By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian
At some point this week, to go over that river and through those woods to Grandmother’s house, you’re going to have to drive on a highway.
And you won’t be alone.
It might seem like the roads will be more crowded than the kiddie table on Thanksgiving Day.
According to AAA, about 39 million Americans will pack a bag, gas up the car and hit the roads to get to that savory holiday turkey and steaming mashed potatoes ... and to Grandma, too.
Many will be driving 50 miles or more over the holiday travel period, which starts Wednesday and ends Sunday, Dec. 1.
Take more cars on the roads, add some “gotta get there before the stuffing’s all gone” rush, toss in bad weather, impatient drivers, traffic delays and been-on-the-road-too-long passengers, and you’ve got a holiday recipe for traffic accidents.
So take it easy.
“Last year’s travel numbers included pent-up demand resulting from the economic downturn,” said Jim Lehman, president, AAA East Central.
“Although slightly lower this year, the forecast is consistent with the travel trends that we have seen throughout year. Motorists will also enjoy the bonus of lower gas prices, which are at their lowest level for the holiday since 2010,” he added.
According to AAA, 37 percent of those surveyed said they plan to travel on the day before the holiday, and 33 percent will return that Sunday, logging an average 601 miles. Most will spend about $465 for gas, food and lodging.
While at Grandma’s, most people will spend time with family and friends (67 percent) and dine out (56 percent).
Almost half (44 percent) plan to get in a little Christmas shopping, too, hitting all those Black Friday specials.
Just relax, advised Bevi Powell, senior vice president for AAA East Central.
• First of all, she said, plan your trip.
“Have a clear-cut plan of where you’re going.”
Plan an alternate route, in case of weather or road construction, or just a change of pace. Make sure you have directions, a map or GPS. Make motel reservations in advance.
• Plan your pretrip.
“Get a lot of rest the night before,” she said.
Have everything packed and ready to go. Make sure the mail, paper and other deliveries are stopped. Double check to make sure that everything that should be unplugged, turned off or put away, is. Power up all your electronic devices. Do all this the night before the trip so that you can ...
• Get on the road on time.
“Leave early enough so that you don’t feel stressed,” she said.
Listen to radio weather forecasts. Listen to your front-seat navigator that your exit is coming up or to watch out for traffic. Listen to the peanut gallery in the back to hear if someone suddenly needs to make a pit stop.
If traffic gets to be too much or if the kids get too rambunctious, pull off at the nearest exit, she said.
“Have something to eat. Do whatever you need to do to relax.”
• Double check personal items.
Make sure you have anything that you can’t replace while away, such as prescription medications, or credit/debit cards.
• Don’t forget Old Betsy.
Fuel up the night before. Check fluids and tire pressures before you leave. Get an oil change if the trip is really long. Clean out the car and leave all the unneeded stuff at home. Make sure you have that up-to-date map as an old-school back-up to that nifty GPS Santa brought you last year.
• Be prepared.
Bring supplies in the event of an accident or medical issue. Stock your car with an emergency kit, especially a flashlight, blanket, first-aid kit and some basic tools. Also, bring water and extra snacks, just in case.
• Pack smart.
Check your vehicle’s load capacity to make sure you aren’t putting too much weight in the car. On most new cars, the total weight you can carry is printed on a placard (sticker) inside the driver’s door. This load rating includes all the passengers and cargo. Also, make sure your gear is packed properly and will not be a hazard if you stop short.
• Track it.
A portable GPS navigation system will help you get where you’re going, making it easy to find gas stations or restaurants along the way. Traffic-enabled devices can warn of roadway congestion, and all units can assist in finding an alternate route. Also, a navigator can help direct emergency services to your location, should something happen.
• Kid prep.
If you’re driving with kids, make sure you pack enough snacks, water, games, videos/DVDs and music to keep them occupied during your journey.
• Traveling with pets?
Be sure to secure your pets, either with harnesses and seat belts or by placing them in a crate. Animals can be a dangerous distraction when driving and physical threat in an accident, should they travel about the cabin or escape onto a busy motorway. Bring water, food, toys, leash and clean-up supplies.
• Be patient.
During busy travel times, expect to hit traffic. It may make sense to drive late at night or early in the morning to avoid the rush and ensure you get to your destination on time and with minimal stress. A GPS device with traffic information and an exit guide can help you navigate around congestion and help find desired pit stop locations.
• Don’t be distracted.
Cellphones and driving don’t mix, so if you need to send a message or make a call, hand your phone to a passenger or pull over. It’s not worth risking your life or others on the road. And it’s probably illegal, too.
• Buckle up.
Always use your seat belt; make sure children are properly secured in a car seat and are seated in the rear seats if they are under 13.
• Take the back road.
If you have time, the weather’s good and you’re sure you won’t get lost, skip the interstate once in a while. There’s more to the American highway system than the interstate. See the America you’ve always heard about but never seen.
• Watch for weather.
If you’re driving in wintry weather, make sure you clear off the snow and ice for better visibility, allow for longer braking distances and reduce your speed.
• Keep control.
There could be a variety of scenarios on the road, but if you stay calm and be prepared you can get through any challenge.
• Most important of all, drive safely.
Obey speed limits, watch out for the other guy and keep your impatience under control.
Make this a trip your family will remember for all the right reasons.
Email Debra Minor Wilson at email@example.com.