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When to Drive

This photo shows a long stretch of highway in the early morning light, with very few cars driving on it.

Drive between hotel check out and check in times.

If you want an easy road trip, then here are the best times to drive.

Personally, I like to divide my road trip between travel days and resting days. I pick a new destination based on my current one and calculate the distance using Apple or Google Maps. 

Sometimes it means driving three days in a row, staying in a new hotel every night. Other times it means driving only one day to reach the new base.

(As I mentioned before, my favorite kind of road trip is when I stay in a town, until it runs out of things to see. Then it might take two or three driving days, to reach the next town that I want to stay in for a while.)

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It really depends on how much time you have for the trip. If you drive for eight hours at 60 miles an hour, you can cover almost 500 miles (800 km) a day. That’s a lot of ground, but it can also be stressful and tiring, if you do it more than two days in a row.

The best time to drive is from 10 am to about 4 pm. It matches perfectly with the hotel schedule. Check in time at the next destination isn’t until 4 pm. So if I checkout of my current hotel at 10 am, it leaves six hours for driving, lunch and exploring.

Sometimes you can’t do the short six hour drive. If you’re going across a desert, mountains, or wilderness, the next decent town might be an nine hour drive away. That’s when you need a real early start.

Try to avoid driving at night, or in the late afternoon. Scientists have proven that it’s not good for the health. If you must drive at night, always drive with a partner for company, if you’re not used to that schedule.

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In the late afternoon and early evening, the earth gets hot and the sun is lower on the horizon. There’s glare, driver fatigue and rush hour traffic to worry about.

(Depending on the size of the city, rush hour can go from 7-9 am and can start up again from 3-6 pm. Many of the suburbs, even if they’re 20 miles from the city, can still get jammed, especially around the freeway ramps.)

The Maps app on your smartphone will show congested areas, so you can avoid them. The downside is that it uses your data plan to communicate and crowdsource the info. A GPS with a traffic subscription does the same thing.

Radio is free, but it’s a lot less effective than a GPS. And since you’re new to the area, you’ll have to ask a local resident for the best traffic station to listen to. 

The best advice is to avoid rush hour traffic. Stick to driving from 10 am to 4 pm and you’ll be well rested and refreshed. The air is cooler, the sun is overhead, and all the roadside attractions are open. As a bonus, you’ll arrive at the next destination, just in time to check in.

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