Long Distance Driving Tips
I recently took a long road trip - 3,000 miles - and did all the driving. Here are a few tips that occured to me in the Carolinas.
My version of a vacation is picking a couple of destinations, renting a car, and going. I like my vacations to be sort of off the cuff. While it adds a bit to the stress factor during the vacation, I can't be accused of planning my vacation more carefully than my finances. Here are some tips I thought of at around 2,300 miles somewhere in the Carolinas.
- Driving is very stressful when you have limited visibility, so do everything you can to increase your visibility especially at night, during fog, and during rain.
- During the day this means don't tailgate. Some people get off on this, but I hate it. I also don't like being behind the minivan, SUV, or Tractor Trailor because I can't see in front of them and I have no idea when they'll react to something on the road. This means I only have the time I notice them behaving strangely until impact to act. Brake lights can mean slowing down or stopping short, and it's harder than you think to tell which during that split second. So stay behind cars you can see around, and keep a respectful distance.
- During fog, or at night, especially in the pitch black Carolinas or 90% of the country that isn't on the east coast, your visibility is limited to what your headlights can cover. More than once something dark popped up in the road (mostly roadkill) and I didn't have time to react well to it. I was able to decrease my stress and increase my response time by staying several hundred feet behind another car. This way I could see them react to something and I would know I would have to too. Also, their headlights extended the distance of my own headlights as to how far ahead I could see. Finally, seeing just a few red dots of tailights way in the distance was reassuring. They meant that I would know well ahead of time what right and left turns would be coming up.
- Use Rain-X. During light rain, you won't even need to use your windshield wipers, and during heavy rain they increase visibility in between wiper blade swipes.
- If it's within an hour of your normal sleep schedule, go to sleep. Whether or not you know it, your reaction time is down. The military did a study where they attached these watches that tracked movements and later they drilled soliders with reaction tests, and during periods of the day where they typically slowed down their wrist movements i.e. sleep, rest, their reaction times were slower even when they were awake.
- Cheapest gas of the whole trip: Exit 130 in Virginia off of I95, Wa Wa gas station at $1.1899 per gallon, plus there's a strip mall where you can buy books on tape, eat, shop and such. There are lines at Wa Wa, which is hilarious. I guess the gas is popular. This is a great place for walkie talkies - "I'm going to look at CD's, you can go look for something to entertain you in the car."
- When selecting music for the trip keep in mind two things. Unless you have XM radio you can't expect the radio stations to carry you cross country. Bring along well known CD's you can sing along to. Heady, intellectual CD's aren't the best when what you really need is something to keep your spirits high.
- Those inexpensive FRS walkie talkies are great at rest stops for letting each person go their own way and keep track of them. I like the 5 mile FRS/GMRS Cobra Talkabouts better than the Motarola's because they sound so much better. The Motarola's sound like the adults on the Peanuts TV specials.
- Avoid excessive salt and excessive sugar. Try not to eat heavy meals that will bring your blood sugar down to the point of making you tired. Sugar will mess with your mood, salt will just make you feel icky, though soda (caffiene) was a staple, it takes a little while to kick in.
- I'm not an excessive over planner, in fact I could be accused of being quite the under planner, but at every state line, I made sure my co-pilot knew and explained clearly to me how to get through that state. Then I'd use the tripometer/odometer to estimate how far it would be to get places. "Okay, the turn off will be around 2,500 miles on the tripometer."
- Miles to go divided by miles per hour = hours to go. 60 miles at 60 miles an hour is 1 hour, 1,500 miles at 60 miles an hour is 25 hours. Plus 10 to 20 percent time at rest stops (typical rest stop is 10 to 20 minutes). Rests happen at a minimum every 300-400 miles for re-fueling.
- Bring something that will help you sleep so that when you have to drive, you're awake. Try to keep somewhat different schedules before and during the trip so that you're not all too tired at 4am to drive. I depend on melatonin and valerian root, and in the extreme, unisom (same active ingredient as nyquil), though unisom makes me groggy in the morning.
- Avoid sugar and caffiene before you're supposed to go to sleep.
- A compass that will work within the electrical field of the car is often useful (and often not, you'd be surprised at how many roads go east for a while when they're actually north roads).
- Gum. I don't know why, but sometimes keeping my jaw moving keeps me awake. Also, the sugarless kind lets me think I'm performing dental hygiene at the same time.
- Note the traffic radio stations for states/highways, they may come in handy when you hit traffic. "Is this going to last forever, or just the next couple of exits?"
- Hydration is a sticky subject... to be dehydrated, or to know you'll have to pull over to pee? Drink plenty of fluids the day before you set out, and drink slowly all the time rather than a lot at once. Your body purges water when you drink a lot all at once, but a little at a time over a long period of time will be put to more use.
- I haven't confirmed this, but one of those little portable TV's may be good. Video games are boring for everyone but the one who's playing (I guess those game link cables are good, but what about the driver?). The driver can listen to Friends, Oprah, the local auctions, and get some entertainment value too.
- The most important thing you can bring with you are flares and those little orange reflective triangle things. If you have to stop on the highway in the middle of the night and can't pull all the way over, flares could mean the difference between life and death. You basically want to do the "road work" thing and set them up so cars are gently directed around you. A reflective vest couldn't hurt either. Be sure they're handy too, you don't want to me rummaging around in your trunk for one for too long.
That's it. I may think of more, but these are the ones that occured to me while travelling. e-mail me to add a tip or dispute one. I'll credit you if I add it to the list.
One thing that's helped me stay awake if I'm starting to get sleepy when I drive... fresh air. Turn that air conditioner off & open the window if the gum chewing, soda drinking, music-playing isn't doing it for you.
Also, sometimes listening to music I find slightly annoying helps to keep me up. I know it's strange to do something to purposely make your trip less pleasant, but at least it isn't as unpleasant as being woken up by the lamp post you just drove into in your sleep.
Of course, ideally it's better to sleep and just drive when you don't have to resort to such tactics to stay awake, but situations aren't always ideal.
Niki - Normally I'd agree with you about opening your windows, and I did this quite a bit driving between NYC and New Paltz every weekend a few years ago, but the Carolinas are hot and sticky, even in the evenings. I think I was in Virginia - at night - before I felt anything approaching cool, refreshing air.
I have "fond" memories of driving at 4am with the window wide open, listening to Hole's Live Through This and chewing gum.
Tomos Wise from England writes:
Re: "Long Distance Driving Trips" - I am learning to drive at the moment and all that sort of stuff is yet to come, but the one thing that is a definite no-go are things that take your eye/mind off the road (excessively loud music, TV, cell-phones, walkie talkies whilst driving etc.) I can imagine that driving 3,000 miles is not the most exciting thing to do in one go - I'm sure it's all worth it when you get there, but the main objective IS TO ACTUALLY GET THERE, and not wipe-out half way there!
I agree with everything else you say though.
Tomos - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi postulates that there's something he calls "flow" and other people refer to as "the zone" where the brain sort of steps out of the picture and it seems as if you're acting without thinking. I'm sure as a bass player, this is a familiar feeling to you. I think loud music can help faciliate "zone driving" where you're not actively conscious of what you're doing, but you are alert. As long as you're conscious of your speed, and not so far gone that an odd situation won't snap you back, I think loud music is OK.
Being constanly conscious of what you're doing is very tiring, which is what makes nighttime driving so stressful.
Fiddling with the radio dial, on the other hand, especially when tired is a big no-no. You can spend 10 or more seconds looking at that thing before you realize your eyes aren't on the road.
Hi there. Read your article on long-distance driving: nice tips. I'd like to add that when I went cross-country, I found that audiobooks were a godsend. I found that my local library had lots of good, long, mindless-fun type books, so you don't have to pay $50 or whatever high amount the bookstore wants to charge you. I remember picking up some short stories by Stephen King and The Janson Directive by Robert Ludlum. Fun stuff.
Akilesh. Yeah, books on tape are great. I'm actually surprised it wasn't already on my list.
This is how I consume ALL of my fiction. The DaVinci Code was good, a "page turner" and you may learn something too. The Sue Grafton ABC Mystery stuff is good. Memoirs of a Geisha was great. Midnight In the Garden of Good & Evil also. The abridged Warlord series by Bernard Cornwell. A Girl's Guide to Hunting And Fishing. Vurt was great, if you can find it. The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Lolita. Avoid The Ya Ya Sisterhood, and The Founding Fathers.. zzzz those will put you to sleep.
Get a selection before you go, you never know which ones will be good.
I got an email from someone which states "I'm about to move from NM to NC...YIKES!!! One more thing about the audio books...you can go to any cracker barrel and get them...and then when your done, find the next cracker barrel and you can just exchange them...one right after another. MINIMAL charge...unless you decide not to return it..."
Cracker Barrel has a cool "On The Road" feature that will tell you where each Cracker Barrel is between your start & end points, or a more traditional Cracker Barrel Location Directory. Here's a page about their Books-On-Audio.
page first created on Tuesday, September 24, 2002
© Mark Wieczorek