Despite record gas prices, millions of Americans will take to the road this summer (some 330-million did in 2007, says the Travel Industry Association). So think again if your plan is to just print out directions and get rolling. A good trip is in the details. Here's how to make yours safe, comfortable and delightful.
From the editors of Real Simple magazine
How to read a road atlas
Buy this year's edition. The cost is less than buying a handful of maps, and it will have the most current facts on major construction activity. GPS isn't infallible; you'll want old-school backup.
Study the legend. The little box of icons at the front of the atlas helps you decipher the maps. Most atlases indicate scenic routes and long-term construction projects. Some even show which rest areas have toilets.
Know your numbers. Two-digit interstates (I-90) are often the most direct routes through cities; three-digit interstates (I-787) circle urban areas. Odd-numbered highways run north to south; even-numbered ones run east-west.
Orient the driver. Highlight your route and keep the map in the passenger's lap. Turn it to show the direction you're going. That way, the driver can glance down and take it in.
Find a good place to eat
Plan ahead. Go to www.roadfood.com to map out the best small-town eats on your route.
Skip the rest stops. "The point of road-tripping is not to see the interstate," says Pauline Frommer, creator of the Pauline Frommer Guidebooks. "Get off the highway to explore, and patronize local eateries — clam shacks, barbecue huts and soda parlors."
Stick to a meal schedule. "The hungrier you get, the worse choices you'll make," says Carll Tucker, who spent nine months road-tripping to write The Bear Went Over the Mountain: Finding America, Finding Myself (Mary Ann Liebert, $20). If you stop at regular intervals, you'll be less likely to settle out of desperation.
In a pinch, find a grocery store. "Supermarkets offer plenty of safe and healthy foods," Tucker says.
Drive like a trucker
Travel in the opposite direction of rush-hour traffic. Enter a city in the evening hours, and exit it in the morning.
Listen to comedy. "A lot of us schedule our days around shows on satellite radio," says Brett Nymeyer, who for about six years has been driving 18-wheelers for Challenger Motor Freight, which operates throughout North America. "Most guys listen to comedy channels, like Sirius 104. They keep you awake and happy."
Take walks. Park as far from rest-stop entrances as possible to gain some exercise.
Get in rhythm. Truckers are very conscious of circadian rhythms, says Nymeyer. Plan stops for the afternoon and the middle of the night if you're still on the road, he says, so "you're not fighting fatigue when the body wants to sleep."