1. Don't advertise your travels. Avoid leaving road maps in plain sight inside your parked car; instead, try to look like a local, even if your license plate isn't. If your vehicle is laden with luggage, and especially if you have gear stowed on the roof, park where you can see it from a restaurant or store. At night, take everything that is in plain view with you into your motel room.
2. Look like you know where you're going. When sightseeing, avoid standing on street corners wearing a befuddled expression while staring at a guidebook or map. Get a few bearings before you venture out of the car.
3. Get an upstairs room. At roadside motels, consider getting a room on the second floor so you can scan the parking lot before heading down to your car. (Personally, I prefer first-floor rooms, so I don't have to lug my gear up the stairs.)
4. Consider the refund policy. If you stop at an inexpensive mom and pop motel, and there is a sign at the check-in counter that says, "No Refunds for Early Check-Out," consider moving on. I speak from experience when I say that is likely that the establishment has some unsavory condition that you won't detect until you're covered with bug bites or awakened in the night by noises too loud to ignore. At the very least, ask to see the room before you pay.
5. Use the truck stops. Travel and truck centers are some of the safest places to stop and rest. They have 24-hour security and professional drivers who are used to staying aware and protective of their vehicles. The only drawback is that they aren't very quiet. You'll have to get used to the "big-rig lullaby," because most drivers leave their engines running even when parked for the night.
6. Chat up the locals. Get local information whenever you can. Coffee shops, hair salons and taverns are all good places to chat casually with residents. Also pick up a local paper or watch the local television news. Being aware of local current events will not only help you have more fun, it can also keep you safe.
You can participate in the Great American RoadTrip Forum before you leave town to gain a local's perspective about the places you will be driving through. Road trips are meant to be adventurous and fun. Channel the energy you're spending on that worst-case scenario into some sensible precautions, and you will have a safe, sane and enjoyable trip.
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