Winter is the perfect time to take your next road trip. While winter road trips do require a little more planning and preparation than summer trips, they’re well worth the effort. Travelling in the winter means less traffic and crowds as well as off-season hotel and resort deals. With a few key safety tips, you’ll be on your way to having a fun, stress-free winter vacation.
1. Fit your vehicle with snow tires
If you’re travelling through any location where there’s a possibility of snow, give yourself peace of mind by investing in snow tires. Snow tires are affordable and make winter driving much safer and more enjoyable. If you aren’t interested in investing in snow tires, consider renting a four-wheel-drive vehicle equipped with snow tires for your trip.
2. Take your vehicle in for a basic tune-up
A week or two before your planned winter road trip, book your vehicle into your mechanic for a routine inspection. Have him/her inspect the fluids, tires, brakes, lights, and wipers. Make sure that the battery is in good working order as well.
3. Review basic winter driving tactics
Even when you live in an area of the country that experiences severe winter weather, it’s easy to forget basic winter driving techniques when you haven’t used them for the past nine months. Spend half an hour watching YouTube videos on winter driving basics, such as pumping the brakes and steering into the skid when you hit the ice, to prepare yourself for dangerous driving conditions.
4. Equip the car with winter safety essentials
Bring a couple of ice scrapers, so two family members can team up and clear off the windows & screen quickly when it gets covered in snow. Make sure that you have basic car safety items such as jump leads, extra fluids (coolant, motor oil, windshield washer), a first-aid kit, and flares, in the event of an emergency. When you’re travelling in the winter, it’s also a good idea to pack extra food and water and a few blankets as well as a bag of kitty litter (wait for it, I’m being serious). The extra weight of the kitty litter in the trunk minimizes the risk of fishtailing. Also, when you need traction on ice, spread a layer of kitty litter – it will help get you moving.
5. Check the weather before getting on the road and then periodically while travelling
Most people remember to look at the weather forecast before they start driving and will delay the trip when conditions are inclement. It’s also important to keep checking the weather report every day or so while you’re travelling to stay ahead of any gathering storms.
If you feel safe driving but know that conditions will be slower than normal, allow extra time. Avoid using overdrive and cruise control to maintain full control of the car in slippery conditions. When the conditions are risky, delay leaving home or embarking on the next stretch of driving. It’s a drag to postpone your trip or get held up along the way, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
6. Keep the gas tank half full
Keeping the gas tank at least half full prevents the fuel line from freezing. Before you hit the road, check your windshield wiper fluid level as well. Depending on the length of your trip, consider packing extra wiper fluid.
7. In the event of an emergency, stay in your car and wait for help
When you find yourself stranded in freezing or below freezing conditions, wait in your vehicle for help to arrive. Run the car for 10 minutes per hour to maintain a safe temperature. Take care to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Confirm that your exhaust pipe is clear of snow, ice, and other potential blockages, and keep a back window open a crack.
8. Avoiding driving overnight, particularly on rural roads
Driving overnight is more dangerous than daytime driving, even under optimal driving conditions. It simply isn’t worth the risk during the winter, especially when you’re driving in rural areas. Plan to do the vast majority of your driving during the daylight hours.
9. Alert a loved one to your timetable and travel route
Before setting off for your winter road trip, make a copy of or forward your travel plans along to a trusted family member or friend. If anything changes, let them know right away. If you’re travelling outside cell phone coverage, bring a satellite phone.
10. Pack slippers, fuzzy socks, and blankets to stay warm in the car
Wearing bulky winter boots and coats for hours at a time while in the car isn’t enjoyable. As the driver, think about packing a vest or lightweight jacket, thin gloves, and lightweight boots. As the passenger, pack a couple of pairs of cozy socks, slippers, and a few blankets. Everyone will be a lot more comfortable while still staying warm.
11. Drink warming beverages
Bring along a few travel mugs to give yourself an excuse to sample delicious warm beverages along the way, such as hazelnut cappuccinos, cinnamon lattes, and peppermint mochas. Scout out coffee shops ahead of time, so you’ll always have a new place to stop for a drink when you get gas and use the restrooms.
12. Dress or pack for the weather outside the car
When you aren’t going to spend much of your winter vacation outside of the car, it’s easy to assume that a pair of short leather boots and peacoat will be sufficient for the next couple of weeks. Getting to and from the car when it’s freezing or below-freezing temperatures is still uncomfortable when you aren’t properly dressed. Forgo style and stay warm during your winter road trip.
13. Plan a few outdoor activities along the way
Travelling in the winter presents an ideal opportunity to enjoy a few outdoor activities that you wouldn’t partake in normally. Plan accordingly so that you can make a few stops along the way for outdoor recreation, such as ice skating, skiing, and snowshoeing. Seek out destinations with great views, such as state parks. Look into upcoming events in towns you’ll be visiting, such as holiday lights displays, reindeer farm tours, and winter markets.
Take advantage of off-season travel packages to create an unforgettable winter road trip this season. With proper planning and safety practices, you’ll have a vacation the whole family will be talking about for years to come.