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How to Survive Holiday Traffic

Over the river and through the woods and . . . into a horrific travel nightmare? When you’re stuck in holiday traffic, you might find yourself ruing the day you decided to pack up the green-bean casserole and hit the road. I’ve been traveling up and down the Northeast Corridor between Washington D.C. and New York City for years, often on busy holiday and summer weekends. Here are some things I always try to do to avoid the rush — or what I have on hand when I can’t.

Avoid peak times. Easier said than done, I know, but I hate traffic so much I’ll wake up at dawn or take a nap in the evening and head out at 5 a.m. or 10 p.m. if I have to. I’d rather move at my own pace than sit behind an oil tanker for 13 miles. Conversely, if you can’t change the time of travel, consider changing the day — returning home on Monday or leaving Tuesday night could make a big difference.

Pack a GPS, a smartphone or a good atlas. Seems obvious, but I’m always surprised when I’m in a car that has none of them. My wife and I have gone to the atlas countless times and plotted workarounds when traffic reports paint a dire picture. (Better yet, pore over the map beforehand so you have a Plan B or C before you walk out the door.) There are also numerous smartphone apps (e.g. Google Maps Navigation) that track traffic flow, and don’t forget about dialing 511 when you’re stuck in a jam for the latest info about what lies ahead.

Fill up and stock up. Sure, highway rest areas are convenient spots to fuel up, but the lines can be a real drag if you hit them at the wrong time. I always hop off the highway (even toll roads) and get gas that way. And be sure there are snacks, bottled water, car games, DVD’s, etc., in the vehicle — you never know when nuisance congestion will become an epic wait.

Pay tolls electronically. Many regions have programs that allow you to affix a device to your car and whiz through toll plazas. How come more people don’t use these? In my experience, the E-ZPass lanes in Delaware, New Jersey and New York are frequently car-free; even better, some toll areas establish E-ZPass-only lanes well in advance of the plaza itself, while others have overhead transponders allowing cars to drive through at full speed.

What are your tips for hassle-free holiday driving? (“Stay home” doesn’t count.)

— written by John Deiner

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