On the Road--Fuel Cost Calculators, Phone Headsets

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I don't know what's worse: Dealing with airline hassles or struggling to carry around enough cash to fill up my car. Despite it all, I'm spending more time on the road. So that's this week's focus--finding out how much you spend on gasoline, a look at California's new cell phone law, and an irritating scam from Travelodge's Web site. Plus: A shocker from the TSA.

Estimate the Fuel Hit Before You Travel (Ouch)

Heading across the country in your RV? Or maybe you're just planning a trip this summer. Here's a quick way to figure out how much it'll cost you in fuel. (Hint: Lots. No, make that lots and lots.)

Start with Geobytes' City Distance Tool to determine the distance to wherever it is you're going. I looked at Pasadena, California to Cambria, California. (The site will calculate locations in Europe and South America as well.) Unless you're a crow, the mileage won't be on-the-money accurate, because the site uses latitude and longitude to measure the distance. A better idea, as my buddy Mike K. suggested, is to use Google Maps to get exact driving distance by plugging in the start and destination locations.

Now enter the distance into Cost of Gas Taking a Road Trip (or if you're commuting, Cost of Commuting by Car) on the DollarTimes site. You'll also need to supply the cost of fuel and the number of miles per gallon your vehicle gets. If you're going from one big city to another, try the AAA Fuel Cost Calculator. [Thanks, Zachary.]

BTW, if you're wondering if it's worth junking your old clunker, DollarTimes' "How much can you save with a more fuel efficient car?" can help.

Driving Aside: The advice you're always hearing about slowing down makes a difference in gas mileage? It's true. Bass International Testing Labs took the 2005 Subaru on that Pasadena-to-Cambria trip. We moved to the right lane and, hard as it was, drove 60 miles per hour. We sometimes got stuck between trucks and slowed to 55. At my usual 65-to-75 miles per hour, our highway average was 22 miles per gallon. But with the speed decrease, we got 27 mpg. Amazing...

Driving in California? Save $20--Use a Headset

The July 1 California law is in effect: Wear a headset while blabbing in the car, or face a $20 fine. I think that's a remarkably low price to pay for not having to fiddle with a headset.

Is it really safer to use a headset? Nope, it's not going to make driving any safer. Don't take my word for it; read "Hands-free cell phone use while driving won't make the roads safer, studies show. Why? Brain overload" in the Los Angeles Times. Stopping people from talking on cell phones altogether would do the trick, but that would be about as impossible to legislate as making hands-free makeup application mandatory.

I think it's absurd that the legislature skirted the dialing-the-phone issue, something I believe is far more dangerous. The law doesn't stop drivers from dialing, just strongly urges them not to. LOL--sure, that'll stop 'em.

A while ago I mentioned that you could get a free headset and just pay for shipping; read "On the Web: Free Headsets and Rebates" for info on the free-headset site, plus some higher-end options.

And here's an off-the-wall suggestion. If you're a fan of CB radios (I am; I have one in my Roadtrek), take a look at Cobra's latest--a CB radio with Bluetooth. The radio gives you a way to receive, end, and re-dial your cell calls through the radio's noise-canceling microphone.

Booking a Motel? Here's One to Avoid

A buddy (and my former editor), Randy R., told me about the hassle he recently went through when he made a room reservation online.

"I entered my credit card number," he said, "and thought I was all set."

Nope. Randy was in for a whirlwind of marketing sleaze when a chat window popped up and "Jessica" made him an offer. Randy was tricked into signing up for an $11-per-month service, proving he isn't nearly as bright as he looks.

What's amazing to me is the site was Travelodge, a pretty well-known brand name. Read Randy's story and let me know if you've had similar problems.

If You're Flying...

Here are a few articles that might make your life at the airport a little more pleasant.

Shocking News for Airline Travelers

You're not going to believe this one: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is "has expressed great interest in a so-called safety bracelet" that could stun you if airline personnel think you're a threat. The bracelet acts as a boarding pass, a luggage and carry-on identifier, and a way of immobilizing you.

I thought it was a joke, but the Washington Times has details about the EMD Safety Bracelet.

This Week's Roundup of Time Wasters

This "ball girl" makes an incredible catch. Or does she? Watch the video, then read the back story.

The Vilcus plug dactyloadapter could probably be a cheap substitute for electroshock therapy--and unlike the bracelet you may soon be wearing on airplanes, this is optional.

Have a stereo system and about $500 in disposable income? Grab a pair of Denon's Cat-5 AKDL1 Dedicated Link Cables. Once you read the description, check out some creative customer comments. And listen--before you plunk down any money, read about the Consumerist's experiment: "Do Coat Hangers Sound as Good as Monster Cables?"

Take a sec a to look at these absolutely delicious photos taken from the sky by photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand. The guy sure has an eye for composition. [Thanks, Brad.]

Steve Bass writes PC World's monthly "Hassle-Free PC" column and is the author of "PC Annoyances, 2nd Edition: How to Fix the Most Annoying Things About Your Personal Computer," available from O'Reilly. He also writes PC World's daily Tips & Tweaks blog, Sign up to have Steve's newsletter e-mailed to you each week. Comments or questions? Send Steve e-mail.

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