Winter driving tips for holiday road trips

It can happen in an instant, and last February, it did: one moment, we were making the turn from an icy highway onto a ski resort access road, and the next, we were sliding into a snowbank, nose first. Luckily, everyone was ok, but our car suffered upon its impact with the wall of snow. After rolling into the parking lot, we spent valuable ski time accessing the damage and making sure our car would be able to deliver us back home safely. Our brush with the snowbank turned out to be only a minor inconvenience (and the cost of our deductible), but it served as a good reminder to always be prepared.

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Read on for winter driving tips for holiday road trips

Keep snow chains in your car at all times:

I’m embarrassed to say we had our chains with us the day we got up close and personal with the snowbank, but hadn’t taken the time to put them on. If you’re not familiar with their installation, practice at home (this can be a good activity to do with school-aged kids and teens). If you really don’t want to hassle with it, consider winter snow tires.

Travel with extra supplies:

In winter, we have two extra blankets, a few flashlights (with batteries), and a jug of drinking water in the back of the car at all times. You never know when you’ll be caught on a pass that closes or stuck roadside. If you’re not already packing these items, also pack:

  • a pair of winter boots
  • gloves
  • a small shovel

You’ll be very glad to have them if you need to get out to install chains or dig yourself out of snow.

Know your comfort level:

In our winter driving experiences, we’ve seen it many times: a driver slows past the point of caution and to the point of danger to others. When climbing a steep, icy hill or navigating a windy winter road, slowing too much can cause traffic behind you to lose momentum…and then traction. To avoid causing a mess behind you, only drive a road you feel comfortable navigating at a steady, safe speed, in a vehicle that’s up for the challenge. Of course, this is easier said than done. If you do feel overwhelmed in a white-out or ice situation, wait until you reach level ground, and pull over when safe. Better yet, consider paying for a shuttle from your resort to your ski area or even from the airport. The price may be worth the peace of mind.

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Check tire pressure and windshield wiper fluid levels before leaving home:

We learned this tip the hard way, when forced to search everywhere for an open garage on a holiday weekend in December, while road tripping to Canada. Tip: ask for recommendations at local gas stations. Attendants there can often point you in the direction of shops that remain open. It’s far easier to deal with mundane maintenance issues while you’re still at home. Using precious vacation time to inflate tires gets old very fast. Also make certain you replace older tires and have the proper tires for your car, in all seasons. Tyre-Shopper is a good place to start for UK readers.

Have roadside assistance at the ready:

Whether you opt for a pay-as-you-need-it service like Allstate’s Roadside Assistance, which you can learn more about in this post on road trip tips, or subscribe to AAA, have a plan in place for roadside emergencies.

Top travel apps for winter road tripping:

You’ll need plenty of pit stops during your winter road trip! In addition to utilizing the hundreds of reviews on Pit Stops for Kids (did you know your smart phone will automatically load our mobile app?), check out the following for indoor play spaces and museums, low cost gasoline, and road side help.

Trekaroo app: Leave your own reviews of the restaurants, hotels, and attractions you visit on the road and help out other parents. The Trekaroo mobile app works much like TripAdvisor, allowing you to help out others (and read real parent reviews while on the go).

Pillows and Pitstops (UK): For my UK readers, Pillows and Pitstops is like the Pit Stops for Kids of Britain! I love that parents can plug in their beginning and ending locations, and get ideas for their route.

Fuelcaster: Gas prices tend to go up during peak car travel periods, such as winter holidays. With Fuelcaster, we can check on fuel prices as we go, predicting what we’ll pay. This way, we can know whether it’s best to ‘top off’ or wait. Just don’t run out of gas trying to find the best deal!

Department of Transportation: There are plenty of traffic apps out there, but dot.gov should be your starting point for road conditions in every state. We like to check the desktop site before we leave, then have the mobile site loaded on at least one phone during any winter trip.

Do you need more winter driving tips? We have our best all-season road trip advice at the ready!

Photo by: Flickr/miguelb

About the author

Amy Whitley AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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  1. Thanks for sharing this. Your tips are very helpful. I am a travel freak and travel a lot. Next year Alaska is on my card.Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness., and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Next year I definitely want to explore Albany.
    People often have a theme that they base their worldly travels on, but how about a mental mantra for your travel? Out of a cheerleading event that consisted of our family shouting supportive words at our daughter who was attempting to kill a rather monstrous spider that the rest of us were too chicken to get close to, came this great quote, “If you don’t think, and you just do….then it’s done!”

    This quote came back to haunt me when on vacation in Seattle. I thought it would be a great idea to take the kids on the Seattle Great Wheel, the ferris wheel overlooking the ocean, but as we approached it, I realized how high it went and immediately panicked! Just as I had decided to put the kids on it on their own, my daughter says, “Come on dad…If you don’t think, and you just do….then it’s done!” What could I do at that point?! She was telling me to stop thinking and creating more fear about the situation and just get on the thing!
    “If you don’t think, and you just do, then it’s done!” We all now keep this quote in our back pocket, ready to whip out at any time to push one of us forward into an adventure we know they won’t regret. No hesitations, don’t allow any time for fear to set in, and be prepared for your kids to turn your life advice back on you

  2. Helpful tips. Thanks for sharing

  3. This was really a great post to remember. love the topic

  4. Nice Post. Very helpful tips

  5. Really helpful tips.Thanks for sharing. Interesting post.

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