Travel, or what were we thinking?

As I said last week, we drove from Minnesota to Virginia then back, with three small children in our van.  Which leads me to the thought of travel, or what were we thinking?  We definitely learned a lot in the process.  Hopefully someone else out there can learn from us to help with their road trip in the future.

One thing we learned, is that our MPH estimates from other trips didn’t hold up with Chicago traffic (even on a Saturday afternoon), and long stretches of road construction will really slow you down.  Sure, many drivers were ignoring the 50 MPH speed limits, but I also saw several people pulled over, so I didn’t want to chance a ticket that would not only slow me down even more, but also cost money.

So we chugged along somewhere around the speed limit.   And our average speed dropped lower and lower as we went.  The most fun where the places where it was a construction zone, but nothing was being done.  Makes you wonder, did they run out of room in the warehouse, so hey let’s just store the stuff on the side of the road.

One thing we are spoiled with here in Minnesota, there are no toll roads.  It was a major inconvenience, and expense to have to stop at all the toll booths along the way.  We spent over $50 to get from Minnesota to Virginia in tolls.  We looked at getting the Illinois Ipass, but it wouldn’t have been active for the trip out there.  The same with Indiana and Ohio.  You could get them, but they take up to 48 hours to be active.  In Pennsylvania, they would be active immediately, but in the vending machine things to get them, you input your info via swiping your driver’s license.  Great, but apparently Minnesota encodes the info differently than Pennsylvania.  When I swiped my license, it had my first and last name in the last name field.  And there is no option to input anything in those fields.  So I said skip it on the trip out.

For the trip back, I got one in Virginia.  Once I found the place, it was no problem to get one.  I needed to register it online, but that took about 5 minutes to complete.  I added more money to it to make sure there was enough in my account to get me home, and I was set.

It was much easier with the E-ZPass, which also works in Illinois.  We didn’t have to wait in line to pay money to get through the toll both.  Some you need to slow down and have it process your transponder, then it opened the gate.  We only had to actually stop once on the way home for a toll, and that was only for a few seconds while the vehicle ahead of us went through.

Illinois is even better, they have separate lanes, and you don’t have to slow down, at least not much.  If you drive like many people do in Chicago, I am not sure if the transponder would be read at that speed.

It wasn’t just the traffic that was a shock, it was the speeds at which people drive.  Since we were out of state, we kept our speeds down to 10 MPH over the speed limit or less.  Although there were many places were we felt like we were going to be run down for going to slow.  We also saw a lot of police out, especially on the way home due to the holiday weekend.  Sure there were people going faster, but we didn’t want to chance it.It is more aggressive driving than I am used to, especially since we live in a more rural area.  Our traffic jams are caused by a train going through town.  At least that is a real reason, rather than the unknown reasons that cause some traffic backups.

We are just not used to driving in that sort of environment.  That many people, with limited road space tends to produce some very high speeds, and some spectacular traffic jams.  Sure I have driven in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area, but it isn’t the same thing.

One other thing about driving.  When you are driving on the interstate, and not in a major metro area where you are trying to avoid people getting on and off the interstate, stay in the right lane.  More than once, we were stuck behind someone driving in the left lane when they were not passing someone.  In fact, one person moved over to the right, let us pass, then moved back into the left lane.  The left lane is for passing, not general driving.  If everyone stays right as much as possible, traffic will move better.  If you are in the left lane, and passing people, if you notice someone coming up behind you, move over and let them pass.  Then you can go back to passing people.

Our van worked well.  Even with traffic, and high speed driving, we never got less than 26 MPG out of it.  We are happy with that, since it was a very comfortable way to travel.  And traveling distances measured in four figure numbers of miles, a DVD player is a great thing with small children.  There is only so much they can do to keep themselves entertained in a moving vehicle.  That will get better as they get older, but they are not older yet.

So if you are looking to travel, learn from my mistakes.  Look at the amount of road construction ahead of time.  If you have to deal with tolls, and will be making the trip more than once, I would look at getting the E-ZPass.  It saves time and money.  It saves you between 25 and 50 percent on the cost of the tolls, and saves time as well.

And pack as light as possible.  It not only saves space in the vehicle, but makes unpacking when you get home easier.

So if you have any long road trips planned, enjoy.  Find ways to make it fun, instead of dreading it.

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