Written by Alice StevensAlice Stevens is a language enthusiast, loves history, and enjoys traveling. She manages content for BestCompany.com specializing in finance, insurance, and car warranty.
Many people enjoy spending the holidays with friends and families. A recent poll conducted by Branded Research found that 40 percent of U.S. consumers plan on traveling over the holidays.
The poll found that of those traveling the most common mode of transportation was car with 23.9 percent of people choosing to hit the road. Planes came next at 11.7 percent, followed by trains and public transportation at 3.6 percent.
Over a quarter of people polled ages 25-34 (25.8 percent) and people ages 35-44 (28 percent) plan to travel by car this holiday season. Also, 24.2 percent of people age 45-54 plan on hitting the road.
Winter travel presents hazards and risks, like blizzards and black ice. According to the same poll by Branded Research, 31.6 percent of U.S. consumers have been in an accident during the winter.
No one wants to get in an accident or be stranded on the road while traveling this winter. Safe driving techniques and good preparation will help keep you safe on the roads this winter.
If you’re traveling this holiday season, here are eight things to do as you prepare for and plan your trip:
- Pay attention to the weather
- Let people know your plans
- Pack an emergency kit
- Wear waterproof clothing
- Take sunglasses
- Check your car before you go
- Start with a full tank of gas
- Be well rested
Pay attention to the weather
Weather forecasts can help you plan the best days for your trip. Though everyone knows weather can be fickle and change unexpectedly.
Caitlyn Paltsios, travel expert for Grapevine Gossip, says, “Check the weather before leaving for their trip. If the weather looks good in the morning but not at night, plan on leaving either the night before or early that morning to avoid any hazardous weather.”
Making sure your travel plans are flexible and adjusting your plans around bad weather keeps you out of hazardous driving situations.
Richard Reina, Product Training Director at CARiD.com, says, “Don’t take any chances if conditions are predicted to be bad. If possible, it may be better to postpone your journey and arrive safely than risk getting stuck in a storm.”
Amanda Hagley, Content Manager for Aceable, adds, “Why chance getting stuck in a snowbank in the middle of a winter storm when you can be warm at home with some hot cocoa and a blanket?”
It’s not usually a good idea to travel in the middle of a snowstorm or blizzard. However, circumstances may be such that you need to get on the road even though conditions are bad.
“If you do have to venture out always keep an eye out for changing road conditions. While one road may just be wet, the next could be icy so be sure to stay alert and adjust your driving accordingly,” says a spokesperson for Hankook Tire.
Let people know your plans
Whether you’re driving through a storm or not, provide your family and friends with detailed travel plans.
“People should not keep it a secret where they are going. During the winter many problems can arise while traveling in your car. Make sure at least one person knows where you are heading, so they can send help if you need it,” Paltsios says.
Hagley says, “Send a text before you leave and again when you arrive. Following this tip ensures that if you're in an accident or get stuck in a bad situation, someone will know to look for you and the general area you're traveling.”
Pack an emergency kit
Darryl Croft, automotive expert at OK Tire in Canada, says, “As winter approaches, think about putting together a survival kit to keep in your car for emergencies.” He recommends including the following:
- Washer fluid
- Spare tire
- Jack and tool kit
- Jumper cables
- Traction mat
- Non-perishable food
- Bottled water
- Warm clothing
- First-aid supplies
- Extra batteries
The essentials for a winter road trip emergency kit fall into four categories: snowy weather basics, communication tools, car repair tools, and survival essentials.
Snowy weather basics
- Ice scrapers
- Snow brushes
- De-icer fluid
- Sand or kitty litter
Reina says, “Winter essentials include ice scrapers and brushes, portable shovels, extra antifreeze, and cat litter, which can be used to help gain traction if your vehicle gets stuck.”
If you’re parking your car outside, it’s essential that you have an ice scraper to remove ice from the windshield and a brush to help remove heavy snow after snowfall.
Another handy tool for ice removal is de-icer spray. You can either purchase it at the store or make some yourself.
Kevin Tennant, franchise owner of the Glass Doctor, a Neighborly Company in Alaska, shares one of his de-icing spray recipes. He says, “Pour water into a spray bottle and add a scoop or two of salt. Since salt water has a lower freezing point than fresh water, it starts to melt the ice on contact. Road salt is even more effective than table salt in this recipe.”
“No matter what type of de-icer you use, store it at room temperature in your house, not in the trunk of your car,” Tennant says.
Because there is less daylight in winter, Paltsios also recommends including a flashlight. This is a good idea even if your cell phone has its own flashlight.
- Phone charger
- Handheld radio
- Hard copy of a list of contacts/map/directions
One of the most important things in an emergency situation is the ability to communicate.
Kelly McManus, blogger and family travel enthusiast at www.travellingmama.com, says “When going on road trips or driving for long periods in winter, I always keep an in-car phone charger in the car. If there was ever an emergency, the last thing you need is a phone with low or no battery!”
Having a fully charged phone will ensure that you can communicate your need for help and your location in an emergency situation. However, depending on where you travel, cell service may not be reliable.
Dylan Gallagher, who takes winter tour groups to Yosemite and is CEO of White Wolf Private Tours, says, “I carry a handheld radio for when we’re out of cellular signal, which in Yosemite, happens often.”
As useful and generally reliable as technology is, it’s always a good idea to have a hard copy backup, just in case.
Tangela Walker-Craft, a family and parenting blogger at Simply Necessary, Inc., says, “Always have a printed list of emergency contact numbers (relatives, family doctors, pediatricians, roadside assistance, etc.) on-hand in case of an accident.”
Since it is more and more uncommon for people to memorize phone numbers, it’s a good idea to have a list. That way, if your cell phone dies, you can still reach out to family and friends on another phone.
“Print out a map and the text directions to have in the car. GPS devices fail sometimes during extreme weather,” Walker-Craft adds.
Having hard copies will help you travel safely. A map is an especially good idea because it shows other towns and cities that may be closer than your destination. You can stop in these places if the weather gets bad or potentially use them as a reference point when telling people where you are.
When all else fails, sending off a flare is a distress signal. If an emergency responder sees it, they will come help.
Car repair tools
- Jumper cables
- Tire chains
- Jack and tool kit
- Spare tire
It’s a good idea to be prepared to handle emergency repairs.
Gallagher says, “I also carry a collection of emergency supplies such as an ice scraper, spare tire and changing kit, chains for the snow, and a reflective jacket.”
Having a spare tire, a jack, and a tool kit will help keep you moving on the road if you get a flat. This preparation is especially important if you are traveling through a rural area. A reflective jacket will help passing cars see you better, which will help keep you safe.
Grant van der Harst, Managing Director at Anglo Liners, says, “If you’re taking a winter driving trip, it’s essential that before setting off, you buy and place jump cables in case of an emergency. Cold conditions can really affect your car’s battery life, which can lead to you unexpectedly breaking down mid-journey.”
Jumper cables do not take up very much space. In fact, you can even buy jumper cables that are attached to a battery, so you don’t need to connect to another car. Just be sure to charge the battery before you head out on your trip!
- First aid kit
Regardless of your preparations, you may still become stranded. It’s important to be prepared to stay warm, energized, and safe.
“I carry what’s required by law by the U.S. Department of Transportation for any commercial operation, including spare fuses, first aid kit, a fire extinguisher, and emergency triangles,” says Gallagher.
A first aid kit can help with cuts and other minor injuries. It’s a good idea to include Hot Hands as part of your first aid kit because they can help keep your hands and feet warm.
Nicholas Smith, founder and director of CompareNewTyres.com, says, “Make sure you take something to eat, possibly a long-life, ready-to-eat meal, and something to drink.”
Having water and food with you will keep you going while you wait for help.
Along with your winter clothing, Paltsios recommends packing a blanket. A blanket will help keep you warm in the event of an emergency.
Wear waterproof clothing
It’s essential to stay warm when traveling during the winter. While your car may have seat warmers and an excellent heating system, it’s a good idea to be prepared for the outdoors on a car trip.
Grant Sinclair from Our Wander Filled Life has a lot of road trip experience. He says, “Make sure you have enough good cold weather gear that you can deal with getting stuck in the snow.”
Steve Long, co-founder of The Travel Brief, also recommends wearing waterproof outer jackets, pants, and boots.
“It's hard not getting wet in the winter, especially with the amount of outdoor activities to do on a car trip. Any ice and snow you get on you while outside the car is going to melt when you get back in. That cold, damp feeling is not only unpleasant, but can also lead to catching a cold. Bring waterproof outer layers for both your comfort and health,” he says.
Unless you’re going on a warm, sunny, Caribbean cruise, this advice may seem counterintuitive. However, it’s an important safety precaution for driving during the winter.
George Sink, CEO of George Sink, P.A. Injury Lawyers, says, “During the day, light glaring off the white snow can be really bright. Wearing sunglasses with a yellow or amber lens can help with depth perception, allowing you to see rises and dips in the road that may not otherwise appear to the naked eye.”
Check your car before you go
Making sure your car is in good shape will make sure that you start your trip off on the right wheel, as far as safety is concerned.
Smith says, “In wintery conditions, your car needs a little extra care and preparing now can help prevent breakdowns. First of all, you should have your vehicle checked by a mechanic with a free winter check. These checks can help prevent major problems and ultimately breakdowns.”
Our experts recommend checking the following:
- Tire pressure and tread depth
Headlights and wipers
Winter weather means fewer hours of sunlight.
“Make sure that your head and tail lights are fully-functional before hitting the road in winter. This will ensure that you can see and be seen by other drivers when visibility deteriorates during winter weather,” says Reina.
Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to check your headlights on your own with a friend.
“Rotate through your lights from inside the cabin while someone outside the car lets you know whether or not they are in working order. Taking the time to check and replace if necessary your lights as you head into winter could make all the difference down the track,” Liam Ridings, from Sparesbox, says.
Reina adds, “Look at your vehicle’s tire pressure, the condition of your wiper blades, and all fluid levels, particularly antifreeze.”
Making sure you have the right windshield washer fluid and working wiper blades and lights will improve your visibility while you drive.
Chris Burdick, founder of Automoblog.net, says “Driving along the highway, the last thing you want is to run the windshield washer fluid over it just for it to freeze into a sheet of ice. Getting some heavy duty wiper blades will make sure they actually clear the snow and ice instead of gliding right over it.”
Croft recommends checking the car’s battery. He says, “The cold can be rough on your batteries, and it’s an unwelcome surprise when your car won’t start on a frigid winter day. Get ahead of things by testing your batteries and making sure connections are tight, clean, and free of erosion.”
The cold weather also affects tire pressure. Ridings says, “It’s a little-known fact that the chill of winter can wreak havoc with the air pressure in your tires, which can lead to poor handling, reduced fuel economy, and also affect the life of your rubber. As the temperatures drop heading into winter, pull into a gas station and ensure your tires are inflated to the recommended pressure.”
Other important considerations to make with tires include switching to winter tires, tread depth, and chains.
“Make sure you switch to winter tires. They’re designed to operate in colder temperatures and in snowy conditions helping to keep your car firmly on the road,” Smith says.
Sinclair adds, “Make sure the tires have plenty of tread depth. Consider chains if you are headed into the mountains out West.”
If you do not live in a wintery climate, investing in winter tires can be expensive. Having chains on-hand can be a cheaper option that increases your car’s traction and provides safety on the road.
Heater and defroster
Margot Peppers, content editor of LazyTrips, says, “Make sure to check that the heater, defroster and brakes are working properly.”
Since you’ll be spending some quality time in your car, you’ll want to make sure that it’s nice and toasty. It’s also a good idea to make sure the heater is working just in case you get stranded somewhere. It will help you stay warm longer.
A working defroster helps with de-icing your car and maintaining good visibility while driving.
Start with a full tank of gas
Starting with a full tank of gas will keep you on the road longer and give you options for finding gas. If your tank is less than half full, take the next opportunity to fill up — especially if you’re traveling through rural areas.
Smith says, “Every year thousands of motorists become stranded on motorways due to snow and wintery conditions and you need to be prepared in case this happens. The best way is to make sure you have at least half a tank of fuel so if you do become stranded you can keep the engine running and stay warm.”
Be well rested
Just as you want your car to be fully ready to go, it’s important for the driver and passengers to be as ready as the car is.
Smith says, “Driving in the winter, particularly snow, is really challenging for us as drivers, simply because we’re having to constantly adapt our driving style for the road conditions. A tired and unrested driver doesn’t react anywhere near as well as one who is well rested and ready for the drive. If you feel yourself getting tired during a drive, try and stop for a short break.”
Bonus Tip: Activities for kids on the road
If you're traveling with kids, it's also a good idea to pack a few things to keep them entertained on the road. AutoAccessoriesGarage has a few suggestions of activities or games to pack.