Adventure, organization, road trips, Travel Tips

The Winter Road Trip Survival Guide

Photo credit: BC Bureau of Transportation

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 Trip Survival Guide

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.Winter Road Trip Survival Guide

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.Don't forget your snow tires
  • 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).

Driving in Snow and Icewinter road trip survival guide

  • 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.Winter Road Trip Survival Guide

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.Winter Road Trip Survival Guide
  • 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 —

Survive the Family Road Trip in 10 Easy Steps

How to Pack a Small Car for a Big Trip

Save a Bundle on Your Road Trip Adventure

We’d love to hear how you stay sane while traveling — with our without kids. Leave a comment below to make our day.  And if you found this post useful, we’d love it if you’d share it far and wide.A great survival guide for the winter road trip, with or without kids.

19 Comments

  1. Your tips are very helpful. My number one priority during winter road trips is to have back up clothing and blankets for warmth and food just in case you get stranded. Hopefully more people are just the same 🙂

  2. While reading this I realised that I have never had a big winter road trip! I did a week in Alaska once by car but I wasn’t driving (which was probably a good thing because i had no idea about any of these tips!). Also love the tip about audio books – for me that is a must on any long road trip.
    Chantell – Adoration 4 Adventure recently posted…Local guide: Milan, ItalyMy Profile

  3. These are some really helpful tips. I feel that thinking ahead and preparing for the “maybe” is so worth it. I always feel proper coverage like AAA is well worth the few extra bucks because it can make a difficult situation much more bearable.

  4. This is such a great post full of important safety advice! I had an accident a few years ago in the UK driving in the winter. I took the car off the road on black ice. I must admit I’ve not driven in bad conditions like that since. I have saved this post to one of my pinboards just in case I’m ever brave enough!

  5. Great winter road trips. I prefer road trips in the summer, and often forget the extra precautions required in winter and cold weather.

  6. These are wonderful tried-and-true tips. I’m not very fond of snowy, winter trips since we live in San Diego but necessary to get to our skiing destinations every year in Utah. Electronics like ipads and smartphones have kept my kids occupied during those trips. Love the idea of a pit stop for a snowball fight.

    • Thank you for visiting, Mary. I agree that electronic devices can be really helpful in many situations. Thanks for sharing your tip.

  7. Perfect timing, as we are setting out for our 13 hour road trip to Montana next week! Getting our snow tires put on this weekend:)

  8. Lots of good tips for a winter road trip here! Last year my bf and I did a 5 month road trip from Nov – Apr but luckily only hit snow once in New Mexico!

    • A road trip like that is a good test for any relationship! When my (then) boyfriend and I survived and thrived on a mega road trip, I knew it was meant to be.

  9. These are great tips. I got caught in icy mountains in Colorado a few years ago. As a desert dweller, I had no idea what to do!

  10. Great post! I’ll for sure be saving the portion about driving in the snow. My other half and I have been living in California for the past several years and are going to Quebec to see my family in a week. We’re renting a car and my mother was SO worried us Californian’s wouldn’t remember how to drive in the snow! hehe 🙂
    Cheers,

  11. I love to take road trips as a family. These are great tips!
    Frugal Mom of 8 recently posted…A Day In My LifeMy Profile

  12. Really great safe winter driving tips. I wish everyone would follow them! I’d be less nervous to drive on snowy roads. 🙂

  13. These are perfect tips! Especially with everyone traveling during the holiday season. I adore the photos of your pups. So cute!

  14. These are great tips! I am actually planning a winter road trip for February and I was a little nervous at first but now I am excited. I think everyone should use these tips for all road trips!
    Shamira Anastasia West recently posted…16 Things I have Learned In My 20’s So FarMy Profile

  15. These are all such good tips! I think that EVERYONE needs to read your driving tips. I live in CO and we got a ton of snow yesterday. There were so many accidents today and yesterday because people were accelerating or driving too quickly. We have a winter ski trip to Utah coming up and I certainly plan to use some of these tips.

  16. It has been some time since we have done a road trip. I grew up in Lake Tahoe and recall my parents driving in the snow. I am a pro at driving in it now, we head up there often since it is only a few hours from us.

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