STAY SAFE ON THE ROAD
Traffic safety researcher Federico E. Vaca, professor of emergency medicine at Yale University School of Medicine, gives us his top safety tips. (Hint: It's all in the prep.)
Get your car in tip-top shape
Check tire pressure, change your oil and make sure your radiator is working well in hot summer months. (In colder weather, gauge antifreeze levels.)
Know when to leave
Depart after 7 a.m. and arrive before 10 p.m. Research shows that the roads are most dangerous very early in the morning and late at night, when people are more likely to be intoxicated or tired, and when fewer police officers are around.
Map out a plan
Knowing where you'll stay each night drastically cuts down on the likelihood that you'll get lost. If you don't have a GPS system, Google Maps offers free applications for most mobile devices (download at m.google.com/maps on your phone's browser).
Don't drink -- not even a sip
It's never safe to drink and drive -- even a beer with lunch affects your ability. Studies show that after a single drink, important changes in cognition occur.
Pull over every two to three hours and stretch your legs, both to ward off fatigue and to avoid deep vein thrombosis.
More than 100,000 crashes in 2009 were due to drowsy driving. If you feel tired, stop at a safe, well-lit place and take a power nap. Better yet, check into a motel early and catch up on sleep.
ENTERTAIN YOUR KIDS WITH GAMES
Amy Graff, family leisure travel spokesperson for Best Western, offers ways to keep the kiddies entertained.
The Alphabet Game, ages 2 to 4
Have young ones try to find the letters "A" to "Z" on billboards and license plates. Whoever hits "Z" first wins.
The Silly Sounds Game, ages 5 to 8
Designate sounds for different things -- say, a red car gets a whistle, an American flag gets a pop, and a truck gets a yodel. Each time you see an object, make the corresponding sound.
Tell a Tale, ages 9 to 12
Make up amusing anecdotes about the people passing you by in their cars. You can each tell a history of a driver, or one person can begin the story and pass it on to the next.
Your Car Is Their Canvas, all ages
Kids love Mrs. Grossman's repositionable stickers ($2.25, stickergalore.com), which allow them to create easy-to-peel-off pirate scenes, dog parks and funny faces on windows.
ENTERTAIN YOURSELF WITH AUDIOBOOKS
An enthralling audiobook will be a welcome change from Lady Gaga. And for staying focused, it's better than coffee. Mark Nichols, industry relations officer at the American Bookseller Organization, recommends three spellbinding books.
Dead End Gene Pool by Wendy Burden ($25, bn.com) You'll gasp as Burden, the great-great- great-great-granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, bravely confesses family secrets, like her father's suicide. Mixing humor and heartbreak, she chronicles a childhood spent in the company of her wildly eccentric, extremely sloshed grandparents.
Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes ($32, bn.com) This title is the solution to the classic quandary of couples everywhere: What can we both agree on? The moving fictional epic centers on a diverse band of marines confronting their roles in a seemingly pointless war. Populated with multifaceted characters, the book appeals to both history buffs and those who just love a good story.
For Solo Riders
The Hypnotist by M. J. Rose ($25, booksonboard.com) Can't stop for coffee? No matter: The Hypnotist is the literary equivalent of a triple espresso. The suspenseful tale melds multiple elements of awesome mystery writing: possibly evil international art thieves, paranormal powers, reincarnation and a brilliant special agent. Time will fly.
HOW TO BRING ALONG YOUR DOG
Exploring is better with a canine BFF by your side. Claudia Kawczynska -- editor-in-chief of The Bark magazine and an editor of the anthology Dog Is My Co-Pilot -- briefs us on pet-friendly places to stay.
This hip nationwide hotel chain is totally pet-obsessed, as evidenced by the cooing staff that presents your dog with a bag of gourmet treats and a chew toy upon arrival. At the Muse Hotel in New York, the director of pet services can arrange side-by-side massages for pet and owner ($150). All hotels offer complimentary beds and bowls and can arrange dog-walking services. (kimptonhotels.com for locations; doubles from $99)
It's not the fanciest spot, but after a long day on the road, a Motel 6 is a good place to rest your weary bones -- and you won't have to sneak in Fido. The ubiquitous chain welcomes pets into their tidy rooms; American Kennel Club members receive a discount. (motel6.com for locations; doubles from $40, with a 10% discount to AKC members)
Kampgrounds of America
Regular campers have trained their eyes to pick up that yellow KOA logo on interstate signs across the country. The generally clean, dog-friendly campgrounds offer showers, tent lots, RV hookups and log cabins. Some even have dog meadows and agility courses. (koa.com, dog rates and policies vary; tent lots from $34, cabins from $61)
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*Prices and other details were accurate when we published this article in July 2010.