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Preparation is key to cross-country trek


I'm planning to drive cross-country from San Jose, Calif., to New York in the spring. Any advice?

We asked San Jose Mercury News driving expert Gary Richards, also known as Mr. Roadshow, for some advice before you set off on your journey. Among his suggestions:

Carry a first-aid kit, and bring along flares, warm-weather clothing and blankets in case your car breaks down and you are stuck on the side of the road for a few hours.

Also, pack a disposable camera; if you are involved in an accident, pictures will help document what occurred.

An empty gas can might be helpful, too. But if you belong to AAA and have a cell phone, a quick call will summon a truck with enough gas to get you to the next station. If you are a member, you should also stop by your local AAA office before leaving. You can pick up maps and guidebooks, or you can ask a travel specialist to help plan your route.

If you want to know how much you are likely to spend in gas, go to and click on the fuel cost calculator. While on the road, a helpful number to remember is 511. It's a national traveler information number, available in about half the country, that can give you weather, road conditions and traffic updates along the way.

And make sure your car is serviced before departing.

My wife and I arrived in Paris on KLM and plan to make a quick trip to Italy before returning home from Paris. We had planned to take our four bags (total weight about 265 pounds) with us to Italy, but we understand that we may face charges for excess weight or number of bags. Can you explain why we would face these charges in Europe, but not, apparently, in the United States? Should we store our bags at Charles de Gaulle Airport?

Taking your heavy bags with you to Italy could be costly indeed - even if the airline accepted them - largely because of the difference between the so-called piece system baggage rule, which predominates in the United States and on flights between the United States and Europe, and the weight system, which is commonly used in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

And unfortunately, the option of storing your bags at Charles de Gaulle during your trip to Italy is not available.

The piece system usually allows each person to check two bags measuring up to 62 inches overall (length plus height plus width) and weighing no more than 70 pounds each or 140 pounds together. Under the weight system, you are usually allowed any number of bags provided that their total weight does not exceed 40 kilograms (88 pounds) in first class, 30 kilograms (66 pounds) in business class and 20 kilograms (44 pounds) in economy.

Excess weight is normally charged at 1.5 percent of the highest one-way economy fare. Airlines vary on how flexible they are on these rules; this can depend on how much you paid and how full the flight is.

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