Winter Road Trip? You’ll Need This Stuff To Survive

winter road tripIf 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.

winter road tripEmergency help
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.

[Photo credit- Flickr user D. Bjorn, Catchin’ Up]

Holiday Travel, By The Numbers

Holiday Travel

Holiday travel is almost upon us and that has a greater than ever number of people in the air, at sea and on the road for Christmas. Call it what you will; an improving economy, declining unemployment, pent-up travel lust or just that time of the year; travelers nationwide have plans for the holidays.

“The year-end holiday season is the busiest travel time of the year,” said Jessica Brady, AAA spokesperson in a TBNWeekly report. “Whether families plan a traditional holiday at grandma’s house or a cruise to the Caribbean, one thing is certain, being with family and friends remains the most important factor during the holiday season.”

How does it all break down? Let’s take a look, by the numbers:

15 million people in the United States will head to airports this holiday season, slightly fewer than last year.

35 airports now have the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) PreCheck trusted traveler program that allows members who have been deemed low risk to keep on their shoes, jackets and belts.12 and 75– Children 12 and under and passengers 75 and older get expedited screening at any TSA checkpoint.

93.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the year-end holidays, an increase of 1.6 percent from 2011, says AAA.

$3.25 per gallon was the current average price as of Monday December 17, according to AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report, who predicts less than $3 becoming commonplace in the near future.

7.7 million Texans will leave home for the holidays. 7.1 million by motor vehicle, the rest by air, train, bus and cruise ship.

11.7 million California residents, the most ever, will travel 50 miles or more during the end-of-year holiday season.

32 cruise ships from major cruise lines Carnival, Princess, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines will be sailing seven-day itineraries that will be at sea on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Thirteen of them are sold out.

Read more here:

However we count it, holiday travel is expected to be at its highest level in six years, as we see in this video:

[Photo credit- Flickr user q… focusing on other media]

Photo Of The Day: Howard Johnson Neon Signage

There’s something so mundane yet fascinating about neon road signage. The services advertised are simple: a clean bed, a comforting meal or a quirky roadside attraction. Yet visually, these neon wonders never fail to grab drivers’ (or photographers’) attention. Today’s photo by Flickr user JasonBechtel is case in point. The brilliant pinks, blues and greens combined with the unique typeface are both eye-catching a familiar: like an old friend from the road welcoming you back into town.

Taken any great photos of neon signs during your travels? Why not add them to our Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

Highway Hypnosis And How To Avoid It

hypnosisI’ve logged about 4,000 road miles (all solo) in the last few weeks, most of it in stunningly monotonous landscape. Fortunately, I’ve never fallen asleep at the wheel, but I’ve definitely had to pull over for a power nap on a number of occasions in the past.

What I tend to get is “highway hypnosis,” also known as driving without attention mode (DWAM), or “white line fever (I always thought that was a reference to a different kind of white line, but what do I know?).”

Highway hypnosis is a trance-like mental state brought on by the monotony of the road. In other words, you’re zoning out, and while one part of your brain is still able to operate your car, the other half is in la la land. If you’ve ever driven a stretch of highway and have no memory of it, you’ve had white line fever, baby. The important thing to take away from this is that it’s nearly as dangerous as nodding off at the wheel.

A 2009 survey conducted by the CDC cited that nearly five percent of adults had fallen asleep while driving in the past 30 days. Those are some scary statistics, as are those from a 2007 National Sleep Foundation poll that stated more than one-half of American drivers (at the time, over 100 million people) had driven while drowsy.

Thousands of people die every year due to drowsy-driving and highway hypnosis-related crashes. Some experts claim falling asleep at the wheel is more dangerous than driving while intoxicated, because you have zero reaction time. With highway hypnosis, your reaction time is so compromised, you may as well be asleep.

With Labor Day weekend looming, I thought I’d provide some tips on how to avoid highway hypnosis, and what to do if you need to pull over for some zzz’s, after the jump.roadPreventing highway hypnosis

  • Listen to music. When I’m getting tired, it has to be loud, fast, and I have specific songs to get me going.
  • Avoid driving at times you’d normally be asleep.
  • Avoid driving on a full stomach. I will attest to the dangers of this. Before driving back from Santa Fe a week ago, I devoured a final carne adovada plate – with posole and a sopapilla – to tide me over until my next New Mexican food fix. I regretted it the second I got behind the wheel, and no amount of caffeine could help.
  • Caffeine, caffeine, and more caffeine, but if it makes you want to jump out of your skin, know when to cut yourself off. An edgy, irritable driver is a danger as well.
  • Roll down the windows for some fresh air.
  • If you have a headset or Bluetooth, call someone to help keep you alert.
  • I play mental games, like testing my memory or recalling conversations.
  • Take regular breaks to stretch your legs.
  • Shift around while driving. I use cruise control so I can bend my right leg, and I also do one-armed stretches and neck stretches.
  • Keep your eyes moving to avoid zoning out. I also keep eye drops on my console because mine get dry on long drives.

energy drink
Time out

  • If you need to pull over for a power nap at dusk or after dark, don’t choose a rest area (great for pit stops, not exactly known for savory characters, even during daylight hours). Find a well-lighted, busy location, like a gas station, fast food restaurant, or large hotel parking lot if you can swing it. Personally, I avoid stopping at deserted rest areas all together.
  • Keep your cellphone charged and at the ready in case of emergency.
  • Lock all of your doors.
  • Crack a couple of windows, but no more than a few inches.
  • If you’re in the middle of nowhere and just can’t stay awake, you may have no other option than to stop at a pull-out or side road. Just try to avoid this if at all possible and drive to the next exit.
  • Be honest with yourself: if you know a nap isn’t going to cut it, suck it up and get a motel room, campsite, or sleep in your car. Being behind schedule sucks, but being dead: much worse.

[Photo credits: hypnotism, Flickr user elleinad; road, Flickr user Corey Leopold; rockstar, Flickr user wstryder]

Watch this video to learn how peppermint oil and a really bad hairstyle can help keep you alert!

How To Stay Awake Without Caffeine

My First Experience Driving On The Left Side Of The Road

driving on the left
The best way to see the Orkney Islands in Scotland is by car. The buses don’t go to many of the most important attractions and don’t correspond well to the ferry schedule. On the other hand, distances are fairly short, so I decided to rent a car for a couple of days.

The only problem was, I had never driven on the left side of the road.

That fact and my Arizona driver’s license didn’t faze the guy at the rental agency in Kirkwall. The only question he asked was if I had ever had any moving violations.

“No,” I replied.


Thanks, kid.

The guy at the rental agency smiled.

“Yeah, there was this speed trap in a small town in northern Arizona. The speed limit goes from 70 to 40 with no warning. They got me,” I admitted.

“There’s a bad one north of Aberdeen,” he told me. “The speed limit goes from 60 to 30 and then down to 20.”

“Good thing I’m not driving to Aberdeen,” I said.

“The car comes with damage insurance after the first £500. For £5 a day you can have extended insurance after the first £200. Basically with the first option we’re betting you won’t get in a crash and with the second option you’re betting you will.”

“Well, I don’t think I’m going to get in a crash but I’ll take the extended coverage anyway,” I replied.

Famous last words.I rented an automatic. The last thing I wanted to deal with while driving on the left for the first time was shifting with the wrong hand. I got in the car and accustomed myself to sitting on the right side of the car. After making sure everyone was strapped in, we headed out.

If you want to learn how to drive on the left, Orkney isn’t a bad place. There isn’t much traffic and not many roundabouts. It’s not ideal, though. Most of the roads are two narrow lanes with no shoulder. This means that on city streets and country lanes, many people park halfway on the road. At times I found myself weaving past parked cars and having to go almost entirely into the other lane before heading back into my own lane to dodge the next parked car.

This obstacle course was no problem for the first day and Orkney’s long summer twilight ensured that I didn’t have to drive in the dark.

I was feeling pretty confident as we headed out on the morning of the second day. This driving on the left thing was turning out to be pretty easy! Today would be no problem. We drove out from Kirkwall and into the rolling green countryside. We passed through a village and I moved to the right to pass a car parked on the edge of the lane when …


I looked over at my side view mirror. The casing was gone.

“Oh Gadling! I just broke the Gadling mirror! I probably broke that Gadling’s Gadling mirror too! GADLING!!!”

I turned the car around.

“Let’s go back and see how much Gadling money I owe that Gadling Gadling.”

The worst part of this whole thing was that it was my fault. While he had been parked partway onto the road, there was no oncoming traffic and I could have easily got around him. I misjudged the distance because it was on my left and I was sitting on the right side of the car. I had no one to blame but myself. I hate it when that happens.

We drove back to find a burly old man standing by the side of the road holding his side view mirror and parts of mine. “Burly old man” sounds strange but that’s what he was. He was 70 if he was a day but had a chest like an ox, with massive arms that ended in spade-like hands. His weathered face had a stoic northern look to it. There was no murder in his eyes. I got out of the car.

“It looks like I owe you some money,” I said.

“Yes,” was all he said.

I examined the damage. It was a good thing I took that extended coverage because this was going to come out to well over £200. Neither of us had the number of a garage on us so he invited me back to his house to look at the phone book.

I like to visit the homes of the local people when I travel but I prefer to arrive in happier circumstances. His house was off the main road in a little cluster of homes on a windswept hill. A sign in the tidy living room said, “A fisherman lives here with the best catch of his life.” A fisherman. That explained the burliness. Hopefully, he’d continue playing the part of the stoic Scot and not gut me like a flounder.

Luckily everything went well. The fisherman remained stoic, only showing his anger by repeating the phrase “all I want is my mirror fixed” a few more times than necessary. The rental agency didn’t take back the car, so we were able to visit the Heart of Neolithic Orkney. And I learned an important lesson about driving on the left: after driving on the right for 25 years, it’s not so easy just to flip your perceptions and expect to be able to judge distances perfectly.

I just wish i hadn’t said “Gadling” in front of my son so much. It’s such a filthy word.

[Photo courtesy user webhamster via Flickr]

Don’t miss the rest of my series “Exploring Orkney: Scotland’s Rugged Northern Isles.”

Coming up next: “Visiting Orkney: the Practicalities!