Bruce McClary had never been out of his native state of Virginia before driving 3,025 miles to Seattle to his new job last month.
Fortunately, McClary's sister, Kathie Bennett -- who has driven coast-to-coast with her husband several times -- had signed up to be his co-pilot and shared her long-haul driving wisdom. They carefully planned each day's mileage and expenses and shared driving duties.
"My sister and I built flexibility into our driving schedule so we could stop in Idaho or take a walk through the Mall of America," McClary says. "It made the trip a fascinating experience, seeing things I'd never seen before, which made the trip fun instead of a chore."
If you're planning to hit the road for a long drive this summer, follow McClary's example and consider these tips from experienced drivers.
Tip 1: Start with the inside
Amy Barker, owner of Amy's Limousine Service in Seattle, recommends cool water to keep hydrated and says to avoid caffeinated, sugary drinks.
"Eating trail mix a piece at a time, not by the handful, also helps keep you alert," she says.
Try: Big Ol' Trucker Energy Juice. Get an energy boost from B vitamins and hawthorn berry extract rather than caffeine. $2.50, bigoltrucker.com
Tip 2: Stay alert (and entertained)
Veteran King County Metro bus driver Dan Linville says he keeps a narrative in his head of what's happening around him in an effort to stay engaged with the road.
"I check for state patrol's flashing lights, I check my gauges and I watch what is happening with the cars around me," he says. "It's important not to get (mesmerized) by the road. Keep your eyes moving."
Audio CDs and downloads also can help keep drivers awake and children entertained.
"I'm addicted to books on tape and audio books," says semi-truck driver Alicia Henderson. "They keep me awake and aware."
Try: Tales2Go iPhone app. Tales2Go has thousands of audio books that stream to the iPhone or iPod Touch. $24 yearly subscription, tales2go.com
Tip 3: Sit up tall
Don Kitch Jr., owner of ProFormance Racing School in Kent, says he teaches students to sit properly and keep their eyes aimed high on the windshield so they can see what's coming ahead and avoid accidents.
"There needs to be a bend in your legs at all times; don't hyperextend them and drive on your tiptoes," Kitch says. "Hands need to be at 9 and 3 (o'clock positions), and stretch your hands every half-hour so you don't have a death grip on the steering wheel. Exercise your jaw instead of clenching, and take big, deep breaths."
Kitch also says that having adequate lumbar support for your back is essential for driving the distance.
Try: Stretchsit cushion. This back support stretches and lengthens the muscles of your back. $50, egwellness.com/products/Stretchsit_cushion.html
Tip 4: Dress for success
Manjit Bains, who drove a cab for 20 years before becoming a Metro bus driver, recommends supportive shoes and loose, breathable clothing.
"Stay cool and comfortable, and remember your sunscreen and sunglasses," he says. "Crack open the window, and keep the kids and the dog secured in the back seat of the vehicle. Otherwise, they can distract you and cause accidents."
Try: Big Skinny wallets
Sitting lopsided because of an overstuffed wallet can irritate the sciatic nerve. These wallets have a low profile. $23-$30, bigskinny.net