After the iconic summer vacation, the winter holidays are the busiest season on America’s highways. Whether you’re headed to Grandma’s for Christmas, or you’ve splurged on that family ski trip, there’s a good chance a winter road trip is in your future.
Winter road trips can be challenging. There are usually no roadside picnics, and the allure of the open road is tempered with fickle driving conditions. But that’s no reason to stay home! There are some benefits to winter road tripping and snowy back road adventures, provided you keep your family happy and your car in top form. Here are some tips for surviving the winter road trip, with or without kids.
Safety First, Of Course
- Invest in a roadside assistance program. We use AAA and they’ve never let us down (they’re not an affiliate either). We have used them to tow us out of ditches, fill our empty gas tank, and rescue us when our dog locked us out of the car in a fit of excitement. If you think that your dog (or child) might do the same to you, remember to keep your cell phone on your person at all times.
- Snow tires are awesome! I didn’t need them when I lived south of New Jersey, but now I have them put on just after Thanksgiving. What a huge difference they make. Be sure to check your tire pressure before your trip, especially if the temps have dropped. Air contracts as it cools, so your October tire pressure will have dropped significantly by December.
- Check your fluids before each trip. While this isn’t specific to winter road trips, there’s a good chance you’ll need that extra washer fluid if you’re driving in slushy conditions.
- Keep your gas tank at least ½ full. This will prevent your gas lines from freezing up, and it will ensure that you have a reliable source of heat if you are ever stranded.
- Keep blankets and extra food in your car. Just in case. And if you’ve got teenagers who think they know how to dress, remind them that they need boots, mittens, and warm coats. They may think they’ll be all warm and cozy in the car for hours on end, but they won’t be smiling if they have to get out and walk (or chuck snowballs at each other).
- Accelerate and Decelerate very slowly. Sudden braking and acceleration could cause you to skid.
- Increase the following distance between you and the car in front of you. Instead of the 3 or 4 second rule, shoot for keeping 8 to 10 seconds behind the car in front of you.
- If you can, slow down instead of stopping. This is especially important on hills where you may slide backwards if you try to start and stop again.
- If you become stuck or snowbound, stay with your car. It makes it much easier for rescuers to find you, and your car provides shelter from the storm. Tie a bright cloth on your door handle or your antennae as a sign of distress. If you are stranded at night, keep your dome light on so that others will see you.
Staying Sane on the Winter Road Trip
Winter offers up some road trip challenges, but we know you’re up for it. Here are some tips for keeping everyone sane en route to your destination.
- Audiobooks. Have I said this before? They are such a lifesaver that it’s worth repeating a hundred times. Here are our favorite books and stories read by awesome narrators.
- Hot chocolate. Is it worth having to stop and pee? Absolutely. Fill a thermos before you head out, and all of a sudden, the trip becomes just a bit more magical. The CamelBak Forge (affiliate link) will keep your cocoa hot for four hours, and the locking lid prevents spills on your upholstery.
- Pit Stops. In the summer, we tend to stop for picnics, hikes, and other outdoor adventures. We do that a bit in the winter too, but sometimes we have to settle for the mall. Yes, that’s our favorite pit stop at night or in bad weather. You can still run around a bit in the mall(with some restraint), and the rarely-visited food court (at least for us), becomes a special treat.
- Christmas Music? Maybe not — I can already hear my kids groaning at the thought. If I were part of a different family, I would recommend that everyone sing carols and get silly. Maybe that family is yours.
- Have a rest-area snowball fight. Which means everyone needs to have their mittens handy. This is a great way to blow off some steam, and it might be a reason to wish for snow before your trip.
- Eat good food. Keep sugary snacks to a minimum unless you are prepared for a meltdown. Instead pack trail mix, cheese and crackers, beef jerky, and carrots with hummus.
- Stay in a hotel with an indoor pool. We’re a camping family, but winter road trip camping is beyond us, so when we have to, we splurge on a hotel with a pool (and a hot tub). Parents and teenagers always look forward to winter road trips that involve hotels.
Those are our tried-and-true tips specific to the winter road trip. Want to read more secrets to family road trip success? Get your wanderlust on —