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Travel Talk

Travel Talk: Be efficient, comfortable snow birds

If you’re among the thousands of New Hampshirites planning a road trip to warmer climates this winter, why not do some pre-planning now? Come January, Bud and I are going to reprise our southern road trip of 2011, and we’re thinking back to things we would do differently as well as incorporating some new efficiencies and comforts.

Wheels and Fuel: Several months before leaving we replaced an aging, gas-guzzling SUV with a 2011 KIA Sorento. It was a great decision. We doubled our mileage and improved our comfort level. If you need to replace your vehicle, do it now so you’re familiar with its quirks and have kinks worked out before you’re in, say, Culpepper, Va. If (like us) you’re happy with your vehicle, schedule a check-up to make sure you’re road-ready. AAA.com has some great checklists.

You’ll also need to plan fuel stops. Several websites help with that, but we love gasbuddy.com for accuracy and user-friendliness. Plug in your vehicle’s make, model and year, add your beginning and end points and you get total mileage/cost as well as a map with fuel stops at stations with cheapest gas. Gasbuddy.com has apps for most hand-held devices. Check out gas company affinity cards for potential discounts/saving, or do what we’ve just done – sign up for the free Cumberland Farms SmartPay (cumberlandfarms.com) program to save 10 cents on every gallon. This week Cumberland Farms was $3.47 – but SmartPay made it $3.37, below even the Sam’s Club price of $3.44. Not bad!

Sleeping and Eating: Some Florida-bound friends do marathon drives and make it in about 24 hours. We travel with our two Standard Poodles, so we like to break up the trip. In 2011 we used a variety of dog-friendly, easy-highway-access hotels – with varying success. Since then we’ve found the La Quinta brand (lq.com) – never a charge for dogs, excellent hot breakfast (waffles, eggs), high quality bedding/amenities and consistently reliable. Join their loyalty program (or your other favorite hotels) to earn free nights and access specials. Using a hotel credit card (like Fairmont or Hyatt VISA, Starwood or Hilton American Express) can get you upgrades, free nights, free Wi-Fi and more. Or, if you’re hooked on airline miles, use your airline affinity card and, even better, book the hotel through your rewards program on the airline website – sometimes you get four times the miles for every dollar spent.

At restaurants, don’t forget to ask for senior discounts and use your laptop, tablet or phone to search for coupons. Visit getrestaurantcoupons.com before you leave, print out favorites and tuck them in your glove compartment.

Amenities and Packing: In 2011 we left Bow laden with books, extra dog food, my favorite wine, half of our closets – many, many pounds of “essentials.” Really, though, Florida is not a third-world country. This time we’ll pack a lot lighter – after all, our dog-friendly rental (found on our favorite house rental website, vrbo.com) has a washer and dryer and we still have our Winn Dixie (winndixie.com) rewards card for grocery discounts and coupons. We’ve converted to reading on our Kindles and have our kindle.com account set up for easy dual downloads – no more bins of books. We’ll also load my iPad with audiobooks (audiobookstoreonline.com, bakerfreelibrary.org or concordnh.gov/library) for on-the-road entertainment. We loved them in 2011! Thanks to friends, we’ve got mesh back/lumbar supports (amazon.com, search “mesh lumbar”) to kick up seat comfort a few notches.

Lastly, we have 15-inch-line leashes for the dogs – safe and secure potty and exercise breaks are a must!

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