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Making road trips as painless as possible
IN the last 20 years, I've taken more road trips than Lewis and Clark. And stayed in worse places. I have eaten seafood in Nebraska and Chinese food in Arkansas. I've seen Shakespeare performed in Mississippi.
Regrets? I have a few. The moo shu pork, for one. But our road trips, taken mostly with three kids in the back, have provided memories that last a lifetime, even if some long days weren't all smiles.
"It's all about finding the out-of-the-way places," says Jamie Jensen, author of "Road Trip USA," which covers 35,000 miles of back-road jaunts.
"America grew up on the move, and we are a nation of travelers," the road trip guru says. "A lot of what we have is best seen by car."
If you are planning a road trip, help is everywhere. Joe McClure, president of Montrose Travel, says agencies such as his handle requests for road trips and are eager to help.
"Usually, it's the folks wanting to make a run up the coast, and they've got four days with the kids; we'll sit down with them and a map and give them ideas."
Roadsideamerica.com is also a handy pre-trip planner. It offers details on many of the quirky roadside attractions that are an American tradition.
Budget Travel Online (www.budgettravelonline.com) offers a separate section on road trips, including interesting articles on theme trips.
But the great beacon of road trip information continues to be your local auto club, which provides the same type of spiral-bound TripTik that your parents probably used, as well as online map services.
Long car trips always raise plenty of practical questions for families. Here are some areas to consider as you head out on the road:
Pet prep. Like automobiles, pets joining you on road trips should have exams in advance. Ask your vet to ensure that shots are up-to-date and that the animal is healthy enough for the journey ahead.
Take along a copy of your pet's health certificate, which gives the status of all vaccinations. State border checkpoints may ask for it.
Dr. Suzi Milder, owner of the Chatsworth Veterinary Center, recommends taking new pets on short stints to see how they handle car travel. Many dogs will settle down after five or 10 minutes, she says, but if an animal remains skittish, a tranquilizer can be prescribed.
Be sure the pet has tags with contact information, preferably your cellphone number.
Car prep. Your mechanic should check all belts, hoses and fluids, giving particular attention to coolant or antifreeze.
But in certain cases, renting a car makes more sense, says Paul Gonzales of the Automobile Club of Southern California. A rental can give you extra space or four-wheel-drive capability.
Be sure to take a cellphone adapter that plugs into the cigarette lighter. Don't forget a spare set of keys. And double-check your tire jack and spare tire.
Maps and guidebooks. "Get off the interstate and travel the side road," Jensen urges. "To me, that's what makes it a road trip as opposed to just a long trip."
His website, http://www.roadtripusa.com , offers suggestions on sights off the beaten path.
For auto club members, there are three ways to get free maps: in person, by phone and by the online service http://www.aaa-calif.com . If you order maps and guidebooks in person, you'll receive the traditional, spiral-bound versions. Phone orders take seven days. The online option allows you to print out maps immediately at home.
A good road atlas from a company such as National Geographic or Rand McNally costs less than $20 and can be found online or in bookstores.
On the road. Many parents swear by an early start, while kids are still sleepy and before local traffic builds.
Be sure to offer occasional breaks. Take water in the car, not juice, which makes kids jumpy and can permanently stain seats and carpets.
Finally, acknowledge what every parent eventually discovers: Children are not appendages; you cannot control everything. When things don't go as planned, roll with it.
Troubleshooting. Roadside assistance is provided by various services. Before leaving, refresh yourself on what your carmaker offers in the warranty package.
Sooner or later, nearly everyone nets a speeding ticket. Out of state, many jurisdictions will require that you post a bond, often the full cost of the ticket, before you can proceed. This is their guarantee you won't flee back home.
"So if you're in another state, what you do is surrender your AAA membership card in lieu of payment," Gonzales says. "This doesn't jeopardize service; if you get a flat later, they can look up your membership number."
For a list of rental car companies, see latimes.com/rental.