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Traveler Tips

Traveler Tips Overview

Find tips on driving laws, safety, wild animals, poisonous plants, heavy travel dates, freeway etiquette and more. Tips are provided for all regions of California including beaches, cities, mountains and deserts.

Driving

  • DO NOT drink alcohol and drive. One beer could land you in jail depending on several factors. It is also an expensive violation that could cost thousands and be a great inconvenience for you.
  • Seat belts are required anytime the vehicle is in motion.
  • Right turns at a red light are legal unless otherwise stated by a sign or signal. This also applies to double right turn lanes.
  • You can drive through a crosswalk with a pedestrian in it as long as you do not break their pace or endanger them. This determination is made by individual traffic officers, so your safest bet is to wait for the crosswalk to completely clear.
  • You can only use a cellphone if using a hands-free device or speaker phone. No texting or even holding the phone in the hand to dial - hands must be free at all times.
  • When using windshield wipers, headlights must be on.

  • Only pass over broken yellow lines.
  • When passing on two lane highways, be sure to have your headlights on so drivers in the oncoming lane can easily tell you're coming at them.
  • If a large truck is passing you, it's common courtesy to flash your brights (high-beams) to alert the driver when they have cleared your vehicle and have room to merge in front of you.
  • If you are traveling slower than others, use turnouts and passing lanes to allow others to safely pass. The general rule is that 5 following vehicles is too many.

  • When entering a major freeway, vehicles already on the freeway have right of way. You must gain speed to merge with the flow of traffic.
  • The slow lane is the far right lane that you first encounter when entering a freeway.
  • The fast lane is the far left lane, or the lane closest to the carpool lane.
  • If you have a breakdown or must stop, try to pull to the RIGHT shoulder of the freeway. Avoid stopping on, or in the center median of the freeway.
  • If you have a breakdown in the middle of the freeway, DO NOT GET OUT OF THE VEHICLE. Remain where you are until Highway Patrol locates and assists you, or use a cellphone to call for help.
  • Emergency 'Call Boxes' are yellow and located at strategic locations along the right shoulder of major freeways.

  • Always lock your vehicle when parked.
  • It's a good idea to lock your doors when driving through questionable areas.
  • Avoid escalation of 'Road Rage'. Use the horn but do not use hand gestures or verbal obscenities in addition. Try to keep in mind that not everybody is as good and courteous a driver as you and there's nothing you can do about that.
  • If you end up next to a vehicle with possible gang members, try to avoid eye contact and do not stare.
  • Try to pull off a major highway or freeway to fix a flat tire.

  • Do not use your high beams (brights).
  • Try to avoid pulling to the shoulder of the road. Instead find an exit if you must stop.
  • REDUCE SPEED. Multi-vehicle pile ups are common in fog because drivers do not slow down enough.
  • Try to stay off your brakes. Chances are the driver behind you is speeding and if you suddenly brake, they will not have enough time to react.
  • If you are in an accident, stay in the vehicle. Other oncoming vehicles may be swerving into the shoulder to try and avoid hitting you... the shoulder you would have been standing in for safety.

Beaches

  • Most public beaches do not allow alcohol on the beach. Some state beaches do allow alcohol.
  • Many beaches have banned cigarette smoking.
  • Fishing licenses are required except from municipal piers.
  • No swimming in surf zones and no surfing in swimming zones. Surfing zones are designated by colored flags placed in the sand by a lifeguard.
  • Bathing suits are required on all public and state beaches with few exceptions.

  • Try to swim in front of a lifeguard station.
  • Ask the lifeguard about swimming conditions and hidden dangers.
  • Wear plenty of sunscreen. A week long vacation could be ruined if you go to the beach and burn the first day. A waterproof SPF 15 to 30 should do the trick.
  • Enter the water slowly. Do not run and dive in. Boulders or a sand bar could be just below the surface.
  • Rip currents are hard to identify. With each breaking wave you are slowly pulled further out to sea. Don't try to swim towards shore but instead swim parallel with the shore to try and exit the current. Rip currents are rarely wider than 50 yards. Let others know you are in trouble by waving your arms and yelling.

Mountains

  • Only build fires in designated fire pits.
  • Cutting down trees is prohibited.
  • Hunting of any animal is prohibited without a license.
  • Do not feed wildlife. Even deer and squirrels can be dangerous to humans.

I-80 into Tahoe, 2007. Bumber-to-bumper.
  • Bears are common and will destroy your vehicle to get to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Hide all food items and use food storage bins in campsites if provided. If hiking and you encounter a bear, remove your backpack and prepare to leave it with the bear. Bears are smart and know that backpacks carry food. You can return later to retrieve what's left of the pack. California bears rarely attack people without provocation and should not be feared, but a great deal of space and respect should be given to a bear. In more than 30 years, only 12 bear attacks have been record by the California Department of Fish and Game and none were fatal.
  • Mountain lions are protected and are multiplying throughout the state. Although rare, attacks are occurring more often. Mountain lions are far more serious an encounter than bears. In almost all mountain lion attacks the victim never saw the cat attack from behind. Your best defense is to never venture out alone. If you are alone and attacked, YOU WILL NOT SURVIVE. A 2004 account in Southern California had 4 mountain bikers fighting to save another's life. This followed the killing of a sixth mountain biker earlier in the day by the same cat. Four adults in top physical condition were barely able to fend off the cat in time to save the second victim. Mountain lions are pound for pound the most powerful cat and do not fear humans. If you spot a mountain lion NEVER RUN. They prefer a surprise attack and almost always back down when confronted face to face.
  • Weather can change dramatically in a short period of time in the higher elevations. Be sure to have rain gear even in the summer.
  • Let someone know where you plan to hike and when you plan to return.
  • Carry tire chains in the winter. If you're renting, consider a 4 wheel drive vehicle. Just because the weather was good going into the mountains doesn't mean it will be the same coming out.
  • Know the portion of river or stream you're swimming in. Don't swim above waterfalls. Rain in higher elevations can cause flash flooding that can carry you downstream.
  • Mosquitoes are abundant. Wear mosquito repellent, especially at night. Products with DEET are supposed to be the most effective.

Poison Oak

Poison Oak is abundant in California, especially in the foothills and coastal planes. A slight brush against poison oak can lead to very uncomfortable rash, itchiness and overall discomfort. Symptoms can occur anywhere from an hour to over a day after initial contact. A simple wash with soap can cure the problem if done within an hour or so of contact. Once symptoms surface, there's not much that can be done other than wait it out and use ice to sooth the symptoms.

To identify poison oak remember, "leaves of three, let it be". We've provided a picture above to help you recognize this vicious plant. Most commonly it grows as a bush but can also be found climbing trees as a vine. Here are some little-known facts about poison oak:

  • You can get it from other sources that have come in contact with it such as a dog's fur, jacket sleeve, etc.
  • Your body exhibits no symptoms the first time you come in contact with it. Your body identifies it as a foreign substance and prepares an antibody for the next occurrence.
  • The irritant can become airborne when burned and attacks the lungs & nasal passages.

Deserts

  • No harassing, killing, or taking of desert tortoises.
  • Check with local law enforcement regarding areas for firearm usage.
  • Off-road vehicles in designated areas only.

Death Valley Sand Dunes
  • WATER... WATER... WATER. Even if you are traveling through the desert and don't plan on stopping, take enough water in case of break down. The average person would need at least a gallon of water on a typical summer day.
  • Don't wait until you are thirsty to drink water. Continually drink water throughout the day even though you don't feel thirsty. Waiting until you are thirsty before you drink in extreme heat can be too late to properly rehydrate.
  • Sodas and beer are not substitutes for water and can actually escalate dehydration. The only fluids that can substitute water are sports drinks such as Gatorade.
  • Symptoms of heat exhaustion and dehydration include dizziness, fatigue, muscle weakness or cramps, headaches, nausea, forgetfulness, confusion, lack of perspiration and lack of appetite & thirst.
  • Let someone know where you plan to hike and when you plan to return.
  • Plan your explorations for dawn and dusk and hang out by a pool or air conditioning during midday.
  • Wear a hat and plenty of sunscreen.
  • Double check the tire pressure on your vehicle. Extreme heat causes the pressure to rise and blowouts can occur.
  • Make sure vehicle coolant levels are up and there are no leaks.
  • In the wet seasons, flash flooding is common. Don't try to go through flooded areas. Instead, wait for the waters to subside. Flash flooding normally occurs in short spurts.


Heavy Traffic

  • Christmas to New Years - Dec. 25 to Jan. 1
  • Spring Break (Easter) - mid-March through mid-April
  • Memorial Day - last Monday in May
  • Independence Day - July 4
  • Labor Day - first Monday in September
  • Veterans Day - November 11
  • Thanksgiving - fourth Thursday in November

  • Many people leave the cities on holidays. These dates can be good for city exploration when traffic and crowds are lighter.
  • 'Rush Hour' is a term used to describe the heavy traffic that occurs while people are going to, and coming from, work. Although Rush Hour is no longer limited to just one hour in most metropolitan cities. Rush Hour typically occurs weekdays from 7am-9am and 4pm-6pm.

  • Most schools break for summer from late June to early September. We recommend avoiding these months if you don't like crowds.
  • Some of the best weather in California is during the Spring and Fall.

Tipping

  • Tipping the waiter 15% to 20% of the total bill (before taxes) is average. Some restaurants include the tip in the bill so be watchful of this.
  • Tipping the valet parking attendants $2 to $5 is average.

  • A tip of $2 to $5 per day for the maids is a kind gesture if you approve of the cleanliness of your room. More hotels are leaving gratuity envelopes in the rooms for your convenience. If your hotel attaches a 'Resort Fee' to the bill, gratuity is already covered, so check for this before tipping maids, room service, bellhops, etc.
  • If the hotel you stay in has baggage porters or bellhops, a tip of $5 to $10 is average.
  • Tipping the room service personnel 10% to 15% of the total bill (before taxes) is average.
  • Tipping the valet parking attendants $5 to $10 each time your vehicle is retrieved is average.

  • A 10% tip is average.
  • Consider tipping more if your driver is helpful with your travel questions.

  • A limousine driver will expect at least a 15% tip. Some driver tips are included in the price, so be sure to verify this before departure.
  • A good limo driver will open and close the door for passengers and always mysteriously have the car ready and waiting when you're on the move. A good limo driver will never ask you to call them on cell phone when getting ready to leave a restaurant. They will coordinate with the front desk to know when you are getting ready to leave.
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