If a winter road trip is in the works and reports of major winter storms have not scared off the idea yet, we have some hard-learned tips. Unlike a summer road trip, winter road trippers have some different challenges. Besides the obvious (snow, rain, sleet and hail), simply not being able to roll down the window or pull off the road to visit some place not on the planned route can add a different dimension to the experience. Still, while the price of fuel is down, there might not be a better time for a winter road trip.
Tune-up and test
To help ensure survival on a winter road trip, take that car to a trusted mechanic for any needed maintenance before heading out on the road. Duh. While with the mechanic, consider maintenance items especially important to you for this winter trip.
Check tread depth on tires, test battery life with a load test designed to see how it will perform in exactly the conditions you are about to experience. A check of that electrical system, which may be used more than normal, is a good idea too. Right now you really don’t care if the AC is a little low on refrigerant.
Be realistic, really
Sure, your 4×4 can take us off road to places where no one has been. But should we? If you have an all-terrain vehicle and a decent amount of experience, there’s nothing quite like being the first vehicle on a snow-packed road.
Days from when you go off road – after daytime highs have melted roads and nighttime lows have re-frozen them – the ride will be bumpy. Right after snowfall? Like driving on air.Check weather and traffic reports, briefly
This was really important ten years ago when GPS-equipped autos did not indicate heavy traffic areas. But now they do; who cares? Someone without one does and a good second-choice is Google maps.
Like other GPS devices, Google maps change the color of roads and highways based on the speed of actual traffic on the road (compared with posted speed) to give an accurate traffic reading at any given time.
Emergency help can be just as close as a call from your smartphone. American Auto Club (AAA) members have 27/7 assistance via Emergency Roadside Service, an included membership benefit. Taking others along on your winter road trip? Ask if they are AAA members or if their parents are; benefits cover you in an emergency when the vehicle you are either driving or riding in becomes disabled.
No AAA? Your auto insurance company or cellphone service provider may also offer roadside assistance too, included in the price. If not, it’s usually an inexpensive, easy option to add on.
Winter survival gear
If you did all of the above, odds are swinging to your favor for surviving that winter road trip. Still, as all good people who live in winter climates can tell you: see someone who works in this weather for an idea of what you need.
Just “making it” from point A to point B during a winter storm is an accomplishment for many travelers. Those who work in that weather have a completely different definition of “accomplishment” and what makes for a good day on the road.
Years ago, I delivered newspapers (printed publications containing news, feature articles, advertisements and correspondence) in big vans that had to be on the road every day. When schools and businesses were closed, power was lost and even the postal/UPS/FedEx workers stayed home, but we worked. We had/did all these things and more to be able to drive during a major winter event.
An emergency car kit will have the basics for survival and can be bought online in a variety of sizes. Beginner 72-hour kits from a number of sellers like Emergency Essentials start at $39.95. Want to be prepared for anything? A Comp II Emergency Kit has a comprehensive set of preparedness items needed to survive for the first three days of a major crisis/world-ending event.
Want professional quality? Add snow chains and know how to use them. Best bet: buy in the summer when lying down on the ground to practice putting them on does not freeze you to the street. Also, try to get that time down to less than five minutes. In the winter, you will appreciate the training.
Some extra weight in the trunk is always a good idea too. In newspaper vans with thousands of publications to weigh them down, this was not an issue. Still, every fall, many who drive in winter climates know a bag of sand or something else of weight in the trunk can help with traction. Make that sand some bags of kitty litter or salt and getting stuck is not the end of the road trip, just another adventure along the way.
The American Automobile Association (AAA) is a not-for-profit motor club that has been helping travelers since 1902. Formed mainly in response to a lack of roads and highways suitable for automobiles, AAA membership has evolved to serve the changing needs of more than 50 million members. Tackling everything from emergency roadside assistance to road maps, travel guides and travel services along the way, AAA is relevant today too. Advice and discounts cover everything from saving money buying a car to caring for and traveling with pets.
“Owning a pet, whether it’s a dog, a cat, a hamster or a bird, can be pricey,” says AAA in its monthly newsletter. “In this sluggish economy, everyone is on the lookout for ways to shed unnecessary expenses, and spoiling our pets may not make the budget.”
AAA directs members looking to save on spay/neuter services, discount pet food and medication to partners such as Pets Warehouse, PetFoodDirect and large retailers like Costco, PETCO and PetSmart.
On the road, AAA’s hotel search engine will help travelers locate a AAA Diamond-Rated hotel fit for them and their pet. A copy of AAA’s “Traveling With Your Pet” ($9.99 digital edition available at the iTunes Store, Amazon.com and bn.com), details pet-friendly hotels, restaurants, attractions and more.The AAA website has free information on traveling with pets too, including:
AAA also offers discounts on vacation packages, cruise vacations and more. A lot has changed at AAA since 1902, including up-to-date mobile apps and a YouTube channel that can be a great help to the travelers of today.
AAA online guidebooks, launched last year, let members download free digital guides for their Amazon Kindle, Apple iPad, Barnes and Noble Nook, Sony Reader or smartphones equipped with an e-reader application. Site visitors to AAA.com/ebooks can view the available eTourBook titles, but only AAA members can initiate a download. To complete the process, members login to download titles to their personal computer and then sync the files to their portable device.
This video about safe summer travel is typical of what AAA has for motorists.
Easter has come and gone and, at least for much of the East Coast, spring seems here to stay – and summer vacations are just around the corner. A recent AAA travel agent survey shows that despite rising fuel costs, vacation loyalists are still planning summer trips to destinations near and far.
According to AAA data, top summer vacation destinations include Orlando, Honolulu, Rome, London and Anaheim, California. Orlando consistently holds the top vacation destination spot.
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) forecasts that more than 17 million vacationers will cruise the world’s waterways in 2012, one million more than last year. AAA Travel sales data shows significant increases in cruise bookings for the summer family vacation season and throughout 2012 and into 2013. Recent cost cuts have made these trips more affordable than ever. Caribbean and Alaska cruises take the top two spots, with the Bahamas, Europe and Bermuda rounding out the top five.
With temperatures hovering near the 70 degree mark on the East Coast this week, many of us can already feel spring in the air, and that means that road trip season is nearly upon us. I grew up as the youngest child in a family of six boys and road trips were an annual event for us. We used to pile into a big, old station wagon and spend the bulk of our trips arguing over who was taking up too much space, who smelled bad, and who got to sit next to the window.
Once, when I was five, I wandered off at a roadside rest stop and was left behind. An exit or two later, someone noticed that I wasn’t in the car and they turned back to find me. My mother expected me to be upset, but maintains that I was completely unconcerned. I don’t remember the incident, but nearly 35 years later, I still love to wander off and explore.
In the 80’s, we had a radar detector and a CB radio and felt like we were on the cutting edge of technology. There were no apps and the concept of watching movies in the car was still many years away, but we amused ourselves by playing memory games, trying to decipher all of the dirty jokes we heard from truckers with thick Southern accents on the CB, and annoying the living hell out of my parents. These days, I have two little boys, ages 2 and 4, and the tables are turned.
Below you’ll find some apps and tips that might be useful on your next road trip.Free Apps
GasBuddy. With gas prices in the U.S. now at a national average of $3.79 a gallon and rising, saving a few bucks at the pump is a priority for many. This app allows you to comparison shop for the best price based on your location.
RoadAhead. This terrific app provides useful information about what you’ll find near highway exits all across America. Listings include gas stations with the price of gas listed, and restaurants and cafés, some with links to user reviews on Yelp. The app can also tell you what’s nearby even if you aren’t on a highway.
Where. This app is similar to RoadAhead but isn’t focused on highway exits. It does offer listings of places to eat, things to do, and local coupons. If you just need a bathroom, Sit or Squat can help.
WiFi Finder. This app allows you to find WiFi hotspots and also has a worldwide hotspot database you can download (for free) and access while offline.
RepairPal and iWrecked. Some people love these apps, but they don’t suit my personality at all. RepairPal helps you get roadside assistance, find a repair shop or get a range of estimates for fixing common problems. For example, the app says that in my zip code an oil change costs between $27-62, and a power lock problem I have with my Toyota will cost somewhere between $192-$338 to fix.
iWrecked helps travelers prepare accident reports and find taxi and towing companies. I suppose both of these apps could be helpful, but I just don’t see myself standing by the smoldering ruins of my vehicle, fumbling around with apps. If you’re a very bad driver, have an unreliable car, or are simply a very practical person who likes to prepare for the worst, these apps might be useful for you. But I think they just invite bad luck. The only contingency planning I’m into is AAA, which offers unbeatable roadside assistance with membership plans that start at just $66 a year.
Use a GPS but don’t be a slave to it. I finally broke down and bought a GPS last year and now I don’t know how I lived without it for so long. That said, it’s always good to cross-check the GPS’s suggested route on Google maps or another site, because Garmin and other brands don’t always provide the best routes. There’s also the danger of turning into a GPS zombie who will literally follow their device right into a body of water. In June, three women from Mexico did just that – submerging a rented Mercedes Benz S.U.V. with a Hertz “Never Lost” GPS unit in a slough near Seattle (see video below). Invest in a GPS but don’t believe everything it tells you to do. And I wouldn’t bother paying for the traffic function – I have it on my Garmin and it’s virtually worthless.
Hit the library before you go. Before any long trip, I go to my local library and take out a few audio books. This is a great way to kill time while enriching your listening skills.
Contest speeding tickets. In a recent poll, Gadling readers indicated that they think it’s best to admit guilt when pulled over for speeding. I’m not sure I agree with that strategy. Don’t construe this as legal advice, but based upon my personal experience, it is nearly always more advantageous to contest speeding tickets in court. Even if it involves a long drive from where you live, you still might save money.
Mix tapes really do help combat road rage. Let’s face it – the roads are filled with bad drivers these days. Some like to tailgate, others stubbornly putter along below the speed limit in the left lane, and plenty are distracted by mobile devices, unruly children, or that sandwich they’re shoving in their face. Make a playlist of some of your favorite tunes; it’ll help put all the annoyances in perspective.
But listen to some A.M. radio as well. You’ll hear all kinds of doomsday and conspiracy theories, revolting political ideologies, and God knows what else. You might not like it, but it’ll be an education of sorts.
Indulge your children – to a point. A long road trip isn’t the time to be a task master. Stop for ice cream, seek out playgrounds, and help them improve their powers of observation with games. Let them watch a movie or check out this list of apps if you’d rather have them focus on something more educational. If you prefer more old-school games, this site offers ideas for kids,toddlers and babies.
Get more miles to the gallon. To improve your car’s fuel efficiency, use motor oil that is “energy conserving,” take out any dead weight from your car you don’t need, and keep your tires inflated to the proper pressure.
Venture off the highway. This is common sense, but it’s easy to forget that the shortest distance between two points doesn’t always make for the most interesting journey.
Brake for historic districts. Have you noticed that nearly every town in America is billing itself as a historic district these days? You really have to use your imagination to feel the history in some cases, but if you don’t check them out, you might miss some legitimately interesting places. And even the bogus ones are good for a laugh.
Carpool. Paying to carpool is a common way to get from one city to another in some European countries and, according to a story on NPR last week, the company that runs the biggest carpool site in Europe is about to expand their operation into the United States.
Pick up a hitchhiker – preferably one who isn’t a serial killer. This might sound like a crazy idea but, according to a recent Freakonomics podcast, it isn’t nearly as dangerous as you might think. Full disclosure: I only pick up hitchhikers in certain foreign countries where hitchhiking is more common than it is here. If I tried to do it in the U.S., with our two children in the car, my wife would insist that I undergo a full psychiatric evaluation.