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Beating the holiday travel rush
The best time to travel, how to plan your route, more...
November 21, 2005: 11:03 AM EST
By Gerri Willis, CNNMoney.com contributing columnist

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - In a few days we're all going to be hitting the road to visit friends and family. This year 83 percent of holiday travelers are going to be piling into their cars.

In today's top 5 Tips we're going to give you some ideas on how you can get a head-start on the traffic nightmare ahead.

1. Fill 'er Up!

We all know that even expensive gas won't keep us from visiting our family on Thanksgiving. But now the trip won't be as painful.

The price of a gallon of gas has dropped almost $0.50 in the last month. The good news is that it's likely that these prices will continue to fall.

"We're at the magic 100 days right before the year ends when gas prices drop," said Tom Kloza of the Oil Price Information Service. He thinks we'll be seeing average prices of $2.10 to $2.20 a gallon from now until the end of the year.

But don't get too cozy. Soon after January, prices could shoot back up to $2.75 or $3.00 a gallon, according to Kloza.

2. Plan your route

Sometimes we need a little help getting from point A to point B. And for those of us who don't have global positioning devices in our cars, the next best thing is just good planning.

Plan your route by going to the free online mapping service www.usmap.24.com.

Just input your starting location and your destination and you can customize your directions to exclude highways or toll roads. Need to get some shopping done on the way? No problem. You can also choose to see malls along the route.

Forgot to send that holiday package? No worries. You can get a list of post offices along your route. For the quick lowdown on your route, go to Google maps. At this site you can even view satellite images of your location.

3. Avoid Traffic Jams

Before you even hit the road you can figure out how to avoid traffic jams. At Traffic.com, you can get specifics on traffic jams in 29 cities. You'll be able to find out how long a delay to expect, the average speed of your drive and where traffic is moving the slowest.

Another good Web site to keep handy is the Federal Highway Administration's traffic section. Just click on the map and you are directed to local Web sites that will fill you in on all the construction, delays and road conditions.

4. Plan your exit

So, what's the worst time to travel? Wednesday before Thanksgiving between 1 pm and 8 pm according to the AAA.

If you plan on driving Wednesday, leave before 1 pm if you want to save any time. If your trip isn't too strenuous, you may be able to leave at 9 pm or so without too much hassle.

If you can, try to leave yourself at least an extra hour of wiggle room so you won't be stressed out. The best scenario is traveling on Thanksgiving Day itself since there won't be any commuters or commercial trucks on the road.

5. Keep the kids busy

To combat the "Are We there Yet's" on a long trip, it's important to make sure the kids are occupied. While it may be a bit on the expensive side, you can rent or purchase DVD or VHS Players from drivinsane.com.

These portable devices are installed in your own vehicle. For 10 days, you can rent a 6 inch DVD traveler unit for $106. A video game kit is $10.

Another Web site to check out if you're looking to rent or buy DVD players for the car is www.inmotionpictures.com. For $127 you can rent a DVD player for six days and that includes six free DVD rentals.

But don't forget the old fashioned rest stop. "Kids have to stretch their legs more than adults," says Amy Ziff of Travelocity.com. "Make sure you let them expend some energy." And when you get back in the car make sure you have plenty of word games and activity books.

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Check out 5 top purchasing moves for 2006.

For all the latest Five Tips columns, click here.  Top of page


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