Whether you’re going over the river and through the woods to Grandma’s house, or heading off for a holiday trip somewhere special, winter road trips are becoming a staple of many families’ years. But unlike a trip in the spring, summer, or fall, the unpredictable weather that comes with winter can pose many hazards for you and your family on the road.
Snow, ice, and high winds put you at risk for getting stuck or having an accident. Not only that, but low temperatures can drain your car’s battery or freeze the lines that carry vital fluids such as gasoline.
And when you add in all the normal headaches of road trips – long hours in the car with bored kids, traveling with restless pets, and deciding where to eat – you may need to spend even more time planning than you normally would!
To help ease your worries and give you a leg up on the preparations, here are 6 tips to help you have a safe and happy winter road trip this season:
Check Your Car
A week or so before you’re due to head out, schedule your car for a winterizing appointment with your dealership or mechanic. Have them check fluids, tires, lights, wipers, brakes, and your battery. For your comfort, have the mechanics also check your car’s heater and defroster.
If you don’t already own winter tires, get a full matching set of winter tires installed on your car. Winter tires have more flexible rubber that’s more responsive in cold temperatures, deeper tread patterns to handle snow and ice, and feature more biting edges to grip the ground better. While winter tires can be pricey, they’re well worth it when it comes to safety and can last several winter seasons if you change them out for your all-weather tires each spring.
You also want to make sure that your car is well-stocked in case of a winter road emergency. Besides the typical car kit of flashlight, spare tire, tire jack, flares, lantern, and jumper cables, your winter car kit needs some extras.
Be sure to stock several blankets, at least one per person or pet you’ll be carrying in your car. If you’re short on space, some space blankets can provide a decent amount of warmth without being bulky. Also make sure to keep an extra set of gloves, a hat, and warm clothing for each person in the event of snow.
Stock medications, food, and water for every occupant and animal. When packing water, open the bottles and pour out a little to allow for any expansion from freezing. A first aid kit is an absolute must, and be sure to pack several hand warming packets. To help in the event of a stuck vehicle, include a portable shovel and a container of cat litter; this can be used to help your tires gain traction on slippery surfaces. An ice scraper and snow brush are absolute necessities for clearing your windows and car from snow and ice.
Practice Winter Driving
If you’ve ever tried to get across town during the first snowfall of the season, you know that winter driving uses a completely different set of skills than driving on dry roads. Brush up on what you need to do in the event that your car hits black ice, or when you have low visibility, well before you head out.
Should you run into bad weather, turn on your lights and take things slow. If other drivers make you feel as if you’re not going fast enough, relax and let them pass you. Your top priority is getting everyone to your destination safely, if just a little bit late.
Keep Kids Occupied
Road trips with kids can be frustrating during any season, but add some bad weather into the mix and your car’s a powder keg about to explode. Winter road trips require some extra planning and extra entertainment for the young ones. Here are a few tips:
- Get a power inverter. These units can be purchased relatively inexpensively and they’re a lifesaver for keeping devices charged. An inverter plugs into your car’s lighter and allows you to plug in the chargers for phones, tablets, and other devices. If you have a newer car without a lighter, look into getting a multi-USB port.
- Pack new toys, games, or books. Everyone loves presents! Hit up a dollar store, online garage sale site, or library sale and pick out a selection of inexpensive new items for your kids. To make it an even more fun surprise, wrap each item up and allow each child to open a new item every hour or two.
- Stock up on snacks. Nothing beats boredom – or the whining that comes with boredom – like some delicious snacks. Make sure to keep plenty of them on-hand for when the munchies hit. And if you include snack cakes, cookies, or candy (even just a little), your kids will be in heaven.
- Plan stops. Sitting in the car for hours can get frustrating for anyone. But kids just need to move more often than adults do. Look along your route and seek out tourist stops, museums, even fast food play places (Hey, we won’t judge!) so everyone can get out and stretch their legs for a little while.
Prep for Pets
You don’t want to leave your furry friends out of the holiday road trip fun! Taking Fido or Fluffy along for the ride, though, takes some special preparation and considerations for safety.
Even though your pet may not like it, keep him in a cage while you’re on the road. A pet that’s loose in the cabin of your vehicle is much more likely to be injured during even a fender-bender than one that’s caged. Plan plenty of stops for food, water, and potty breaks, as well as some time for your dog to run around. Make sure he’s got toys and comfort items with him in his cage.
If you have to put your pet in the back of your vehicle (Never in the trunk!), make sure he’s got plenty of warm blankets with him. Also, stack soft but sturdy items – soft-sided suitcases, blankets, etc. – around the cage to keep it from shifting around as much as possible, but make sure to not impede airflow to the cage.
And never put your animal in the open bed of a pickup truck. Not only is this dangerous, it is also illegal in many states.
Be Seen & Safe
If you get ready to head out after a snowstorm, be sure to clear your car completely of snow and ice – Not just the windows. A car covered in white snow on the background of a snow-covered landscape is much less likely to be seen than a blue, black, or green vehicle against that same landscape. Along those same lines, turn on your headlights if it’s snowing or overcast, even at midday.
When getting ready to leave on your trip, make sure you’re well-rested and completely sober before you leave. If you’re tired or intoxicated, your reaction time is much lower in the event that something does happen, putting your family at risk. Also, be sure to check not only the weather at your destination but also along your route. If it looks too dangerous, consider postponing until things clear up or rescheduling your trip for another time.
Quality Vacation Rentals in New York for the Whole Family
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