Wrong!  Returning home from a Hamfest a while back, road signs told me that Interstate 84 was closed due to a major accident.   The GPS was no help -- without a whole lot of fiddling, it insisted that I stay on I-84.  A quick look at my paper Road Atlas led me to an alternate route.  I heard from friends that their delay was over 4 hours.  I arrived home just 30 minutes later than I had first expected.


Call me old-fashioned, but I always keep a pad of paper and pen in my bag.  I suppose I could get a note-taking app for my phone, and text things to others.  But I don't think I'd want to try drawing a quick picture or even a simple schematic on my phone.  I can draw what I need, snap a pic, and send that instead.


Flashlights are something you almost never need, until you REALLY do.  Then they become almost invaluable.  Yeah, I know there's a phone app for that.  Trust me -- buy a good flashlight.  Check the batteries.  Same thing with a first aid kit.  Something as simple as a band-aid on a blister or cut can make a big difference.  Since Hamfests involve a lot of physical work for me, I keep a bottle of my favorite painkiller (non-prescription) in my kit.  And if you do take prescription medications, make sure to take enough with you.  When I travel, I take at least two extra days' supply with me.  Breakdowns happen, and opportunities for side trips arise.  Be ready for them, take advantage of them, and don't be limited by not having enough meds with you.  Same goes for glasses, if you wear them.  Stash an extra pair in your bag, just in case.


And cash.  Real American (or that of your country) currency.  Yep, most all of us -- me included -- depend on our credit or debit cards when traveling.  But stuff happens.  I never, ever, leave home without enough cash to get where I'm going and back home.  I've never had to resort to that, but if it comes to it I'm prepared.


Finally, I always keep a deck of playing cards in my bag.  Years ago, on a trip with my then young children, a failed alternator led to an unanticipated stay in a small town.  I think without the pack of cards and a lot of time filled with hearts, gin rummy, and even solitaire, I (or they) would have gone a bit crazy.


I'm sure I don't have to tell you "Don't drink and drive" and "Don't text and drive"... but just in case, I did.  Add to that "Don't fiddle with the GPS, iPod, cell phone, radio, etc. and drive".  Stop at an exit or rest area.


Don't tailgate.  I think this is a major cause of accidents that does not get enough attention.  Very often, I see cars following just a few feet behind a tractor-trailer.  No possible way for them to see what's on the road ahead, and no possible way for them to stop in time if the trucker hits the brakes.  You need to have a clear view of the road ahead as far as possible.  And please -- when you see traffic backing up ahead, that's not the time to start jockeying for position to get you 2 car lengths ahead.  That's the time to start gently slowing down, giving the guy behind you plenty of time and room to do the same.


Speaking of truckers -- I find that they are almost universally professional and courteous drivers.  Give them a break -- it takes a long time for them to accelerate and stop all that weight.  When they put their blinker on to move into your lane, don't speed up to pass them!  Back off a little and flash your headlights to let them know it's OK to move over.  They'll appreciate it.


Don't hog the left lane, especially when there are only two lanes in each direction.  When you see cars behind you (you DO check your mirrors frequently, don't you?) move over and let them pass -- when you see cars passing you on the right, you know it's definitely time to move over.


Don't drive tired.  Yeah, when you're only an hour or so from home a coffee or soda and candy caffeine/sugar burst can get you there.  But when you're three hours out and it's late and you're tired already -- that's what motels are made for.  Believe me, they're a lot cheaper than accidents or worse.


Get off the interstates when you can.  Check out your Road Atlas (see above).  Most interstate highways have "sister" US routes that take you in the same direction at a more relaxed pace.  I travel I-81 frequently from Scranton PA down through PA, MD, WV, a long trip through VA and sometimes as far as Dandridge, TN.  US-11 is rarely more than a few miles away from I-81.  It goes through small towns, past farms, and through forests.  You can do as much or as little of that as you wish, there are frequent opportunities to get back on the Interstate.


And for goodness' sake, skip the fast food places!  Look for local restaurants.  You can always get a Big Mac (ugh!) at home.  Unless you live in Staunton, VA, you can't always have breakfast at Mrs. Rowe's.  Unless you live in Orlando, FL you can't always get the pork BBQ lunch at Bubbalou's. And unless you live in Carlisle, PA, you can't always enjoy the pot roast dinner at the Middlesex Diner.  Not to mention those delicious roadside homemade ice cream stands.


A favorite quote, possibly but only slightly misquoted : "When traveling and wanting to make good time, make sure the emphasis is on good, not time".


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