By Scott Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Q. It's always been a dream of mine to drive cross-country. Do you know of any resources that can help me in my planning?
A. What do you call a boomerang that won't come back? A stick. Ba-dum-bum. What do you call a AAA spokesman who loathes cross-country driving trips? John Townsend.
"I've never been interested in doing it. Never wanted to do it."
"I think it would be a curse."
Wow, mid-Atlantic AAA guy wasn't kidding. But like the good parent who knows you'll nod appreciatively and then do what you want to do anyway, Townsend showered us with wisdom, most of it intended to remove as many unknowns as possible.
"My first thought is to use a GPS unit," he said. "I would probably use Triptik, too."
Triptik ( http://www.aaa.com/triptik) is an online travel planning service created for AAA members but free for the general public's use as well. There you'll find details on dozens of great driving trips all over the country, each featuring photos and detailed descriptions of the highlights. You'll also get information on hotels along the way, which should help you budget for expenses.
Once you've got an idea of your itinerary, visit an online fuel calculator (AAA's is http://www.fuelcostcalculator.com) for the sobering news on how much a 5,000- to 6,000-mile round-trip drive will cost. And speaking of that:
"I would rent a car. Why put all that mileage on your car?" wondered Townsend, who also suggested you devote "a minimum of two weeks" to the trip.
A final thing to plan for: not planning everything. This journey's charm (and even Townsend admitted it has some) depends on an improvisational attitude.
"Sometimes you don't want to take the shortest trip possible," said Townsend, humoring us.
I am planning to visit Switzerland in April. Will it still be "winter" there, or will the temperatures be more like spring?
Atif Mahmood, McLean
Winter officially ends on March 20 this year, but "winter" -- by which I think you mean, will it still feel like winter? -- is a far more difficult thing to predict. Then again, according to Robert Holub of the Swiss National Tourist Office ( http://www.myswitzerland.com), rain may be a bigger concern than frigid temperatures. "If you go to a higher altitude, you'll still get a winter climate," he said. "It can still snow in the mountains in April. If you're in the cities" -- Zurich, Basel or Bern -- "you can already have spring days, but it's a very rainy month." For more hints about Switzerland in April, don't miss Washington in March, when average temperatures are roughly equal to those of most Swiss cities (lows in the mid-30s, highs in the mid-50s) a month later.Postscript
With regard to our answer on ways to overcome a fear of flying (Dec. 30), therapist Kent B. Massie of Lexington adds that "hypnosis in the hands of a trained professional has long been regarded as a quick and effective treatment for many who suffer from anxiety and phobic conditions." Massie says he has successfully treated patients this way, and he suggests the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis Web site ( http://www.asch.net) as a good resource for referrals.
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