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Road Tip!
Our Readers' Concrete Advice for Coping With Those Long Summer Car Trips

By Hope Katz Gibbs
The Washington Post
Sunday, July 5, 1998; Page E01

This summer, at least one time, you are certain to spend an extended period belted into a glass-and-metal envelope barreling down the road at 60 mph, perhaps surrounded by people you love, perhaps by people who annoy you or, if your luck is particularly bad, by people who love to annoy you. You will be headed someplace where you hope to have a fine time. Until you get there, you will probably be at least slightly impatient, uncomfortable and bored.

Unless, of course, you abide by our readers' favorite road-tested tips for car travel, in which case you will be impatient, uncomfortable and considerably more eccentric than other folks on the road. You may also be more efficient, comfortable and prepared, but we can't promise that. Our readers have driven many miles many times and, native geniuses that they are, have concocted some novel ways to deal with the inconveniences, problems and hazards of traveling by car. As always, our winning tipsters will receive Washington Post Travel section T-shirts for sharing their expertise.

So check that passenger-side mirror, adjust your lumbar support and get a big ol' travel mug of your favorite road beverage. We're going for a ride.

* Strangest Be-Sure-to-Pack Suggestion: a 15-foot piece of nylon parachute cord, recommended by Herb Hagerty of the District. To lash complaining passengers into silence? No. He uses it to tie suitcases to the roof, hold the door closed if the latch breaks, or keep overstuffed suitcases shut. Other common take-along suggestions, from too many readers to name: a keychain flashlight; pepper spray; a cell phone; a bungee cord or two; a couple of bottles of water; a couple of blankets; road flares; those cardboard shields that are supposed to keep your car cool; a tool kit; a pocket knife; moon pies; caffeine pills (!); quarters for tolls and parking meters.

* Pack in Trash Bins. Virginian Robert Simmons was searching for a way to organize his clothes for a cross-country trip to California when, one day at work, he stumbled over the perfect solution. "I looked down and there it was, sitting in front of me--a clean plastic wastepaper basket," Simmons says. He went out and bought a set of six at a discount store and lined them up side by side in the trunk of his car. "They were perfect for organizing shirts, underwear, socks and dirty clothes," he enthuses. "Each evening, I only needed to take a change of clothes and my shaving kit into the hotel." The tipster is silent on the issue of sleepwear, and we decline to pry.

* The Hotel Bag. A less radical version of a quick-in/quick-out tip--and one more appropriate for groups of travelers like families--came from several readers, including Linda Dekker of Lake Ridge, Va.: "When our trips require more than one overnight stay," she says, "we pack a single "hotel bag'--one suitcase containing our pajamas, toiletries and the clothing for the next day. This eliminates carrying in multiple suitcases." Or, presumably, multiple trash cans.

* Listening In. Certainly one of the worst ways to end a driving vacation is by having your car, or the belongings you stow there, stolen. Tipster Theresa Werner of Herndon proposed a truly novel method of keeping an eye--or rather, an ear--on an auto while asleep in a motel. "Bring along a baby monitor," says she, referring to those tiny and cheap (around $25) broadcast devices designed to let parents listen in on the activity in a distant baby's crib. "Leave the base in the car and take the monitor inside with you to your room. This way you can keep tabs on your car all night." Of course, you'll need to be staying in the sort of place where you can park your car right outside your room window or door, since the devices' broadcast range is usually 500 feet or less. But there are plenty of motels like that. "This is especially useful for minivans because they have no trunks to lock possessions out of sight." And what do you do if you're awakened by furtive scrapings and whispered oaths of crooks at work on your four-wheel "baby"? 911's a good place to start.

* Disguise Your Car. A less strange method to prevent your car from being targeted by thieves: "Don't hang clothes in the back of your car or leave maps lying around in plain view," advises Deborah Jacobs of Fairfax. "You're a sitting duck for someone to prey on. Leave your directions on a small piece of paper out of sight. Put all of your stuff in the trunk, out of view."

* The Ziploc Brigade Hits the Road. Not only have Ziploc fanatics reproduced, they have taken to the road. Of course, it's easy to make your car trip neater and cleaner by packing snacks, a change of clothes, swimmin'-hole garb, roadside restroom hygiene bags and so on in the see-through closeables. But for all-purpose road travel, we liked this submission by Les Welch of Alexandria: "Moisten a washcloth and fold it into a mid-size sealable plastic bag, along with a few ice cubes," he writes (breaking form for most Post readers and using the correct generic form to describe the product in question). "Sealed tight, the baggie can be tucked away anywhere [in a glove compartment, in a pocket, on an empty seat, on the floor]. The cool cloth will soothe your fevered brow, handle spills and generally clean up your act. As you travel, a quick rinse of the cloth, a few pieces of ice from the convenience store beverage machine, and you'll be fresh all day." Tipster Mai Clark of Pinehurst, N.C., takes a store-bought approach, packing a zippable full of diaper-change "moist washcloths" in the car. "I use mine to clean bugs off the windshield, remove makeup, clean golf clubs and shoes and to clean toilet seats in public restrooms," she writes. "Also great for sunglasses and sticky fingers."

* Extra Humidity Control. TV cameraman Donald Lee of Alexandria is on the road a lot for work. And he often stays at roadside motels featuring dry heat, which can deplete precious bodily fluids and create enough static electricity to light the MCI Center. Lee has developed a slick trick, worthy of a high school science experiment, to humidify the air. He takes a large bathroom towel, soaks it in water in the bathroom sink and spreads the wet towel across the top or in front of the heater, being careful not to cover the vents. Then he fills an ice bucket with water and sticks one corner of the towel into it. "The towel "wicks' the water from the bucket," says Lee, "and humidifies the room all night." As far as we know, no patent is pending.

* Go Native. When you're traveling by car and staying in motels, it's easy to fall in line along the Road Most Taken, driving the interstates and limiting one's "cultural experiences" to what appears in guidebooks, on maps or in the racks of brochures at the nearest visitor center. Bah. Aside from saving money, one of the great reasons to travel by car is to get a more intimate view of the country you're passing through. As she travels, road-tripper Susan Kane of Reston seeks out the local newspapers, shoppers' guides and bulletin boards at supermarkets and libraries to find out what the locals are up to. Kane has made her way to a pancake breakfast at a North Carolina firehouse, where she met a gent who gave her a deal on a smoked-fish processor, and a high school basketball game, where she sat next to the coach's wife and got invited to after-game festivities. She even met a favorite author who was signing books at a local bookstore owned by the author's sister. "Venture past travel brochures and check what's local, and you're sure to find experiences not noted in travel guides," advises Kane.

* Sleep With The Washington Post. Finally, an idea so ingenious and shockingly self-serving that we lack the will to resist publishing it. Sally Sieracki of Fairfax--who, as far as we can tell, is neither an employee nor a stockholder of The Washington Post--writes: "Guess what makes a nice cushion for your head on a long car trip? Those plastic bags that protect your home-delivered Washington Post." Sieracki had stuffed a large number of empty Post bags into another Post bag, and kept meaning to take them to the grocery store for recycling. Instead, for months they sat in the back seat of the family car. One day, while in the passenger seat on a long car trip, she got sleepy, and genius struck. "I reached for my bag of bags, and found that with just a little air blown in for extra support and a knot tied at the end, it made a very nice cushion for my head," she reports. "I've kept my Post pillow in the car ever since, and it has served on more than one occasion."

Happy travels.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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