YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Holiday Travel Guide | Driving

Road Warriors

For those hitting the highways during the holidays, frequent stops, the occasional off-road nap and a good book (on tape) may help ward off tedium.


Travelers planning to hit the nation's highways between now and New Year's Day may find them a bit less crowded than during previous holiday seasons.

In California, state officials predict no significant increase in Thanksgiving holiday traffic from last year, despite the public's reluctance to get on airplanes since Sept. 11.

According to a just-completed survey by the American Automobile Assn., the number of trips involving motor vehicles in the next six weeks is expected to decline 1% to 2% nationally compared with the 2000 holiday season, based on data from AAA travel agencies.

Because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, layoffs and the general downturn in the economy, AAA expects all forms of travel to drop 5% to 8% below normal levels for the holiday season.

"The lion's share of the drop will be in air travel," said AAA spokesman Jerry Cheske. "There are still some people who are concerned about their safety and security with air travel. As we get closer to Christmas, that could change."

In California, the state Department of Transportation says traffic during the four-day Thanksgiving weekend is expected to be typical of previous years: about 10% above a normal, non-holiday weekend.

Despite the Sept. 11 tragedy and events unfolding from it, "What we see is that Californians are going to be getting together with family and friends and enjoying the tremendous bounty of recreation in our state," said Caltrans spokesman Jim Drago. Caltrans does not yet have projections for Christmas and New Year's.

AAA says two factors will work in favor of road travelers in coming weeks. The recent nationwide decline in gasoline prices is expected to continue. And road travelers may find bargains in motels and hotels because the lodging industry is dropping prices across the board to counteract the decline in occupancy rates since Sept. 11.

Jeff Spring, the auto club's Southern California spokesman, said travel agencies polled by AAA think that Californians who plan to travel will be staying fairly close to home, at least for the Thanksgiving holiday.

"The information is anecdotal, but what we're seeing is a lot more interest in the Southwest, which is to say people are driving from home," he said. Las Vegas, the national parks in Utah and the Grand Canyon, all reachable by car, seem particularly popular, he said.

Whether it's a jaunt to Grandma's for Thanksgiving or a 10-hour marathon to a favorite getaway spot, many people think of long drives as sheer drudgery.

But car trips need not be eye-glazing time-wasters that leave passengers and drivers feeling cooped up and cranky. With a little forethought, a long drive can be interesting, relaxing, even the best part of the trip.

If your holiday or vacation time is longer than three days, consider building extra hours or days into your travel time to see some roadside attractions.

"The payoff is the enjoyment of the trip," says Irwin Mast, owner of Your Way Road Trips (, which specializes in self-guided driving vacations.

Having traveled all over the West on countless road trips lasting from three days to three months, I've gratefully taken advantage of the fact that virtually every country highway has scenic overlooks, points of historic interest, wildlife viewing areas and towns moving in slow motion, all providing good excuses to get out for a stretch or take photographs.

And as AAA's Cheske notes, "It's an opportunity to see countryside you haven't seen before. In some cases, it's the countryside your parents or grandparents were accustomed to."

It's amazing what you miss when you drive nonstop at 70 mph. Many people I know blast up U.S. 395, for example, to get to Mammoth or Lake Tahoe and have never stopped to see the historic Mt. Whitney fish hatchery, old mining towns, the World War II internment camp at Manzanar or the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest (site of the oldest living things on Earth).

Bookstores offer tourism guides on nearly every region of the nation. Get a couple and find out where you can stop along your route to enjoy historic, cultural, geologic or other sightseeing features.

If you find your eyelids getting heavy while driving, take the hint and pull onto a frontage road or into a rest stop for a nap. In urban areas, on many occasions I've parked in quiet corners of big shopping centers for midday catnaps.

Before you leave on your trip, and while traveling, you can do yourself a favor by calling the 24-hour Caltrans road conditions hotline, (800) 427-ROAD (427-7623). Enter the highway number when prompted, and you can learn if there are construction delays, detours or advisories for California highways and interstates on your route. This information is crucial if you're going to or through snow country, where you might need tire chains.

Be sure to take your CDs, tapes or audio books, because in vast expanses of the West the radio reception is spotty.

Los Angeles Times Articles