In the Suitcase: Travel on Labor Day is truly laborious

courtesy of AARP

courtesy of AARP

It’s that time of year again – time to put away the white shoes and pants, longer work weeks and shorter daylight hours, fewer trips to the beach and hence, fewer hours spent sitting in traffic. Except this one last weekend, where millions of Americans will sit around in parking lots made out of highways, cursing and wishing they had left earlier in the morning, flown, taken the train, or stayed home.

Jon and I will be one of those people who did leave early, except we’ll usually laugh at the people waiting in a long line without an EZ-Pass and curse those who get in the EZ Pass lane without an EZ Pass. And this time I’m letting Jon do part of the driving of my car (not the gas guzzler), which is stick-shift, so he’ll be doing his share of lurching and stalling for four (or more) hours up to New York. Ordinarily, every weekend on the I-95 is ridiculous, sometimes taking up to eight hours to get between New York and Washington. This weekend, the same will happen anywhere else on the I-95, or the I-10 to Vegas or the I-5 between San Francisco and LA (with some fires in the way). But I’ve also lucked out with some other common-sense strategies that few people seem to adopt.

1. Traffic will usually pick up starting noon on Friday, when people skip out of work early or finally get their cars packed. Instead, you should leave Thursday evening, or else be packed and ready to ship out first thing in the morning. Make sure you have directions, an address for the GPS, and your toll transponder (or plenty of change for tolls, if you don’t live in the free-way state of California). I also make sure to have good tunes (good being subjective to the listener) and something to munch on, like carrots, to keep the driver awake. Sometimes we’ll just listen to my Spanish language CDs leftover from the days I commuted between Santa Monica and Long Beach, Calif. and then have discussions in Spanish about los frijoles which are muy picantes.

2. On the way back: the best way to beat traffic is to leave early Monday on Labor Day, but then you miss out on the holiday itself. So there’s the other option: leaving late. Traffic tends to clear up by nighttime, so you’ll end up getting home probably around the same time, but in half the time.

3. If you are a bus person not like me, the bus follows similar time. I advocate buses for other people because then there are about 50 people sitting in one vehicle, rather than 50 people sitting in 25 cars. I personally don’t enjoy buses, so I am one of those jerks in the car that’s stalling on the interstate because my husband can’t drive stick shift.

4. There’s always Amtrak, if you feel like shelling out a couple hundred roundtrip. It’s smooth, quick, environmentally friendly, and gets you there without delay.

5. Want to know how much you’re spending in gas? calculates your mileage based on average gas price in the area and your choice of car. We entered Jon’s Xterra and compared it to my Civic and decided we’d save significantly more money (like an entire tankful worth) with my car, which is why Jon is being subjected to driving lessons these days.

Happy Labor Day!


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