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10 Essential Winter Weather Road Trip Tips Every Family Needs to Know

Snow and ice don't have to derail your family adventures. Just follow these road trip hacks and tips from travel experts to ace winter on the road.

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Don’t bundle up

Sure, it’s cold outside, but it shouldn’t be freezing in your car, according to Jason Harper on behalf Chevrolet. Take off those thick gloves, he advises, because they mute the feedback from the steering wheel and make controls more difficult to work, and ditch wearing your bulky coat on a long ride since it restricts arm movements and impedes response time.

And those huge snow boots? “They’re a problem,” adds Harper. “It’s hard to feel the pedals under your feet with big boots on, and you’re more likely to hit the wrong pedal—especially in an emergency situation.” Keep a pair of sneakers in the car and slip them on when you’re ready to drive.

And NEVER dress your baby in a puffy coat for a road trip, it’s a serious car seat mistake.

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Clear all the snow off your car

“Always, always clear your entire vehicle of snow and ice,” insists Rebecca Lindland of Kelly’s Blue Book. Do not leave snow piled on the roof, she advises, because it will only slide off behind you when you accelerate or directly onto your windshield when you brake. Both situations are dangerous as you already know if you’ve ever swerved around someone else’s snow pile or had your own blind you. Start the snow melting and get the defrosting done before you get into the vehicle with a remote starter, she adds. OnStar’s suite of RemoteLink apps, for example, enable you to stop/start and lock/unlock your vehicle right from your smartphone.

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Make an emergency road kit

Always keep an emergency kit handy, says AAA. The kit should include sand or kitty litter (a great road trip hack), a small shovel, a flashlight, an ice scraper or snow brush, booster cables, a blanket, waterproof gloves or mittens, and flares or reflective triangles.

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Keep the kids entertained

While you’re at it, make a winter road kit for the kids too, with portable power packs and lightning cords to charge electronics on the go, energizing snacks such as protein bars and dried fruit and nuts, refillable water bottles, blankets and pillows to keep cozy in the back seat, and hats and gloves. Stock the back seat with workbooks, stickers and coloring supplies, and age-appropriate games. Mommy bloggers swear by these 18 things when traveling with kids. “We stock up on plenty of snacks and meals for the drive and have older kids keep their own stocked backpacks at their feet with snacks,” says Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com That way, he adds, you can also limit stops to bathroom breaks, and you’ll get to your vacation that much faster.

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Don’t lug the whole family’s ski gear

Is your car so full to the brim with kids and luggage that you can’t see out the rear window? “Families should rent ski and snowboard equipment at the mountaintop instead of lugging it in the car to save both space and time,” says Steve Magnuson, Managing Director at Grand Geneva Resort and Timber Ridge Lodge & Waterpark in Wisconsin.

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Change your wiper fluid

KBB’s Lindland says, “Make sure to switch over your windshield wiper fluid from summer to winter,” (who knew?) and make sure to keep a small can of de-icer in your bag to make opening a frozen car door easier. Here are eight more fixes to get your car ready for winter.

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Look at the temperature

It’s natural to suppose that the colder the temperature, the more dangerous the roads, says Chevrolet’s Harper, “but quite the contrary. The coldest/hardest ice is actually sticky, which slightly improves traction. The most dangerous and slippery road conditions often occur between 28 and 34 degrees.” As cars drive over the snow and ice, it melts a bit, and makes things even more slippery, Harper says.

And what melts during the day freezes up at night, adds Lindland, so your evening drive home may be far slicker than your drive was in the morning. To counter this, consider a car with adjustable traction controls like the Chevrolet Traverse with Traction Mode Select, which allows you to make real-time adjustments to the vehicle’s driving mode to account for varying road conditions along the way.

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Give your car a checkup

Just like you take your kids to the doctor for an annual checkup, your car should be looked at to make sure its healthy for winter travel say the experts at AAA.

As part of your car’s winter check-up, inspect tires to ensure safety on winter roads. Tires with less than an eighth of an inch of tread will have reduced traction in wet and snowy conditions. Check tire pressure once a month when tires are cold. In extreme climates, consider a set of winter snow tires or chains.

And worst case scenario, know what to do if your car breaks down.

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Follow winter driving precautions

AAA also advises following these special winter driving tips for safety.

First, slow down and adjust your speed to accommodate the road conditions. Leave yourself ample room to stop. Accelerate, turn and brake gradually and as smoothly as you can.

Next, never tailgate. Normal following distances of three to four seconds on dry pavement should be a minimum of four to five seconds when driving on slippery surfaces. The extra time will provide additional braking room should a sudden stop become necessary.

Finally, do not turn while braking. Asking your vehicle to do two things at a time makes it more likely that your tires will lose traction. Brake first, then turn, then accelerate.

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Take advantage of winter discounts

Winter road trip ideas don’t just have to center on snow and ice. Winter is a great time for family road trips to iconic southwest National Parks; both Arches National Park in Utah or the Grand Canyon in Arizona, for example, offer snow-capped, stunning landscapes without the high season heat, crowds, and accommodation prices. Rooms that go for upwards of $200 per night in the summertime can be had for well under $100 at Grand Canyon area properties, for example. If you’re really looking for an off-the-beaten-track National Park, Big Bend in south Texas has great hiking and, because of it’s complete lack of light pollution, offers some of the best stargazing in the world.

Melissa Klurman
Melissa Klurman is an intrepid explorer and award-winning travel journalist with more than 25 years of experience. She covers topics ranging from family travel and Disney to honeymoons and romantic beaches and everything in between.