If you’re one of the millions planning to hit the crowded highways for the Thanksgiving holiday this year, here are seven pieces of sound holiday travel advice to save you gas, save your sanity, and maybe even save your life:
1. Pack for your back
Loading up your family’s luggage the morning of the day you leave could be a pain in your back. Fluids pool in your spinal disks while you sleep, and that makes your lower back tight and sensitive to irritation when you first wake up. Pack the car the night before, and you may need fewer painkillers as you drive.
Another simple but important bit of holiday travel advice: Tilt the rearview mirror up a bit so you won’t slouch while driving. Your spine will appreciate it.
2. Ditch the drive-thru
Fast food is a drain on your wallet and your energy levels, and, considering how much you’ll be eating this weekend, you just don’t need all that fat-, sugar-, and salt-laden fare. Instead, pack a cooler full of sandwiches on whole-wheat bread, which boosts your energy levels and makes you more alert.
Throw in a few peppermints; they’re healthier and studies find they’re as stimulating as caffeine. As a bonus, packing your own lunch will save you gas: Idling in drive-thrus can cost you up to 19 percent of your fuel economy.
3. Drive at, or slightly below, the speed limit
Automotive experts note that most cars get optimal gas mileage when driving between 60 and 65 miles per hour on the highway.
4. Plan for hills
Even cars with good mileage ratings have a hard time getting the best gas mileage on hilly roads, so if your route runs through mountains or foothills, avoid using cruise control. Cruise-control systems in most cars accelerate too aggressively uphill, wasting gas, but don't allow you to save gas by coasting down the other side.
On the other hand, if your route crosses flat terrain, let the car cruise and give your lead foot a break. By doing so, you’ll use between 7 and 14 percent less gas.
5. Remember to stop
Our “gotta get there” mentalities make it hard to remember that we need to stop—and not just when the kids have to go.
Plan pit stops every 2 to 3 hours to stretch your legs and prevent deep-vein thrombosis, a condition that occurs when leg circulation isn’t very good. Passengers and drivers alike should flex their ankles every so often during the ride to help with leg circulation.
6. Let your navigator do the talking—and the navigating
Whether it’s your cellphone, your GPS, the satellite radio, or even the low-tech paper map, drivers face a lot of distractions these days. You may know better than to text while driving, which leads to a 23-fold increase in your risk of a crash, but it’s not a good idea to hold phone conversations (even with a hands-free device) or fiddle with any gadgets.
The rate of crashes is four times higher among people who talk on hands-free phones while driving (often because the crashes take place while someone is dialing a number), and reading a paper map while driving is seven times riskier than talking on the phone. Let the other travelers do the navigating, or if you're driving alone, set the GPS and don’t fiddle with it until you’ve stopped.
7. Plan some vacation exercise
Perhaps the best piece of holiday travel advice we can give is to take a walk, considering that the average Thanksgiving dinner contains upwards of 4,500 calories. Besides, after all the time cooped up inside cooking and eating, the fresh air will feel good.
Go for a nice long walk every day during the holiday break, and it could become a healthy habit by the time the work week starts.
Keep Reading: What to do with those Thanksgiving Leftovers.