It's holiday travel time! You heard it here first!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Take your car in for a tuneup. Give yourself extra time if you're flying. Oh, and it's going to be one for the record books.

You've read that before, haven't you?

When it comes to the travel tips you see just before every major holiday, you can count on paint-by-numbers reporting: a AAA prediction followed by a sound bite from one of three travel "experts" (always the same three) followed by that familiar advice, dispensed in easy-to-read bullet points.

But which tips are cliches that should be ignored, and which are bona fide, you-must-do-this advice? If you've been reading these stories as long as I have, you must be wondering.

Blame tradition for this mess. What would the holiday season be without a "Yes, Virginia" editorial and a prediction of how many people are expected to travel more than 50 miles from home? Any intern can cobble together the story. Believe me; I've done five internships and have written it at least as many times.

(Incidentally, did you ever wonder why no one ever follows up on those travel predictions to find out whether X million drivers actually were on the road? Might have something to do with the feasibility of verifying travel forecasts. But that's another story. . . )

One of the most-recycled pieces of holiday advice is, "Get there early." It comes in two flavors: Arrive at the airport early, or start your road trip to Grandma's house early. We're spoon-fed that advice from a variety of sources. The implication is that earlier is always better for the holiday traveler, which isn't necessarily true. Some of the most experienced travelers I know wait until the last minute to get on the road or, for that matter, to make their travel plans.

By driving or flying on Thanksgiving or on Christmas Eve, you not only avoid traffic but also can save a bundle on your plane ticket. Airlines price their fares based on demand, so on days when no one wants to fly, rates drop.

Another timeworn tip is to get a tuneup for your car. A 2006 story on a Pittsburgh news site urged holiday travelers to "have a maintenance check before hitting the road. That means get a tuneup, including an oil change."

Oh, please! Have you ever heard someone telling holiday motorists -- or, for that matter, anyone -- to hit the road in an un-tuned vehicle? Don't change the oil in your car. Don't check the tire pressure.

If you need to be told to maintain your car, maybe you shouldn't be driving.

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