"Chew gum," my friend Donna said. "My brother does a lot of long
distance driving and he says it will keep you awake."
Donna is beautiful, well-traveled, international, and sophisticated.
I listened to her. She was right.
Drive a Quiet Car
An old Journal of the Acoustical Society of America article
studied the effects of moderate amounts of noise. Ambient noise
above 70 db SPL was found to make human subjects tired and impair their
thought processes. Noise below the threshold was barely fatiguing at
all. Note that a car traveling at 70 mph generates approximately 70 db
SPL of noise.
If you have a Lexus luxury sedan, you're safe because the noise level at
70 mph is about 65 db SPL. Note that every drop of 1 db is significant
and 5 db less noise is much much quieter. This is a logarithmic scale
after all. If you have a modern standard car, you're probably between
68-70 db. Minivans and compacts tend to be noisier at 72-73 db SPL. A
sports car such as a Corvette or a Porsche will be well above 75 db SPL.
Car & Driver magazine reports these important numbers if
you're interested in a particular car.
Every person's threshold will be different, but basically you can drive
much longer distances comfortably if road noise isn't wearing you out.
Your soul isn't going to be improved by listening to the Eagles'
Hotel California for the 1000th time. You probably won't
be able to appreciate the subtleties of the Bartok String Quartets
above the noise of the road. Interstates don't have to be wastelands.
Listen to a book on tape. Listen to a lecture.
I prefer abridged books on tape. You can only listen about 1/3rd as
quickly as you can read. Something that might be compelling if read
for three hours can be boring if drawn out to nine hours. Most modern
novels are badly written but have very interesting plots. An
abridgment preserves the plot and skips some flowery prose that was
probably not up to Henry James standards anyway.
I even like abridgments of classics. I listened to
Ulysses for six hours while driving across Kansas in Travels with Samantha. It didn't need to be
If you really decide to get serious about learning while on the road, a
good thing to do is stock up on foreign language tapes. My favorite by
far is the Pimsleur series:
To hear a lot of unfamiliar words, but still be listening to what is
nominally English, the Teaching Company sells audio and video tapes of
America's most dynamic university professors. You'd be surprised how
compelling history, literature, and philosophy lectures can be. Check
these Teaching Company reviews for specific
Get a Minivan
There is a luxury to having enough space for everything. Motorhomes are cumbersome. A
minivan is perfect if you don't mind sleeping in a tent and scrounging
around for a shower. I have owned a Dodge Caravan and a Toyota Sienna
(full review of the Sienna).
They were fairly similar in their utility and propensity to develop
rattles. The Honda Odyssey is, by general agreement among car
magazines, the driver's minivan. The Sienna is the most comfortable and
is the only minivan available with all-wheel drive. The Dodge/Chrysler
minivans are cheaper.
Of course, after 10 days in an Acura
NSX, the minivan feels dangerously out of control, but eventually
the longing for an automotive partner fades and you can live with the
automotive appliance again.
Use Hanging Folders
Someday I would like to erect a shrine to Mr. Pendaflex who has done so
much to organize my life. I file all of my negs and slides in Pendaflex
folders (the plastic ones, allegedly archival), in Steelcase 42" wide
lateral filing cabinets, arranged for front-to-back filing. I keep
personal and work files in Pendaflex folders. Why not do it in the car?
During the Alaska trip, I used the following
minivan filing system:
When crossing a state line, move a folder from the crates in back into
the small bin up front.
- three interlocking plastic file crates in the back filled with
- small hanging folder bin on the floor between the front seats
- folder of maps and guideboks for each state
- a folder filled with office supplies in Zip-loc baggies
- folders with product instruction manuals
- folder with receipts for things purchased during the trip
Buy Stuff from Chain Stores
Chain stores with lifetime guarantees are the traveler's friend. I
bought some Shimano mountain biking shoes at REI in Anchorage. In
Juneau, I discovered that they wouldn't fit into my Shimano pedals. I
exchanged them at the REI in Seattle. I'd saved the receipt in my
hanging folders (see above).
The Travels with Samantha trip was 15,000
miles in approximately 100 days. That was 150 miles/day. If I'd gone
any faster, I wouldn't have learned anything. If you can't arrange
the trip so that it is 150 miles/day or less, then you might as well
fly because you're mostly going to see the inside of your car.
Text and pictures copyright 1993-2008 Philip
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