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Road Trips

We admit: Airplanes are the faster, easier way to travel. But there's something to be said for the good old-fashioned road trip -- packing your bags at a moment's notice and hopping in the car with the windows down, radio blaring and no particular destination in mind. That feeling of freedom, however, only gets you so far. When you're hungry, tired and the gas gauge is on E, these resources will get you back on track and ready for a new day of exploration.

Getting Started

If spontaneity is your thing, checking out your car before you leave isn't always an option. But for those who plan their vacations, it's smart to have your auto examined before you leave port. At the very least, get an oil change. (Jiffy Lube will do it in 10 minutes.) If you decide that your car won't make the trip, rent one instead. Imagine zipping down the highway in a shiny white Mustang convertible -- or an Escort if cost is an issue. Car rental companies like Avis, Alamo, Budget, Hertz and Dollar Rent A Car allow you to make reservations online. Dollar even includes a "Great Drives" section that lists interesting routes and itineraries across the country. And if you run into car troubles during your trip, AAA will lend a helping hand (if you're a member).

Once the car is in place, it's time to pack it. Bring comfortable clothes (remember, you'll be sitting for hours at a time) and munchies to cut down on food stops. And don't forget those road trip essentials: books and music. Mix a CD or fill your MP3 player with albums that are singable. (By that we mean songs everyone in your car can tolerate). Books, like music, are a personal choice, but you have to admit that reading Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" would be totally apropos. Try or for your reading and record needs.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

"Perhaps you should try a road less traveled. They may have more potholes, but they also have more character."

You've pulled out of your driveway, made a right and are now heading out of town. But where are you going? Perhaps you should try a road less traveled. They might have more potholes, but they also have more character. The most famous road of yesteryear is Route 66, but National Scenic Byways Online contains tons of up-to-date information about byways throughout the country. If you choose to stick to the main drags, Route 40 and the I-95 Exit Guide list everything from gas stations to weather conditions. And if you forget that right turn at Albuquerque, MapQuest will get you going in the right direction.

Kodak Moments

The whole point of driving is to see stuff, right? The nature lover should check out the National Parks Service, which contains comprehensive information about every national park in the country. For more urban-minded travelers, City Search, Digital City and USA CityLink offer listings of every activity you could possibly imagine for dozens of major (and not-so-major) cities. But if it's oddities you're after, you can't miss Roadside America -- the guide to offbeat tourist attractions. The site even breaks down sights by state.

Gas, Food, Lodging

Yes, even an adventure-seeker such as yourself must take time to refuel. If you're looking for honest-to-goodness road food, RoadFood is the guide to roadside eateries in the U.S. and Canada. The site is packed with diners, truck stops and sandwich joints. Diner City offers a similar guide to those classic, neon-lit eateries. If you're longing for fast food, Burger King, Jack in the Box and Carl's Jr. offer store locators. Oh, and if you get the chance, visit Krispy Kreme Doughnuts: It's deep-fried heaven.

When it comes to sleeping arrangements, budget is key. However, don't compromise a good night's sleep just to save money. (Sleeping in your car at a rest stop is not considered camping.) Find an inexpensive hotel, like Motel 6, Travelodge, Jameson Inn or Super 8. These establishments offer a directory of locations and online reservation capabilities. Do take advantage of this service: When it's 2 a.m. and your body is heavy with fatigue, you'll be glad you did.

   --- R.M.


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