5 Tips for Planning a Safe Family Road Trip This Winter

Follow these steps to maximize comfort and dodge cold-weather car troubles on your winter drive.

U.S. News & World Report

5 Tips for Planning a Safe Family Road Trip This Winter

Happy family travelling

Packing an emergency kit stocked with tools like a collapsible shovel and emergency flares is one way to stay prepared before hitting the road. (Getty Images)

If you have a winter family vacation planned, driving in inclement weather or on wintry roads may be inevitable. But while traveling at this time of year can be tricky with icy, snowy and wet roads, there are simple steps to take before and during a winter road trip to maximize safety. Here's a primer for planning a safe and comfortable family road trip this season.

Check Your Route in Advance

Before you pack up the car, make sure to utilize the Department of Transportation's website for road condition updates to ensure your planned route is fit for travel. Other top road trip resources include AAA Travel and Allstate's Emergency Roadside Assistance (you don't need to be an Allstate customer to download their app). You should also stay prepared with an alternative route should you need to change your itinerary during your trip. Make sure to tune your car radio to any AM station advertised on highway and interstate reader boards, and take chain and four-wheel-drive requirements seriously.

Take Care of Minor Service Issues Before Leaving Home

It's far easier to check tire pressure and windshield wiper fluid levels before you depart on your winter road trip. While you're at your local dealer or auto service provider, double check that the chains you've purchased (you have purchased these, right?) are the correct size for your tires. Don't want the hassle? Consider purchasing snow tires. Another tip for stress-free travel: If you do find yourself with a minor car repair issue on the road, local gas station attendants are great resources for pinpointing the closest auto repair shop. And oftentimes, they can let you know of any holiday hours you should be aware of.

Pack an Emergency Car Kit

Before any winter road trip, prepare a car kit with essential items you likely will never need, but will be glad to have if a dangerous situation arises. You never know if or when road closures may cause you to be stranded on a road far from roadside rest stops and services like restaurants or lodging. Also keep in mind, you'll want to have a way to keep you and the kids warm, dry and hydrated in the event of long delays or dicey driving conditions. Before you go, make sure your emergency car kit is stocked with chains that fit your car's tires, an ice scraper for your windshield, a collapsible shovel, emergency flares, at least one large blanket, a 64-ounce bottled water for each person in the car and a first-aid kit.

If you're a DIYer, it's easy to assemble your own kit for less than $20. Make sure to include standard items such as adhesive bandages and first-aid creams, as well as any over-the-counter medications that you or your travel companions may need. Remember, you may not have access to a drug store or pharmacy while on the road. Extra items that come in handy include duct tape, safety pins, vitamin C (the powder can be easily added to water and is easy to pack), hand sanitizer and at least one elastic bandage.

Prep for Snow and Ice

No one wants to step out of a warm car to face the elements, but it may become necessary should you need to install chains or clean icy windshield wipers. Arm yourself by packing a few helpful items within easy reach in your car. Make sure to have a pair of waterproof snow boots, waterproof gloves, a collapsible shovel and a flashlight or headlamp with close proximity, too.

Break Up a Long Winter Drive With Sno-Park Stops

After long, tense hours in the car, everyone will be ready for a break. And fortunately, state and county sno-parks make for great pit stops. Scan the Department of Transportation website to explore parks by state or turn to Google to browse individual sno-park websites. And make sure to pack snow gear for the family that's easily accessible, including waterproof pants and jackets, boots and gloves. Also bring an inflatable sled and use these public spaces for snow play, sledding or even snowshoeing.

No matter how you plan to tackle driving this winter, take your time and drive at a speed within your comfort zone. Also make sure to budget for a small emergency fund in case an unplanned overnight in a hotel becomes a necessity. And once you've prepared to hit the road with the gang, enjoy driving in a winter wonderland!

Tags: travel, safety

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

If you make a purchase from our site, we may earn a commission. This does not affect the quality or independence of our editorial content.